From El Hierro to the Great South Road
While Sebastian explores exotic and sunny corners of the earth, Paul Janman and I are pressing on with our preparations for an expedition down that veritable Amazon of Auckland, the Great South Road. I've posted Paul's promo clip for our project, as well as my rather long-winded justification for the journey; here, to concretise matters a built more, is a 'hit list' of locations we've drawn up. We plan to film in all these places, but we're keen to add new locations to our hit list. Do you want us to come to your street, your local boozer, your supermarket, or the neighbourhood wasteground? Want to rant about buse timetables or air pollution or the immense indifference of history? Want to pay homage to Rainbow's End or Sir Ed Hillary or Double J and Twice the T? Drop us a line...]
Twenty Steps Down the Great South Road
The Albert Barracks were built in the 1840s to protect the nucleus of the Pakeha town of Auckland from potential attack by Hone Heke's Nga Puhi warriors. In 1862 hundreds of troops marched out of the high stone walls of the barracks and headed south, to begin the construction of a road designed to help deal with the Crown's enemies in the Waikato. Today a mossy section of the barracks wall still stands in the grounds of the University of Auckland's central city campus.
Scott makes the short walk from the old wall to the Auckland Domain, near the northern end of the Great South Road. In the 1860s the Domain acted as a sort of botanical barracks, marshalling the army of alien flora and fauna - gorse bushes and willow saplings, blue ducks and trout - that would continue the work of the solider, in the decades after the conquest of the Waikato, by occupying and subduing native ecosystems.
Dilworth and its discontents
Located at the far northern end of the Great South Road, Dilworth College embodies some of Auckland's social contradictions. Funded by donations from the city's business elite and from the Anglican church, the private boarding school selects 'deserving' pupils from the poorer parts of Auckland and the rest of New Zealand and attempts to turn them into pious gentlemen with posh accents and impeccable table manners.
Some Dilworth pupils resist this process of deculturalisation; others begin to identify with the posh suburbs at the northern end of the Great South Road, rather than with the more modest communities further down the road. Dilworth survivor Michael Arnold talks to Scott about escaping from his old school down the Great South Road.
Imperialism and Beer
The Waikato War was one of hundreds of small conflicts which accompanied the expansion of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. Most historians now see the war as an unjust act, and the 1995 Treaty settlement between Tainui and the Crown included an apology for the invasion of the Waikato Kingdom.
British imperialism may be out of fashion in some circles, but Ellerslie's Cock and Bull Tavern is decorated with portraits of Queen Victoria and other British monarchs and paintings of British troops subduing dark-skinned enemies and raising the Union Jack over conquered lands. While the Cock and Bull celbrates the British Empire as a whole and British conquests in Africa and Asia, the pub's interior makes no reference to the Waikato War, nor indeed to any aspect of the colonisation of New Zealand.
What does this trendy new bar tell us about our consciousness of the past? Scott attempts to answer this question by drinking with the locals.
The Ruined University
On its way from Penrose to the northern edge of Otahuhu, the Great South Road passes through a zone of ruined buildings and rusting railcars that resembles the set of some postapocalypse movie. A quarter century ago this area was the home of the Otahuhu Railway Workshops and a string of related businesses which together employed hundreds of men and women.
In his PhD research at the University of Auckland, the veteran trade unionist Len Richards has reconstructed the political and cultural world of the Otahuhu workshops. Richards' research reveals that the workshops were a centre of socialist politics and working class self-education, a place where the Communist Party sold hundreds of copies of its weekly paper and electricians and welders argued about Marx and Jean-Paul Sartre during their lunch breaks. Nicknamed the 'working class university of New Zealand', the workshops produced alumni like the poet Hone Tuwhare and the sociologist Dave Bedggood.
The deregulation of rail by the Lange-Douglas government destroyed the workshops, and much of the culture they represented. Scott explores the ruins of New Zealand's working class university with some of its graduates.
Every day hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders pass the low bare hill called Mutukaroa as they travel down the Southern Motorway, the Great South Road, and Sylvia Park Road. Few people, though, ever visit this unprepossessing but fascinating place. Scott lands on Auckland's largest traffic island and explores its interior.
In the 1960s and '70s tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders began to settle in South Auckland. Today the Pacific Islands community is beginning to flex its political muscles, sending MPs to Wellington and campaigning for the recognition of its languages. Scott talks to an Otahuhu-based activist in the Pacific Language Coalition.
Eyelight: Richard Taylor's Panmure
Five years ago the celebrated poet and boozer Richard Taylor retired from the central Auckland literary scene, with its endless poetry readings and get-togethers, and returned to his childhood suburb of Panmure, where he began work on a 'blog-poem-art project of infinite scope'. Scott traps Richard in the anarchic museum which is his home and talks with him about Eyelight.
'Welcome to the Bronx'
Scott remembers a piece of graffitti, visible where the Great South Road passed the outskirts of Otara, which read 'Welcome to the Bronx'. Outsiders commonly think of South Auckland as an enormous slum, but the region is in fact a patchwork of different socioeconomic zones. Even the poorer suburbs have enclaves of privilege and prejudice.
In Papakura, where Scott spent a lot of time in the '80s and '90s, the difference between a 'good' and a 'bad' area could be as little as a few metres. Scott remembers cousins who lived on the deadend Magnolia Avenue, which curves off Great South Rd near the southern end of Papakura and has regularly been deemed one of the suburb's 'ten best streets' by land agents.
Near the end of Magnolia Avenue is a very narrow walkway, which curled about twenty metres between high wooden walls, and led to a street where the signs had been stolen and where supermarket trolleys and the rusting torsos of Valiants and Holdens sat in front yards and pit bulls drooled and howled. Thirty years after he was warned not to use that walkway, Scott revisits Magnolia Avenue and neighbouring streets to see whether the old racial and class divisions remain.
Manukau City Centre is the Milton Keynes of New Zealand: a carefully planned 'new town' conceived in the 1960s and '70s by architects and politicians keen to accomodate the overspill from a rapidly growing city. For many of the Kiwis who work and shop there, though, the 'MCC' can be a bleak place, exposed to winds and dominated by traffic.
Further down the Great South Road, just beyond the low income suburb of Manurewa, a different sort of utopia was established in the late 1970s. Conifer Grove was New Zealand's first 'gated' community, and its video surveillance cameras, grid-like streets, rows of faux-Tudor townhouses, and weirdly dour streetnames ('Syntax Place', for example) can still bemuse visitors from the outside world. For many of its residents, though, Conifer Grove was a welcome escape from a city they found increasingly chaotic and incomprehensible. Scott retraces childhood shopping expeditions to Manukau City Centre, and revisits the mean streets of Conifer Grove.
With its car yards, petrol stations, and fast food outlets, Takanini Strait is one of the less outwardly interesting sections of the Great South Road. But the Strait, which connects Manurewa with Papakura, bears the name of one of the most fascinating figures in the history of South Auckland. Ihaka Takanini was a rangatira of the small Ngati Tamaoho iwi, which was connected by whakapapa and politics to the peoples of the Waikato.
During the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Takanini struggled to balance his support for the anti-colonial Waikato Kingdom with the presence of increasing numbers of Pakeha in the South Auckland area. Again and again, Takanini acted as peacemaker between Pakeha and Maori, and between pro-British and anti-British Maori.
In 1863, though, Takanini's balancing act failed. A few days after the invasion of the Waikato, a group of British troops entered Kirikiri, a village he had founded south of Papakura, in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges. The British demanded that Takanini and his people swear loyalty to the Queen or else leave for the Waikato Kingdom. After Takanini refused to swear an oath of loyalty he was branded an enemy of the Crown, and his village was destroyed. Most of Takanini's people moved south, but he was imprisoned on Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf, where he soon died of what one observer described as 'a broken heart'.
Scott visits the remains of Ihaka Takanini's village and asks why this remarkable man has been almost completely forgotten by the non-Maori residents of Papakura and South Auckland.
'The Little Rock of New Zealand'
The little town of Pukekohe near the end of Great South Road has the unhappy distinction of being the cradle of anti-Asian racism in New Zealand. In the 1920s Pukekohe farmers founded the White Defence League to lobby for the deportation of the Chinese and Indian horticulturalists who had settled around their town.
Racist ideas enjoyed wide support in Pukekohe, and as recently as the 1950s Maori as well as Asians were routinely denied service in the town's pubs and hairdressers, and barred from sitting upstairs at its cinema. In the middle of the 1950s some newspapers even dubbed Pukekohe 'the Little Rock of New Zealand', after the notoriously segregationist Arkansas city.
Scott talks to Mark Derby, a Pukekohe-born historian who has written about the town's racist history.
In 2010 the Azorean-Pakeha poet Hamish Dewe and his Chinese-born wife Sabrina were married in a battle-scared Anglican church called St Bride's in the Franklin hamlet of Mauku. Scott talks to the happy couple, and discovers the intriguing historical incident which made them decide to tie the knot at St Bride's.
The 'Bombay Obelisk' and related delusions
For believers in an elaborate conspiracy, a handful of rocks which mark the Great South Road's ascent of the Bombay Hills are the remains of an ancient white civilisation. Scott visits the supposed 'Bombay Obelisk' with Matthew Dentith, an expert on conspiracy theories who is doing post-doctoral research on the proponents of the idea that white people reached New Zealand before the ancestors of the Maori.
Anne Flannagan lives on farmland in Drury which has been occupied by two foreign armies over the past century and a half. In 1862 and 1863 British troops camped on the land, which borders Hingaia Stream, one of the many small waterways which flow into the mangrove-fringed southeastern arms of the Manukau Harbour. General Cameron, the rather reluctant leader of the invasion of the Waikato, built himself a house which still stands beside the Flanngan property. According to family tradition, a set of earthworks - deep ditches, and mysterious hillocks - at the back of the Flanngan property, near the Hingaia, were made by Cameron's troops.
Eighty years after the Waikato War, the Flannagans hosted some of the thousands of American soldiers who trained in South Auckland before heading north to reconquer the Pacific from Japan. American tanks and trucks clogged the Great South Road, and hundreds of troops staged mock 'invasions' of the Drury Hills.
Scott and the archaeologist Edward Ashby visit Anne to study the earthworks at the bottom of her farm and to hear some Flannagan family stories about the events of the 1860s and the 1940s.
The Glass Archipelago
Every year, hundreds of men and women from the Kiribati archipelago swap their coral atoll homes for the Franklin District south of Auckland, where they pick tomatoes and courgettes grown from the fertile soils of Bombay and Pukekohe. Accepted by local employers because they are used to high humidity and low wages, the I-Kiribati labour in glasshouses which are sometimes larger than their home islands. Scott talks to the I-Kiribati about their double lives.
Marching to Pokeno
By the middle of 1863 the Great South Road crossed the Bombay hills and ended in the village of Pokeno, where the Queen's Redoubt held thousands of troops waiting for war. Scott visits the redoubt, which is being reconstructed by dedicated local historians, and talks with a military archaeologist who excavated the site in the 1990s and found both sinister and curious objects amidst the dirt.
Crossing the Aukati
The Mangatawhiri Stream is a minor tributary of the Waikato which entered history when the great Tainui leader Wiremu Tamihana made it the 'aukati', or border, of the Waikato Kingdom. Scott has long wanted to find the exact spot where General Cameron led six thousand troops into the Waikato on the 12th of July, 1863.
A Drury oral tradition holds that a piece of bare ground near the edge of the yard of the local Anglican church hides the bodies of several Catholic soldiers who died during the early stages of the Waikato War. After a good deal of investigation, a group of local genealogists which included Scott's mother managed to prove that three soldiers of an Irish regiment of the British army had indeed been buried in the churchyard at Drury during the war. Scott attends the blessing of a memorial raised by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture to honour the lost Irishmen