The family-friendly seaside suburb of Point Chevalier is one of Auckland's hot inner-city spots, part of the $1m-plus house club. But when one woman was viciously bashed there this week trying to stop a neighbour's car being stolen, it got Russell Brown thinking.

reached me in a police press release forwarded by a journalist friend.

"Point Chev a rough part of town?" my friend's note said. "Poor woman, what an awful thing to happen."

It was undeniably awful. A 55 year-old woman, leaving her house on an ordinary trip out to pick up Tuesday night takeaways, saw two men trying to break into her neighbour's car.

Advertisement

She challenged them - and they punched and kicked her until she was unconscious, then beat her daughter to the ground when she tried to intervene. Then, while the woman was lying unconscious, they stole her car and fled.

As to whether Point Chev is a "rough part of town", well, no, not really. The New Zealand Herald's Counting crime interactive shows 41 "common assault" offences in the last three years, nine serious assaults and 16 aggravated robberies.

So it's rougher than Remuera or Herne Bay, but nothing like the CBD or the town centres to the south and west.

But we have our moments. Last year, one of the local dairies was ram-raided and its owner assaulted with a hammer.

In October, local board candidate Monique Poirier was assaulted after trying to take a photograph of two men brawling by the supermarket. She said to a reporter that witnesses had told her violence and drunkenness was common around the area: "I live two minutes down the road ... I don't want this in my community."

Sutherland Road, where this week's assault took place, might not be recognised as part of Point Chevalier at all. In a suburb divided up by estate agents as "North of Meola" and "South of Meola", Sutherland Road is further south again, on the sliver of land sliced off by the Northwestern motorway in 1952.

Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier. Photo / Dean Purcell

If you've ridden the northwestern cycleway to Carrington, you've been along Sutherland Road. The houses along one side look across to a cluster of rehabilitation facilities and a Māori mental health centre. When I rode there on the day after the assault, the only pedestrian was a client from the centre, who waved hello.

But for crime data purposes, Sutherland Road is not in the south, but the east. Point Chevalier East, which includes the commercial strip, accounts for 32 of those 41 recent assaults - and all of the serious assaults. It's much quieter west of Point Chevalier Road, where the California bungalows sleepily rule.

Advertisement

It's a social mix that goes back decades, since the postwar state housing developments, almost all to the east.

We've lived in a former state house for nearly 20 years now. The agent who sold it to us mused that the continuing presence of Housing New Zealand properties in streets like ours tended to put a cap on house values, although we've seen ours rocket since, along with everyone else's.

There have been some eventful times in our small street.

Five drug busts that I can think of, including a spectacular raid on a neighbour who was an inveterate homebaker of heroin (he professed great offence on learning that the police initially thought he was a P cook).

Library sign at Point Chevalier. Photo / Dean Purcell
Library sign at Point Chevalier. Photo / Dean Purcell

Not one other resident of the street offered information to the police on him, because he was okay and he looked out for the old folks. I even wrote a letter for the court, noting that he was a good neighbour (I baulked at signing one drafted by his lawyer declaring him "an asset to our community").

One year, I reluctantly signed a letter along with other residents asking for the termination of the tenancy of a formerly homeless man across the road.

I didn't want to validate the attitude of the bumptious man who'd bought the house next door, but the tenant was not equipped to live alone and had become a magnet for exploiters of all kinds. Kids had stopped playing in the street.

Another time, I was able to save George, the Willie Nelson lookalike across the street, a lot of bother by letting police know they weren't dealing with an assault.

The woman lying on his front doorstep needed medical attention, but I'd seen her storm out of their drinking session swearing, slip and hit her head.

Like the homebaker, George is no longer with us. Our disabled neighbour Shannon, a nice guy, died a couple of weeks ago. When you live around social housing you're confronted by mortality.

In recent years, we've settled in to more stable HNZ tenancies, and thus been able to become more of a community.

Coyle Park, Point Chevalier Beach. Photo / Michael Craig
Coyle Park, Point Chevalier Beach. Photo / Michael Craig

The tinny house on the corner is no more. (It wouldn't have been such a problem if the stupid young men who went there hadn't insisted on celebrating their purchases by doing doughnuts at the bottom of the cul de sac.)

To be fair, the Armed Offenders Squad did assemble outside in the street before dawn a couple of weeks ago. But that turned out to be simply a contingency in case the raid on a house around the corner went sour. It was a bust on a synthetic cannabis operation. I joked that it couldn't have been a P lab, because they were all North of Meola.

Things still happen. My partner and another neighbour recently responded to an argument in which a tenant across the road was struggling to persuade a former boyfriend to leave.

An offer to call police was enough to see him off. We took down his car registration, just in case. Before that, a couple of neighbours intervened when they saw an attempt to steal another neighbour's lovingly-restored classic car.

In other words, they did the same thing as the poor lady in Sutherland Road. The right thing. And this is really what worries me.

The circumstances of this week's assault suggest that the thugs weren't local. They'd come here to prey. But what happened has implications for the neighbourhood.

It's rougher than Remuera or Herne Bay, but nothing like the CBD or the town centres to the south and west.

It's the kind of thing that deters people from getting involved, from stepping off their properties and on to the street to look out for each other. It's much harder to form a community if you're scared to get involved.

Our suburb's dual identity isn't going away any time soon.

Even as property values have soared, beggars outside the supermarket and the Goldmine Centre strip mall have become a daily sight. Some of them come from the halfway houses nearby. (If you see someone begging in Grey Lynn, they've probably walked up the hill from the Chev.)

Locals still stop to give them money or food, or to ask if they're okay.

People talk about gentrification. This will continue to be a hot inner-city suburb for homebuyers - and at the same time there will be more social and higher-intensity housing built under the Unitary Plan.

At some point the notorious local Countdown will be replaced by a shiny new one on the land where the RSA stands. But Point Chevalier will still be different.

We can all live together. And we can hopefully do it without erecting great walls in front of our houses the way they do in St Mary's Bay.

But we can't do that if we start to fear each other.