Death Of A City

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Why people are beers and not wine, and don’t get better with age

West is a newly-published book chronicling the history of West Auckland, of Waitakere City. It covers all the major aspects – transport, industry, politics, fashion, culture, etc. Each chapter is written by a nominal expert in the field, including such luminaries as Mayor Bob Harvey and Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins. The book is edited by Finlay MacDonald (hey, remember when The Listener didn’t suck? When it used to be about politics and issues and stuff rather than generic, middle-aged memes and Joanne Black’s kids? Yeah. Edited by Finlay MacDonald, back then) and published by Random House with the Waitakere City Council. West has been a while in the making, and is finally here. Featuring hundreds photographs and weighing more than I do, the book is alternately entertaining, informative, poignant, gracelessly designed.

Why is this book important? Well for one thing my dad and step-mum each wrote a chapter, so I’ll put my hand up for nepotism here. But even without that, we all know West Auckland is pretty much the best bit of Auckland. All the working-class credibility but without quite so many murders or liquor-store robberies. We can ignore all those stabbings at Avondale College as that’s technically within Auckland City’s boundaries. Incidentally: in 1989 Avondale was given a vote on whether they wanted to be part of Auckland City or Waitakere City. Had I not been four at the time I would have chastised everyone around me for making what turned out to be so obviously the wrong choice. Anyway:

The book launch was this Friday and as family I got to go along, which is lucky because I think the all-access press pass for Makeshift must have got lost in the mail. Held at the Waitakere City Council Chambers, this was as ritzy as the west does and no expense was spared, with a variety of wines and even a string ensemble doing variations on the National Bank theme. I had to have it pointed out to me by my little brother but he’s right – the Waitakere City Council Chambers carpet looks like pictures of cells and bacteria under a microscope.
It turns out old event people are just like young event people – all talking like they’re more important than they are, making the most of an open bar, wearing predominantly black, being predominantly white. I felt visibly out of place for having all my hair and no children or jewellery. I felt more comfortable during karakia, at least everyone knows what to do while that’s going on. It was followed by MC Oliver Driver who lost the audience immediately but regained them with mildly left-wing jokes. He actually did a really good job, I decided, especially when I realised how shit the audience was. Seriously. If rudely talking through things was an Olympic sport then these people wouldn’t even know they’d won because they’d have been rudely talking all through the medal ceremony. The couple next to me looked like flamenco dancers as filtered through Bollywood, and drunk. And they weren’t even the most obnoxious.

Mayor of Waitakere Bob Harvey gave a good speech, pointing out that West is really something of a eulogy. Once the whole Super-City clusterfuck gets put into effect (this isn’t the place for me to rant about that, but rest assured that I could), Waitakere as a separate city won’t exist any more. It’ll just be another area within the bloated new monster of Auckland, let the homogenisation begin. Looking at it this way West becomes not a history of the place thus far, but a chronicle of something dead, no longer with us, like a book about dinosaurs or punk culture.
Except of course that won’t be the case. Having a different council won’t change the personalities of the people who live in West Auckland, won’t change the communities or the ideals that make us like the place. As Bob Harvey said, the city might end but the place will carry on as normal. An Outrageous Fortune reference somewhere was inevitable, but his half-joking point that it’s all true is valid. Outrageous Fortune couldn’t happen in Newmarket, or Te Aro, or Ilam.

Best moment of the evening: the string ensemble playing Vivaldi while austere black & white photos of orphans and churches and boats and stuff flicked up on the overhead projector screen. Everyone clapped when they finished playing but they’d talked all the way through it, the shits. Oliver Driver was scathing of them too, and rightly so. Come on. If you can’t be polite for just a few minutes then leave, go outside if you need to wank at each other that badly. Some people just shouldn’t be given white wine.

Worst moment of the evening: A Kelston Girls Grammar student singing a Celine Dion song into a mic that wasn’t really made to cope with such an assault. I chose that moment to go to the bathroom, and even in there it made my ears hurt. Incidentally: old arty people from West Auckland piss on the floor just as much as the trendy types in town. Tight jeans aren’t to blame for this one.

West isn’t a small book, or a cheap one ($70ish, from memory), but it’s certainly something worth looking at. Possibly the most comprehensive book about West Auckland and made at least partly by locals. And I’d say it’ll be the last book to be made with the help and backing of Waitakere City Council, well, ever. They could have ended their tenure with much worse projects...

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