I arrived, bleary-eyed, in Papakura last week. I blame the libraries; I'd got carried away the night before, reading a library copy of Alan Cumming's memoir mystery,

Not My Father's Son

, until 3am.

Confirmed: Cumming belongs to the grand tradition of queer British actors who write beautifully about their lives and times. See also: Stephen Fry, Rupert Everett and even Quentin Crisp, who played glittery-eyed Queen Elizabeth I in Orlando.

Just as Orlando skips through the eras, so does Papakura. The notorious New Zealand Wars garrison town now hints at 1980s nostalgia: free parking, bare feet and a large post office (okay, a Post Shop). But walk into the entrance shared by Papakura Museum and Sir Edmund Hillary Library and you jump forward to 2010, the year of the Jasmax building refurbishment.


Shabby and warm Great South Rd makes way for a minimalist, clean corridor. Desna Whaanga-Schollum's wall silhouettes of Maori motifs and the great outdoors in muted outdoorsy colours are tastefully on trend.

Rather folksier are the three gigantic sheep sculptures, one painted with three jokers lounging on car bonnets, drinking Lion Red. The sheep bring, um, a human touch to the pristine, coolly corporate entrance expanse. So do the handwritten cafe signs and the library's notices: "Are you looking for a new job? Can you give us 30 mins to help us improve library services for Papakura job seekers?" If you don't have home internet, the library is a vital link to online job ads.

Papakura first got a library in 1871, but the local Town Board only took it over in 1914. It's moved five times in the last 70 years. It acquired the "Sir Ed" moniker and last moved buildings 17 years ago but it made it to the ground floor only six years ago.

And now it is a Big Deal. Its enormous L-shaped room and attractive soft furnishings are marred only slightly by bossy wall signs (no jumping off the awesome kids' climbing feature) and by panopticon one-way mirror glass: Big Librarian is watching you.

The one window looks over a supermarket, but the window is large and the supermarket is new. Genealogy research sits beside a wonderfully wide-ranging Maori section, beneath a rather literal wharenui-like frame. (I borrowed the intriguing memoirs of film-maker and HART-namer Tama Poata.)

But when I ask people what they like about the library, they talk not about the building but the librarians. A stamp collector named Mahir is impressed that the librarians produced a second Commonwealth stamp catalogue when a rivalry developed about the first copy. Two ladies say they don't actually read but they asked the library to display their church activity leaflets. Another woman comes to the library for a nice day out with her daughter, "like my parents used to do with me".

She's on to something: Papakura boasts this large library, an attractive museum and also an interesting public art gallery: a great free day out at the end of the line.