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Tinny Tim

By Hamish McNeilly

The 1968 Tim Shadbolt would not think much of the modern-day version.

Says who? Well, Shadbolt.

"He would say I am too soft," says the 61-year-old present-day incarnation.

Shadbolt the younger made his name baiting authorities on issues from the Vietnam War to the Springbok tour. The older Shadbolt works in local government and entertainment.

The dustjacket of A Mayor of Two Cities - his follow-up, 37 years on, from Bullshit and Jellybeans - modestly asserts the Mayor of Invercargill is "one of New Zealand's most loved celebrities".

His wide-mouthed grin is seen more on entertainment shows than the six o'clock news. He played his part in Dancing With the Stars and flashed on the big screen thanks to a bit part in the The World's Fastest Indian.

But it was in his appearance in an episode for the travel series Intrepid Journeys that the public finally got to glimpse the man behind the caricature. While filming in Borneo, director Melanie Rakena told him to stop performing for the camera.

As a result, "Mayor Tim" was stripped back further to a more essential "Tim".

Out went the showmanship, the flashy smile, the humorous anecdotes. Instead viewers were treated to a different on-camera version of Shadbolt - a quiet more reflective version.

In his new book he says he often appears on television in character as "a cross between Fred Dagg and Steve Irwin", but during the filming of Intrepid Journeys he was encouraged to stop playing to type.

"That was some of the best TV direction I have ever had," he said.

So beware the public front. Shadbolt admits that even the catchphrase widely attributed to him - "I don't care where, as long as I am mayor" - was the brainchild of an Auckland ad agency.

Because Shadbolt has been so much in the public eye, many of the stories in his latest book are comfortably familiar, a far cry from Bullshit and Jellybeans.

Published in 1971, Bullshit came with a disclaimer from the publisher that some names and words had been struck out to avoid libel suits. Shadbolt wrote about everything from free love, prison, masturbation, to "tired old politicians".

"When tired old politicians claim that they are facing reality what they often define as reality is political expediency," he wrote in Bullshit.

His latest book has been described as a sequel by the publishers, but "it is not really," he admits

"Bullshit just covered the 1960s, the latest book takes in the 70s, 80s, 90s up to today and it takes in a lot of my life."

The reader will note some stylistic differences. In the earlier work, the reader is swept into a world where Shadbolt is fighting for a better place. It has since been used as a university textbook - an unlikely prospect for A Mayor of Two Cities.

"In this book I just wanted to cover the events, but in the next book I would like to write about the people I have been involved with," says Shadbolt. The next book's title: Yes, Your Worship, he says.

So, the man who was arrested 33 times finds himself as perhaps New Zealand's most famous mayor, with the mayoral chains and car to match.

Describing his relationship with Invercargill as symbiotic, Shadbolt said he doesn't see any point in leaving the city, a word he now pronounces with a distinctively Southland burr.

"Even if I am not the mayor, I would be an ambassador of some kind."

The truth be told, he does care where he is mayor.

Invercargill, he says, is his home - so much so that he reckons he will retire there.

"I would stay in the South. It is because the city gave me a chance to redeem myself," he says.

"When you get older, you develop your own ideas and values," he says. "I feel comfortable with who I am."

Now in his fifth term as mayor of Invercargill, Shadbolt says he wants to stay in the job until he is 70 - leaving him another three elections to fight.

In 2001, he was elected unopposed; in 2004, he won the mayoralty by a margin of 13,838 votes; and in 2007, by 12,468. "I am slipping," he says.

A Mayor of Two Cities picks up with Shadbolt trying to peddle his battered manuscript of Bullshit and Jellybeans, written from the prison cells in Mt Eden and Mt Crawford.

Some of the same off-the-wall stories are there in the new book: the girls, the parties the adventures, but in the latter half of the book issues are replaced by a CV of achievements as mayor of Invercargill.

From the protests of the 1960s, Shadbolt became the radical of the 1970s; visiting China in 1976, spending several years in a commune near Huia, and joining Whina Cooper's Maori land march. But none of that was paying the rent, which is where the next of Shadbolt's talismans comes in - the concrete mixer.

In fact, it was a quip about towing it behind the mayoral Daimler that helped him win the mayoralty of Waitemata City in 1983.

His grip on the Waitemata City mayoralty lasted six eventful years, but his hold on the mayoral chains was much shorter, and to the delight of many, including the press, he lost them - twice, in December 1985.

On the first occasion the chains went missing, they resurfaced later at the police station lost and found, but when they disappeared a second time, they were never recovered, an embarrassment that still "haunts" Shadbolt.

"It is a mystery that has to be resolved," he says.

But it was the loss of the Waitakere (an expanded Waitemata City) mayoralty in 1989 coupled with the collapse of his marriage that forced a burnt-out Shadbolt to almost admit defeat. And then Invercargill saved him.

Following the death of the city's mayor, Eve Poole, Shadbolt was invited to run for the mayoralty in 1993, effectively splitting the vote and claiming a surprising victory in the City of Water and Light.

He upset ratepayers by running for New Zealand First in the Selwyn by-election in 1994. He was defeated in the 1995 mayoral race.

But Shadbolt stuck around and, after an abortive attempt as a candidate for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, had another crack at the Invercargill job in 1998, promising a bold new future for a city seemingly facing an irreversible decline in house prices and population.

He won with a majority of 5821.

Since then city and mayor have enjoyed a turnaround in fortunes. Under Shadbolt's stewardship, the city has reaped the rewards of a booming hinterland, while an innovative free fees scheme at the local polytechnic has brought young people back.

Some of his grand schemes, such as an Invercargill viewing tower, a vineyard in Bluff and a monorail to Queenstown, have generated nothing more than enthusiasm and media headlines, but other initiatives have struck pay-dirt.

Shadbolt says one of his favourite success stories is his pigs-might-fly punt to save the lives of 17 Auckland Island pigs in 1999. Approached by members of the Rare Breed Society to help the half-starved pigs, Shadbolt dipped into his rarely used mayoral contingency fund.

The cost of feeding the pigs skyrocketed from $1200 to $13,000 and ratepayers were not amused, and the fund was promptly taken from the mayor. However, the feral pigs with the voracious appetites, and breeding habits to match, were found to be virus-free.

Now, a biotech company is exploring their potential in the fight against diabetes, and construction of a $2.5 million piggery on the outskirts of Invercargill is about to start.

The pigs are now estimated to be worth about $350,000 each: "Not a bad investment."

Invercargill is starting to look like a good investment to others too, on the back of dairying, a lifetime supply of lignite under the ground, and oil companies exploring the Great South Basin.

The city has given Shadbolt more than just a salary, mayoral chains and a presidential-looking Chrysler 300C - he has also found love. While Shadbolt admits his relationships haven't always worked out in the long term, he has enjoyed much romance and adventure

"I consider that I've been a very lucky man all my life when it comes to wives, fiances and girlfriends."

After a celebrity debate at the Civic Theatre, Shadbolt, then a "battered and bruised 46", met Asha Dutt, "a very young-looking 21".

Despite comments about the couple's obvious age difference, they have remained together and Shadbolt credits her with the revival of his fortunes, not to mention the change in his dress sense.

Asked if they will ever marry, Shadbolt admits he has had several proposals turned down. A Mayor of Two Cities is dedicated to her with the inscription "To Asha, for getting me back on my mayoral feet".

* Tim Shadbolt: A Mayor of Two Cities (Hodder Moa, hbk, $49.99) is out on Thursday.

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES

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