Ghosts of Newton

I once knew some lads who lived in a house on Randolph Street in Newton, Auckland.

It was this house, in fact:

Randolph Street

Only back then it wasn’t so nicely done up. It was a bit run down, and they paid heaps in electricity due to the house being in a commercial zone. The neighbours were all businesses, in soild, sensible commercial buildings built in the mid-20th century onwards.

Because back in the ’90s, Newton wasn’t really a suburb where people lived. Though most of the people who did reside there inhabited rundown old villas.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Newton used to be a bustling inner-city suburb. It looked like this:

old-newton

There were lots of houses, businesses, schools and churches. It was, like neighbouring Ponsonby, a solid, working-class surburb.

Then in the 1950s, it was decided that Auckland needed a motorway, and the best path for it was right through Newton. The houses were getting old and run down, so it was easy enough to convince people of the need to pull down the slums and replace them with a big-arse motorway.

Why live in crappy old Newton when you can move out to a dry, spacious modern new house in the suburbs, commuting to work along the new motorway?

And besides, the threat of a motorway coming nearby is a pretty good incentive for a landlord to stop doing upkeep on an already rickety old house.

It took a few decades, but eventually the houses and streets of Newton were bulldozed and replaced with a big-arse motorway.

newton

And when you look at it on Google Maps, it looks like this:

motorway

Yet if you look between the motorway roads, you can still see the property boundaries of the old pre-motorway sections, as well as the gaps in between where the old roads went.

You can trace the invisible path between France Street and Mercury Lane, reunite West Street and West Terrace, loiter on the corner of Montague and Cobden Streets.

motorway3

The remaining bits of Newton soon turned from residential to commercial. The old houses were pulled down, replaced by commercial buildings.

Nearby Ponsonby survived. It avoided the motorway (and it was, at one stage, the preferred route from Newton to the Harbour Bridge). Ponsonby’s villas, like Newton’s, were old and rickety. But eventually Ponsonby’s inner city location got the better of it and people with money moved in, fixing up those old villas, plank by plank, until they were sufficiently nice.

The Motorway

Could a Ponsonby-like fate have awaited Newton if, by some miracle, the motorway had gone some other way? Could Newton be a gentrified inner city suburb now?

The few old villas that remain in Newton, including the one in Randolph Street, are getting fancied up, lived in by people with money.

Though on the K Road side, there are still a few old rundown villas, wedged between panel beaters and mysterious businesses in old unnamed buildings.

East Street

Of course, a few old villas are used for business purposes, such as the infamous Pelican Club on Newton Road. It’s had so much done to it to protect the privacy of its clients that it’s accidentally taken on a quirky postmodernist look, managing to disguise itself to avoid looking like what it is – a windowless sex box.

Newton Road

And Newton gives us the King’s Arms. A former corner pub (France St & Edwin St), serving the locals, it now divides its time between hipsters who come for the live music, and the old drunks who hang out in the unhip bar in the old part of the building.

France Street

While the motorway may have done its best to eradicate the old residential, suburban Newton, the ghosts of that Newton linger in the remaining villas, the street names, the old bluestone curbstones.

And a curious thing is happening. Slowly over the last 15 years, people have started living in Newton again. It’s not in villas, though. This time it’s in apartments and townhouses. The ghosts of Newton have reminded us that at its heart it’s an inner-city suburb and, actually, not such a bad place to live after all.

Auckland tonight

I had to go to Auckland for work, so I included an adjacent weekend in my plans to revisit old Aucklandtown.

Saturday night

I was going to go to bed but suddenly my roboawesome detectors sensed that out there Something Was Happening. Using the powers of Twitter, I realised that there was a senior citizen punk gig at the Bacco Room, so I threw on my punk trousers and went there.

The gig was called Auckland Tonight and was in honour of Stephen Marsden, the dearly departed singer of early ’80s punk/new wave band The Androidss, and indeed the author of their song “Auckland Tonight”, a song that could only have been written by a band from outside Auckland.

I arrived in time to see The Spelling Mistakes, and was delighted to witness them play “Feels So Good”. How delighted?

@robyngallagher In a hot, basement punk bar. Just saw the Spelling Mistakes play Feels So Good. #happy

The Androidss took to the stage and gleefully, lovingly worked their way through some punk classics. I was getting tired so I left and didn’t see them play “Auckland Tonight”, but that didn’t matter cos I was already in Auckland tonight.

On the way out, I was stopped by a young man from Manchester and his Kiwi cousin, who demanded to know my thoughts on whether having an ego was a bad thing or not. I could have lectured them on the evils of the ganja, but instead I answered their questions (though what I said I cannot recall), and amazed myself and the Manc by identifying his accent before I knew where he was from. I blame Robbie Williams.

Sunday morning

I went to the Takapuna Market with Dylz, Mel and their two manchilds. The markets specialities are fresh food, cheap Chinese goods, and expired foods (hey, all that sugar in candy, it’s sort of preserving it so it won’t ever go off, right?).

We wandered about, learnt of a scuffle that had happened earlier in the day (lesson learned: you don’t say things about that guy’s wife, OK?), I had a coffee but had to queue behind a racist, anti-immigration lady, and generally enjoyed a lovely morning in Takapuna, which is not something that I had thought possible.

Key ring

Sunday afternoon

On the bus heading over the bridge, I looked at the city unfolding in front of the beautiful blue autumn sky. I couldn’t quite work it out, but despite seeming like it should have been a perfect, uplifting cityscape, it felt a bit drab, empty and devoid of people. Maybe I just needed to wait for a golden sunset.

I headed over to the museum. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything new on (I was in between major exhibitions), but I hadn’t seen Hillary’s axe before. But all that did was manage to trigger a burst of existential angst: Hillary was 34 when he climbed Everest. I am 34. What have I done with my life, etc.

Arrow

I stopped by the burger joint that’s now filling the gap where Brazil used to live. It’s far too bright and cheerful now, with students lunching their instead of Brazil-era junkies thawing out in the morning sun.

Next I was alerted to awesomeness at Auckland Gallery from Miss City, the cupcake queen.

The gallery had an exhibition of the works of Yinka Shonibare, a British artist who does a lot of work involving bright fabric crossed with dandyism. Oh, I like!

As part of the exhibition, the Auckland Craft Bomb group were doing some embroidery and making fabric badges. So I picked out some orange and green floral corduroy and got right into it.

Sunday evening

I stayed at the Quadrant hotel. The foyer smelt liked roses and had a long walkway running to the lifts, lit with purple light.

The room was less fancy, and indeed seemed to have been built with the idea of “If this hotel thing doesn’t work out, we can always be student accommodation”, but in its hotel form it was still good.

The room had a DVD player, and while I could have rented BMX Bandits from the hotel, instead I bought season two of the totally gay IT Crowd and Snuff Box. Seriously, snuggling up in bed to the whole series of Snuff Box is pleasure.

Room with one of those looking landscape things

And then

On Monday I had to move to another hotel near work. In theory it seemed fancy, but the room reminded me of my friend’s parents’ bedroom from the ’80s, the heater wouldn’t heat, the telly was staticy, it smelt like stale cigarette smoke oh, but at least it had a bath.

Your mum's bedroom

And that day marked one year since I moved to Wellington and yet there I was, stuck in dull hotel room, leaving me feeling all full of malaise. I didn’t want to be in Auckland any more. I wanted to be right back in Wellington, even if it was being disturbed by thunder, lightning and hail. (Not that I’ve ever been scared of a hearty thunder storm… yet).

I realised that the Auckland I left a year ago no longer exists. Occasionally I might feel like I miss Auckland, but it’s not so much a feeling for a place as a feeling for situations (that no longer exist) people (who have equally changed).

I still get an odd feeling of connection and excitement around Newton (or, at least, the parts that weren’t eaten by the motorway) but even that’s more about perception than reality.

Now I can only deal with Auckland as someone who used to live there and someone who now visits it, like visiting an old boyfriend and wondering, “Hey, I used to love you and now I don’t but I don’t ever remember falling out of love.” It just happened.

Auckland

City of stuff that wasn’t there the last time I looked

I went to Auckland for the day for work. It was my first proper return to Auckland since I left.

On the flight over, as the plane flew over South Auckland on its decent, the two men sitting next to me (strangers who had been chatting) had this conversation.

Man 1 (Looking out the window): It’s a ticking time-bomb that’s going off.
Man 2: What is?
Man 1: South Auckland.
Man 2: Oh, why’s that?
Man 1: Third-generation Polynesian kids.
Man 2: Yeah, that’s the problem with society today. You can’t even bloody well give them a smack these days.

The conversation soon turned to the election, but here’s the interesting part: while they both reckoned National would probably win, neither of them really fancied John Key as prime minister. They thought he was inexperienced and not particularly trustworthy.

Anyway, on the ground in Auckland, I noticed the following things were different:

  • The Mount bar in Mt Eden is now The Mount Sports Bar. This is signified by a green plastic sign that looks like it was designed in Microsoft Paint.
  • The people in my new flat have put little flags in the window, but I didn’t see what country they were for.
  • All the public art in Aotea Square has been removed ahead of the big redevelopment. This scares me because traditionally when Auckland public art goes into storage, it gets forgotten about.
  • St Patrick’s square has also been ripped up and is being reconstructed with a robust new look for the new millennium. Its fountain has also been removed.
  • And to complete the trilogy of ripped-out fountains, the lovely one outside the Art Gallery is gone, as the space is being used for the new gallery extension.
  • (Yeah, I bet Auckland forefathers are really embarrassed that they build so many inadequate public spaces that weren’t robust or world-class enough so now they have to be ripped out and rebuilt.)
  • The new Westpac HQ on Customs Street is coming along nicely. It’s a smart design that fits in nicely with the older buildings on Customs Street, but looks of this decade.
  • There’s now a Gucci shop, right next door to the new Louis Vuitton shop. Boring.
    The crazy plastics shop on K Road has closed down. It astounds me that they stayed in business for as long as they did.
  • The old Brazil seems to be getting a new occupant. They seem to be doing a partial renovation, which greatly pleased the passing Rentokil serviceman. (“About bloody time.”)

The daylight is different in Auckland compared to Wellington. I’m not sure what it is, but Auckland light seems softer, more diffuse. Wellington has darker, sharper shadows. Is it clouds? Landscape? Lattitude?

I also went to the New Gallery and saw the Walters Prize nominees.

  • My favourite, on a personal level, was Cloud by John Reynolds, which comprises of hundreds of little canvas squares with words and phrases of New Zealand English written on them. TREE TOMATO.
  • There was also ACK by Peter Robinson, some giant bits of styrofoam that filled a couple of rooms. It pissed me off because of its giantness and room-fillingness. It made me feel all doomed and on the verge of extinction.
  • I was pleased to see the Digital Marae collection by Lisa Reihana. I’d seen three photos from it at the Tjibaou Centre in New Caledonia (which you should go to one day). Digital Marae has large photos, sounds and digital projections which combine stylised image of Maori in costumes inspired from various era in history. I love the Josephine Baker-style one.
  • And finally there was Dejeuner by Edith Amituanai, a series of photos looking at Polynesian rugby league players playing professionally over in France. I found it kind of depressing how they photos showed their French living rooms transformed into a really ordinary working-class New Zealand living room, complete with a bookcase with a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica sitting in the centre of the room. I felt alienated from the Polynesian, French and rugby league cultures shown.

So who’s gonna win the $50,000 prize? Probably the styrofoam. [1/11/08 – Turns out my prediction was correct: Peter Robinson’s ACK got the $50,000.]

It was a really nice day in Auckland and I started to feel a bit wistful and wondered if I shouldn’t have left Auckland. But on the way to the airport, it started raining that special kind of fat Auckland rain and the traffic on the motorway was awful. And I knew I would never miss that.

A difference between Auckland and Wellington

A difference between Auckland and WellingtonI recently signed up for my Wellington library card and couldn’t help compare it with my Auckland library one.

Auckland’s got a scenic photo of the city at night, with the sort of orange sky you’d normally only get if there’d been a volcanic eruption in the Philippines or something. The Sky Tower looks so bright and white, it’s as if they took a 1995 photo of the city and photoshopped a contemporary, daytime image of the Sky Tower into it. It’s all “Look at me! I am slick and urban! I am a world-class city – just like Sydney and Melbourne!!!!”

Whereas the Wellington card has a detail from some Para Matchett’s sculptures on the City To Sea bridge. He’s one of my favourite New Zealand sculptors (did you guess that aready from my Flickr icon?) so I’m happy to have that in my wallet.

Humidity, humility, humanity

In recent days people have been coming out with their stories about their connections or experiences with Sir Edmund Hillary – people who went to school with him or climbed with him or built a school in Nepal with him or saw him at the rugby and got him to autograph a $5 note. Well, the only connection I have – and it’s both significant and insignificant – is that my middle name is Hilary. So there.

Which leads me to Parnell. After work yesterday I got the Link bus to Parnell, which conveniently stopped right outside the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where Sir Edmund’s body was lying in state.

I wasn’t necessarily planning on going inside, but even though I wouldn’t be visiting for religious reason, I was interested in the event as a socially and culturally significant one as a New Zealander. Though, when I initially saw the line of people snaking all the way down St Stephen’s Ave and then around the corner and down Brighton Road, I considered just going home.

But then I thought about it. I’d put up with hot sun and crowds and having sweaty man-backs in my face at the Big Day Out, so how could I not be up to doing something that many senior citizens – including ones with walking sticks – were doing? And besides, the line was moving reasonably fast. All excuses gone, I joined the queue.

An orderly line

Now, it was a hot, extremely humid summer evening, with very light rain from time to time. The heat was so intense that I began to wonder if perhaps I ought to have a plastic bottle of water with me in case I dehydrated so much that I failed to meet the eight-glasses-of-water-a-day limit. Because we all know what terrible, terrible things happen then.

But then, as if by magic, a lady appeared handing out bottles of water – organic water, even. (No, I don’t get how either.) The label on the bottle suggested it was endorsed by Sir Peter Blake, giving a nice dearly departed knights theme.

The queue and the water girl

It took me about 40 minutes to make it into the cathedral. When I got inside I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, actually, I had earlier imagined something like what happened when Eva Peron died. You know, people wailing and fainting, tearing their clothes, queuing for days to see the coffin, taking their babies and their ill to be blessed.

But, well, it wasn’t like that. It was all rather Anglican. Silent and reverential. The coffin was surrounded by four naval seamen guarding it. Standing so still they looked like strange androids, waiting to be summoned into action at the cue of a Doctor Who villain.

I took some photos, but I was really conscious of actually experiencing the moment and not just viewing it all through my camera’s LED screen. I don’t I think I saw the man ahead of me take his camera away once – but maybe that’s how he does things.

When I was standing right in front of the coffin I stopped and thought and felt sadness. Then I had this weird sensation that, oh no, I was holding up the line and I should go, oh, sorry.

I signed the guestbook, bid my namesake farewell, and went out into the hot January night.

Standing still

Shining, not raining

I went to the Grey Lynn Park Festival yesterday. It didn’t rain, which is a remarkable achievement. Nice one, the weather.

The park was full of people and entertainment, but in a way there was nothing special. A lot of it is the same sort of stuff that is found at other festivals and market days.

My favourite thing was finding a stall that had a number of people I’d seen at the last Craftwerk I went to, including the DIY badge-making lady. Among the badge-making materials was a copy of the Alphabetical Spelling List book, a classic New Zealand primary school textbook. In that, next to the entry for “no” was a bracketed example that provided me with an ideal badge material:

No good

I had a nice time. It was a lovely sunny day, and the park was full of happy people, from Grey Lynn teen gangs to young mothers to dudes with Movember moustaches to little kids running around.

More photos can be found by clicking on this lady:

Stylish lady

Character building

I finally got around to filling in my ballot for the Auckland City Council elections.

With so many different things to vote for and so many different people to vote for, I went through the candidate profile booklet and started eliminating candidates based on their little blurbs.

I will not vote for candidates who said the following:

  • “I call for the withdrawal of US and ‘coalition’ troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.” OK, but what about plastic-bag recycling?
  • The anti-abortionist who says that, if elected, he will “use the office of mayor solely in this battle.” Sorry, the mayor can’t help you. He’s busy stopping a 15-year-old rape victim from aborting her unwanted foetus, etc.
  • The candidate who who “understands company reports as NZX investor.” This sounds like she sat down with a Work and Income CV consultant and learned to maximise her potential.
  • Regarding Queen Street being “a mess” – “I will encourage those concerned to wake up.” Yes, you Queen Street retailers had better wake up or there’ll be trouble.
  • The candidate who has no conflicts of interest with the “(insert name) District Health Board”. Yeah, me neither.

It looks like the mayoralty is going to be between the incumbent mayor and the previous mayor. Neither of them really excite me.

Sometimes I like to go into the Auckland Public Library’s Auckland resource room and read old city council propaganda publications. This is what I have learned – there are always going to be mayors who have really amazing plans for the city that never get to happen.

Mayor Robbie’s idea of a rapid rail system is often hailed as an example of this. I found the 1974 district plan that had this detailed in it. It was bit weird. There would have been an underground concourse running from Hobson Street (where Sky City is now) down to Queen Street, and up to Kitchener Street. Why? What’s wrong with walking down the street? And there would have been all sorts of peculiar tunnels and escalators needed to get under and around the hilly inner-city landscape.

But for every visionary idea that never makes it, there are also really horrible ideas that never get approved, like the plan to put a mall and office block on the site of the Civic theatre.

Every mayoral or council candidate that isn’t currently on the council seems to be running on the promise of change. Something is broken in this city, they say, and they’re going to fix it. But why does Auckland’s brokenness have to be fixed? Why can’t we accept the flaws of this city as being what makes it special? Does Auckland actually need “world class” paving stones on its footpaths?

Now I’ll just have to remember to post my ballot off.

Post, poster, posted

A few weeks ago I noticed some photocopies of a poem had been pasted up on the usual places along Symonds Street and K Road.

poempieces

I don’t know who wrote the poem or why they pasted many copy of it up in public. Having read it a few times, it seems clunkily written, awkward to read – especially aloud – and the main point in this poetic manifesto seems confused and meanders, distracted by other bits and pieces which must also be shared with Auckland’s inner city community.

But what got my attention wasn’t the poem, but the comments that other people had scribbled them. Two copies on K Road had something like “Obviously this person has never been to Family” (Family = gay bar), and another poster on Symonds Street had, “Yay. Now this poster is my girlfriend!”

I was searching for an intact copy of the poster, hopefully one with some witty comments on the bottom, but by the time I got around to taking my camera to work, all the posters had been ripped off or covered over, leaving only the above fragments.

But finally I found a whole one across the road from work that also had some comments. As well as, “and your point is?” written in faint biro, there was also nice big letters proclaiming, “disco sucks, fuck everything”, which, incidentally, was my life’s philosophy from 1993 to 1997. Ok, so here’s the poem. Click for big.

poem

BONUS: What else do the streets of Auckland have to offer? Why, it’s timely commentary on U2 and their sold-out concert:

posterboy

Bing bong

I checked out the brand new underground train station. Having recently travelled on the Paris Metro and London Underground, I now consider myself to be a 100% expert on underground train stations and have made the following observations.

  • It’s cold. This could possibly be due to the fact that the Britomart centre thing is still under construction, so it’s likely that there are great big holes where cold wind can come gushing in. Either that or it’s just a really chilly building. 
  • Automated announcements. Every couple of minutes a pre-recorded announcement would be made. They were voiced by one of those voiceover guys who does television ads and sounds like the sort of person who’d rarely – if ever – travel by train. One message started with a cheery, but very white sounding “Kia ora!”
  • One of the announcements advised passengers that when a train is pulling into the station, that waiting passengers must step back one metre from the edge of the platform. Why don’t they just do what other train stations do and paint a line along the platform and write “STAND BACK” on the platform. Interestingly, that message was nowhere to be heard when the next train pulled in.
  • There were also live announcements from someone in the station. He was suffering from the same affliction that Air New Zealand pilots have, that is, the tendency to waffle on and on when all that’s required is a short and simple message. While repeating the destinations of a train for maybe the third time, one of the automated announcements came on, so there was a cacophony of polite yet unintelligible information echoing around the station.
  • The station’s decor looks like an old warehouse that’s been converted into a gay nightclub. I don’t mean that as an insult. I think it’s the most accurate way to describe it. There’s lots of bare concrete but also concrete surfaces that have been covered by a stainless steel mesh. There are a bunch of cone-shaped skylights along the middle. At the top of every cone is a silver ball, which resembles a disco mirror ball, just smoother. But the gayest thing of all is the lighting along the side walls. The bare concrete is lit up in the colours of the gay rainbow. It looks fabulous.
  • The station is missing advertising. It looks like there are spaces for ads. I think when the ads come in it’ll stop looking less gay discoesque. There are also no vending machines. These are essential for a good train station. But I suspect that there may be small shops opening that will sell drinks ‘n’ junk food.
  • There’s no “bing bong” noise before the announcements are made. They really need to get their act together and get a “bing bong” noise.

I suppose the next step for me is to attempt to catch a train.

What the world needs now

Ah, yes. Dance for us, dancing monkey girl. Do a trick for us. Sing us a song. Tell us a jolly. Dance for us, dancing monkey girl.

Hi.

I was driving along a road today and suddenly a car shot out of a side street, attempting to do a right-hand turn. I had to slam on my breaks to avoid slamming into the side of that car. I breaked so hard that I burned rubber. The other car ended up positioned neatly behind me. I was shocked and just sat in my car for a while. Interestingly, I’d come to a stop right in front of a pedestrian crossing. I drove on and pulled over so the traffic behind me could follow on. The other car pulled over behind me, but I wasn’t interested in talking to them. Ideally I’d tell them to wake the fuck up, but in reality I’d probably end up being like, “it’s ok! No harm done!!!” So they drove on, then a little bit later I drove on. I ended up right next to that car at some traffic lights. I looked over and saw the driver and passenger embroiled in a fierce argument.

So when shit like that happens I know that it’s time to get out of Auckland. Fortunately such an opportunity has presented itself to me in the form of going to Taupo to hang out with, oh yes, a bunch of teenagers. R@d?