A day in the life of Peter Cotterill, Sophie Whittaker
July 20, 2021
My New Zealand Story: Journey to Tangiwai is one of prolific author David Hill’s latest books (republished after its first edition in 2003). With a front page full of bold colours and an interesting adventure title at the top of the page, I’m already intrigued. This novel looks like it includes nature, Scouts and New Zealand history.
“It’s creepy when I think back on it. Here I was, an ordinary guy with an ordinary name (Peter Cotterill), living in an ordinary New Zealand town (Napier). It seemed an ordinary year (1953). But in another part of the country, something had started that would change my life, and the lives of thousands of NZers. Something I’ll never forget…”
Peter is a 13-year-old boy who likes to muck around with his mates. He wants to be an author and is the leader of the Gannets Scout Group. His life is pretty cruisy until disaster strikes on a train bridge on Christmas Eve in 1953. To survive, Peter must use his wits and Scout training to save his family and friends, and himself.
This historical fiction novel shows what life was like being a kid post-World War 2, and it is based on a true story. There are many plot twists and giggles throughout the story. Hill has done a great job of engaging both information and humour into this book. The different months act as chapters and they always have one sentence that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
I believe this quote resembles a lot of Peter’s personality in Journey to Tangiwai. He has neighbours in the book who have a big house, a tennis court and a fancy car, while Peter and his parents have to walk to most places and they have an old house. Peter despises them at the start of the book and doesn’t recognise their kindness. But he soon gets to know them and learns that they aren’t as bad as he thinks they are. In these situations, most people (including me), would probably think the same thing as Peter. So this is a great moral to add to the story.
This book gives a young boy’s account of the events that happened during the tragic night of the 24th of December 1953. A steam train was travelling to Auckland from Napier and it had to go across the Whangaehu River Bridge. Mount Ruapehu had caused a volcanic lahar that made lots of earthly debris burst through the river and under the bridge. This was only minutes before the train arrived at the bridge and under the train’s weight, the Whangaehu Bridge collapsed. The engine and the first six carriages tumbled into the river and 151 lives were lost, out of the original 285. This is known as the worst railway disaster in New Zealand.
Overall, this book delivered laughs, gasps and information. Anybody who likes New Zealand history, humorous opinions and a whole lot of fun will thoroughly enjoy reading and giggling away with this book, despite the serious subject.
- Sophie Whittaker is a student at Awahono School on the West Coast.