"The view after 70 is breathtaking." William Maxwell's quote will resonate with anyone of a certain age.

He continues, "What is lacking is someone, anyone, of the older generation to whom you can turn when you want to satisfy your curiosity about some detail of the landscape of the past. There is no longer any older generation. You have become it, while your mind was mostly on other matters."

What my mind has been on lately is the agitation of Mark Richardson, David Seymour and the Epsom residents against state housing in their upmarket neighbourhoods. They're worried about the lessening of their property values along with their personal safety.

It's nothing new, history as we know runs in cycles. The same objections were raised when state houses were built in 1905, in the late 1930s and after World War II when the government built 10,000 homes a year. All of these were at periods of widespread poverty and homelessness.


Our young family benefited in the 1950s when the Labour Government built a new state housing subdivision from imported Austrian precut houses in Titahi Bay. Solid, warm, life-giving state houses. I was 7 when we moved there from our damp two room inner city flat.

I remember being given a tennis racquet for my 11th birthday. As there were no courts in our area – there were no community facilities at all – and no one to teach me, I walked up to the local tennis club in the old part of the Bay to ask about lessons. The ladies on the counter were keen to enrol me until they asked for my address. "Oh no," they said, "we don't allow anyone from that area in here."

It was an effective way of maintaining class divisions. At my first job after graduation I declined an invitation to join the young lawyers for their weekend tennis afternoons, and was therefore excluded from their main social interactions and friendships.

There were other reminders about the stigma of separated state housing. In the prefects' room at college I walked in one day to hear the deputy head prefect speaking forcefully and at length about how the building of a few state houses in her street was going to "lower the tone of the neighbourhood" along with the value of their houses, and how she and her family and everybody really, really didn't want them there. When she paused for breath I mentioned, "I live in a state house."

There was instant silence. Perhaps she was remembering that my mother was a teacher at the school just as I was recalling what she'd had to do to get there.

Like my father, my mother had been compelled to leave school at 14 to go to work. In the NZ Army during the war she became their top morse code operator. Once the three daughters were at high school, whilst working fulltime she studied and passed School Certificate by correspondence then took herself off to train as a teacher. She could quote Shakespeare by the hour. This was her first teaching job. I remember her studying at nights, and my father's pride in her.

What the state house did was give our family security. It enabled our parents to give us the full education poverty had denied them. It enabled my mother to become a teacher, then to open Wellington's first employment agency for office staff. It enabled my father to leave his back-breaking labouring work and move into developing a successful horticultural business. Eventually it enabled them to own their own home.

There is real beauty in being part of the older generation. There is real value in having that view of the landscape of the past.

• Dara McNaught is a freelance writer.