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How I got the shot: Hats off to the 'greatest photograph in the history of New Zealand photography'

Barry Durrant captured his famous photo “Hats Off at Hole Through” during the official ceremony to mark the breakthrough of the Manapouri tunnel in October 1968.


Barry Durrant | Stuff NZ


August 12, 2022

It was with perfect camera timing that Barry Durrant captured a blast from the past that won him a major award and continued recognition over the years.

His photo “Hats Off at Hole Through” was taken during the official ceremony to mark the breakthrough of the Manapouri tunnel in October 1968.

Durrant was freelancing for an engineering company involved in the project on that day while on leave from The Dominion.

Gathered in the granite tunnel 200m beneath Lake Manapouri in Fiordland National Park were dignitaries, including staff from the engineering company and Justice Minister Ralph Hanan, who had the honour of detonating the explosion.

Among the bustle of hard-hatted men, Durrant was poised, the camera focused on the people.

“I was after the expression on their faces. When there’s a blast, a shockwave comes through the tunnel and it’s a surprise for people, so I thought I would get their faces,” the 82-year-old says.

“It was meant to be low-key, but it was a massive blast and the lights went out, and the shockwave of the blast blew their hats off, and then these pebbles began raining down.

“I saw one flash and that was mine, but I didn’t know what I had until I developed the film in the darkroom. When I saw what I’d got, I went yahoo!”

It was a year of big events.


The Dominion Post | Stuff NZ

Survivors of the Wahine disaster make it to shore in a lifeboat on April 10, 1968.


Durrant was working on April 10, 1968, the day of the Wahine Disaster in Wellington Harbour.

He was waiting on the beach at Seatoun when the first lifeboat came ashore, and his picture of that moment ran across the front page of The Dominion – and was published around the world. The ferry sinking claimed 53 lives.

The following month, Durrant was sent to cover the Inangahua earthquake, 40km east of Westport. Three people died in the quake, which measured 7.1 on the Richter Scale.

But it was the Hats Off photo that won him the top news picture of that year at the Dulux Awards – beating off the Wahine Disaster photos, including his own one of the lifeboats.

When comedian, historian and environmentalist Te Radar came across the image he was blown away.

“I think it’s the greatest photograph in the history of New Zealand photography,” he says.

“He (Durrant) was looking exactly the right way at exactly the right time and a second either way that photo wouldn’t have existed.”


Vanessa Laurie | Stuff NZ

Rob Tucker and other photojournalists from around New Zealand are selling their prints to raise money for Hospice Taranaki.


Hats Off at Hole Through, the Wahine lifeboat photo and a picture of Sir Edmund Hilary at Aoraki/Mt Cook all taken by Durrant are among more than 120 photojournalism images up for auction at the Plymouth Hotel on September 24 to raise money for Hospice Taranaki.

The idea for the fundraiser came from veteran photojournalist Rob Tucker, who has terminal cancer and is under hospice care.

Source: Stuff NZ



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