Charming portrait of fringe-dwellers


What is the collective noun for old English cars? An amplitude of Austins? A miscellany of Morrises? That's what you encountered when you went to Graham Gordon's "farm" on Scenic Dr, only a few kilometres from Titirangi.

Princesses and 1100s and Minor 1000s and A40 Farinas: they seemed to sprout from the ground, and if you were crazy enough - as I was - to be trying to keep a 1954 A30 on the road in the 1980s, Gordon's was the place you went when your kingpins wobbled and the blokes in the warrant of fitness station chortled. He was the only game in town.

Tom Reilly, who produced, directed, shot and co-edited this seven-year labour of love, first encountered Gordon and his anomalously named European Car Parts when he went looking for... a car part. But he showed up with a camera just as the Waitakere City Council had decided to enforce the provisions of the district plan, several dozen of which Gordon, who's been there for about 50 years, was breaching.

That included not just the dozens of partly dismantled cars but the dwellings, most charitably described as impromptu, of 30 residents - some of them psychiatric survivors, some eccentric, some just disenchanted with mainstream city life - who share the 40ha piece of land with Gordon and his wife. These include longtime identities like Brodie Andrews, who used to shake the roads of the southern Coromandel with a coal-fired truck, and guitarist Billy TK Senior, whose jagged riffs make a fitting soundtrack to the finished film.

What Reilly has assembled from almost 70 hours of footage is a charming, absorbing and occasionally dispiriting portrait of what happens when the inflexible requirements of town planning rub up against the kooky romanticism of slightly addled non-conformists.

Wisely, he doesn't seek to frame it as a David and Goliath struggle. Gordon is plainly a kind-hearted if hopelessly unworldly fellow but some of the fringe-dwellers he has taken in have a grip on reality that is tenuous at best: one compares what the council is doing to "coming on your property and taking your clothesline down because your neighbour doesn't like [it]", which is stretching a point.

Still it's hard to resist this shaggy-dog band - a scene in which a car fails to get towed is possibly the funniest thing I've seen in a film this year - and the film makes its case that we should be more tolerant of diversity with quiet understatement. If it lacks a neat ending that's because - as Reilly plainly realises - there are many more episodes to come.



Tom Reilly

Running time:

80 mins