To be honest I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to Eltham, apart from stopping there to pick up cheese from the Eltham Cheese Shop, until at a photographers Christmas dinner some years ago when Mark Bellringer and his partner Barbara Valintine started talking excitedly about buying the Bank of New Zealand building in Eltham. They planned to sell their house in New Plymouth and move to Eltham in South Taranaki. I thought that all sounded a little ‘out there’ but I was keen to see the bank, as this was the selling point for the move.

It was about five years later when I caught up with Barbara and stopped by to see her retro/vintage store set up in the Eltham bank. On entering the neoclassical building I was fascinated by the high ornate ceilings and wonderful light in a room filled with Barbara’s collection of antique and retro furniture, collectables, art, rugs, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, furs, etc. I began to realise what a gem they had discovered. When she led me through the rest of the two-storey five-bedroom home beyond the shop, I was amazed. Barbara and Mark were in the midst of a huge renovation project in which Barbara’s creativity was in its element.

Bridge Street in Eltham is lined with historic buildings, many empty storefronts, a few retro shops, the old post office, BNZ and a pub or two. It was once a bustling town but now looks a great place for a movie set. I’m not the first person with this idea as the comedy film Came a Hot Friday, based on the novel by Hāwera writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson was filmed there in 1985.

Photographer Mark Bellringer and Barbara Valintine have transformed the former BNZ Bank building

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