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Rail Land - Anthonie Tonnon


“When I was 17, I got into music. I lived and breathed it.” For renown New Zealand musician, Anthonie Tonnon, the same notion now applies to public transport.

The wheels on the bus make the cogs in his head go round and round.

“The deeper you go the more you find out” he says, spellbound.

In 2017, he was scouting sights of old dilapidated train stations in Dunedin for his music video clip old images. The visuals gave him the premonition to dive deeper into its past.

“It was like falling down a psychedelic whirlpool”.

He was astonished to discover there was a subway underpass close to his childhood residence. He grappled with the idea that Dunedin once had organised transport. “It blew my mind”.

He found that New Zealand actually had an extensive and efficient bus and rail system spanning all nooks of the county. Tonnon memorized out loud the trainline that went from Dunedin to Milton, Balclutha, Clinton, Waitahi, Gore, to Lumsden, then ended in Kingston. “The Earnslaw was owned by the rail system” he said enthusiastically. Passengers would catch the Earny ferry service from Kingston into Queenstown.

Tonnon compares the standard to a ‘continental European country’.

“A couple of generations ago it used to be like this”.

Tonnon is sombre about our once utilised rail system now being a lost piece of civilisation. “The last 30 years, New Zealand gave public transport the least of its resources... it stopped spending money on it”. Political undertones became prevalent as Tonnon explains the reforms of the 80s and 90s, along with the axing that took place all over the country. “Dunedin was ruined”. Public transport was simply losing to the popularity of cars.

“New Zealand is no longer connected by public transport... People think of them as loser cruisers... There’s a distain for trains’’ he said without pausing for the laugh.

With a mission to reverse the lame name of public transport, Anthonie Tonnon launched Rail lands Tour in 2018. “I hated the idea of just having a convo” says Tonnon. “I wanted a movement of people. A practical experience… The entire audience meets me on the bus. It becomes like a holiday. Take a journey to the hinterlands”.

The elements of Rail land are meticulously thought out. The public routes carefully considered. The crowd gets dropped near an old community hall. The timing the performance coincides with the timetable. Tonnon’s refined his equipment so he can travel lightly on the rail or road. It’s immersive, like a theatre show.

“Linking together the old and new.” Adds Tonnon.

After the tour ended, he realised Rail land needed to be a cathartic yearly summer tour to be shown in the twilight evening. “It’s not soo vintage. I’m not turning up with a feather in my hat… I want to show people that what we have is pretty amazing”.

This year Tonnon is particularly enthusiastic about performing in the Wakatipu. “It’s incredible, to me, what Queenstown did” referring to the $2 Orbus initiative. “It’s the 3rd best bus system in New Zealand... Queenstown has 30 rides per capita. Dunedin has 10 rides per capita” to make a point. “Other towns are in ore of what (Queenstown) has achieved”

The bus route Tonnon’s chosen for this special Wakatipu performance, starts at the Frankton bus hub, with the audience jumping off near the Arrowtown hall.

“What can we do now! That’s the message of the show”.


Rail Land:
Saturday 14 November 7:20pm
Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall
$25 Book:
Take Orbus Queenstown to Rail Land: Number 2 to Arrowtown from Stanley Street Bus Hub at 6:35pm, and Frankton Bus Interchange at 6:50pm. Return journey from Arrowtown at 8:55pm. Pay with your Bee Card.