Walsh Memorial Library

The Walsh Memorial Library is a reference only Auckland library which is temporarily housed off site to allow for a building upgrade at the MOTAT Great North Road site.  Access to library resources is limited, but research requests can still be emailed through to the library  and will be accommodated where possible. 

The library collects objects that help visitors of all ages understand where objects in the museum might fit into the wider context of social history in Auckland and New Zealand.  The Library also has a dedicated children’s collection.  

Named after New Zealand aviation pioneers Leo and Vivian Walsh, the Memorial Library is as old as MOTAT itself and was originally set up in 1964 with support from the Walsh Memorial Trust and the Royal Aeronautical Society. 

The Walsh Memorial Library cataloger is not yet available online, but a partial selection of our collection has been imported into Te Puna, New Zealand's national bibliographic database which can be searched here http://natlib.govt.nz/librarians/te-puna/te-puna-search.  Library staff can help you with your search if you do not find what you are looking for.


The Library is actively digitising its collections with the overall objective to provide access to an extensive and diverse range of transport and technology historic material. We have recently completed the first stage of work on the Les Downey Rail Collection which can be searched via our Collections Online portal. We plan to add further information on each digitisation project as work progresses. 

We begin with an introduction to the work of Les Downey by well known author Warwick Brown who, as a volunteer has catalogued the recently scanned photographic negatives over several months during 2014.


Les Downey (born 1930) was a MOTAT volunteer for many years, and was one of the team of expert railway modellers who put together the MOTAT model railway display. He was a ‘train spotter’ from his youth, taking photographs of steam trains and related subjects from the mid-1950s onwards. He later became a professional photographer, a useful occupation for someone who had a lifetime obsession with recording the New Zealand railways.

Les Downey

Les’s interests were driven by his passion for model railways - photography was one means of recording the actuality that later could be incorporated into models. In Les’s case this actuality extended to the smallest details of railway operations: sleepers, buffers, fire extinguishers, level crossings, fences, bridges, platforms and buildings of all types. His approach to locomotives and rolling stock was no less detailed, often studying the bogie arrangements, and he always tried to obtain wagon, carriage and locomotive numbers.

Most of the original photographic prints in the collection are in black and white, but there are a considerable number of colour images from the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, Les collected images particularly of locomotives, from calendars, postcards and other sources. At the same time, anything to do with the railways that crossed his path, such as news items and magazine articles, was collected and filed.

Being resident in Auckland, Les focussed initially on the rail lines north of Auckland, and southward to Papakura. As his reputation as a collector of images grew he began to receive material from other enthusiasts. This led to his collection gradually covering a much wider field.

When NZR abandoned steam and began closing down branch lines and stations, its records became redundant. Before they could be dumped, Les and his friends gained access to many of these records and photocopied them. NZR plans of locomotives, bridges and station layouts can be found throughout the collection. They have been assembled from smaller photocopies of large-scale plans, or photographed at reduced scale. There are also many items such as operational orders that have been photocopied from NZR manuals and other records.

In addition to NZR sources, Les assiduously copied or cut out material from model- makers’ newsletters and magazines and filed them under his various categories. For modellers there is much special material in the collection, such as specific guides to making a particular model. Les often went to great pains to adjust technical drawings and plans to a 3/16ths modellers’ scale. He also took many measurements of small details such as window spacing, carriage ventilators, cattle car door hinges, sign sizes and so on, and drew sketches recording these details. So, although Les’s collection was intended to be a resource to assist railway modelling, it has ended up as a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of NZ railways, particularly at a detailed level.

Warwick Brown, September 2014