August miscellany

Deep in the heart of Mt Roskill and about 100 metres from the gates of Dominion Road School, where we Standard Two kids used to pick up milk crates for every class, the Labour Party held its campaign launch for local MP Michael Wood. Nothing unusual about that – the elections will be upon us in September.

We were asked to bring a plate and in no time a table was filled with everything from samosas to exotically flavoured biscuits – and good old fashioned scones for the smattering of Pakeha in the hall.

If you looked across the lines of chairs you could see turbans and saris, young Indian women preparing for their moment on stage, and a man sporting a Gandhi  cap –  though his car’s number plate pronounced just this: Nepal. From food to ethnic garb, this was as Wood proudly pointed out, Mt Roskill, the most diverse electorate in the country.

But there was also something very British there too – a remnant of end of Empire – a brass band. For some in the audience this was as British as scones,  a memory pf music played in park rotundas on weekends.But they are far from extinct.  For some older Europeans this must have been nostalgia for the bands. Te Ara, The Dictionary of New Zealand, notes that thirty bands from around the country competed in the 2013 national championships. In 2014 the New Zealand Brass Band Association listed 52 member bands from Whāngārei to Invercargill. There were also many unaffiliated bands, including Salvation Army, Rātana and Tongan bands.

So this nostalgic moment showed that a little bit of Britain still flourished half a world away in the most diverse district in Auckland.  How the world and the  school have  changed, because long ago when the milk truck delivered  crates of  school milk at the school, I was one of perhaps 3-4 ethnics in classes chock full of  Pakeha…

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One third, an innocent but ominous fraction for Aucklanders. One third represents the last throw of the dice for the last National Government led by John Key. One third has also come to mean the number of trees cut down by his government’s 2012 legislation which removed tree protection. What followed was not quite arboreal extinction but it was close.

Soon after, the whine of chainsaws ruled in many suburbs. It was in its own way an expression of individualism, a gift for developers, for residents who wanted to remove mature trees because some stood in the way of their views. But then this kind of officially approved vandalism was hardly new. On National’s agenda were tax cuts, the sale of houses at a time when homelessness rose but was not recognised.

That all amounts to one third of commonsense because migration increased in Auckland by nearly 400,000 between 2000 and 2015. And so houses had to be built which meant that trees had to go, which meant that this urban tree cover can no longer  absorb the  increased  carbon  pollution from  more cars. We still hear tuis in our district  because wood pigeons have taken flight to Auckland’s two thirds of trees…

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Out of the mouths of  the very young…

In a New World shopping market last month a bedraggled army of shoppers hunted for the week’s bargains. Some went about it methodically; others with irritation and one of these was a white-haired man who very definitely wanted to be somewhere, anywhere but in the supermarket. As he followed his wife, a girl who would be about four years old, turned to her young mother and asked: “Mum, why is that man so grumpy?”

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I got myself a seniors’ GPS.

Not only does it tell me how to get to my destination, it tells me why I wanted to go there…

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.