COMMENT: Janet McAllister wonders who Potter Park's boy represents.

He's Boy Walking rather than Boy Talking, but Balmoral's new two-storey-high child is still telling us something. His supersize turns up the volume: "People like me belong here."

He's not necessarily saying other people don't belong, but he's not celebrating our right to be here either. Unveiled 13 weeks to the day after the Christchurch atrocities, he entrenches our prejudicial status quo: "ordinary" is white, male, middle-class Breton stripes and alone. He's a Maxi-Me for most of those who are in charge of multicultural, patriarchal, colonised Tāmaki Makaurau. At least he's not driving a car.

Sure, Auckland Council also gave us the fun gravity-defying noodles/underground pipes of Seung Yul Oh's much-loved OnDo (hopefully being reinstalled soon, after repairs). But Boy Walking is far bigger, a slender-norm Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He's a territory marker, competing with the Bharatiya Mandir Hindu temple and the KFC as the iconic landmark of Balmoral.


Boy Walking public artwork coming to Potters Park

This dominant identity dominating Dominion Rd congeals layers of discriminatory decisions by paid powerbrokers who weren't paying attention. Auckland Council's public art team invited New Zealand-born artist Ronnie van Hout to make an artwork because his internationally renowned work is often playful and light (they don't seem to have noticed that his autobiographical oeuvre may have different meanings in public Auckland).

The team chose Potters Park for its high visibility beside a busy intersection and its popularity with children (unsurprisingly, the work is not site-specific; I wish he were paddling at Mission Bay as a literal marker of climate change: hey World, stop him becoming Boy Drowning!).

The art team consulted with the Albert-Eden Local Board who, after all, supposedly represent those who live locally. Those who "only" work, worship, picnic and play basketball in the hood (but whose rates have also paid for Boy Walking) were not consulted at all. The local board loves art, all the art, and so they said yes.

Auckland Council says Boy Walking is 'carrying hope and optimism into the future'. Photo / Alex Burton
Auckland Council says Boy Walking is 'carrying hope and optimism into the future'. Photo / Alex Burton

And voila – a cascade of justifiable decisions by different groups of (mostly white) people led to a problematic result. (Still, some argue that Chinatown gates once proposed for Balmoral's restaurants of multiple ethnicities would be worse.)

Auckland Council says Boy Walking is "carrying hope and optimism into the future".

He has some reason to be optimistic: he's likely to earn 40 per cent more than Pasifika women on average, and eight times less likely to be put in jail than a Māori man. He's 30 per cent more likely than a girl to play in an Auckland public play space. (Although, given we have no 5.6m girl statue, he's 100 per cent more likely.)

But then, his size will delight – as does the contrasting teeny tiny size of John Radford's marvellous The Sound of Rain two dozen steps north of Boy Walking. And let's hope he'll persuade passing drivers to walk more.


Notoriously, Albert-Eden local board chair Peter Haynes said that, to him personally, Boy Walking represents a young person of "any ethnicity, any gender, any background". (Personally I think "chairwoman" and "Ms" are clearly gender-neutral and anything else sounds ridiculous).

Birkenhead's Emma Mackintosh wrote to the Herald that "a great opportunity for our young women has been lost". I agree. Auckland already displays Reuben Paterson's handsome giant chicken wing (thanks, Massey University), Peter Lange's giant kumara and Michael Parekowhai's regretful giant Captain Cook. Asking van Hout to make a giant girl would not be the answer, but the council doesn't have to wait for an artist to want to play Pygmalion. It can commission a giant girl whenever it wants.