Editorial: Our lovely town's dirty little secret

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Advocate editor Craig Cooper explains why his Love it Here affection waned overnight. A Friday night, to be specific. Photo / John Stone
Advocate editor Craig Cooper explains why his Love it Here affection waned overnight. A Friday night, to be specific. Photo / John Stone

Northern Advocate editor Craig Cooper says there is much more work to do to make Whangarei a tourist paradise, with the town hiding a dirty little secret about safety:

I'd like to shove a large Love It Here sign up this town's backside.

We have a dirty secret that the biggest Love It Here sign for this proactive local government campaign can't hide.

I've known for a long time that it's not safe at night in Whangarei.

Now my 15-year-old daughter knows too.

On Friday night, she was attacked, waiting for me near the Old Library, near Forum North, after the Stan Walker concert.

Three youths walked up to her and a friend.

A 16-year-old girl too young to be charged in an adult court told my daughter she liked her top, and her shoes.

She punched my daughter several times in the head, shoved her to the ground and kicked her.

My daughter is 15. She has learning difficulties which make processing information difficult. The sinister overtones of the girl's comments would have taken a little longer to register. What did my daughter do wrong? Nothing. She did exactly what I told her to do - text me from inside the venue, and wait with her friend near the Old Library.

What was she doing in town, without her father, you ask?

I, perhaps sucked along in the recent political torrent of Love it Here and "what a great little town we've got" comments, dropped my guard.

It was the first time my daughter - a mad Stan Walker fan - had been out at night alone.

As a parent of a kid who is a bit different, you have two choices - you allow them experiences other kids have and accept there might be an element of risk, or shadow them everywhere.

Try that with any teenager. My wife and I thought she would be safe.

It took me nine minutes to get to Forum North.

I would have got there quicker but Rust Ave was blocked.

Whoever put the inadequate Whangarei District Council sign up warning bypass motorists of this closure, put your hand on your heart and tell me people are going to see the bloody thing, during the day, let alone at night. I texted my daughter again to say I was on my way, arrived at Forum North and couldn't find her.

She was in the back of an off-duty police officer's car, in tears and terrified after being beaten up. I will be eternally grateful to the cop - Richard Soper - who saw the fracas, and called police. A patrol found the attacker near the Avenues. Richard visited the police station, identified the attacker - this saved my daughter having to do so - and I'm pretty sure he didn't escape the station without having to complete some form of paperwork.

The human goodwill didn't stop there - Stan Walker's mother demanded to know what was going on, and stepped in to give my daughter a big motherly hug. My daughter and friend got to meet Stan. It saved the evening from being a complete write-off.

The A&E department staff at Whangarei Hospital were also awesome.

Am I angry? You bet. With myself for not arranging a safer pick-up venue, and for being delayed driving down a blocked bloody road. And with the girl who attacked my daughter and had the gall to tell police my daughter had attacked her.

Bullshit.

If we are going to turn this town into a tourist paradise, we have got some work to do.

Thankfully, given the council's tendency to be unable to organise a piss-up in a Hundertwasser brewery, we have some time.

There was something disconcerting about the expertise of the police who dealt with what happened - they mop this crap up all the time.

But they are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. A horrible cliche. But an awful truth.

There are aspects of this town that are beautiful. There are aspects of this town that make it a shithole, albeit, our shithole.

If you care, you should be asking why a teenage Maori girl lacks self-esteem and beats up vulnerable teenagers to make herself feel good.

My daughter is Maori too, of Ngapuhi and Ngati Kahungunu descent. She doesn't go around punching people in the head.

Bullying is a social issue, if the bully is Maori - it becomes a specific issue. Unique sensitivities come into play.

Just like they would if the bully was a corporate boss.

What am I going to do about it? I've had a gutsful of bullying. Teenage girls, politicians, cyber bullies, whoever - they disgust me equally. Our council should spend as much time, money and marketing energy on social strategy for Whangarei, as they do on investment opportunities. Stop pissing in the pockets of property and hotel developers for five minutes and do something to quell crap like graffiti and street assaults.

I have a raft of ideas that I would contribute. Ideas I formed well before this happened. The council can have them for free.

I also intend meeting my daughter's attacker. By the time I do, hopefully my daughter feels safe to walk her pet dog alone again.

Or go to school. Or look out her window without fear of seeing the attacker walk past.

I have promoted Love It Here - actively. As an individual and as a newspaper editor.

So do I still Love it Here? It's a great slogan, just needs a town to fit it. That town isn't Whangarei - not yet anyway.

Sorry to share this truth with you. But sometimes the truth hurts. Like a smack in the head from a random stranger.

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