Busking blues in Onehunga

By Andre Hueber

As Dan Hawke performs outside Onehunga Countdown a stream of people walk by and greet him: "Gidday mate," "Kia ora, bro," "Hey Dan."

"I'm an icon, everyone knows who I am. I've been coming here for the last three years and I've met lots of nice people," he says.

From midday every day, except Monday, he sets up his electric guitar with amplifier which he plays to music from his MP3 player. His selection of songs varies - from Split Enz to Graham Brazier, Katchafire to AC/DC.

"'If I hear it on the radio I can imitate it or get close to it."

Mr Hawke, 51, says he used to play professionally with Herbs, Prince Tui Teka and Dennis Marsh and started performing in Onehunga when he gave up drinking.

"I went to Aussie, came back and had a six month stand-down for the dole. I thought it's easier to go and play than wait for that."

He says he can earn up to $700 a week playing at his spot.

"It's been a saviour to me. I was going around in circles. It brought back my focus. My music had been suffering because of my alcohol abuse. It's the language of the soul and my way of reaching people."

The strumming of Mr Hawke's guitar reaches ears as far away as Onehunga Mall: "It travels right around the main town. People say 'I followed that sound down here ... it was beautiful'... I say 'thank you'."

But not everyone is thrilled about his music. Jackie Dobson lives 50m away in an apartment facing the supermarket and says it's "just too loud".

"I moved here 18 months ago and I noticed it straight away. I can hear the sound of his guitar with my doors and windows closed. By the time it travels here it's distorted."

Ms Dobson is at home during the day and says Mr Hawke plays from noon until around 5.30pm in winter and up until 9pm in summer.

"It's more of a problem in summer. It goes on for longer, you need your windows open because of the heat and there's less chance of the weather muffling the sound."

She says it's nice having buskers in the vicinity, but would like to see Mr Hawke's volume limited.

Mr Hawke says he's aware of one woman, not Ms Dobson, who regularly complains about him to the manager at Countdown.

"She tells them I'm noisy. They ask me to turn it down. I do, then as soon as she's walked away I go back to what I'm doing. She poked her tongue out at me once and I said 'grow up, you're not 5 years old'."

He claims Countdown held a poll last year and it was decided he should stay.

"The manager came out one day and said: 'It's about whether to keep you or scrap the whole busking idea.' He told me: 'people said they love you'."

Countdown told The Aucklander it wasn't aware of any poll.

Hairdresser Ria Smith works a few shops along and enjoys Mr Hawke's tunes. "I only hear him when the door's open. It gets quite lonely and very dull and he makes it real. What's really nice is when he plays music and people dance their way into the shops."

Two-dollar shop owner Bai Her says Mr Hawke is a "good character", who helps pick up rubbish and scattered shopping trollies, although his sound can be repetitive. "Sometimes you get sick of the songs, even if they're good songs."

But a shop owner who requested not to be named was more critical. "He's been involved in fights with other buskers and the police were called on one occasion. He's told other buskers 'this is my patch ... get off".I don't understand why busking isn't banned like it is outside my local Countdown in Three Kings."

Mr Hawke denies being involved in any fights but says other buskers can be "jealous"of his abilities.

"Others look at me and think 'wow'. I say, 'this is what you can do'."

The Aucklander has learned the situation at Three Kings Countdown differs because it is on private property owned by the mall. That means trespass notices can be issued by mall management.

Auckland Council's street performance code of conduct requires buskers performing on a public footpath to have a permit, which should be clearly displayed. Buskers cannot claim an area as their own. They can perform for no longer than 90 minutes in one place each day, including 30 minutes of set-up time and 60 minutes of performance. The repertoire must not be repetitive and sound produced from up to 30m away must blend into the background. The sound must not disturb nearby customers or staff.

Mr Hawke did not have street performing licence on show when The Aucklander spoke to him, but says Countdown allows him to play for longer if nobody complains.

A Countdown spokesperson says Mr Hawke plays by a council rubbish bin and sign so they assume he is on council property. They say the area in front of Onehunga Countdown is public property managed by Auckland Council.

The spokesperson says he performs in 90 minute "stretches", broken up with 30-minute breaks. "This is the arrangement we understand to be within council guidelines.

"Whenever we receive a complaint we go and ask him to turn it down, which he obliges. He does listen to us and wants to work with us to ensure he can stay..."

Countdown says Mr Hawke is a talented musician who has a right to busk. "We simply ask that he maintains the council guidelines and co-operates with the feedback we receive regarding noise complaints."

Auckland Council says if any resident or retailer has an issue with a street performer, they should call (09) 301 01 01. A noise officer will investigate.


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- The Aucklander

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