The shooting of a leader of the Killer Beez gang has put an unwelcome spotlight on Ōtara. Phil Taylor found a community that is putting its best foot forward.
The Māori wardens are happy to talk. Talking is a big part of the job. They greet everybody, know everybody, their families and affiliations and they know this town after dark.
They keep the weather eye, in the pubs, in the town centre, in the parks in the early hours. They even wander up the creeks, just in case. Better safe than sorry.
Tina Harding-McGregor and Fulton Tere are in the colourful town centre on Wednesday evening as retailers pack up. By turns, they are earnest and funny, proud and protective of their patch.
This is not how it normally is, says Tina. She recently changed her surname to honour her grandparents but says everyone knows her as Tina.
Tina says, "For us, we just don't want the public thinking that Ōtara is bad because, always on the news it's 'Ōtara is a violent place', and I think to myself, it's a beautiful island. Come here on Saturday, you'll see the flea market, see all the different ethnic groups. Haere mai!"
But, yes, they were worried when news broke that Josh Masters had been shot.
"With the Killer Beez and the Tribesmen, at first we thought there is going to be a big war. Somebody shot the Pres! Then when we found out who [was charged] everybody freaked out because these were close guys, good friends."
People got angry, says Tere, but that has calmed down.
"If you have a good look at the picture," says Tina, "it's just family, that's all it is."
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Though the older folk are asking, what's wrong with an old-fashioned punch up? "If you lost, you walk away and you are still a man."
The Tribesmen emerged out of an older gang called the Stormtroopers and the Killer Beez was linked to the Tribesmen.
"Brother versus brother," says Tere, a small man who is wrapped in a large high-vis jacket, "nephew versus nephew."
These days gangs tended to have a meeting to resolve an issue rather than go bash someone, so this is unusual.
Masters, a rapper and kickboxer and the president of the Killer Beez, was shot while at a Harley Davidson store in Mt Wellington on April 26.
Charged with attempted murder is Akustino Tae, who was a friend and founding member of the Killer Beez but who now wears the patch of the Tribesmen.
Ōtara and neighbouring suburbs are home territory for both gangs, so some tension is to be expected.
The wardens have increased their presence to promote a sense of calm. A meeting is planned for next Saturday at which Auckland Mayor Phil Goff will speak.
The meeting is to address worries in the community, says Alf Filipaina, an Auckland City councillor who represents the Manukau ward.
"It won't be so much about the gangs but on keeping our communities safe. People are asking what they should be doing, how to keep safe."
This is Filipaina's patch. He was raised in Māngere East in a family that produced rugby league legend Olsen Filipaina, a player so good he was known simply as "The Big O".
While Olsen's path took him from a job on the dust carts to playing league in Australia's NRL, Alf Filipaina spent 38 years in the police, retiring in 2016. He worked as a Pacific liaison officer in Ōtara and Māngere and knew Masters years ago when the youth gang was building.
Based on the culture of American street gangs, and intended as a feeder to the Tribesmen, the Killer Beez thrived and continued to do so when Masters was jailed for 10 years for drug dealing. Masters was released from jail in July.
"It is internal," said Filipaina. "The difference was the youth group was the feeder to the main group."
The shame of it for Ōtara is that the suburb is on its way to shaking a reputation as a dangerous place.
For many outsiders it is known for the Dawn Raids of the 1970s and a gang-related machete murder that happened in the flea market 32 years ago.
"When you get a bad name, it is very hard to wipe that away," says Ōtara Business Association manager Rana Judge.
"I think some people are looking to the bad history but we have seen a lot of good things happening around the centre," says Judge, who is also a leader of the Sikh community.
They have CCTV cameras on each corner and he is proud to say they have got rid of the bikies and the thieves and the car window washers. Ōtara, he says, is doing better on those fronts than Papatoetoe township, whose business association he also runs.
Judge says that Ōtara recently earned the accolade from the police of being the safest town centre in South Auckland. Police metrics put it in the same tier as Howick and Botany.
Things had been on the up for a long time, but, yes, he says, the shooting has caused unease and business has been slow in the two weeks since.
"The Killer Beez are the local boys so some people are a little bit scared that something could happen at any time. It is going to take a little bit of time for that to settle down."
Last Saturday the Tribesmen had their AGM at the Ngati Ōtara Marae on the edge of sprawling and tidy Ngati Ōtara Park, home of the Scorpions Rugby League Club.
There was a heavy police presence. Each gang member passed through a checkpoint before entering the marae. The usual kids' sports matches were relocated to other grounds.
Louis Holani, 25, is taking it in his stride. He pauses from playing basketball in the afternoon sun with his daughter and niece to tell the Weekend Herald people are doing what they always do.
"They are letting their kids walk home from school, go to the park. Everyone is behaving the same.
"It's in-house. If they are going to shoot each other it will be each other. Some people are saying you have to be aware of crossfire but I don't think they would do it in a public area."
After school at nearby Sir Edmund Hillary College pupils mill outside, relaxed and chatting. A staff member says there's been no noticeable concerns, no increase in the number of parents picking up their children.
Over at the Ōtara flea market in the town centre, a man and his son practise riding their push bikes on the back wheel. The father has no worries. "It's just those involved in that sort of life. They know they have to be quite civil in places like this. We are safe, it's our neighbourhood bro."
Michelle McGrath tells of having started her job as the market's new manager on the day of the shooting.
There was tension, she says, because the man charged hadn't handed himself in at that point.
"When it happened my main thing was that my staff kept themselves safe and were vigilant." There were no problems at the market that day and had not been since, she says.
McGrath was a little kid when that machete killing happened. She talks passionately about how good the market is and her plans to make it better. "My vision is to make it the best market in Auckland. We have the best produce, we have street kai, we have a lot of new stalls, stalls selling taonga such as greenstone."
She wants to attract more families and has plans to bring back the cultural performances she recalls from when she was little, and to introduce free workshops, things like how to prepare simple meals and how to look after your car.
The police put out a statement to say they are on to it, investigating any crimes which may be related, carrying out prevention activities and ensuring staff were visible in key locations.
They want to hear about gang-related activity - on 111 if it was an emergency, otherwise by contacting Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.