Howick: fear and loathing out east

By Ewan McDonald


Ewan McDonald, the founding editor of The Aucklander, feels a sense of unease over a celebration in the eastern suburbs.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,"

LP Hartley began his wistful 1953 novel The Go-Between, which became classic cinema in the hands and voices of Harold Pinter, Alan Bates, Julie Christie in 1970.

History - or Wikipedia, which passes for it in 2012 - does not record Hartley visiting Howick. But in the present they do things differently from much of Auckland there, as the following tales may illustrate.

Little more than two years ago the Electoral Commission defined the Auckland Council's wards and Local Boards. Because some promises had been made (to Waiheke and Great Barrier), because some vast tracts would be agglomerated into new seats, the honourable members came up with names reflecting something or someone appropriate.

They were not always successful. Eden-Albert, or is it Albert-Eden, sounds like one of Victoria's lesser sons who would be pensioned off to become Governor-General of Tristan da Cunha.

Roskill became Puketapapa, which rolls off the tongue beautifully when one takes a little time to practise.

The largest ward - ridiculous and undemocratic, with 80,000 residents against 864 on Great Barrier - was the rolled-up eastern suburbs of Howick-Pakuranga-Botany. To be known as Te Irirangi, after a prominent chief, these days commemorated in a prominent arterial road.

In the east, several hands of bridge crashed to the baize before anyone could bid hearts or clubs. As the Herald's Brian Rudman noted, "True to the stereotype the rest of Auckland has of our dear white settler cuzzies of Howick, all hell has broken out in that little corner that would be forever England, at being labelled Te Irirangi...

"Te Irirangi is quite bad enough for a suburb which thought it was about to cut loose its uneasy ties with brown Manukau City, and retreat back into its oak trees and fencible cottage past ... Conservative would-be Super City councillor Jami-Lee Ross, 24 (now 26 and the National MP for Botany), told a local paper [the Howick and Pakuranga Times] Howick was simple, easy to say, represents our history, and our future."

Concluded Rudman, "The local white folk prefer to think that history began only from the day they arrived."

The numbers show one or two things about Howick were different from the rest of Auckland in 2010, perhaps more so in 2012.

Median household income, $72,923; European residents 56.2 per cent, Asian 31.8 per cent, Maori 5.2 per cent, Pacific 3.9 per cent; NZ-born 51.9 per cent, overseas 48.1 per cent.

Never mind. The 56.2 per cent had the one voice that counted: their reliably loyal local newspaper; and the one vote that counted: Maurice Williamson, the local MP, who wham-bam-thank you-Mr Speakered a bill through Parliament to restore good sense and the even better name of Howick. Fencibles slept safely in their graves, estate jewellery ceased rattling on velvet pillows in leather cases.

With the Honourable Maurice back on the Treasury benches and the upstarts in Aotea Square scratching themselves over dog fees, one might have supposed Howick happy to return to gently snoozing over the first G&T; of the afternoon. Then those d***ed liberals in the Education Ministry proposed to build a school for troubled youth in Bucklands Beach.

Thurston Place College would cater for 100 young people in Child Youth and Family care, Years 7-13, whom authorities believed would benefit from an alternative education.

The H&P; Times mobilised again. Its website lists 39 articles on the subject: 36 heavily weighted towards the opinions of a residents' group opposing the scheme; three letters to the editor say, whoa, these kids need a break.

Fearless investigative journalism included asking kids at neighbouring schools whether they'd be intimidated, possibly breathing the same air as the sort of people we don't want around here.

John Key came to the Land of Photo Opportunity during the election campaign and was picketed. Blue rinses shimmered in the seaside sun.

Again, the pressure worked. The Ministry of Education buckled. Or was told to.

As the stentorian, Howickian voice of temperance and reason recorded, "Members of the community calling for a stop to the development of Thurston Place College have been granted their wish. The Education Ministry announced last Friday that the proposed school in Bucklands Beach will be canned because the education model to be implemented was not best practice. [The ministry] will instead be working with CYF to develop a service for these young people that allows them to be placed in education provision which best meets their individual needs.''

Gloated stopthurstonplacecollege.com, "We did it!''

Opined Mr Williamson, "I'm delighted that the ministry has listened to the local people. This decision is a victory for common sense.''

Common sense? Residents' comments in an independent survey commissioned for the ministry paint a rather darker picture of attitudes prevailing in the community.

The report, designed to "cut through the emotional outrage'', described fear and loathing in Howick and told of residents running scared from those who vehemently opposed the school.

Opponents called it a "prep school for Mt Eden jail'', said they would remove their children from neighbouring schools if it went ahead. They would call police ``immediately'' if they saw students outside school grounds. There would be a ``dark shadow every time we go out''.

School supporters said they were intimidated to the point where they were too scared to attend public meetings. One woman sought police protection ``as a direct result of speak ing out in support of the school''.

An expat described the community's racism as worse than she witnessed in South Africa. She left there "to get away from racial intolerance, yet what I'm experiencing in Howick is a lot worse''.

One resident: "If I wanted to be surrounded by these cultures, I'd have bought a house in South Auckland.''

Locals suggested fitting students with GPS tracking devices and high-visibility uniforms. The school should

install a "community siren'' to sound if they left the grounds.

To their credit, others feared for the students. "Why put them in a community that hates them?'' asked one resident.

A potential student commented: "What do they think we are, axe murderers?''

Peter Gall, principal of Papatoetoe College and chairman of the proposed college's board, said there was ``a strong sense of irony'' about those who opposed the initiative.

"What amazed me was that the actions of this group were actually as serious if not more serious than the sorts of behaviour they were accusing the young people of vandalism of  school property, harassment and unfounded scare tactics.''

How terribly sad that an obviously privileged and well-resourced community couldn't stretch out its arms and embrace some Kiwi kids who need that. More than anything. It must be a foreign country. It is not mine.

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- THE AUCKLANDER

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