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A typical crowd at a ratepayers meeting in Auckland, 2016 (Photo: Hayden Donnell)
A typical crowd at a ratepayers meeting in Auckland, 2016 (Photo: Hayden Donnell)

AucklandAugust 12, 2016

Things I learned at the oldest, whitest meeting in the world

A typical crowd at a ratepayers meeting in Auckland, 2016 (Photo: Hayden Donnell)
A typical crowd at a ratepayers meeting in Auckland, 2016 (Photo: Hayden Donnell)

Hayden Donnell heads out to the leafy suburbs, to see how the new Unitary Plan is being received by those who were so furious about it earlier this year. He found them oddly becalmed. Well, most of them.

Last time I saw the residents of Kohimarama, Mission Bay and Glendowie, they were yelling angrily at the changing world. It was the worst council meeting of all time, and they were radioactive with rage. Whenever a young person said “density”, “change”, or “can I have some more gruel?”, they erupted in a chorus of boos. It was like a riot in a retirement village; the kind of thing you’d see at a Trump rally.

On Monday, they were the most polite citizens in all Aotearoa.

Maybe it was because they were on their home turf. Auckland’s mayoral candidates had gathered at St Heliers Community Centre for a debate ahead of the upcoming local body elections. They came expecting fiery confrontation. Instead they were asked questions like “How many stray cats are you willing to take in?” None of those cowards would commit to housing even a single destitute feline, yet the once-rabid mob still refused to turn on them.

I was disappointed. But it was still worth going. Even without the visceral thrill of seeing a berserk retiree plunge a rusty hairpin into Phil Goff’s torso, the evening was instructive.

This is what I learned.

A ratepayers meeting in St Heliers is the least diverse place on Earth

This meeting was whiter than the Pope’s robes.


Everything was white. The hair. The skin. The angels waiting to usher the crowd into heaven. Captain Scott was surrounded by more colour as he froze to death in an Antarctic blizzard.

It was an unsettling vision of my future, which I now assume will be spent sitting in halls listening to politicians who are somehow younger than me, fear and suppressed rage mixing a murderous cocktail in my guts.

It was also an unsettling vision of my present. These people will definitely vote in the upcoming election. They’re the ones who seem to care the most. And they’re the ones who really don’t want this city to change.

Taylor Swift is having Tom Hiddleston on

But they’re not all bad. I was sitting next to Carole, who promised not to speak at the meeting because she “might get rude”. She muttered at an extravagantly coiffed woman, saying she was always talking “in the loudest voice”.

We would probably disagree on nearly everything. But she was great company. My friend Mel asked for her take on Hiddleswift. “Oh she’s having him on,” Carole said confidently. “Poor guy.”

She was voting for Goff.

She’s going to be disappointed.

Penny Bright is going to be the next mayor of Auckland

Now I hear what you’re saying: she got 3.41% of the vote in the last election. She hasn’t paid her rates in nine years. She often looks and acts like a character from Alice in Wonderland.

But she held the elderly residents of St Heliers in the palms of her bejewelled hands the whole evening: mugging it up; repeatedly putting the “lunatic plan” on blast; crusading tirelessly and at length about the idea of hiring contractors to do literally anything.

She called Generation Zero the “youth wing” of the Property Council. Conjured visions of three-storey apartments materialising in backyards through the magical power of town planning.

The crowd cheered. They laughed. Goff cried.

It was a pleasure watching a maestro at work.

Duncan Greive is going to be getting some annoying calls from candidates in St Heliers


There are limits to what the human soul can endure

Sitting through this meeting was literally the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. This is my face about four minutes into proceedings.


On a related note…

There are no Pokémon inside the St Heliers Community Centre

Nothing to live for.

The Germans trusted Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies in 1933

I learned this around 97 minutes into a question from an elderly Scottish man. His sermon began with a call to administer lie detector tests to every candidate present. “I don’t trust any of you bastards,” he yelled in a strong Scottish brogue. He shouted and ranted, and then he Godwinned.

I relaxed back into my seat, relief flooding over me.

Order had been restored to the universe.

Finally, here they were: the Eastern Suburbs ratepayers I’d come to know and love.

Keep going!