Thursday, August 04, 2011

Stepping down the Great South Road

[I've been busy this week working with Paul Janman on a proposal for a documentary film about Auckland's Great South Road. I first encountered Paul last November, at the graduation ceremony of the 'Atenisi Institute, that beleagured stronghold of Graeco-Polynesian culture on the swampy outskirts of Nuku'alofa. As 'Atenisi's graduands rubbed themselves with coconut oil, unrolled vast tracts of tapa, and danced in the sun, Paul scampered around with a film camera, and I scribbled in my notebook.

A few months after I posted a report on 'Atenisi's ceremony at this blog, Paul completed his feature-length film Tongan Ark, which offers a languidly impressionistic, wryly affectionate account of the institution and its extraordinary founder Futa Helu (you can see some previews of Paul's film on his website).

Paul and I have given our film the very rough working title Twenty Steps Down the Great South Road. In a sort of test shoot last week, Paul captured me ranting and raving about our project. Paul and I are hoping to do dozens of interviews as part of our project, and we're keen to hear suggestions about aspects of the Great South Road's history which need coverage. Reproduced below is a rough draft of an introduction to Twenty Steps Down the Great South Road.]

Like Los Angeles and Belfast, Auckland is a city defined by its roads. Auckland's harbours may look good on picture postcards, but they play little role in the daily lives of most of the city's residents. Auckland has hundreds of kilometres of rivers and creeks, but these waterways have long since ceased to be transport routes, and are now often obscured by overpasses or diverted into underground drains. Auckland's train network remains underfunded and underused. Almost all Aucklanders use roads to get to and from their workplaces and their favourite leisure spots, and to enter and leave their city.

The Great South Road is perhaps the most historically and sociologically significant of all Auckland's traffic routes. The road was built in 1862 and 1863 to carry troops from the fledgling town to the northern border of the Waikato Kingdom. The colonial government, which was still based in Auckland, was filled with fananciers and property speculators frustrated by the refusal of the Waikato's King Tawhiao to allow the sale of Maori land to Pakeha. The Great South Road was conceived as a route to the riches of the Waikato, and a route to Pakeha domination of the North Island. Mileposts were raised to mark the progress of the road, and camps, redoubts, inns, and churches grew by its side.

As soldier-engineers imported from Britain pushed the road south through swamps and undulating bush, Maori began to seize their theodolites and shovels. Soon warriors sent north across the Waikato River were emerging from the bush to shoot at troops and settlers alike. Finally, on the 12th of July 1863, six thousand British troops left their redoubt in Pokeno, at the southern end of the Great South Road, and crossed a small tributary of the Waikato into Tawhiao's territory. The conquest of the Waikato had begun.

With the end of the Waikato War in 1865 and the confiscation of a million acres of Maori land, the Great South Road's military usefulness was largely exhausted. But the road quickly became important as a link between the farmer communities founded by Pakeha in South Auckland and the adjacent Franklin County. Milkcarts and herds of cattle took the place of marching armies.

As the New Zealand economy grew in the late nineteenth century, the Great South Road became part of a new trade route that connected Auckland with Wellington and other important North Island centres. The road also became a thread between new suburbs like Ellerslie, Penrose, Otahuhu, and Papatoetoe.

As New Zealand became more urban, and Auckland became a portal through which new ideas and new cultural trends reached the rest of the country, the farming communities south of the city increasingly defined themselves in opposition to their neighbours. The Great South Road was once again perceived as a route taken by invaders.

After the opening of Auckland's Southern Motorway in the early 1960s, the Great South Road ceased to be the main traffic route between the city and the rest of New Zealand, and increasingly became the preserve of South Aucklanders. Many residents of Auckland's northern and eastern suburbs used the motorway to bypass the south of their city completely.

In the 1940s and '50s Maori from the Waikato and Northland began to settle in significant numbers in the new suburbs beside the Great South Road. In later decades of the twentieth century, South Auckland became the main destination for new immigrants to New Zealand. In the 1960s and '70s tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders were drawn by the promise of jobs in the area's burgeoning economy.

Despite the neo-liberal restructuring of the economy in the late 1980s and the '90s, and the closure of railway workshops and factories in South Auckland, the flow of new citizens from the Pacific has continued, and has been complemented by immigration from Asia and the Middle East.

With their linguistic and cultural diversity, the new communities along the Great South Road offer a glimpse of New Zealand's future. Too often, though, South Auckland has been presented in a negative and stereotypical light by the mass media and by politicians. In the imaginations of many Kiwis who live outside its borders, South Auckland is a frightening place, where English is a foreign language and gangs patrol the streets.

The widespread disinterest in or hostility to South Auckland can be related to the image of New Zealand promoted by successive governments and by the propagandists of our tourism industry. A big majority of Kiwis live in urban areas, but New Zealand has been presented, in the speeches of politicians and in the advertising campaigns of the Tourism Board, as a land of pristine forests, snow-capped mountains, and clear blue lakes. In recent years the Lord of the Rings movies, with their repetitive presentation of a Kiwi countryside carefully cleansed of signs of human habitation and history, have only reinforced the vision of New Zealand as a pleasant wilderness.

With its views of endless car yards and fast food bars, abandoned factories and unglamorous housing developments, and mangrove swamps and flat blocks of farmland, the Great South Road starkly contradicts the 'official' image of New Zealand.

Director Paul Janman and writer Scott Hamilton propose to journey slowly and deliberately down the Great South Road in search of pleasure and enlightenment. Like Iain Sinclair's accounts of his epic walks around London and Daniel Kalder's reports from the unglamorous corners of Russia, Hamilton and Janman's adventure will be a contribution to the burgeoning genre of 'anti-travel' art.

Scott Hamilton grew up close to the Great South Road, and his investigations will mix scholarship with autobiography. As he travels by bullock cart, bicycle, Morris Minor, Bedford van, and Shank's Pony, Hamilton will talk about history and the future, meet old friends and new acquaintances, revisit the sites of major humiliations and minor victories, point out beauty spots and eyesores, and celebrate and berate twenty-first century New Zealand. Standing beside ancient earthworks and historic mileposts, breathing in the fumes from courier vans and busy slaughterhouses, arguing with diehard rednecks and Maori Trotskyists, poring over old war maps and the apocalyptic literature of Destiny Church, Hamilton will ponder the conflicts and agreements, connections and disjunctions, and flukes and misfortunes that have created the rich, confused history of the Great South Road...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am desperately looking forward to seeing you traverse the road by bollock cart. That's a means of transport that is sadly neglected these days.

2:49 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"bolllocks carts"! Ho! Ho!

You wouldn't get far with a Morris Minor these days!! May as well drive a Hansom Cab! Holden is saved only by the fact it is rather big...but it is too old...falling apart.
That's the point..all this crap about beautiful clean green NZ ...sure some places are beautiful but so are they in Russia or the US or wherever...the Saharan desert is beautiful in its way (any where can be good as long as you have money) as no doubt Detroit or Brasilia is for someone else or some big Chinese city...
Gilbert and George love the grimy East End of Londinium...not sure how grimy where they live is, as they are very rich but...hmmm...

And NZ is massive on cars...very few people don't drive a car in NZ...rail usage has increased in the last 10 years (in Auckland in any case) but from the 50s to the late 90s the motor car became and has remained King in NZ...I lived for some time (in South Auckland) and I had three cars...two of them "bombs" (in fact they were all old and so on) but you almost need a car to get around in Auckland or anywhere else in is a car crazy nation, more so even than boats. Boats are not that big...I think people just dabble in that really...sure there are boaties and fishermen but the seas around here are more and more depleted and the motor car takes us right past all these things we don't want to see or know about or whatever, to what we do go to...

Forget this nonsense about going into the bush...go to Penrose or wherever and look a the industrial areas...or go our to Otara where I used to live and look atthe cahso and hte broken fences, the litter, the dirt, the gang crims ever where,... and so on..the Flying Jug etc...or the Pub at Manukau where these Pacific Islanders killed a bloke for touching their car, there are some really dangerous and wild places and people I have been to and seen around Otara and Old Papatoetoe etc, my friend who is Samoan wont live there alhtough he works a as psychologist helping people THROUGHOUT Auckland (NZ in fact)...that's another point, there are big psychological (and social, ethnic, economic, political etc)issues with people of all levels of NZ society,...the murder (knifing in Pakuranga the other day is only one manifestation of it all (the murder rate per capita is very high here)...NZ is pretty fucked...ho ho!!...and so on...and The Railway Workshops...I used to work there the 20s (when Hone worked there as a welder) they were a hive of activity as were there freezing works but they are getting squeezed out by Big Money and NZ is more and more vulnerable to overseas capital...but get into the grime that is NZ...get down the Great South Road....muck in and make that film maps (make sure you get god cut from it though, and sign a good contract) (Trust no one)....HO!! HO!!!!

"It's a free society but nuttin's free! It's law of the jungle, hee he!! Every man for himself, ha ha hoo! Woo hoooo!!" (Character in Robo Cop)

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

I've been meaning to tell you, Richard, that we've entitled one of our twenty chapters - or 'steps' - 'Eyelight: Richard Taylor's Panmure'. Are you ready for a film crew to descend upon your fascinatingly anarchic home?

6:09 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...


6:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

HO HO! Maps!! If they stop in for a cuppa they have to listen to me talk for 4 hours...what are they using for a camera, a cell phone? Ho! Ho!

But no Bollocks Carts! Illegal round here...

But Panmure does have a history e.g. the Mokioa pa etc

The film crew can pay me back by painting my old anarchic house!!

Are you going to film Jack's book collection?

You do have sense of humour Maps, but let me remind you, my place is not on the Gt. Sth. Road!!

If you do come with your director and your glamorous stars you have to bring Brett Titus as a witness...and Jack as kind of intermediary.

I'll need a proper contract also...

Sounds a great idea for film wont be box office like Robo Cop or (enter a film that is popular here ....... ) etc but it will be interesting.

6:48 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

We're allowed to make deviations from the Great South Road, Richard - and I figured you'd make an entertaining interviewee! Hamish Dewe has agreed to appear at Mauku and read a poem.

Paul's film Tongan Ark gives an idea of the approach he might take: it's an intellectual movie, but it isn't structured in a linear way. There are about ten samples from the film available at:

8:50 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

In that case I have issued a dcree to fortify my pa against imperialist White Dog Lefty film makers in case of a sudden attack (without accompanying usual down payment of Chinese $200,000 to seize and destroy my hapu's kainga and eat all our kai and steal our land ...

All necessary defensive measures are being taken...patu are being brought case the Challenge doesn't go well and we are tricked...

It is anticipated that the enemy will "telegraph" their arrival by at least 48 hours (or much earlier) which will be reported to me by my scouts.

Korero will be ready to be koreroed
Pipes and ceremonial kai will be ready (one piece of toast or an apple)...

Treaty and "contract" to be negotiated...

Any famous sexy crumpet acting in the flick?

1:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard Taylor cannot be in the film...because Richard Taylor does not exist..............ha ha ha ha ha!

8:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are some good pubs on the gsr

12:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't the Great South Road go all the way to Invercargill?

4:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is probable that the reason that economies 'cannot' recover is that the normal route to recovery is blocked by the inability to reduce wages (either actually or by inflation) becasue of the combined effect of daft low interest rates & thus no wage inflation & the size of the secured debt in the economy.

Thus markets realize that a Long Depression is expected.

9:44 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"Anonymous said...

Richard Taylor cannot be in the film...because Richard Taylor does not exist..............ha ha ha ha ha!


Which Richard Taylor? Many of them don't exist and there are many RT's
But as to THE RT, there are an infinite numbers as has been seen in the conversations between RT1 ..RT20001 etc (on EYELIGHT and BRIEF once...)

I also have post on EYELIGHT that is a list from Google of hundreds of actual Richard Taylors...

Some "called in"...some confuse me with the Weta Workhsop bloke and also Richard Taylor the historical figure in NZ who was involved with exploration and missionary work etc (he was at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi I believe)

But there are poets and scientists, plumbers and all sorts of people...who are RTs...

1:49 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - I suppose you have Dorothy Lessing's auto bio. In it she quotes letters and meetings with
E P Thompson and talks of various crises in the CP in Britain in the middle to late 50s.

I picked it up (Vol 2) by chance the other day) Like to have Vol 1

1:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:07 pm  
Blogger Burg said...

wicked idea need a stills guy to follow?i'm up for it.

6:15 pm  
Blogger Paul Janman said...

Tongan Ark will have its World Premiere as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival at Sky City Theatre on August 4th at 4.15 pm.

Included is a live performance by the 'Atenisi Foundation for Performing Arts and a free panel discussion, performance and drinks at the Civic Wintergarden afterwards. Tickets go on sale this Friday. Discounted group bookings are available.

Follow us on facebook:

See also the Tongan Ark website:

Hope to see you all there. Malo! Paul

10:13 am  

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