Archive for the ‘Auckland’ Category

The Strip Club.

May 12, 2017

 

 

So far I had managed to politely wangle my way out of every social invitation that first week on the job (I don’t like going out if I can help it) but it was Friday and my new boss was insistent. “I can’t afford it,” I said meekly. “You have already used that one” he shot back “and I am paying so come on, the Uber is waiting downstairs and we gotta go”.

Uber I wondered? I was only just up from a small provincial town and still adjusting to the ways of the big city and had no idea what Uber was. Turns out it was a car with a driver, like a taxi. “Where are we going?” I ask the boss. “You’ll see” he grinned and ten minutes later the Uber pulls up outside a strip club. I had never been to a strip club and wasn’t about to start, or so I imagined.

“It’s looks a bit flash and there is no way they are going to let me in,” I say indicating my jeans with holes in the knees.“ Ah, but I have this ” he says waving a wad of cash at me, “Opens every door every time”. And sure enough the blank stare on the huge Polynesian guy guarding the door quickly turns into a beatific smile at the sight and he waves us in. Damn.

Dimly lit, read velvet, cut glass mirrors and shimmering gold. Then there is the stage and the silver poles and a guy staring at a naked dancer the way a biologist might stare at a rare specimen. It was a lot to take in at a glance and feeling nervous I turn my attention toward the action at the bar.

“Four tequila shots” thunders the boss at the young woman making the drinks. “Are we expecting guests?” I wonder as the shots appear before us. He pushes two at me and watches to see that I knock them back before ordering the beers. “Two beers,” then “No”. He pauses dramatically then winks, “make that four beers.” So that I was how it was going down tonight.

The alcohol tickles my senses making everything shimmer more brightly. The young woman serving behind the bar carries a thick Italian accent and the kind of dusky Romanesque features I have long considered the epitome of female beauty. I could have happily sat back and watched her do her thing all night long when an arm falls about my waist. I had not been touched by another person for sometime and the sensation causes me to start. “Relax,” whispers an accent that turns out to be Hungarian, Budapest to be precise. She is tall, and by tall I mean very tall. I am tall, very tall, and she is looking me directly in the eye.

“Do you know so-and-so?” I ask blurting out the name of a friend from the same city. Her response is to ask if I want to go upstairs. I follow her eyes toward a stairwell off to the side. “She wants to know if you would like a fuck,” whispers the boss into my ear pressing something into my left hand. “It’s strip club currency,” he whispers and then in a voice that is now no longer a whisper says “To pay for it.” “No” I blurt out at him and at her and just like that she is gone and for the first time I see her in perspective as she hones in on another man who is not tall at all.

The thong about her waist is but a suggestion and I tick off every question I might ever have about what a very tall women might look like naked. It’s all very positive. Two more tequila’s appear in front of me. “From your friend” says the Italian girl indicating that I might tip her with the strip club cash if I so desire. I desire and she smiles beatifically.

The boss was nowhere to be seen and with the alcohol fuelling my confidence I sit down and consider the naked young women swinging about the poles. “We have to wipe them down a lot” says a voice off to the side, “With all that pussy action they start smelling a little ripe after a time”. The speaker is a smartly dressed young woman with a tray. “Can I get you another drink?” I pass her some currency and she returns with another beer. That she is world-weary is obvious and I ask her to sit and talk. She sits and talks.

She is half-Maori and half-Portuguese which explains her exotic looks. She is also a student and appreciates the money if not the clientele. We are watching two well-dressed business types rubbing their crotches as they watch the girls polish the silver. “Welcome to my world.” Her grimace says it all.

I ask her if she dances and she says yes but tonight she is on the bar. We chat a while longer and she unloads a bit then touching my arm asks me to stay put before rushing of backstage. A while later she walks onstage and does a strip routine and some pole dancing. She knows her stuff. Later she reappears and asks me if I enjoyed it? I shove the wad of ‘strip cash’ at her but she politely demurs pushing it back with a blush. “I have to go,” she says, “study then sleep”. Then says “Thanks for listening.” It is my turn to blush.

Later a kid of no more than 18 and wearing something akin to bare flesh eyes up the ‘strip cash’ and asks me if I would like a lap dance. I say no and she takes this as a challenge and offers to throw in something extra. I ask her where she is from. “Guess” she says and I guess Rotorua. “How did you know that?” she laughs. “Your accent” I reply. She gives up with the lap dance thing and I give her some currency regardless. She gets me a beer. “On the house” she winks. The boss reappears and I tell him I have had enough and say I am off home but he is not listening. The girl from Rotorua has caught his attention.

 

 

 

Communing With Pigeons

October 31, 2016

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When I moved to Auckland I rented a room off a guy who had an apartment in a newish high rise. At first it was pretty good way up there on the 12th floor and the first indication that something might be amiss came about the morning I was feeding the pigeons out on the balcony.

Up this point most of my life had been spent in the country surrounded by birds, cats, cows………. you know the usual, and I had always enjoyed feeding treats to whoever was about. Perched up high in this man-made concrete mountain and far away from the familiar I was feeling a bit disconnected and was pleased to discover the pigeons who were only to happy to eat anything I put out for them.

On this morning the guy blundered in after a night out and when he saw what I was doing came straight at me shooing the birds away with all manner of cursing and violent motions. “They are fucking vermin and are nothing more than bloody diseases carriers,” he yelled at me holding nothing back, “and I don’t want you encouraging them and their fucking germs.” “Okay then” I thought to myself opening up my computer to verify that with Google. “Nope” I said to him, “It’s a myth. They are actually pretty clean.” “What the fuck do you know about anything, ” he shot back warming himself up for a day of stomping about and muttering angrily, a fairly standard pattern of behaviour as it turned out.

By the time I left a few weeks later I had figured out he was a psychopath and fortunately for me a pretty stupid one, but he hadn’t stopped me from feeding the pigeons and the few brave sparrows that darted in and out grabbing at bits of food as they could. I realised they were wary of the pigeons and figured that these somewhat comical looking critters might actually have a violent streak about them. Otherwise it great fun, a few scattered crumbs and there they were, a milling mass of disconcerting proportions that never ceased to amaze me.

My next venue was a doss house and one of my neighbours, a man verging on very old, was an avid pigeon feeder. Every morning he would greet the day with a loaf of bread and on first sight of him pigeons would arrive from all corners. I would stand nearby taking it all in, enjoying his commentary on individual birds he recognised by markings, deformities and personality traits. Sadly it all came to an end when an official from the city council hauled him and up and told him to stop encouraging them least he incur a fine. There was some stuff about them being unhygienic and that the feeding was only helping them to breed.

I Googled that last bit remembering some research I had read about a few years earlier that found the best way to stabilise urban bird populations was to feed them. Apparently stressed populations tended to breed while well-feed populations tend toward lounging about in the sun and enjoying the scenery rather popping out offspring. This turned out to be correct and I explained this to the old fellow but he had been put off and stopped what he was doing. It didn’t stop me.

I carry bag of barley with me at all times with something a little smaller like sesame seeds mixed in. These are for the sparrows who find the barley grains just a bit big to handle. Every time I came across a lone pigeons wandering about looking for scraps I toss it a handful of grain knowing a sparrow won’t be far off. I like to think that am making their day a little easier while making mine a little more meaningful.

Most people are indifferent to pigeons. I try to feed them out of the way of the passing crowds but people, owning the world as they do, will blunder on through unnecessarily scattering them in all directions while others will simply go out of their way to kick at them or shoo them off possibly possessed of the same ignorance of my former flatmate. This last bit upsets me greatly and I want to say, “Get off the bloody grass, educate yourself a little, take some care and cultivate some thoughtfulness” but I don’t. I am not sure why.

The negative comment I hear most is: “They have horrible scary beady eyes.” My usual response is to explain that those beady eyes are actually stereoscopic. They can see up, down, front and behind all at the same time (all the better to spot predators with) and in a range of colours that put our own vision to shame. Beady they might be, paltry they are not!

I like the fine, pretty features of the female pigeons and I like the grandiose displays of strutting males on the make. I like the iridescent sheen present in the feathers and am especially interested in those with a missing foot or leg, a reasonably common sight, and wonder how this came to be while admiring the tenacity and adaptability of affected individuals.

For me this urban dwelling bird is a connection to something it is easy to loose sight of in the heart of a big city where life runs at a tempo indifferent to the general rhythms of nature. Pigeons remind me to  cultivate important emotions like consideration and compassion and besides, I enjoy the sheer pleasure of communing just for the sake of it. Unlike people, pigeons make for easy and uncomplicated friendships.

 

 

Pigeons are intelligent and are one of only a small number of species to pass the ‘mirror test’ – a test of self-recognition. They can also learn to recognise letters and numbers.

Pigeons also remember human faces. In a Parisian study two researchers offered food to the birds or chased them away, respectively. When this was repeated over several visits, the pigeons began to avoid the chaser while being drawn towards the feeder, even if they were wearing different clothes.

Pigeons are capable of discriminating between nearly identical shades of colour. Humans, for example, have a triple system of colour perception whereas pigeons photo sensors and light filters can differentiate as many as five spectral bands — making the world for them appear to be a virtual kaleidoscope of colours.

Pigeons are renowned for their navigational abilities. They use the sun as a guide and have a ‘magnetic compass’ built into their brains. A study at Oxford University found that they will also use landmarks as signposts and will travel along man-made roads and motorways, even changing direction at junctions.

Pigeons are highly sociable animals.

Pigeons mate for life, and tend to raise two chicks at the same time. Both female and male pigeons share responsibility of caring for and raising young. Both sexes take turn incubating the eggs and both feed the chicks ‘pigeon milk’ – a special secretion from the lining of the crop which both sexes produce.

Pigeons have excellent hearing abilities. They can detect sounds at far lower frequencies than humans can.

Domesticated pigeons, also known as rock doves, were first depicted in pictographic writing on clay tablets in the Mesopotamian period dating well over 5,000 years old. Some scholars even believe that the birds were kept by Neolithic man as far back as 10,000 years ago.

Although pigeon droppings are seen by some as a problem in modern society, a few centuries ago pigeon guano was viewed as the best available fertilliser and armed guards would even stand by dovecotes (pigeon houses) to stop others taking the droppings.

Pigeons can fly at altitudes up to and beyond 6000 feet, and at an average speed of 77.6 mph. The fastest recorded speed is 92.5 mph.

Many birds are known to perform impressive aerial acrobatics in pursuit of prey or to avoid being eaten themselves, but few of those moves are more impressive than pigeons doing backflips. No one knows for certain why some types of pigeons roll backward somersaults in flight, though some suspect that it’s done simply for fun.

 

Racism in New Zealand

May 28, 2016

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Eva.

Great Aunt Eva was a figure on the families periphery and not long before she died at the age of 92 I sat down with her curious to learn more about her life. I asked why she had never married and she explained that there had been someone once but her intuition warned her against it. He was a heavy drinker who later turned into an alcoholic and drank himself to an early grave. “A close escape,” she mused. For many decades a chain smoker, evident in her heavily wrinkled skin and gravely voice, she cadged a cigarette off me- her last as it turned out- and after a couple of puffs stubbed it out remarking that it held no interest for her anymore.

A career dental assistant and sometime nurse she gave up work to nurse her aged mother through dementia, an all-consuming 15-year affair that come with a high personal and emotional cost. In return for giving up her career to care for her mother her siblings renounced all claims on the families Dairy Farm (at Waharoa near Matamata in the Eastern Waikato) and it was given to her for her dedication to “mum”. With the farm income she lived out a long and comfortable retirement playing golf, spending time with family and travelling the world.

Her mother was Irish and her father a Scot who had been in NZ for several decades living on land he had procured by ballot. (The Liberal government of the late 1900’s had broken up the large family owned estates that dominated the NZ rural landscape at the time and through various schemes most notably the Ballot- a kind of lottery- had enabled people without few means the opportunity to acquire land on easy financial terms). He had developed the land into a productive dairy operation and raised a family and buried a wife before he met my great grandmother who had secured the farm next door, also by ballot.

She was infamously canny with money and she paid for the development of her land by handling the accounts of her neighbours including the Scot next door. Eventually they married, combined the farms and produced 5 children. Eva described a happy and carefree childhood and revealed her parents to be kind, hard working and practical. As she described farm life her thoughts fell to a small group of local Maori, (the former ‘owners’ of the land though Eva would not have considered them as such. The orthodox logic of time held that Maori did not understand the economic potential of land and were therefore poor custodians), who lived in whare made from fern and manuka down the back of the farm where it ended on the banks of the Waihou River.

A remanent population of a much larger tribal group that had been displaced by the land wars of the 1860s, this small isolated group lived on eels fished out of the river and whatever else they could glean which included milk, fruit and vegetables from the Johnstone family farm. “They were dirty ill-kept thieves,” she informed me, “lazy and untrustworthy.” A harsh assessment I thought as I considered their condition.

They had only recently lost their land, their culture had been subsumed and they had been banished to the fringes of the new social order. Being from a co-operative tribal culture I assumed that they saw anything growing on the land as mutual property. I imagined them living in their whare, somewhat bewildered by the momentous changes going on about them, unable to engage because of a lack of education and appropriate language skills and surviving as best they could in the only way they knew how. I explained this perspective to Eva whose eyes widened. She seemed startled at this idea and gathering her thoughts she looked squarely at me and wondered if I might be right?

She died suddenly two days later, the last of a pioneering generation whose immediate forebears had fled social oppression in search of freedom, opportunity and in the case of some at least, a desire to create a nation free of the hierarchical constraints they had left behind in the old country. In many regards they succeeded spectacularly but this was nation of two halves.

Besides the liberal voice seeking social equity there was a more potent and powerful voice determined that this new nation maintain a cultural balance firmly tilted in favour of White, Christian and British. This was to be a progressive society but only for the chosen few. It was also a society determined to undermine its founding document, a formal declaration of partnership between Maori and the British Crown called The Treaty of Waitangi.

 

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A Nations Founding Document.

The heyday of colonialism was stuttering to a close and the Maori encountered the British at time when that Empire had become somewhat more enlightened as regards its responsibilities as a ruling power and in this light the Maori managed to negotiate a treaty the likes of which had not been achieved by any colonised people anywhere through this age of cultural subjection. In brief:

‘The Treaty is a broad statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand. The document has three articles. In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects’.

– Te Ara Encyclopaedia of NZ

NZ was a brand spanking new democracy and Maori were full participants from the start and here on these isolated islands at worlds end the two peoples worked and lived side by side fully equal under the law, a state of being somewhat blighted by the European world-view of the time. The wisdom was that the white races were somewhat superior and deserved inheritors of the world a methodology of thinking that led to outrageous treaty breaches as regards land ownership. As a result Maori were often violently disrespected, insulted and manipulated endlessly by a system that promised much but seldom delivered on those promises.

Perhaps this fight for Maori equality is best exemplified through the story of the Maori Battalion, a much-eulogised unit of the NZ army that fought valiantly on several fronts through World War Two. Maori leaders at the time hoped that but fighting harder faster and better than anyone else Pakeha would wake from their dream of superiority start to treat Maori more with respect.

It didn’t happen and as late as 1960 the South Auckland town of Pukekohe banned Maori from hotel bars, barbershops and general seating in movie theatres. This was neither standard nor unusual and wholly against the spirit of the law and the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also a glaring reflection of the attitudes at work in the hearts of many Pakeha and by the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and started exerting themselves to the fright of the nation. Almost 40 years later Maori now compensated, consulted and recipients of all manner of formalised apologies are still considered by much of mainstream culture as second rate though few in their right mind would ever dare say so out loud.

A friend recalls being on a course with a Maori guy who she described as pleasant but somewhat haunted. Though they talked extensively and got to know each other well he would never meet her eyes, a trait which upset her. She queried this and he confided that next to Pakeha he felt like a second-class citizen and a lesser human being. To him this feeling was visceral and kept him form fulfilling his potential as a citizen, which was why he was on this particular course: seeking a solution to his pain and confusion.

120 years of land confiscations and cultural subjugation had taken a psychological toll of the sort that scars the intergenerational psyche and this troubled man was but a symptom of this scarring. This pain has manifested itself through mental illness, anger and emotional dislocation serving the behavioural dysfunction that many Pakeha identify as a Maori trait.

 

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A Covertly Racist Society.

The Maori were not the only people to suffer from Pakeha notions racial superiority. Until the 1960s immigration laws were covertly structured to exclude or dissuade anyone not of British or Irish origin including Indians, a policy that was seriously questioned by the UK who considered Indians to be British subjects. While Scandinavian’s, Czech’s, German’s and French got a relatively easy time (NZ often struggled to find enough suitable migrants and when quotas were not filled, Western Europe was the next best stop though few could be persuaded to travel so far from home) the more exotic Dalmatian’s (a major migrant group originating from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast) found themselves restricted and frequently victimised by laws designed to favour people of British heritage.

During the Second World War NZ accepted 734-orphaned Polish children at the behest of the Polish government in exile. These children infamously found themselves in a climate informed by suspicion and prejudice and were hardly able to cope unlike the robust working class Dutch adults who, fulfilling NZ’s requirements for white similarity, flooded a post war country desperate for skilled tradesmen. Many came from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia and some unfortunates discovered that even a drop of Indonesian blood disqualified them as suitable migrant material.

Early Chinese migrants lured here by the prospect of finding riches on the Otago goldfields in the 1860’s encountered appalling racism and a tax designed to discourage them. The nation was wary of the ‘Yellow Peril’ (it was feared that the Chinese might overrun us through sheer force of numbers) and besides they were heathen opium smokers with strange ways. In 2002 the NZ Government formally apologised to the local Chinese community for past injustices yet despite this acknowledgement the Chinese remain the first port of call when the media need someone to blame for whatever trouble is about- everything from bad driving to property prices.

That same year the Government also apologised to Western Samoa for the abuse this community suffered while a colony of New Zealand (1920-35), which brings to mind the 1970s and the lot of Polynesian migrants who had arrived in droves through the 1950s to fill labour shortages in factories. By the 1970s the economy was undergoing decline and these same migrants were now a useful scapegoat for governments seeking easy solutions to complex problems.

These events, much like our cosy relationship with apartheid era South Africa stand today as rank examples of how low Pakeha can sink when given the chance. With South Africa we reached a kind of nadir when we succumbed time and again to requests from the apartheid -era South African government to exclude players of colour from touring the country with the All-Blacks.

The Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, played their first match against the NZ Natives during their 1921 tour of NZ and it was reported that it disgusted them. The All-Blacks excluded Maori players from their 1928 South African tour at the request of the South African government and though the Springbok refused to play a ‘native’ team on their 1937 visit to NZ, Maori were not excluded from the All-Blacks.

In 1959 the All-Blacks were invited to tour South Africa and again were asked to leave out players of colour. The outrage at this grievous insult to Maori reached fever pitch with 160,000 people signing an anti-tour petition and thousands more marching down the mainstreets of the nation in protest, all to no-avail.

The rugby field was the one place where Maori and Pakeha found unity and common cause and with this decision the Pakeha administered game of Rugby, blinded by its own self-regard, handed Maori one hell of a slap in the face proving once again that despite the promise of Waitangi, this was a Pakeha country and when push cam to shove, Maori be damned. It took until 1981 for the Rugby Union to change its ways and only after some of the most virulent public protests this country has ever seen.

A Department of External Affairs memorandum from 1953 stated: “Our immigration is based firmly on the principle that we are and intend to remain a country of European development. It is inevitably discriminatory against Asians – indeed against all persons who are not wholly of European race and colour. Whereas we have done much to encourage immigration from Europe, we do everything to discourage it from Asia.’

By the 1960s NZ began to re-examine its ideas about race and culture and in 1971 the then Prime Minister Norman Kirk argued that our future as a people lay with Asia and the Pacific and we should no longer judge migrants on colour, race and religion. Finally we had begun our long march toward a better standard of human regard.

 

Pākehā is a Māori language term for New Zealanders who are “of European descent.”

Eva, like many of her generation, had never stopped to properly examine the circumstance of the Maori and her experience with a small and disparate band without means living at on the margins had forever framed her outlook, an outlook not uncommon amongst Pakeha of that era. I remember as a child listening to adults publically describing Maori in less than generous terms. By the time I had become an adult the only thing that had changed was that now it that it had become unacceptable to voice these kinds of thoughts out loud and in public. The terms had changed but the method has become more surreptitious.

Maori had bent under the weight on the Pakeha onslaught but eventually sprung back and using Pakeha law, the same law that undid them in the first place, forced the nation to address injustice and while Pakeha have finally acknowledged their treaty obligations certain attitudes remain unchanged (though not unchallenged). Comments behind closed doors like “I am not racist but………” and devious jokes designed to belittle and reinforce stereotypical notions of Maoridom sadly abound. Despite our shared history, Maori remain in many minds the somewhat lesser cousin: tolerated, occasionally respected but somehow never quite up to the mark.

Ides of racial superiority have morphed into resentment about the cost of Treaty, which really hasn’t cost much considering the current value of land and its bounty. Mostly the treaty cash has given Maori enterprise capital and across the nation tribes have been building profitable endeavours that have contributed not insubstantially to the overall wealth and wellbeing of the nation.

Pakeha judgement casts a long shadow and while we deny our racism but it is an undeniable undercurrent that haunts perception. Parliamentary speeches going back a century demonstrate that alongside discriminating and dissenting voices are other voices that recognise the plight of Maori and have long sought redress and redemption. It has been a long battle that remains unresolved in many hearts and minds here in Aotearoa.

 

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Racism Is Alive and Well Though Not Unchallenged.

There is a strain of decency running deep through the heart of Pakeha culture but when confronted by challenges to the cultural status quo we often slip into racial cliché and confused garbling as we seek to reconsider the world and our position in it. Not all of us, but an aspect of us and this reaction is natural if misshapen. Eva was an average person of her time whose truth was shaped by a particular mythology about the world and the white persons place in it. It is a mythology that no longer dominates but regardless Pakeha racism remains alive and active.

I remember my first day as Sales Manager for an Auckland company in 2010. I opened the previous managers company email to discover that some of the staff were sharing anti-Maori jokes. I confronted the people in question and were met with shame-faced denials. I understood that these actions were more to do with thoughtlessness than anything else, much like the words I encountered one day while travelling across Hamilton on a city bus.

I was the helpless and unfortunate witness to a very loud conversation between a group of Pakeha high school girls sitting in the seat immediately behind me. “Where do get off?” asks one girl of another. The girl explains and her companion responds “Oh, that’s a dirty Maori suburb.” “Yeah I know,” she responded, “I hate Maoris.” Her friend laughs “Oh me too.” Sitting behind them were several Maori, both young and old. Like me I am sure they had no choice but to hear and I felt shocked and upset for them, myself and the girls in question. Sometimes ignorance is simply what it is and sometimes it is wilful. I hope in this case it was just plain old ignorance informed by youthful thoughtlessness.

 

On the bright side I spent several hours on the streets of Auckland talking to Asian and Indian students about Kiwi’s and racism. The response was positive and along the lines of “Kiwi’s are very nice and helpful and no, I have not encountered any racism.” The only negative came from a group of Saudi Arabian boys who were angry at the way Kiwi men interacted with women. “The have no respect, they treat woman as friends and equals and this is against our culture.” To a tee they found this offensive and especially so in regard to their female compatriots. “Kiwi men should not talk with them in such a friendly manner, this is very bad and they insult us when they chat with strangers the way they should only chat with their sisters or mother.”

Culture is a complex thing and should be navigated with care and informed consideration by all sides. Too often this is not the case and results are not pretty. My immediate mental response to these boys was to think “your cultural perspective is outdated” and perhaps I should have said something but I remembered another conversation with a young Saudi woman who is in NZ studying computer science. (She chose NZ because of its reputation for peace, safety and kindness).

Her widowed father, guardian to a family of daughters, did not see the world in this way at all and his daughter described him as “enlightened” and “encouraging”. This and stories I has been reading about female activism in part of the world give me hope that the outlook of these boys is essentially doomed. History is against them and the wars raging across the Middle East at this time are in part but a response to the momentous changes sweeping through the hearts and minds in the Middle East. New ideas about culture and society are displacing the old and the old is responding with anger, the only method it has left in its fight to remain relevant.

 

Changing Attitudes.

NZ has come a long way over the last 50 odd years. This once racist society has overcome its worst tendencies and is now ranked consistently among the world’s most open and progressive societies. It is a socially bold young nation and our ability to overcome our worst tendencies is a great lesson for the world at large. We must never forget the wrongs that we have perpetuated and the ease at which we often gravitate toward the lowest common denominator but nor should be underestimate our strong collective impulse for better and fairer.

This is a nation without a formal document to define us, our constitution is unwritten but it exists deep in our communal heart. It asks us to be fair and decent, to live and let live, to be trustworthy, virtuous and honest, to consider those with less and to be compassionate in our approach to all things. Pakeha follow this method vigorously as regards other Pakeha but sometimes forget that ‘me’ is actually ‘we’ and that ‘we’ includes Maori, Asian, Polynesian, Indian and all the other diverse peoples with whom we share these islands.

Resentments and misunderstanding still discolour the relationship between the two peoples central to the life of this nation and there is still much healing required before Maori can properly stand tall amidst humanities vast cultural swirl and as for Pakeha…… a little more self-reflective soul searching would do us all a world of good.

The future is a world is one where humanity is not defined by colour, religion or sexuality but by the quality of our actions. Some of us already know this, some are still learning it, others deny it and some have yet to consider it. This is humanity in motion today, an evolving broader culture fuelled by better access to information available beyond the old physical and mental borders that defined us before the age of super-fast communications.

Racism is composed of many factors, some being informed by an instinctual mistrust of strangers (those whose colour and culture are different to our own) and others being informed by social conditioning. I remember as a child being possessed of negative racial notions toward Maori and others, notions inherited from my family and community but as I grew into myself I discovered that these feeling were not my own and I was able to easily shuck them off. To my relief I discovered that I was essentially colour blind and that I viewed culture not as an irrefutable natural law set in stone, rather as a series of habits: some good, some bad making culture –in my mind at least – a malleable method of social organisation capable of positive evolution.

When I sat down to write this story I had little idea of the journey and challenges ahead and how little I actually knew about my own cultures racist past. The research, thinking and consideration has been a cathartic experience that has done my heart and mind a world of good. This effort has better informed me, altered my perceptions and made me better than I was. Who could ask for more?

 

Epilogue:

Though I did not agree with her brand of middle class Pakeha politics I always liked Eva and we become great friends towards the end of her life. I will forever remain grateful to her for that conversation as it sparked something in me that facilitated change. I lived and worked in a small community whose conservative social views clashed with my own my liberal inclinations and still young and unsure of my own voice I had gotten used to nodding my head in agreement with things I did not agree with in order to maintain peace. After that encouraging talk with Eva I felt less inclined to do so and with her death following soon after it freed me of the need to consider regard when discussing difficult topics with loved ones.

Besides the sunroom, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom Eva kept the rest of her 1940s brick and tile house in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest effectively sealed. She had no need of it and kept the heavy curtains tightly drawn. The house was dark, cool and quiet, an odd oasis of peace. She was dutiful, cared for her extended family and possessed a good heart capable of grand sacrifice and I could not help but think that has she been born back in Ireland she might have spent out her days serving as a Nun.

Whenever I called in National Radio was playing in the background and the Herald and the Listener were spread out on the little table in the cosy sunroom out the back. She loved Winston Peters and his brand of opportunistic politics: “I like what he says,” she would say but I was never going to agree with her on that topic so I kept my mouth shut and let her talk.

She was a champion of the golf player and several engraved cups in the cabinet at the Walton course where she was a member are probably the only physical proofs left outside her gravestone to remind us that she once walked the earth. Those who knew her in person are now few and far between. Eva is buried at the cemetery off Morrinsville Road near Hamilton and lies next to her beloved mother, Mary. Her time was due as were her generations general attitudes toward non-Pakeha peoples.

 

 

 

Auckland and Hamilton: A Personal Tale of Two Cities.

April 16, 2016

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Hamilton, The City of Floating Balloons.

The Southern Pacific Ocean as defined by the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific is an exotic and mysterious paradise that warmed by a benign sun, caressed by a gentle breeze and exists a perpetual state of dreamlike serenity. It is an region that includes Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, The Cook Islands and the North of the North Island of NZ, that gently scented air petering out at Auckland.

Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city, has a particular feel to it, one that sets it apart from every other city in the country. It is an especially Polynesian vibe courtesy of that breeze, and while it has lost much of the regions heat by the time it touches the city, it is still redolent with the scent of the tropics.

There has always been something of South Pacific the musical about Auckland for me: the volcanic peaks, the tone of the light, the salt air casting off the Waitemata Harbour and whenever I chanced to hear ‘Bali-Hai’ my thoughts turned to that city, a comparison that makes little sense but that is the associative power of the imagination for you.

The farm I grew up on in the central Waikato some two hours south of Auckland was formed from an English mould, all bucolic pastureland interspersed with oak and walnut trees the native flora long banished to fire and the first thing that struck me on those rare Auckland visits was the plant life. Most notable was the majestic Pohutukawa, a rare form of tree in the heavily Anglicised Waikato, and a host of other semi-tropical forms whose names I could not describe but whose features told my untrained eyes a different sort of natural history story to the one I was most used to.

Perhaps the most telling difference between home and Auckland was the grass. Kikuyu is a harsh and brittle grass introduced from Zimbabwe in the 1920s and suited to the hard clay soils of the Auckland region. An unkindly juxtaposition against the soft lush ryes and clovers of the Waikato, it was the one thing about Auckland I didn’t like. Whenever we went to Auckland to visit relatives I would stare out the car window at this grass and wonder at the wisdom of it.

Kikuyu is an ungainly predator that will overwhelm anything in its presence creeping out over edging and up trees. Its trail is unsightly, its texture hard on the feet and its scent ungracious which is perhaps a fertile metaphor for the city itself at least in the eyes of a nation that views the regions hunger for tax resources with a degree of uncultured cynicism, otherwise I was always quietly excited by the city and its incessant bustle. Aucklanders were different too, unlike like the stoic Irish descendants of the central Waikato, these people seemed worldly and sophisticated.

When I got a bit older my parents took me aside and offered me two choices. I could spend my teenage years at the local High School or go to a Catholic Boarding School in Auckland. I choose the latter because I knew it was what my Catholic father wanted and because I was drawn to the city. I hated the school, a and unkempt institution slovenly bound to bad food and bizarre beliefs, but loved its proximity to Queen Street and K-Rd names I had long regarded with a kind of mystic awe, all bright lights and crowded streets with an energy that made Hamilton feel even more small town and provincial than it was. The thing about the Waikato then was its utilitarianism. It was conservative and suspicious of art and culture, a proclivity it still ferociously clings too despite the concerted efforts of a growing minority to break those chains.

Auckland on the other hand had museums, galleries and public art. It also had shopping. The offerings in the record stores and bookstores went far beyond the middle of the road staples of their Hamilton counterparts, here was a cornucopia of the unimagined and mysterious, a gateway to new horizons in word and sound. Any chance I got and many chances simply taken saw me on the bus into town and wandering from store to store. I had no money but the mere sight of otherworldly album covers and strangely titled books was enough to fulfil a particular longing.

The weekends were the most special. Here I got to hang with my mother’s younger brother the family’s glib and gifted black sheep he was man on the make with a massive stereo system and delirious record collection. He was bad boy with a sharp intellect and over the years that marked my school tenure we cruised the neon lit city suburbs through the early hours in his panel van as he chased down work and money while chowing down on Wimpy Burgers and Radio Hauraki. If only I knew how to describe my double life to my schoolmates then perhaps I would have been regarded with less disdain than I was.

Auckland was a dream, Hamilton was reality and while I eventually returned to reality the dream has kept calling and every now and again I would succumb, pack up my things and settle in until my restless moods undid me and I retreated back to the Waikato. When I was a teen, the bus trip took upwards of four hours. During the four years of my schooling from the bus window I watched the motorway being built and eventually that journey dropped to three and now with a sharply shaven expressway joining the cities, it’s a snip at just under two hours.

The two cities are anomalous in this under populated land being as close together as they are and this proximity joins them in filial manner that neither are comfortable with. Auckland is the older wiser sibling, self-assured and secure of its place in the greater scheme of things. Hamilton on the other hand is a little confused, uncertain and wants to be cool like its older cousin but doesn’t quite know how.

Auckland is a deal maker, a glib media savvy salesperson on the make. Hamilton is a city of industry, a hard grafting manufacturing plant that spits out commodities, research and finely tooled engineering. Both have world class universities, mega-malls and destination concert venues though it must be said that Auckland’s much vaunted Vector Arena looks decidedly shabby against Hamilton’s Claudelands Arena.

As for Rugby, the nations favourite sport, both cities have professional teams and much to Auckland’s chagrin, they are seldom able to beat their local rival despite a much larger population resource. As NZ punches above its weight internationally, Hamilton often out punches its older cousin in any number of ways. This has to grate but Auckland is big enough to pretend otherwise. As for personality, Aucklanders are sharper and more straight up, unafraid to a say yes or no, a quality unusual in a land that uses polite courtesy to hide its shyness. Hamiltonian’s share this latter proclivity and often unsure how to proceed will string you along out of fear of making you uncomfortable.

Auckland is four distinct flavours. The crowded, affluent and professional inner suburbs, the feral West (bigger Hamilton as it has been described to me), the Polynesian South and the North Shore. This latter group aren’t Aucklanders per se, they are a slightly different breed informed by the migratory origin of their population and a dearth of white sand beaches. Here you’ll find enclaves of South Africans, Chinese and English ex-pats plus a kind of Kiwi who is decidedly distinct from the folk on the other side of the harbour, more akin to the traditional sort you find further down country. They are here seeking opportunities not available in the provinces and are more relaxed than their kin on the exact other side of the bridge.

As Auckland is divided by its harbour, Hamilton is divided by a river, the countries longest. The University of Waikato dominates the Eastern bank of the river and between enclaves of students and minimum wage earners are the streets of upwardly mobile University lecturers and administrators. These leafy suburbs wind their way out to the cities southern edge where they give way to the districts of Tamahere and Matangi, former dairy farmland that is now the province of the uber wealthy, all Mc Mansions and European SUVs.

Except for the plush estates around Hamilton’s centrally located peat dome lake, the West side is middle income territory giving way to Bogan Dinsdale on the cities western edge, the gateway to the black sand beaches of Raglan, and Nawton the cities version of Mangere/Otara, ethnically divers and low income. As for Ponsonby/Remuera, you’ll find that 10 minutes south directly down the recently completed $200 million expressway. Its called Cambridge and it does the job beautifully.

These days the differences between the cities is les striking. Hamilton has more people, more options and the Internet has democratised the shopping process. Auckland is bigger than ever and with more people than the entire South Island it is more akin to an international city than just a big one on a far off island at the bottom of the world. Perhaps the biggest differences are the people and the weather.

Hamilton still tends toward the provincial and feral while Auckland, is a  seething multi-cultural mix that it is more or less urbane. At its best Hamilton is down to earth honest, at its worst Auckland is a victim of its own importance and confidence. Hamiltonian’ tend toward pragmatic and suspicious conservatism, Aucklanders throw caution to the wind knowing that the central government will pick up the tab when they get it wrong.

As for the weather, despite their geographical proximity they have little in common. I remember my first day at boarding school and the humidity that dripped off everything making the tiled hallways a health and safety nightmare. Hamilton’s inland humidity has nowhere to go but sit around all summer long chocking the life out of you. Auckland’s is less clingy informed as it is by the ever present cooling breeze wafting off the harbour.

Auckland doesn’t get the great rolling Waikato fogs but I do, missing the deep insulating moisture that rises out of the river and swamplands. This thing is mysterious and satisfyingly claustrophobic sheltering the soul as it does from reality, turning light into warmth and confusing day and night. Being something of a night owl, this is a quality I appreciate.

Auckland gets cold for a minute or two in depth of winter but never bone cold like the Waikato where the frosts set in for weeks crystallising the landscape and torturing the unwary and lightly dressed. The morning frost is the promise of razor sharp blue skies and clear yellow sunlight much as Auckland gets most days regardless of the time of year.

That’s one thing I will never miss about Hamilton, those leaden skies, a dark grey omnipresence that leaks into ones soul without fear nor respite. They hang about for weeks until a storm might whip up over the Tasman sea to the far west and sweep it all away. It’s all very wild and woolly and standard for the land beyond the Bombay Hills a district named for a ship named after the Indian city that bought settlers specifically designated to this area of rich volcanic soils that were destined to grow cauliflower, potatoes and onions for the growing city up the road.

Auckland ends at the Bombay hills from whose peak you can see the entirety of the Northern Waikato. This is the end of Polynesia and from here on the atmosphere is a very different quality. This is the atypical New Zealand of wind swept skies and endless rolling hills, bush, farm and every 30km or so a small town or village. Otherwise it is empty, austere, stark and rugged.

Here the air is shaped by the breath of the winds sweeping up from Antarctica and across the surface of the brooding and Tasman sea, the gateway to Australia. Gisborne, Tauranga and Napier have hints of Polynesia about them but the ominous landscape that rises up behind them tells a different story and as for the South Island, windy Wellington on the North Islands furthermost point is the first hint that things are about to get crazier.

Fault-lines, raging sub-Antarctic weather, dripping forests, granite grey landscape and snow. This is an entirely different place with different attitudes. Auckland and Hamilton can be marked by their business orientated conservatism, The South Island favours socialist collectivism. Here the comforting warmth of the north of the north gives way to a more stoic realism fuelled less by sushi and more by mutton fat.

So here I am again for the umpteenth time living in Auckland, a city where much of my extended family has gravitated to over the decades, and a place I am uncertain of calling home. I always think fondly of Hamilton until I remember its self-satisfied and well-healed ruling class who lavish the city with gifts while paying homage to libertarian political philosophies, the kind that hint at an innate selfishness of the type that sets in once wealth has confirmed a certain intellectual superiority.

As for the cities influential conspiracy lobby, a loud and boorish collective of the ignorant and misinformed convinced that fluoridisation is eroding their liberty and giving them cancer, these folk determinedly soak up public time with their endless demands for attention. They stand in stark contrast to the cities small and determined arts set, those with dedicated cultural aspirations who live in the shadow of sport, the one constant that gives the city meaning. If winning an olympic gold medal is your dream, then you ought to move to Hamilton tomorrow, the region produces olympic champions the way it produces milk. It is also a dab hand at making hit songs though this hardly matters in the broader context of…….. sport.

Hamilton is still a callow teenager with an underdeveloped cerebral cortex, the biggest cow-town in a land of cow-towns, the brightest light in a dimly lit hinterland. Auckland’s a little more grown up, not much more, but enough to allow the eccentric, subversive and go getter anonymity and space to breathe. In Auckland a man can walk around in a dress and no one blinks an eye. In Hamilton a bald man out on a Saturday night will suffer an endless stream of abuse from half-cut kids pointing out your deficiency as they cruise up and down the main street, bored drunk and clueless.

From a high point (of which there are few) you can look out across Hamilton and wonder where it is hidden as it is beneath a towering canopy of deciduous trees the gift of long dead British settlers determined to reinvent this region as little England. From a high point in Auckland (of which there are many) you can look and see the Sky Tower, a space age ode to gambling culture and a statement that says none to subtly, I am big and I am here.

Both cities are more alike than either would admit, dedicated as they are to the cause of money. They are also both remarkably peaceful, safe and benign though Hamilton, marked as one of the countries most geographically and climatically stable areas, holds down all the communications infrastructure of national importance. Auckland on the other hand sits on top of fault lines and a restless volcanic field. Built around 48 extinct volcanoes, it is expected to blow up at any minute. When this happens I can always go back to Hamilton the city that once infamously called itself the place ‘Where it Happens’ an irony that escaped no one.

 

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 Auckland, The  Sky Tower City.