Archive for the ‘Hamilton City’ Category

Feeding The Birds

November 9, 2016

 

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The Kaka, an endangered NZ Parrot.

Back in my homeland, a farm on the dead flat dairy country of the Central Waikato, you’ll seldom see a native bird bar the Wax Eye. This bird is endemic to the South West Pacific and is believed to have first arrived on these shores in the 1830’s after being swept in by way of a powerful storm. (That was the first recorded sighting but one has to wonder that for all the millennia this bird has been about that it took until then to find their way to these islands?)

The Wax-Eye (or Silvereye as they call it in Australia) is classified as a self-introduced native (the faintly comical Pukeko is another) and unlike the actual natives who have withered under the onslaught of aggressive species bought to these islands by settlers who didn’t know any better, the Wax Eye is thriving.

A springtime bird (at least where I come from) it is a delight to feed. Partial to fat, a block of NZ’s finest grass fed butter will draw them in by the dozens and much pleasure can be had watching the social dynamics on display. An otherwise slight handful of yellow feathers, the males can get pretty aggro with each other as they tussle over the best positions from which to tackle the butter.

The feeding frenzy and dominance posturing can otherwise become a bit distracting making individuals easy prey for the family cat so the butter is best placed on high where approaching predators can be easily seen. A fence post or dangling branch does the trick nicely.

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The Wax Eye

The Wax Eye has a short season and just as suddenly as it has arrived it is gone unlike the Sparrows, Myna, Starlings, Black Birds, Thrushes, Magpies and Pigeons who are always about. The country Sparrow will eat pretty much anything and are a common sight around the local cowsheds where they feast on the palm kernel and maize silage farmers use to feed the cows feed with when fresh grass is in short supply.

The Sparrows here in the city are a bit different. When they are not eating spiders and insects they are hoovering up crumbs left by people eating on the move but present them with the kind of food their country cousins will attack with gusto and they look a bit blank.

The city Pigeons on the other hand will pretty much eat anything unlike their country cousins who never stop to look at the bread and butter left out for their pleasure. From their roost in the phoenix palms outside the old homestead they head off every morning for feeding grounds unknown.

Unlike the city Pigeon which watches the street with intense precision waiting for someone to drop a crumb or two the country cousin has no truck with humans coming and going in synchronised precision without as much as a ‘by your leave’. Occasionally the cat, unable to resist the call of the cooing bird at rest, will find its way up one of these 70-year-old giants and deep into the fronds only to discover that this critter is a tough customer and that the way down is awkward and difficult.

A little wailing in the dead of night and a precarious adventure with a ladder and torch usually find a satisfactory outcome for all concerned. More amenable to the cats is the odd young pre-flight pigeons that occasionally fall to the ground. A circus ensues as wide-eyed cats gather to dab and prod and otherwise terrorise the hapless victim. An attempt might be made to salvage the wee innocent but once the feline blood lust has flowered there is little hope of a successful rescue.

As in the city, the Blackbird, Starling, Myna and Thrush will gather where there is activity and hang about in a vaguely social manner but I have seldom seen the country cousins tackle a piece of bread or butter – perhaps they are too well fed by the riches of worms and insects available on the wide open land. Their city cousins have an altogether different appetite and will tackle anything. Watching a Blackbird or Thrush gathering bread in a novel sight for me.

There are a couple of four Magpies here in downtown Auckland but they are elusive critters. Sometimes when I happen across one in a park I will stop and stare, enjoying the sight of this intelligent creature doing its thing however the moment they see you looking they are gone, disdain or maybe suspicion writ large in their expression. They seem uninterested in bread, grain and butter preferring to scratch about in the mulch for insects.

The country cousin is no less wary but will often join the other birds feeding on the lawn and nibble at whatever is on offer and with a little time to develop trust a long-term intergenerational acquaintanceship can be forged. Of all the local birds the inquisitive magpie offers some grand entertainment being the playful sort it is but the award for the most entertaining goes to a native, the rarely seen Kaka.

For a while we lived in north of the Waikato on the edge of the Hauraki plains and every year a flock of Kaka, a native parrot, would drop in to feed on the local Kahikatea trees on their way from far off Great Barrier Island to their summer feeding grounds in the Central North Island. About the size of a cat this bird is impressive both in form and temperament.

Starting its adventures with the first light of day they did not let up until deep twilight. When they weren’t practicing aerial acrobatics and screeching up a storm they were teasing the cats and stripping all our citrus of their fruit. Otherwise they might glean a little fun from chasing the odd wayward sparrow or magpie or maybe swing around and around on branches when nothing else was on offer. Both parts easily amused and bored this bird was trouble looking for mischief. Endangered as they are, I thought us very lucky to have an opportunity to see them up so close.

 

English botanist Joseph Banks out here on a voyage of discovery with Captain Cook in the late 18th century wrote of a vast cacophony of birdsong arising from these islands:

‘This morn I was awakd by the singing of the birds ashore from whence we are distant not a quarter of a mile, the numbers of them were certainly very great who seemd to strain their throats with emulation perhaps; their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imaginable to which maybe the distance was no small addition. On enquiring of our people I was told that they have had observd them ever since we have been here, and that they begin to sing at about 1 or 2 in the morn and continue till sunrise, after which they are silent all day like our nightingales.’

Decimated by habitat loss and the introduction of predatory species against which they had no defence, the singers of this vast song have dwindled, their voice now a whisper. The dominant chorus now is one fed by the flourishing legions of introduced birds.

This is the chorus I know best and for as long as I can remember their crowded symphony has been the soundtrack against which I have lived my life. So all pervasive is this song in my psyche that I still hear it when I wake even though I am now far removed from that countryside living in a place where the birdsong is spare.

Birdsong is a vast data stream based on tone and viewed in this way it shows itself to be a thing of wonder. We might marvel at the Internet or the multitude of information rich digital signals floating through the ether but nature has already been there and done that. We are playing catch up at a game the birds have long mastered.

There is tree in the heart of the city that is a magnet for sparrows. Toward sunset they return to roost talk and themselves silly. Their chirping method can sound a bit monotonal but if you listen in carefully and you will hear much subtle variation at work in the basic framework suggesting that a wealth of information is being shared in a very economical way.

These humble little creatures with their sharp eyes are more than the sum of their parts and play a vital role in keeping insect numbers in check while efficiently taking care food waste about the streets. Once eaten this waste is nicely deposited around the trees they roost in offering the plant a neat source of fertiliser.

The city Starlings is smart and very partial to butter and bread, the country cousin uninterested. By the 1970s this introduced species was almost wiped out by the widespread use of D.D.T. Their favourite food was the aptly named Grass Grub. Native to these shores this soil dwelling caterpillar fed on the roots of the grasses upon which the nation built its wealth.

Some clever marketing based on fear mongering and the promise of increased production convinced farmers into drenching their land with this miracle chemical. The hapless Starling feed on the poisoned caterpillar ingested this most voracious of toxins and almost died out. Once the mistake was realised a concerted effort was made help the Starling along and many farms including our own invested in specialised nesting boxes. The population quietly recovered and got on with their efficient method of keeping undesirable insect populations in check.

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The Starling

The Pukeko like the Starling was heavily undone by D.D.T but since the chemical was banned it has bounced back with vengeance. They are a common sight across the nation and are often found squashed on the road. The Pukeko has no road sense at all and in its natural habitat is an elusive bird, understandably wary of humans who often single this bird out for the gun.

The closest I have ever gotten to this creature is at the peat dome lake sitting slap bang in the centre of Hamilton. Here the Pukeko has taken on a domesticated quality and will come racing when food is on offer. All legs it is quite a sight to see striding about fighting the ducks for scraps. I remember my farming days and the care that had to be taken when mowing the hay. The long grass made for an excellent nesting sight and vigilance was required to prevent multiple fatalities. These birds keep communal nests and besides the little black babies you will find mum, dad and various aunties. I don’t understand why so many see them as nothing. They are beautiful.

Ducks are a big favourite of mine and though I see few here in the city they are numerous back home. An amenable creature, the mallard duck can become a friend and as with the Magpie, a well-established bond of trust can reach out across the generations with children and grandchildren calling into feed at a place they have been educated to know as safe.

The numerous drainage channels about the landscape provide suitable nesting sites for the ducks including the ones along the roadsides. Occasionally a nested pair will fly up into the air and into the path of a car or truck. Sometimes one is killed and the other will stand over the body for days. It is a terribly sad sight. Ducks have a good intellect and their emotional response to life should not be underestimated.

The other day I came across a lone female Mallard resting in the shade of a tree. I tossed her a handful of grain and she set about an excited quacking. When she finished she waddled up to my feet and lifted her head asking for more. Later I sat on a bench in the park and while tossing bits of bread to the Sparrows was surprised by a wee fellow who landed on my hand and began feeding directly.

I carry all manner of feed about with me and everyone likes bread but it is a nutritionally bereft product and I prefer to offer something more substantial like whole grain and seeds but this is not to everyone’s liking unlike butter which appeals to a wide audience. Nutritionally dense, butter is a grand source of energy and a block attracts a mixed and enthusiastic crowd. Individuals will pull a mouthful free, swallow it then assiduously wipe their beak on the grass before having another go. It’s amazing how quickly a kilo with disappear and how much fun it can be watching it all happen. The best pleasures are found in the simplest of acts.

 

I was bought up to experience non-humans as instinct driven automatons without thought nor feelings and that is how I treated them. My friends and I prowled the countryside wrecking havoc first with our slingshots then air rifles and finally .22 calibre rifles. It was sport, thoughtless, violent and pleasurable.

I thought nothing of it at first, lost as I was in the thrill of the hunt, then after years of deeper observation it slowly dawned on me that these creatures were more complex than I had imagined. As I examined these new feelings I began to feel shame and regret for the pain and suffering I was tossing about like cheap confetti. It was a one- dimensional perspective and I am glad to have laid it to rest. These days my outlook is altogether different and I am appreciative of the wild life that flourishes despite the ravages wrought by humanities steadfast dedication to its own all consuming self-interest.

Sometimes I want to cry out “Put away your smart phones and ear pieces, put aside your cares and anxiety, let go your ambition and haste. Stop, look and listen and be amazed. Hear that bird song, see the ants darting about beneath your feet, walk around rather than walk through that Pigeon looking for food. Take moment and spare a thought and a crumb for those birds gathered at your feet watching you eat your lunch. They might like a little taste as well. Feeding the birds can do wonders for your wellbeing’.

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The Pukeko

 

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The Strange and Bizarre Saga of the Mobile Stud Unit: A Legendary Hamilton Band Who Was Anything But.

September 11, 2016

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Rohan Marx, Leader of the Mobile Stud Unit.

From the Waikato Times, Thursday, October 9, 2003:

‘Hamilton punk rock band MSU celebrate their aluminium anniversary with the “Monsta 10-year Break-up/Blowout Extravaganza Gig” next week. MSU have become something of an icon in the Hamilton music scene. They have released three albums, had four nationwide tours of NZ’s University Orientation circuit and six number one hits on student radio. Lead singer Rohan ‘Marxi’ Marx plans to reunite the four current and seven previous members for the anniversary performance. Marx: “MSU appeal to the more male audience, it’s not that we are misogynistic, but we do have a more male bend – it’s no more sinister than that. We write our stories and songs with a more male focus, creating for our own amusement with a self-effacing sense of humour, taking the piss and having a good time.”’

– Gail Ormsby

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A few years back I was hosting the breakfast show on Hamilton’s Free FM and once in a while it was my habit to bring in someone with strong opinions to review the events of the week. On this occasion it was local identity Dr Richard Swainson (or Dr Ezy as he was so named for the many years he managed the Hillcrest branch of Video Ezy) and he was asked, as was everyone, to bring along a song.

He duly arrived and passed over a CD and a slip of paper with the songs name written on it. I didn’t take to much notice as I slid the CD into the player and prepped it to go but I did notice the CDs cover which  featured a de-shelled mussel overwritten with the word ‘Flaps’. I thought briefly that the image possessed sexual overtones, but being otherwise occupied I put the observation away for later analysis.

The song itself was called ‘Wheel of Clitoris’ and still the penny remained firmly stuck in the slot even as the words rolled out live across a goodly proportion of the greater Waikato and Bay of Plenty. I was too busy chatting with my guest organising our next segment to take much notice and it was only the imposing figure of the station manager standing at the studio window making slashing motions across his throat that finally caused the penny to fall and the mental machinery to spring into motion.

The song ‘Wheel of Clitoris’, a rather clever and catchy little track, was an un-subtle exploration of the art of cunnilingus and judging by the parade of phone calls that followed it took a number of unwary listeners by surprise. It was also my first real introduction to a band I had hitherto only known by vague reputation.

Dr Swainson it turns out had been the bands ‘officially sanctioned’ photographer and number one fan and thought the whole episode hilarious, a smooth stunt well played. By some miracle I escaped another suspension and on the upside I had a nice little story to bandy about, one that precariously tied me into the broader tale of one of the cities most notorious musical episodes, the legendary Mobile Stud Unit. As for the song itself, this lyrical sample pretty much sums up the overall tone of the band:

 

Walking down the road minding my own business/ going down to the dairy to buy some smokes/you said I am woman hear me roar/so I licked your pussy till my mouth was raw.

 

The Mobile stud Unit, (MSU for short), cannot be described without the personage of Rohan Marx at fore and centre. A diminutive figure with thinning hair and prescription glasses, he was an unlikely figure found often as he was parading about town in his famous 1970s style lime green jump suit, the same one he wore for any number of MSU gigs around the city and later, the nation.

Marx, a small town boy from the South Waikato, (Otorohanga), was big trouble in a little package. After a youth of misappropriating bottles from the backs of Dairies and the towns one Supermarket and claiming refunds on them to feed his ‘Spacies’ addiction, he began his High School years as a boarder at Hamilton Boys High from where he was quickly dispatched after an incident or three with alcohol.

Eventually enrolled at Te Awamutu High (the next town up from Otorohanga) he discovered a mentor in the form of the schools music teacher George Brooks who helped give the young Marx direction and before long he was singing in the schools jazz choir where he discovered the joys of performance. Marx: “I learned the rudimentaries of stagecraft and discovered that I was not so much a musician as I was a performer, a conduit between the band and audience. After that all I wanted to do was play live music.” Which is exactly what happened in 1993 when Marx and a loose collective of friends from Otorohanga and Te Awamutu  met up in Hamilton at the University of Waikato and formed a band.

Initially called Herman and the Hymens they performed the entirety of Side A of the Violent Femmes self-titled debut album at the annual Contact FM Christmas Busking Contest. Victorious co- winner’s, they shared the cash prize with another local band The Romantic Andes while claiming the secondary prize of a support slot with The Muttonbirds at the following years University of Waikato Orientation festivities.

The fledging band decided to try out some originals at a gig that included a somewhat notorious incident with the man destined to become one of the nations leading singer/songwriters. A bet saw Marx body-slam Muttonbirds leader Don McGlashan hard onto the stage during the sound-check and causing some moderate injuries and a world of hard feelings.

A rather upset McGlashan called the band “a bunch of pissed wankers,” a phrase that provided them with a suitable slogan which was oft used on posters and other promotional material for a long time thereafter. The fledgling MSU was a shambolic unit of seven that performed a series of songs Marx describes as “ridiculous shit juxtaposed together.” “We were a cacophony that could barley play in tune but it was a lot of fun.” Perhaps not for McGlashan, but it was a beginning.

 

 

The name Mobile Stud Unit came via Gareth Robb the bands first drummer. It was name his sister had been using to describe the hot guys at Te Awamutu College and it seemed to sit well and without irony considering that the band would never come anywhere to close being sex gods. This was a boy’s band playing lads music and as Marx notes during our interview, only once during their career did a female audience member pick up a member of the band for sexual gratification fulfilling for one lad at least a rock and roll fantasy that would remain forever but a dream for the rest of the collective.

The lucky lad was guitarist Dave O ‘Shea who was ‘had’ on the steps of the Dunedin Post Office at 4am in the morning after a gig at the University of Otago a year or so later. The young lady in question thought she was shagging a member of the 3D’s (who MSU has opened for earlier in the evening) and was somewhat upset if not sickened when she learned the truth of the encounter.

By the end of 1993 the band had improved markedly and capped off the year opening for The Able Tasmans at a University gig. Marx: “It was first time we played with a full sound kit and engineer it went off. I remember thinking just how far we had come. We played in time and we had a set list of properly constructed songs. We had turned from a fun shambolic mess into a finely tuned outfit.” But it was not to last.

The original band members were quietly falling away and through the next year the line-up remained volatile as new and old members came and went. Despite the uncertainties the band managed to produce their first album – 1994s ‘My Pyjamas Smell Acidicky’ – which featured the bands first notable student radio hit ‘Bob’. A song about a breakup, ‘Bob’ was personal tragedy made comic.

The cassette (recoded in guitarist Jamie Stones flat on a four track driven by Dave Whitehead latterly of sound design company White Noise Limited who created the sound art for films like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies among others) featured a hand stitched flannelette cover, made from old Pyjamas, with cordial split over the fabric to make it look like the pyjamas had been ‘pissed in’.

 

 

A Waikato Times article from March 23 1994 describes the band as ‘being out to save the Young White Male ethic from extinction’. Marx: “A lot of young white males are unsure of their identity. They’ve been pecked at by just about everybody. Everything they’ve grown up to believe in is wrong. That’s why we have to redefine the young white males identity – it’s in danger of slipping from the culture.”

Marx goes onto describe the bands modus operandi, “We usually don’t tune up for gigs because it sounds more interesting that way,” while offering some insight into the bands broader musical philosophy: “We try to keep the songs simple enough for the average person to grasp. We are not like some artsy-fartsy French movie, there is really only one level (too many Hamilton bands take themselves too seriously and we offer some light relief) and people seem to like it.”

The bands typically non-PC attitude, a trait well explored in song and more notably in band posters, often saw them in conflict with various Feminist groups on campus as well as the LGBT community, hipsters, hippies, rock stars – besides The Muttonbirds they fell offside with Head Like A Hole with the satirical ‘Head Up Yer Hole’ – and pretty much anyone else easily offended (usually by accident rather than intent – MSU were many things but malicious they were not).

Often the source of official complaints to various University authorities, all this but served to firm up the bands mythology drawing more of the ever curious to gigs of ever increasing size. Marx: “We were a reaction against the P.C. fashion that was defining Waikato University scene at the time, that and the shoegazer bands that were playing to audiences of 3 or 4 people around the city.”

 

 

By 1995 the original Mobile Stud Unit (Jamie Stone, Jude Richards, Dave O’Shea, Gareth Robb and Jock Ellis) had moved on leaving Rohan to his own devices. A chance meeting with drummer, songwriter and broadcaster (Contact FM and later UFM) Dean Ballinger found Marx with a suitable creative partner and a chance to rebuild the band. Hamilton alt-scene stalwart Chris Paki took over guitar duties and ‘Stormtrooper’ Huw O’Connor the bass. Marx: “In a matter of months we went from folksy vaudeville to British inspired punk.”

The band is prominently featured on the cover of the August 25, 1997 edition of The Waikato Times. It is a photo from their performance at the Contact FM ‘Battle of the Bands’ at the Wailing Bongo with Rohan Marx to the fore in all his lime green glory. Despite losing to The Nerve (composed of former MSU members Jude Richards, Jamie Stone and Joko Ellis) the 2nd incarnation of MSU managed to steal the glory if not the main prize.

Later in1997 the band released their second album ‘Blood Spew’. Named for an incident on Hood Street in Central Hamilton when Rohan was out on a bender and started vomiting blood (turned out to be the first symptom of an oncoming hiatus hernia) it was recorded by local sound icon Dan Howard and mixed by Scott Newth (who was destined to find his fortune as the Datsuns soundman). Marx: “It’s my favourite because the energy and enthusiasm comes through and the rawness and proficiency are all there in just the right amounts.”

1997 was also the year that saw compulsory student unionism come to an end at Waikato University and with it most of the vibrant music scene the fees paid for including student radio station Contact FM and student venue The Wailing Bongo. To close off the Bongo MSU headlined 6 bands for $3.00. 600 people turned up and to make the occasion all the more memorable Marx decided to set himself on fire.

Wearing a homemade fire suit (wet jeans, wet jersey and welding gloves on top of wet surgical bandages) he was doused in two litres of petrol and lit with a cigarette. “I went up like a human fireball and started to boil under all the wet gear. Helpful lads from the audience tried to douse the flames with beer to no effect. Sadly the whole stunt was poorly timed and only 70 people witnessed it.” (The fire was eventually extinguished and Marx emerged from under all the gear with only superficial burns to his head and nose).

 

 

In 2004 the band teamed up with Datsuns guitarist Christian Livingstone and recorded ‘Flaps’ in The Datsuns makeshift studio in a room above the Cambridge Town Hall. The success of ‘Flaps’ caught everyone by surprise and the small run of 400 copies (burned on a home computer) sold out almost immediately.

The albums combined yielded a number of student radio hits including ‘Tony Tourettes’ (from ‘Flaps’) – a song about a bloke who gets stabbed in the head and develops Tourettes Syndrome and is later cured by a hit on the head. The chorus says it all –

Fucken fucken fucken fuck fuckity shit fuckity fuck cunt cock shit piss you fucking wank you fucking bitch’.

‘Beef Curtains’ (from ‘Blood Spew’) – is an ode to vaginas and is played out through an extended visual metaphor about a man living inside a vagina.

And then there is ‘Stu’s Pie Cart’ (from ‘Blood Spew’). The straightest song the band ever did turned also turned out to be its most enduring and popular.

Marx: “Stu owned the River City Diner, a mobile food cart that he set up near Steele Park off Grey Street in Hamilton East every Wednesday night through Sunday morning feeding pissed students on their way home from town. The band got to know him and we roped him into voicing our adverts and cook sausages at gigs.

I wrote a song about him after I heard he had died. It works because it a heart felt ode to a friend who hadn’t died, the council had just shut him down on hygiene grounds. It is probably the best MSU song because it embodies all the stages of the band and was something other than depraved. It was a proper serious song that was still fun.”

Stu Nicholls actually died in 2015. “He was a fucking character and he loved the song and he said quite often, ‘play that at my funeral’. One of my favourite memories of band is hearing song being played at the funeral at the Newstead crematorium. The place was fucking packed.”

The song ‘Gonna Bash’ (from ‘Flaps’) appears on the soundtrack to Waikato made and NZ Film Commission funded supernatural thriller ‘The Locals’ courtesy of director Greg Page, a long time friend and supporter and in 2008 the band released ‘Roadkill’, a compilation CD featuring the entirety of the MSU catalogue. On November 14, 2008, at Ward Lane in Central Hamilton the band said their final goodbyes at the ‘Roadkill’ release gig………. or so everyone thought.

 

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The band have since reformed twice to play Paul Martin’s (Blackjack, Devilskin) annual Gemini Party (most recently in 2015) and though offers still come in for gigs (notably from Palmerston North where in their heyday the band were virtual superstars) there is no great enthusiasm for anymore reunions. Marx: “We would need a whole bunch of new songs for me to consider doing it again. Frankly, a lot of the earlier stuff doesn’t gel with me as a middle aged man.”

 

The MSU Experience:
Marx: “For the audience it was a rollicking good time, like an Oompah band without the Oompah. The second version was a great fun band with lots of laughs and great disgusting lyrics. As we good older, lazier and fatter, the punk element dropped out and we became a good Kiwi rock band. That last stage  was the third and final version of the band. Terry Edwards replaced Dean Ballinger on drums in 2004 investing the outfit with a new feel and overall it was the most musically literate.

One of things I loved the most about being in MSU was looking out into the audience and seeing two thirds dancing and singing along and the other third listening to the lyrics and laughing. These latter types were usually always newbie’s to the MSU experience.”

 

Afterword:

When writing the story of a band with as long a history as MSU it is often as much about as what you leave out as what you have put in and believe me, I have left out plenty. Alongside the sexual depravity that fills out the songs there are the stage costumes made from toilet paper, the naked but for the sock thing, the fake breasts, pigs head football, the incident of the bass guitar and an unappreciative audience member not to forget the various national tours and the litany of misadventures that filled out the spaces between the gigs. MSU was the Rock and Roll dream ‘lad’ style and if it wasn’t for the total lack of female groupies, it would have been perfect.

 

 

Where Are They Now?

Chris Paki (Guitar) is driving a milk tanker for Fonterra and playing in four different bands.

Terry Edwards (Drums) is the manager of Credit Union Hamilton and plays in two cover bands.

Aaron Watkinson (Bass) is copywriter and sound engineer with MadiaWorks in Auckland.

Dean Ballinger (Drummer and Lyricist) is a tutor at the Screen and Media Department at Waikato University and an authority on Conspiracy Theory (the subject of his Masters thesis).

Jamie Stone (guitarist) teaches guitar on Waiheke Island.

Gareth ‘Griff’ Robb (Drummer) is a Sonographer in Wellington.

Jocko Ellis (Percussion, Vocals) is an Intermediate Schoolteacher in Te Awamutu.

Dave O’Shea (Guitar) is a Legal Executive in Hamilton.

Jude Richards (Bassist) is a subversive garage musician in Australia.

SS Stormtrooper (Huw O’Connor – Bass) teaches marketing at the University of Waikato School of Business.

Rohan Marx (Vocals) graduated Waikato University with a Degree in Film and English. After selling space in the Yellow Pages for a couple or three years he took on the thankless task of trying to keep the Universities Static Television afloat. Later he found a job with car/campervan rental company Online Republic in Auckland and is now General Manager.

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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. Aucklander’s 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.

Hamilton Drivers: You Suck.

April 8, 2016

 

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On a recent visit to Hamilton I was shopping with my wife at a central city supermarket and as we returned to her vehicle a man with three children in this car drove straight at us. It was a deliberate act that included a sudden rush of acceleration and a grim defiant stare. There was more than ample time for us to cross the lane had the car remained at the speed it was going but our emergence seemed to trigger a reaction in the driver of the kind I have encountered so many times before in this city.

I am not a car owner and spend a lot of time walking and my 4 years living in the Hamilton CBD taught me that pedestrians and cyclists are viewed negatively and it was not the first time a driver had accelerated and driven straight at me while crossing the road, it is exactly as I would expect of Hamilton.

This negative perception of Hamilton drivers was reinforced when I moved to the Auckland CBD some 16 months ago. The first thing I noticed was the vastly different attitude toward pedestrians. The Auckland CBD is organised with the pedestrian in mind and with many ‘pedestrian only zones’ and routine crossing lights which feature handy timers that tell you exactly how long you have to cross the road, all of which conspires to make it a an easy and safe place to traverse on foot.

The Hamilton rule is that once the little green man starts to flash red, it’s game on. The cars are start coming straight at you even though that flashing red figure is just an indicator informing the pedestrian that the lights are about to change and you have around 20 seconds to complete you crossing manoeuvre.

One day I slammed my hand on top of a car that came perilously close to hitting me. The driver, a Pakeha male of advancing years screamed back at me “the crossing light is red you f***ing a***hole.” In actually the crossing light had just started flashing red as I approached the centre of the road. Not only had he misunderstood how the crossing lights worked, he seemed to have no understanding of the first and most absolute rule regarding pedestrians; they have the right of way. This incident was not isolated, it was typical.

A friend once noted “Many Kiwis still drive like they are still on the farm” and perhaps this is key to understanding the fault at work with the psyche of the Hamilton driver who tends to drive like a rugged individualists beholden to no one but themselves. Aucklander’s more used to congestion and crowded roads seem to have had this habit somewhat breed out of them. Up here you could easily go balmy with frustration, the roads being as crowded as they are, and cultivating a more patient attitude is essential to peace of mind.

Historically Kiwis are not patient people, used to absolute freedom of movement in our underpopulated land and our general attitude seems to be that anything that hinders our journey is an affront to our ‘rights as citizens’, a response cyclists seem to engender in spades. I have listened numerous conversations where drivers (always Pakeha) describe cyclists as a ‘a bloody nuisance’ while laughing about the pleasure they glean from driving at them in a manner designed to frighten and intimidate.

The population of the Auckland CBD is around 40,000, mostly recent migrants and overseas guests from built up cities in Asia and India and they have much to teach us about the art of city driving. They will slow up when encountering you crossing the road and often stop and wave you on when they see you waiting to cross. They drive with more care and awareness, probably because they are used high-density cities and have grown up understanding that city driving is a co-operative endeavour rather than a battle for supremacy.

When exiting a car park building your average Asian or Indian driver will wave you on before they move across the footpath toward the road. Your standard Pakeha driver will just pull out scattering unwary walkers who then have to either wait for the car to pull out into traffic or negotiate a way around it in order to continue on their way. While Auckland Pakeha don’t speed up at the sight of you, neither are they bothered if you are halfway across a road, they will drive on as if you aren’t there. While Aucklander’s lack the aggression of Hamiltonian’s they are still lacking an elemental awareness of those beyond the inner sanctum of the car.

It has been often said that Kiwis are the nicest people in the world until they get behind the wheel of a car and not being a driver I have often the occasion to experience this first hand as an observing passenger. The standard Pakeha driver flings the vehicle about with scant regard for other drivers let alone pedestrians and cyclists whose presence elicits a squawk of frustration from the driver always desperately in a hurry to get nowhere fast.

My migrant friends, mostly Indian, have an entirely different attitude. They drive with a great deal more awareness of other people and their needs. For these driver’s courtesy and patience is an inbuilt virtue and if by some chance you time your road crossing badly, there is no blaring of horns and rude hand gestures, rather a smile of understanding that says “we all make mistakes.”

I don’t know for sure what is going on in Hamilton but there is something untoward in the driving culture, something unpleasant, aggressive and reactionary. Perhaps the problem is patience or to be precise, a lack of it. A virtue born of necessity, Hamiltonian’s have had scant need to cultivate patience on the cities fast flowing and uncrowded roads and the result is an unsophisticated and impatient driver who often makes the Hamilton visit a less than pleasant one.

Things To Do In The Central Waikato Before Passing Through on Your Way to Somewhere Else

March 17, 2016

 

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Between Auckland and a whole host of palatable destinations like Rotorua, the Volcanic Plateau of the Central North Island and the golden beaches of the Bay of Plenty is the Waikato. A vast fertile basin of temperate climate, the Waikato region stretches from the wild black sand beaches of the North Islands West Coast to the Coromandel on the Islands East coast. In between is a cornucopia of landscapes that is mostly overlooked by the casual tourist flying into the country via Auckland and hurrying on through on their way toward more famous destinations.

Perfectly suited to the growing of grass, the Waikato is the centre of New Zealand’s behemoth Dairy industry and home to the giant Dairy Co-Operative Fonterra, a brand that dominates international dairy trade and is New Zealand’s largest manufacturing and export industry. The Waikato boasts one of the world’s premier ‘young’ Universities in the University of Waikato, whose Business School is considered secondly only to Harvard’s. The region is also a major international centre of scientific research with a particular specialty in bovine genetics.

The Waikato is NZ’s fourth largest regional economy with an annual GDP of around $16.5 billion.

Heading Southward from Auckland, the Waikato can be approached from 3 directions:

  1. Straight down via State Highway One, which takes us through Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Hamilton, Cambridge and Tirau.
  2. Via State Highway 27, the gateway to the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, which takes us through Te Aroha, Morrinsville and Matamata.
  3. Or by way of the West Coast, a cornucopia of marginal roads that offer a wholly unique driving experience and includes the Limestone district (as featured in the film trilogy Lord Of The Rings), the iconic surfing town of Raglan, Kawhia and Otorohanga.

The West Coast route begins at Port Waikato, a brief 40 minutes from the Auckland CBD where the countries longest river, the 425 km long Waikato, meets the sea. This road takes us past the regions three harbours, Raglan, Aotea and Kawhia.

Weathertop

Raglan is a two-hour drive from Port Waikato. This route abounds with spectacular scenery and includes the Limestone Downs District, or as it is referred to in the Lord of the Rings movies, Weathertop. There are numerous lakes, coastal vistas and native forests to see on a drive that seldom includes other vehicles.

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Limestone Downs

Raglan

Raglan is home to some 3000 people and the coffee and food is first class. Hamilton’s (the capital city of the Waikato region) weekend getaway spot is a magnet for alternative lifestyler’s, surfers and those seeking respite from the rat race. The Wharf District, Bridal Veil Falls (a spectacular waterfall surrounded by native forest) and the many bays and beaches are all well worth your time as is the famed toothbrush fence at the little settlement Te Pahu, a few kilometres down the line. Don’t forget to bring your old tooth scrubbers along for some artistic recycling.

 

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Raglan Surf

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Bridal Veil Falls

The coastal road South takes us around the beautiful Mt Karioi (where there is plenty of good hiking) and past the Te Toto Gorge, a wild cliff face that plunges with sudden and breath-taking drama from the land to the sea. The drive will take about two hours and remember to stop and check out the untouched glories of the Aotea Harbour along the way. A former glacial valley, (fed by the Pakoka River which you would have seen earlier as the Bridal Veil Falls), this peaceful harbour is unpopulated and bordered by regenerating native forest and rolling pastureland.

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Te Toto Gorge

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http://www.aoteaharbour.co.nz/

Kahwia Harbour

Kawhia Harbour was the one of the original landing places of the first wave of Polynesian migrants some 7-800 years ago. With such a long history, the district has many stories to tell.  It is also a mecca for fossil hunters and new discoveries about NZ’s distant past are being unearthed all the time. The latest major discovery is the fossilized remains of a penguin that stood as tall as a human. Amateur geologists will also have a field day exploring the unique rock formations on display.

The main beach is typically North Island West Coast black sand but under that sand you will find a multitude of hot water springs that can be accessed for two hours either side of low tide. Dig a hole, let it fill with hot water then slide in, sit back and sigh loudly.

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Hot Water Springs Kawhia Beach

The town itself is a sleepy little settlement of some 600 people with a beautiful Marae at its heart (a Marae is a traditional Maori meeting place). The fish and chips are very good and just south of Kawhia, they mine iron-sand for steel making. It’s a huge operation but probably only worth your while if you are an ‘enthusiast’.

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Otorohanga

58kms east of Kawhia is the town of Otorohanga (pop. 2,600). The central feature of the town is the Ed Hillary Walkway named for famous New Zealand adventurer Ed Hilary, the first person to reach the summit of Everest the world’s tallest mountain.

The walkway is a notable and extensive collection of Kiwiana (historic New Zealand brands and cultural artefacts) featuring everything from Buzzy Bees to All-Black memorabilia. Don’t forget to check out Haddad’s Menswear, a glimpse into New Zealand’s retail past, the Haddad brothers have been dressing the districts men for 50 years.

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Ed Hilary Walkway

The Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park boasts the nations largest domed aviary, and is the perfect place to see and observe a selection of rare native birds, including the Kiwi. This flightless bird possesses a brain structure more akin to mammal than an avian and behaves more like a cat than a bird. Soft and warm with plenty to say, the Kiwi is a delight to behold.

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Otorohanga Kiwi House - feeding Longfin eels

Eel feeding at the Otorohanga Kiwi House

 

Pirongia, Te Awamutu

From Otorohanga you head south to New Plymouth (and take in some of the North Islands most scenic road views) or head north into Hamilton, a route that will take you past the stunning 962 meter high Mt Pirongia, an extinct volcano where you will find an array native birds including fantails, kingfishers, kereru, and tui as well as some spectacular stands of old growth native trees like rimu, tawa and totara. The walkways are numerous and well developed.

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Tirohanga, Pirongia Forest Park

Pirongia village itself is a reliable coffee stop as is the bustling dairy farming town of Te Awamutu a little further north.

http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/waikato/places/pirongia-forest-park/

While in Te Awamutu, check out the Rose Gardens, (considered to be among the world’s finest), and the museum which hosts a permanent display to towns most famous sons, The Finn Brothers. The Finn Brothers are responsible for some of New Zealand’s most iconic music: as solo artists, as a duo and as members of international hit makers the pop/rock bands Split Enz and Crowded House.

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Hamilton

Hamilton is the Capital of the Waikato region. With a population closing in on 190,000, it is NZ’s fourth largest city.

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http://www.hamiltonwaikato.com/

Hamilton Central boasts some 115 eateries, the suburbs a whole lot more. Hood Street is the main entertainment district and home to a variety of bars, clubs and restaurant’s offering craft beer, live music and a host of other goodies. A little further south along the main street is the Meteor, NZ’s largest ‘black box’ theatre and there is something going on here most nights. Its worth timing your visit for the Meteors regular Performance Cafe, a night when the cities poets, musicians, performance artists and comedians gather to do their thing in front of a rowdy audience.

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Just across the road from Hood Street is the cities Museum and Art Gallery where the visitor can view, among the varied permanent displays, the 200 year Maori war waka (canoe) Te Winika.

http://waikatomuseum.co.nz/

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Te Winika 

 

Don’t forget to seek out Browser’s an iconic second hand bookstore. Browser’s is warm, welcoming and endlessly eclectic, offering the bibliophile a host of rare and unexpected delights.

The glory of Browser’s is only matched by Auteur House further up the main street. At the top of the slightly seedy looking stairwell is a cinephiles heaven. This World Cinema DVD rental store is the repository one of the countries largest private film collections. You’ll find films here that you never knew existed.
While you’re in town don’t forget to say hello to Riff Raff. Designed by Weta Workshop (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings) this statue is a tribute to one of the cities favourite sons Richard O’Brien. Situated on the former site of the Embassy Movie Theatre where a young O’Brien immersed himself in the B-Grade Horror films that later inspired him to create ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, the world’s longest running theatrical production. O’Brien (who found further fame hosting iconic British game show The Crystal Maze between 1990 and 1994) played Riff Raff in the original stage production and later movie adaptation.

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Riff Raff Statue

http://www.riffraffstatue.org/page/riffraff_5.php

One of Hamilton’s little known treasures are the 750 hectares of gullies that weave in and about through the city. Long abused, in recent years they have been the focus of major restoration work. Raised walkways make them easy to traverse and the curious will discover a wide variety of natural ecosystems and fresh water springs bare meters from the bustling cityscape. There are also extensive walkways along the Waikato River and around Lake Rotoroa, (Hamilton Lake). Just up behind the city centre, this peat dome lake is surrounded by gardens and several large-scale public art pieces.

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Before you leave the city don’t forget to check out the Zoo, a thoroughly modern affair dedicated to conservation. Here you will meet zebras, meerkats, tigers, giraffes, elephants and all manner of native birds in natural surroundings.

On Cobham Drive you’ll find the Hamilton Gardens, an eclectic collection of themed gardens that recently won the coveted ‘International Garden of the Year Award’ in 2014. Themes include: The Tudor Gardens, The Indian Char Bagh Garden, The Italian Renaissance Gardens, The Modernist Gardens and The Chinese Scholars Garden.
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hamilton gardens

 

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The Italian Renaissance Gardens

Cambridge

Just south of Hamilton is the heritage town of Cambridge (population 20,000). Noted for its trees, parks, boutique shopping, cafes and fine dining, there is plenty on offer for the casual visitor. New to the town is the Art-Deco themed Tivoli Cinema overlooking the Lake Te Koutu Domain as are a plethora of walkways and cycle-ways that offer extensive views of the Waikato River. If all that walking about has made you hungry you might want to check out the Queen Vic Chippy, an award winning Fish and Chip shop. Fish and Chips are New Zealand’s traditional takeaway meal.

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Lake Te Koutu Domain Cambridge

The Waikato occupies an area of 9,325 sq. km. and is home to some 2 million dairy cows and 416,000 people.

20 minutes out of town, past the historic Karapiro Hydro Dam and lake, is the Maungatautari Ecological Island, an extinct volcano whose cone has been enclosed by 50 km’s of predator proof fencing. This community led project has created the largest predator free enclosure on mainland NZ and remains one of the worlds most successful ecosystem restoration projects. Since the projects inception, endangered native birds have been proliferating and spilling out across the region. There are several walks, some longer than others, but all worth your time.

*With the exception of a species of bat and the Tuatara lizard, prior to the arrival of humans some 1000 years ago, the New Zealand islands (long isolated from the rest of the world) had no mammals or reptiles. Birds were the dominant species and evolved without knowledge of these predatory species. With the arrival of humans came rats, dogs, cats and opossums (to name a few) and they wrecked havoc on the defenceless bird populations. For many decades’ people both at community and governmental level have been working hard to preserve native ecosystems from introduced biological threats.

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Maungatautari Predator Proof Fence

Between the towns of Cambridge, Morrinsville and Matamata are circular range of hills comprising the districts of Te Miro, Maungakawa, Whitehall and Richmond Downs and some of the most spectacular scenery in the region is to be found here. The narrow roads that traverse the high plateau are a popular destination for weekend motorcyclists so be careful to stay on the left so you won’t be surprised by the row of Harley’s coming the other way. These districts also offer several stands of virgin native forest and walkways by which they can be explored.

Look out for Waterworks Road. Here you will find an artificial lake that supplies water to the town of Morrinsville. It is a popular destination for swimming, boating and barbecuing in the summer. Roads of particular scenic interest include Te Miro Rd, Whitehall Rd, Scotsman Valley Rd, French Pass and Brunskill.

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Maungakawa Hill by Rodney Hamill (1999)

Matamata

Matamata (Population 7,600) is famous for its close association with the Hobbits of Middle Earth and the small display village of Hobbiton but it has a great deal more to offer. On ‘Old Te Aroha Road’ (a few spare minutes north of the town) you will find Waiere Falls. Careering down the Kaimai Ranges, this is one of the longest waterfalls in the North Island. The trek to the top takes about one and a half hours and after the walk back down you can relax at one of the two thermal spas to be found nearby. As for food and coffee, check out Workman’s Cafe on Matamata’s mainstreet and in particular their extensive collection of ‘lewd’ postcards. Ronnie’s a nationwide bakery franchise began in Matamata, and the original cafe is the place to go if you are interested in baking. here you can try a broad range of traditional Kiwi cakes, biscuits, pastries and pies.

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The Okoriore Hotel and Spa has been trading since 1880. The Hotel buildings are all original and feature hot pools set amidst native bush as well as a coiffured nine-hole golf course. Okoriore is tucked in behind the village of Tirau on State Highway One. Tirau is also the gateway to the glorious Blue Springs from where 70% of NZ’s bottled water originates. The springs, the source of the Waihou River, are famously blue and rich in aquatic flora and fauna. This is a very special place, peaceful, uncrowded and spiritually invigorating.

 

 

Morrinsville and Te Aroha

North of Matamata are the towns Morrinsville and Te Aroha. Surrounded by the most productive dairy land in the world, Morrinsville and districts boast 3 major dairy processing plants. In the centre of town you’ll find the Wallace Gallery, home to a world-class art collection. A group of dedicated locals in conjunction with the Wallace Arts Trust (custodians of the nations largest private collection of NZ art, a collection gathered by Sir James Wallace a notable local son and CEO of large local employer Wallace Industries) have transformed the old Post Office, (a notable piece of post-modern architecture) into a gallery space where the visitor can view paintings and sculptures by iconic NZ artists. Across the road you’ll find Fitness Furnishings, a local institution where the weary traveller will find one of the region’s best coffees.

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morrinsville gallery

A few minutes’ outside of the town, down the end of Harbottle Rd lies a disused Quarry. Retired after 60 years of service, it has filled with water and is now a deep lake of viridian blue. If you have a kayak, bring it along. You will seldom find a more perfect and peaceful spot for gliding across the waters.

Te Aroha is just up the road from Morrinsville. This heritage mining town lies under the shadow of the 952 meter tall Mt Te Aroha, a spectacular volcanic peak. There is a walkway to summit that offers views as far south as Mt Taranaki (320km away). The town, a living remnant of a NZ some fifty years gone, has an extensive ‘Edwardian style’ botanical park with private spas and a large tepid pool, all fed by hot soda water from deep beneath the mountain. The botanical gardens are home to the Mokena Hou Geyser, the only natural soda water geyser in the world.

 

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TeAroha

Huntly, Taupiri and Ngaruawahia,

Due South of Auckland straight down the motorway (State Highway one) you’ll pass by three towns, Huntly, Taupiri and Ngaruawahia. The first of these, Huntly (population 7,600), could almost be described as the town of lakes. Centre of the regions historic coal mining industry and home to countries largest coal and gas -fired power plant Huntly on face value is an industrial town but behind the mines, quarries (the nations favourite brick, the Huntly brick, is baked from local clay) is a ravishing collection of lakes. Perhaps most notable of these is man made job. Lake Puketirini was formed into 1993 when the former Weaver Open Cast Coal pit was flooded. The lake is approx 64 m deep in the deepest section, 54 Hectares in size. If you haven’t got your scuba gear handy, (the lake is often used for diver training) Puketirini like neighbouring Lake Hakanoa is perfect for kayaking. The Lake Hakanoa walkway is split into thirteen zones including a native tree reserve, Japanese Garden, Global Garden, Wildlife Gardens, Palm Beach, Contemporary Maori Garden, Green Cathedral, Ponga Grove and wetlands.

 

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http://huntly.co.nz/things-to-do/

 

Between Huntly and Ngaruawahia is the small settlement of Taupiri (population 500) which sits beneath Taupiri mountain a site sacred to Waikato Maori and the is the main burial ground for the regions associated tribes.

 

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Burial on Taupiri Mountain

Ngaruawahia (population 5000) is just a few km north of Hamilton and is the sight of the Tūrangawaewae Marae a significant Maori meeting place and home of the Maori King Movement. A response to British colonisation, the Kingitanga Movement was an attempt to unite all the Tribes of New Zealand under a monarch. The thinking was that united the tribes could stand strong against British colonisation. The first Maori monarch was crowned at Ngaruawahia in 1857 and the Marae properly established in 1921. The Maori monarchs still live here today.
*Other tribes choose to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, a document that gave Maori full rights as British citizens and has since become recognised as the founding document of the nation state of New Zealand.

 

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Images from Turangawaewae 

 

A Brief History of The Modern Era of Hamilton Recoding Studios, 1980-2015

January 27, 2016

    TandysStudio1  Tandys Recording Studio Hamilton

When I sat down to write this account about the modern era of Hamilton Recording Studios the first obstacle I encountered was the lack of chronicled information. Despite the fact that for a time the studios in question were vital to the various musical scenes in operation throughout the city and the focus of some intense creative activity, so much the wider story had been lost to memory. It was a labyrinthine puzzle but quietly the stories emerged revealing a tale of studios rising, failing and being gutted to create new studios in new locations. It is the story of passion, innovation and self-taught engineers struggling to maintain a professional recording industry in a small but rapidly growing city looking for a creative identity.

These days Hamilton boasts a serious number of recording studios led by The Porch, a facility that can be counted among the nations best, but this wasn’t always the case. While Hamilton and the wider Waikato region had a couple of small production facilities and the odd 4-Track ‘home’ recording studio prior to the 1980s, if any of the cities bands or musicians required something more from their recordings, it was off to Auckland they went and the welcome was not always as warm as it might have been.

Stories abound of grumpy engineers who drew the short straw and got the ‘Hamilton Band’. It was during one of these experiences with an engineer and some derogatory comments about Hamilton music at a well known Auckland sound recording facility that budding sound engineer Zed Brookes (there with his band Step Chant Unit putting the final touches on their soon to be hit single ‘Painting Pictures’) decided that he was going to create a decent recording studio in Hamilton and so by-pas the less than satisfactory attitudes of Auckland.

At the time the bands drummer Neville Sergent was working behind the counter of a Hamilton branch of a Tandys Record store, a chain that that proliferated across the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and King Country. The chains owner was musician/songwriter/performer Neil Nooyen who was thinking about building a recording studio where he could work on his own music. Sergent introduced the Brookes and Nooyen and in Nooyen, Brookes found the capital he needed and in Brookes, Nooyen found the skills and enthusiasm required to make his dream happen.

 

Tandys Recording Studio.

The barn on Nooyen’s lifestyle block just off Morrinsville Road (at the edge of the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest) proved to be suitable and in 1985 Brookes set to work designing and building and the result was a warm and inviting studio space at the end of a gravel driveway about 3 minutes off the main road. The studio began very simply, just Brookes and his Tascam 4 Track Cassette Porta-Studio before upgrading to a 4-Track analogue system sourced from new partner Rex Wade’s Pirongia based Studio. The Nooyen/Brookes/Wade partnership lasted less than a year before Wade left to set up his own studio on Tramway Road (The Tramway Road Studio). By this stage the demand for Tandys services were enough to convince Nooyen to invest some serious money. The result was a state of the art 16 track facility.

Belying its bucolic façade, Tandys was hive of activity that often ran 24/7 trying to keep up with the demands of a hungry musical community. While Brookes initially carried the bulk of the workload he quietly built up a team of young enthusiasts to assist. Dennis Marsh had learned the basics of sound live mixing working behind the console for his brother Phil’s band; legendary Morrinsville based rock covers band Bad Jelly. Between gigs Dennis spent his time at Aerial Railway, a basic 16 track analogue facility set on a commune just north of Coromandel, expanding his craft under the supervision the studios creator Johnny Irons. When Dennis heard there was a new studio open for business just down the road from his home in Morrinsville, he turned up and offered his services.

Brookes: “Dennis was a good foil to everything. He could be annoying, (when he felt strongly about a recording he would argue his point until he got his way) but every so often totally nailed it. He was a bit of a hippy really, a free spirit who came and went as the winds blew him.” Dennis was killed on his way home to Raglan after finishing a live mixing gig in downtown Hamilton when the car he was driving hit a horse that had escaped onto Te Rapa Straight on the cities Northern boundary.


Dennis Marsh RIP.

 

Marcus Pope, a young and talented intern, met a similar fate while helping Brookes move house. After dropping some boxes off he got into his car and ran off the road and was killed instantly in circumstances that could only be described as freakish. Brookes: “Nowadays he’d probably be identified as ‘on the spectrum’ but he was a good kid and loved audio. I think about him all the time.”

Brookes met both Scott Newth and Grant Brodie when they came to Tandy’s to record with their respective bands. Both demonstrated a talent and enthusiasm for the mixing desk and “just stayed on, learning as they worked”. Brookes: “I met Scott Newth when he came in with his synth pop band Love and Violence and got on really well with him. He managed Tandys studio for a time in the later years, then we worked together at the Zoo studios. We tag-teamed it on heaps of projects, we knew each other’s production style well and could offer slightly different flavours to client’s projects. Scott ended up pursuing the indie thing and I went more commercial.”

Scott Newth became the 6th member of the Datsuns, recording much of the bands early work and running their live mixes, a job he still does today. Grant Brodie (Grok, Inspector Moog, Dribbly Cat Attraction) graduated from Tandy’s and went to work at The Rock 93FM’s production studio in downtown Hamilton. When the station was purchased from its founder Grant Hislop, Brodie stayed on with its new owners Media Works, and now manages the media groups Auckland based production studio, a role he has maintained for over 20 years.

In 1993 Brookes left Tandys to set up The Zoo Studio in central Hamilton. Scott Newth took over the running of Tandys for a brief time before handing it over to local sound enthusiast Dave Whitehead who ran the studio until it closed in 1997. Nooyen had been expanding his chain of record stores at around the same time the Internet driven digital music revolution was gaining momentum and after opening a superstore store in central Wellington, Nooyen found himself precariously over extended and the studio was sold to raise funds. Not long after, the Tandys chain of record stores (named after the iconic American record store) shut up shop for good.

Dave Whitehead, who had been dabbling with film sound, went to Wellington and started White Noise, a film sound production company. Over the last 20 years he has worked on over 60 film and TV projects including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogies, Tin Tin, District 9, Snow Piercer and Elysium.

As for Tandys, the equipment was purchased by local student radio station Contact Fm (the University of Waikato) where it was grafted onto the Fridge, the stations production studio.

 

Tandys Zed and Scott Brodie

Zed Brookes behind the console at Tandys (with Scott Brodie of Grok)

Gear:
Originally the studio ran off Brooke’s 4-track Tascam Portastudio and his effects units and synthesizers, then upgrading to Rex Wades’ Tascam 8-Track Reel-to-reel and Tascam mixer and a custom-built patch bay with JBL monitors before upgrading to Fostex 16-Track. A client (a debt collector) sold the studio a Studiomaster 8-buss console he had repossessed from a Rotorua studio and was storing under his bed.
Brookes: “We got it for a good price and later expanded it with another 8 channels to get 24. We bought a Roland MC500 MkII sequencer for our MIDI stuff (everything was entered in numbers), eventually upgrading to an Atari computer with Creator and a Unitor adaptor for striping time code to tape. I remember I even wrote code for it to work out room modes. We bought an Akai S900 sampler and got the trigger input option for triggering drum samples. That thing was worth its weight in gold. We bought some nice microphones, some Omni mics and we got some very expensive B&Ks that were amazing. We had an early 500 rack with some nice modules. We bought one of the first Sony DAT machines, you had to add an extra 15% reverb to your mixes as the rest would just vanish off the DAT.”

Some of the artists who recorded at Tandys Studio: Neil Nooyen, Pretty Belinda, Jono Jack, Silken Blue, Step Chant Unit, Tim Armstrong, Stonehenge, Adult Mayflies, Jim an Joe, Valhalla, Andy Bramwell, Steve Jackson/Desperate Chaps, Steve Hancock, 3 Men Missing, Andrew Johnstone, Book of Martyrs, Blackjack, Brendan Dugan, Ritchie Pickett, Bruce Dennis, Calamari Bushmen, Daisy Chain Halo, Whisperscream, Coustic Harmony, Quantum Leap (QL), Rare Vision, Rik Bernards, Rob Egan, Roy Forlong, Run For Cover, Sound Insight, Merenia, Merv Pinney, Navigator, The Crawfords, Hoola Troupe, Pieces Of Cod, Kaimai Cowboys, Ken Hughes Jr, King Biscuit, Living Proof, Tony Edwards, Love and Violence, Cold Shock, Doug Pepperell, Epic Thruster, Fire and Ice, Gary Spain.

Tandys Recording Studio released the very first Hamilton CD in 1990, a compilation album of songs by various Hamilton musicians and bands called ‘Just Teasing’.

  1. Neil Nooyen – Hang on Sloopy
  2. Broken English – Second chance
  3. Desperate Chaps -She couldn’t love me
  4. Love and Violence – Wish (Oh girl)
  5. Jim ’an’ Joe – (Can’t do it) without you
  6. Pretty Belinda – Cyclone Bola
  7. Step Chant Unit – Doesn’t time fly
  8. Love and Violence – Messages (Egyptian paradise)
  9. Neil Nooyen – No. 17
  10. Zed Brookes – Ugh, Wipeout
  11. Silken Blue – Prisms
  12. Second Helping – Frosty winter blues
  13. Te Tapu – Here we go again

 

Tim Armstrong: Guilty 1991 (Filmed inside Tandys Studio)

 

Hoola Troupe: Never Good Enough 1990

 

Merenia: U Know I Like It 1991

 

Fridgerecords

The Fridge Studio Logo

The Fridge Recording Studio.

The Fridge (named so because the studio was set inside an old industrial fridge complete with fridge doors and no windows) was formerly the radio stations production studio but with the arrival of ‘state of the art’ gear from Tandy’s, it became the recording venue of choice for the cities thriving alt-music scene and operated in its first incarnation until 1998.

The Student Union funded Contact FM was one of the victims of the ‘ideological war of attrition’ being waged by the right-wing/Libertarian political group ‘Student Choice’ against the Student Union’s compulsory funding model that ‘subsidised’ operations like Contact. Between 1996-1998 Contact starved for funds struggled to survive. Broke and spiritually spent the station shut its doors on the 17th June 1998. The Fridge went into hiatus until being revived in 2009 when Contact FM was re-established on 88.1FM, (a low power frequency signal). With local sound engineer Dan Howard at the helm, the Fridge ran for several more years until finally shutting its industrial grade doors for good in 2014.

Among the many acts who used the Fridge during its first incarnation were:

Grok, Nodrog, Hand of Glory, Big Muffin Serious Band, Dribbly Cat Attraction, The Emersons, Wendyhouse, BwaDaRiddim. Greg Locke (The Trons) often used this studio to record bands, as did Dave Whitehead, Scott Newth and Gordon Bassett.

The Hamilton compilation CD ‘The Fridge’ was recorded in the studio and released in 1995:

  1. Dean – Unfortunate flux
  2. 5 Girls – ITN Glamour
  3. Widdershins – Comfort Women
  4. Tugboat – Old timer
  5. Aquarium – Dispatch
  6. Boil Up – Karmagetit
  7. Nodrog – Don’t Grow
  8. Cave – Sicko
  9. Tsunami Band – Spit out the sun
  10. Phones and Accessories – Motorola
  11. Inchworm – 1987
  12. Wendyhouse – Skinny medley
  13. Hand of Glory – 16 tons
  14. Bwa da Riddim – Dob
  15. Mobile Stud Unit – Bob
  16. Big Muffin Serious Band – Who walks in when I walk out

 

Recordings from The Fridge 2009-2014:

The Prime Numbers – unreleased EP 2009, The Shrugs – Behold / Silver Bullet single 2009, Dynamo Go – Poor Alfred single 2010, Dead Fires – Hinterland single 2011, Dick Dynamite and the Doppelgangers – Live at The Fridge 2011, Hot Blooded Ripper – Live at The Fridge 2011, Penelope The – The Fridge Sessions 2011, Devilskin – demos 2011, The Shrugs – Costume Drama, 2012 Sora Shima – You are Surrounded 2014, Wizz Kids – The Fridge EP 2014

 

Dick Dynamite and The Doppelgangers: Deviant (From Live At The Fridge) 2011

 

Musicare Recording Studio and Peak Records 1989-

At around the same time as Tandys was breathing new life into the Waikato music scene out on Morrinsville Road another sound revolution was underway at the polar opposite end of the city on Sandwich Road, just off Te Rapa Straight, the cities northern gateway.

This story begins and ends with and self-taught Christchurch sound engineer Lawrence Arps who had found his way to Hamilton via repeat visits as the guitarist with covers bands Shady and Trooper. While in town, the bands would hire live rigs from Claudelands based Musicare Sound and later when Lawrence decided to move to Hamilton and took up with local cover acts Ragged Edges and The Break, he got to know the crew at Musicare Sound well enough for them to recognize that he not only had an interest in sound, but was a ‘pretty capable’ technician and between 1981-1987 Lawrence was kept busy doing live sound on Musicare rigs for various local (Midge Marsden, Knightshade) and touring acts at iconic city venues like The Hillcrest Tavern and The Lady Hamilton nightclub. Using the live rigs, Lawrence also did some informal recordings at various locations around the city including a session with songwriter Mike Farrell who was demoing the songs that ended up on Midge Marsden’s career defining ‘Burning Rain’ album.

In 1987 Lawrence left Musicare temporarily to work full-time at Home Run, a 16-track analogue facility in a factory space at the top of Sandwich Road (where it meets Te Rapa Straight). While Home Runs bread and butter was producing jingles for local radio it did take on a few bands from time to time. Arps: “As I became more proficient with the recording process I produced an album for The Wetbacks which lead to Knightshade (who I was mixing live). They asked me to produce their first two EPs.”

Home Run, struggling to stay solvent, went out of business in late 1989 and was bought up by Neil Reynolds owner of Musicare Sound who moved his operation from Claudelands to the Sandwich Road studio. Arps found himself back where he had started.

Arps: “Over several years we recoded many songs, albums, jungles, audio books, and soundtracks. Notable recordings include the 8Forty8 album ‘Edge of Time’, The Politicians album ‘Test Pattern’, Joy Adams’s ‘Come Home Baby Darling’ single (1990 NZCMA Country song of the year) and Craig Pollock’s (Knightshade) solo album ‘Just Looking’ (All released via Musicare’s label Peak Records). After doing some recordings for the Wintec Maori Performing Arts Department I ended up doing the Aorangi Genisis album (a Broadway style Maori language musical) and 5 albums of Kohanga Reo resources, as well as several other Maori language albums. Around this time I also helped mix ‘Acoustic Spirit’, an album by Dave Maybee and Peter Skandera.” (‘Acoustic Spirit’ was nominated for a NZ music award in 1994).

Lawrence left Musicare in 1994 and went onto teach Audio Engineering at Tai Poutini Polytechnic where he rewrote the Certificate course, helped rewrite the Diploma course and Live Sound course. “I moved into management in 2000 and oversaw the establishment of MAINZ Christchurch, designing the floor plan for the Polytechnic’s first recording studio. Through these years I also ran a trust helping young musicians prepare for the Smokefree Rockquest and now I’m in Wellington where I am employed as deputy Chief Executive at Whitireia New Zealand”. Arps still plays guitar and is currently producing an album for his band MochaChocoLatte.

Musicare’s equipment has continued to put to good use with Dave Maybee and Jason Horner recording Joy Adam’s award wining country music album ‘Higher Ground’ (featuring artists such as John Hore Grenell, the Trenworths, Liam Ryan -The Narcs and Ritchie Pickett). Jason also recorded The Nerve’s ‘Gobby’ album (1997) and assisted Dave Maybee with the Coalranger’s 2003 album ‘Harbourlight’ (Recorded in Lyttelton with the Musicare studio on location). The studio remains a popular production and demoing facility now based in the Hamilton suburb of Pukete.

 

Politicians: Energy 1985

 

8Forty8: Don’t Turn Your Back 1993

 

Joy Adams Come Home Baby Darling 1990

 

 

unspecified

The Crew at the Zoo (Owner grant Hislop on far left of image)

The Zoo Recording Studio, 1992-97

The Zoo Studios, (564 Victoria Street in Hamilton) started off as the Rock 93FM production studio, recording advertisements, station imaging and occasionally some artists, Morrinsville based Country rocker Richie Pickett being the first, but Grant Hislop, owner and founder of The Rock had more ambitious plans for the production studio envisaging a ‘state of the art’ recording facility where he would record local bands for a label called Hark, whose mission statement was to nurture the untapped talent abounding in regions like the Waikato.

It was when local band Blackjack approached Hislop with their Zed Brookes produced album Deal, (recorded at Tandys in 1991) seeking airplay that Hislop realised he might have found the right person to help him get his studio idea off the ground. After several meetings, Brookes agreed to leave Tandys and go to work for Hislop full time. At 564 Victoria St. Brookes set to work on his most ambitious project yet, building and designing a state of the art digital recording studio, one destined to match the best that Auckland had to offer.

Blackjack’s bass player Scott Davies was the manager of Hamilton Demolition (an iconic fixture of the cities DIY scene) and through him Brookes was able to source most of the required building material including the soundproof glass for a fraction of the cost of new materials. Brookes describes the construction process: “It was a bit of a community effort. Sooz Brown (Three Men Missing/Silken Blue) sewed the entire inner fabric lining for the studio as one single piece and other local musicians with particular skills in design and carpentry pitched in as required at mate’s rates in effect creating a ‘million dollar studio’ on a very low budget.

ZOO CRoom Rear

Gear:

Brookes: “When I came on board, the Rock production studio was running off a stupidly heavy TAC Scorpion desk wired up backwards, the result was that the studios Shure SM57 microphones were acting as little speakers. When we rebuilt the studio, we were looking for consoles that had some sort of automation, so for a while we had a Soundtracs Solo console. Then we moved up to an Amek “Big” console imported from the UK. This cost about $80,000 and Grant (Hislop) had to sell his shares in the Rock and The Edge to pay for it. It had computerised recall and automation like a low-budget SSL.

After removing the old console and rewiring every single insert jack ‘the other way around’ the import company forgot we needed it pronto and eventually, after stressed-out phone calls, they sent a guy down with the console on a trailer. To make matters worse after the first power-up the consoles power supplier caught fire, so we had to put the old console back in, and rewire everything until we could get a replacement power supplier from England about 10 days later. This was pre-internet, so updates involved dialing-up the manufacturer’s computer on the phone.

Initially big soffit-mounted JBL monitors were our main speaker system, and later on some Tannoy concentric monitors were added (amazing sound). Early recordings were on multitrack analogue tape, but eventually we bought some modular Alesis digital tape decks (“Blackface” ADATS), revolutionary technology that eventually required every single component inside them be replaced. Mix automation went from an Atari with eMagic Notator controlling the console mutes to a PC with the Amek’s proprietary Supertrue software controlling VCAs, mutes and MIDI triggers. The MIDI was a bit erratic to say the least. Our first hard drive died after 2 days. We also had some samplers – an Akai S1000 (which was awesome), and a really primitive (but kind of cool) Ensoniq Mirage.”

The Zoo officially opened on the 19th April 1993 with the Muttonbirds performing live to air in the studio via The Rock in a show dubbed The Electric Kitchen, a couple of weeks later the studio hosted another Electric Kitchen, this time featuring the Greg Johnson Set. (Other later Electric Kitchen Sessions included performances by Emulsifier and The Dead Flowers).

Properly baptized the Zoo was open for business. Nelson band The Exploding Poppies (winners of the 1992 Smokefree Rockquest) were the first band to use the studio, and the resulting song made it onto a NZ on Air – Kiwi Hit Disk, a sign that everyone at the Zoo took as a positive omen for the future.

Brooke’s managed the studio for a while, but with Hislop’s label Hark Records gaining momentum and increasing demands from his growing network of regional radio stations for in-house production new staff was hired to assist. Dean Leary (8Forty8/Hoola Troupe) and Darren McLean were hired to manage the day-to-day operations with Scott Newth, Grant Brodie, Dave Lowndes and Dave Whitehead acting as assistant engineers to Brookes. With the city lacking any formal training facilities for sound engineers, Dave Lowndes later established The Zoo School Of Audio Engineering.

Despite the fact that the studio was operating 24/7, it was struggling financially and without the income from the Rock and the Edge, (Hislop had sold his shares in the popular radio stations to finance the Zoo), Hislop debunked to Wellington to take up a radio management position in order to earn some money to keep his dream alive but without his enthusiasm, vision and drive on hand, the studio started losing clients and with mounting debts was forced to close in 1997.

Later that year Wintec (The Waikato Polytechnic) purchased the studios assets for their fledging School Of Audio Engineering and contracted Brookes to install the equipment and supervise the initial courses. It proved to be a good fit and Brookes stayed on for a number of years teaching sound engineering and songwriting.

 

Zoo Glass Painting

Zoo Studio Painting on Glass by Andrew Johnstone

 

Artists who recorded at the Zoo, including demos, singles, EP and album projects:

Blackjack, Jacqui Keelan, Tama Dean, Dusty Rhodes, Andy Bramwell, Craig Pollock, No Utopia, Zarzoff Brothers, Midge Marsden, Tim Armstrong, Sydney Melbourne, Dave Maybee,

Tim Mellalieu, Max Creepy, Subliminal Warfare, Knightshade, Bad Jelly, Tetnus, Stan Morgan, Pania Moka, Strangetown, Dave Williams, Inchworm, Denied Serenity, Andrew Johnstone, Richie Pickett, Datura, Living Proof, The Narcs, Dead Flowers, Blinder, Silken Blue, Fuckpig, Acrobat, Murray Jeffrey, Liam Ryan, Andrew Newth, Ashley Puriri, Bittersweet, Bitumus, Blunt, Chris and Rhonda Johnson aka Moofish.

Darryl Monteith, Death of a Monkey, Exit Wound, Fat Mannequin, Girls Talk, Greenstone, Hip Shooters, Ian Whitehouse, John Michaels and the Cheap Dates,

Julz Cairney, King Biscuit, Kumquots, Living Proof, Loose New Romans, Love and Violence, Makere Roa, Max Creepy, Midge Marsden, Mike Garner, Native Soul, No Thrills, Pitt Ramsey, Psyclops, Rare Vision, Romantic Andes, Ronnie Taylor, Scott Davies, Silken Blue, Slip of the Tongue, Stan Morgan, Subliminal Warfare, The Set, Tim Armstrong, Tombstone, Tony Koretz,

Trevor Shaw, Tumbleweed, Vivid FX, War Pigs, Wayne Panapa, Whisperscream, Wiki Thompson, Zooper.

 

Inchworm: Come Out Come Out 1995

 

 

King Biscuit: Crazy Dreams 1994

 

Fat Mannequin: Room and Spine 1997

 

The WINTEC School of Audio Engineering.

Besides acting as an educational facility, Wintec’s studio was available to hire and helped fill a gap in a city still desperately short of quality recording facilities. The Datsuns recorded ‘Super Gyration’ (their first single) here in 2000 and Katchafire, their first album, 2003’s ‘Revival’. Other notable local artists to use the facility were Psyclops, Scooter, Moofish, Tweeter and Leithe, otherwise Brookes was kept busy mastering numerous media projects that included Auckland band The Weather’s (helmed by Matthew Bannister, former member of iconic flying Nun band Sneaky Feelings), Ed Cake produced album ‘Aroha Ave’. Brookes also mastered Bannister’s solo album ‘Moth’ here.

Gear:
With Wintec’s considerable financial resources at hand, Brookes added an early version of Pro-Tools (V3) to the studios kit and acquired 16-track 2” Studer tape recorder that was renowned for a curious fault- the ‘transporter’ often failing to stop when instructed to do so. The school purchased one of the first CD burners, a very unreliable Studer that cost $18,000, the blank CDs feeding it cost $30 each.

Brookes eventually left Wintec to take up a position at MAINZ Auckland and since the studio has ever continued to expand in scope. As well as serving the thriving School of Audio Engineering it is also used in numerous capacities by Wintec’s broad Media Department.

The dreams of the Tandys, Musicare, Home Run, The Fridge, The Zoo and numerous other smaller enterprises might have ended in an unsatisfactory manner for those involved, but their legacy lives on in a large catalogue of diverse recordings which mark a coming of age for the Hamilton music scene. Once isolated and somewhat insecure about its ambitions, Hamilton music as it stands today thrives footing it with the best the nation as a whole has to offer in genres as diverse as Jazz, Rock, Metal, Opera, Rap, Hip-Hop, Pop and everything experimental and Alt. On shaky foundations, great things have been built.

 

The Datsuns: Super Gyration 2000

 

Katchafire: Giddy Up 2003

 

 

 

Poetry, Hamilton Style

January 14, 2015
Hamilton based poet Richard Selinkoff

Hamilton based poet Richard Selinkoff

‘Poetry, Hamilton Style’ is an audio documentary series made in collaboration with four poets from the city of Hamilton; Daniel Bennett, Richard Selinkoff, Rex Dunn and Cilla M.

The project had its roots in a series of fundraisers organised for Auteur House, a world  cinema DVD rental store down the seedy end of Hamilton’s main street. With some 10,000 titles on the shelves, it remains one of  NZ’s most comprehensive private film collections. A labor of love rather than a profitable endeavor, the fundraising evenings featured an esoteric collection of local performers, in particular poets.

What struck me most about these evening was the quality of the poetry on display, that and the heartfelt readings from the poets themselves. I had never been much of a poetry fan but was moved enough by the experience to create an audio record of their work, to preserve it and share it.

I like them all equally, all for different reasons.

Richard Selinkoff is a well spring of pithy observation and delightful asides and  his words dance with rhythmic abandon

Rex Dunn is a retired school teacher down on his luck,  both financially and emotionally. His is a joyous exploration of his love of words and a deeply honest and moving summation of his life’s regrets.

Then there’s Daniel Bennett. Mad and esoteric, Bennett’s effortless surrealism drew him rapturous applause the one  time he performed at an Auteur House fundraiser.

And as for Cilla M, this young woman, bruised and haunted by a series of tragic events, speaks with striking maturity about her search for a place in life.

This project has not just been about words, it has been about the thoughts, feelings and observations of a disparate group of people, all from different stages of life. It certainly opened my eyes to the power of the poetic form, especially when read aloud  by the author.

I plan to do more in the future, I am just waiting for the right people to cross my path.