Joanna Davies

Love it or hate it, the shambles at Graham Gordon's Titirangi farm is an amazing sight. It's now captured in a documentary. Joanna Davies pays a visit.

Winding through Scenic Drive's many corners you reach a point where the homes of commuting Titirangi professionals thin out to be replaced by bush. A little further on you come to a place where misfits have found a place among wrecked cars and ramshackle buildings.

Overgrowth has overtaken  tractors, and burned-out  sheds are stacked with old engines and machinery. Textbook pages litter the  floor.

"This is Gordonia," says Tom Reilly as he walks along a muddy track. "When I first came here I was looking for some car parts and I heard that Graham Gordon was the man to see. This whole place used to be full of cars and house-trucks."

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Mr Reilly is the director of a documentary,

Gordonia

, screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival this month.

It focuses on Graham Gordon's continuing battles with Waitakere City Council about the use of his farmland which, at one stage, was covered with more than 400 car wrecks.

Over 25 years, Mr Gordon has allowed people with house-trucks to camp on his property. But, after drawn-out legal action, he was forced to evict most residents in 2004 or face a jail term for breaching the Resource Management Act and the Waitakere District Plan.

His property was littered with junk and illegal dwellings, and for many years he ignored council requests to clean up his land.

"There used to be about 30 people living down here in caravans, but now there's only about eight," says Mr Reilly.

Others lived in shabby dwellings built on the property without permits.

The film director was on the farm when council contractors went in with diggers to tear down buildings and take the trucks and cars away, and when an evicted tenant returned to set fire to one of the sheds.

Graham Gordon is interested to see how he comes across in the documentary. "It was a bit nerve-racking at first. I've probably come across a bit scruffy."

Mr Gordon says his relationship with the council has improved, especially when Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey stepped in and "a bit more commonsense was shown" over the land issues.

"Since the documentary we've had several film crews come through and shoot on the land. Bob's supportive of that. There's so little you can do with your land nowadays but you still have to pay the rates," says Mr Gordon.

"Now there's so much red tape around everything you can't sneeze without having a permit for it. The bureaucracy has got out of control. The ratepayers need to stand up for themselves."

Mr Reilly says Mr Gordon is not the man he used to be. "He's been through a lot of heartache and, when he tried to cooperate and clean the place up, the council kept moving the goalpost. He's pretty much given up."

Martin Lush is one of the residents still on the property. He sorts scrap metal and picks macadamia nuts in the farm's orchard. "If I wasn't living here I'd go to the West Coast, and I'm thinking about fixing up one of the old cars."

Mr Lush says the place is far tidier than it used to be. "I can understand the council thinking it's a bit of a mess, though."

Mr Reilly hopes the documentary will entertain viewers.

"Telling a good story is the ultimate goal and I hope that there will be a lot of discussion to how much discretionary power is given to local government.

"There are people that are not elected members who can make the ultimate decisions on where someone can build a house."

Mr  Harvey says the film is deeply touching. "Although I am sympathetic to his humanitarian efforts to house and help disenfranchised and transient people, the council has always had grave concerns about safety, sanitation and, of course, Mr Gordon's obsession with recycling cars.

"The result of all of this is a devastated landscape - old, broken-down sheds filled with piles of mechanical fittings and car parts, and a landscape of cars in various stages of repair."

But, Mr Harvey says, the longstanding battles between Mr Gordon and the council make for a "brilliant documentary".

"It's beautifully observed and a tribute to this outstanding film-maker, Tom Reilly."

See for yourself

Gordonia

screens at the New Zealand International Film Festival at the Academy Cinema, on July 19, 20 and 24. Tickets: ph 0800 842 538 or see: