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Guns vs roses: the new battle of the Kaipara

Last September a meditation centre in the Kaipara discovered the council had allowed a shooting club to move in almost next door. Simon Wilson went to a public meeting to find out how the battles lines are drawn.

The little community hall at Makarau smells of mice and dry rot, but mildly, like it’s what you expect on a winter afternoon when the grass is long and wet underfoot and the blackbirds lead a busy chorus in the dwindling light. Inside, that 60 year old photo of the youthful queen, still resplendent in her blue sash, hangs front and centre over the stage, flanked by New Zealand flags. There are coloured lights, framed historic photos, white doilies folded to triangles and strung across the room. The place is packed: 80 people sitting, more crowded at the doorway.

Stu Finch gets up and introduces himself. “I’m a local,” he says by way of introduction. “I personally oppose the gun club as do most of the people here.” No easing into it, then. Stu’s a regular bloke, short tidy hair, the worried look of someone who has no idea what he’s supposed to do. “I’m a little nervous,” he blurts.

He has reason to be. Last week the Auckland Shooting Club told its supporters on Facebook this meeting was on, and someone suggested they all turn up with their guns, and someone else added, “Shoot them.” The police were called and within a couple of hours Raymond O’Brien, the shooting club founder, was back on Facebook to advise his followers not to attend the meeting.

Community members meet at Makarau hall to discuss the proposed Auckland Shooting Club development, June 18 2017. The speaker is Kirsty McKay. Photo: Simon Wilson

For the next hour all the information, from Finch and other speakers, will come in nervous blurts. Nobody’s used to meetings and your slick organised city ways. “Most of the people” he referred to are men who look like farmers, in shorts and boots, and women in denim and patchwork, some crushed velvet. Mostly older, mostly white, although there’s a contingent from some of the local marae as well. There probably are a few shooting club people in the room, but they keep quiet.

Finch says people probably think this is a dispute caused by “townies who don’t understand the country, don’t understand that shooting is a country sport”. But, he says, he’s a hunter, he knows about shooting. “And we were here first. Some of us have been here for decades. We all moved here for the peace and quiet.” That’s what they’ve called their group: Keep the Peace Makarau Valley Inc.

To get to the Makarau valley you turn right on SH16 just as you hit the Kaipara harbour, heading north. Just before you get to Alan Gibbs’s sculpture farm. This is old-style farming. Lifestyle blocks, many of them, but not the big homes and flash farmlets you see over at Kumeu and on the Riverhead-Coatesville Rd. The dairy revolution has not come to Makarau. In this valley it’s small houses, old cars, some sheep, a lot of ducks and geese and goats. Cabbage trees, tangles of wild roses, willows shedding their yellow leaves.

The road to Makarau valley. Photo: Simon Wilson

Kirsty McKay is from the Vipassana Meditation Centre, tucked into a fold further up the valley. She’s small and bright eyed, her face defaulting to a big grin.

“People say we’re hairy-armpitted hippies,” she tells the meeting. “I haven’t seen their armpits. I want to say hippies are welcome but they’re the minority.” The centre runs 10-day live-in courses, doesn’t advertise and is booked up three months in advance. It’s not religious and has been in the valley for 30 years.

She explains that in September last year the shooting club was granted a consent to build a shooting range on its property just over the hill from the meditation centre. “The council told me it was a box-ticking exercise,” Kirsty says, carried out by “a minor official”. Not notified and not open to appeal. The only recourse was through judicial review, which has just happened – with the judge reserving his decision. An announcement is expected soon, hence the public meeting. “We wanted to let you know where things stand, and get you to sign up, too.” They want members because there’s much work to be done.

Stu and the locals, along with Kirsty and the meditation centre, have a number of objections: the noise, the impact of traffic on winding and largely unsealed country roads, the impact on a kiwi sanctuary five kilometres away, property values, even the smell of the gunpowder. Mainly, it seems, it’s the noise. The club will be allowed to operate seven days a week, eight hours a day within a 12-hour window starting at 6am.

What’s even worse, they say, is that the club’s website carries a video showing major expansion plans. More than 30 shooting ranges, parks for hundreds of cars… the facility wants to transform this little valley sanctuary into “the largest shooting range in Australasia”.

And here’s the rub. The original consent enables the shooting club to materially alter the environment. So when they apply for a resource consent to expand, they will be able to argue there is already a shooting range on the site so making it bigger won’t materially alter the environment any more.

Kirsty says the original consent was issued “just one day before the Unitary Plan came into effect. A day later and they would have needed a full resource hearing.”

The entrance to the Vipassana Meditation Centre, Makarau valley. Photo: Simon Wilson

A solid block of a man steps forward: T-shirt and jacket, leather hat, a tough country guy, he introduces himself as Daniel Pairama and launches into his mihi. The energy in the room is suddenly three levels up.

The name of my maunga, he says, means “to hide from the sound of gunfire”. That gets a laugh, but it’s nervous: Daniel has not revealed which side he’s on.

He tells stories about the history of the place: the waka, the biggest on the Kaipara, that used to be moored right near where we are. The river was bigger then too. The marae, his marae, which is “buried in the hill, hidden from the missionaries”.

“I’m a hunter-gatherer for our marae,” he says. “I know the sound of guns, that’s all good, I’m 43 years old and born and bred here. I’m a duck shooter, I love that, up at midnight on the first day, that’s all good.” He’s not trying to look fierce, he’s just a staunch kind of guy and it rolls effortlessly out of him.

“Soon as I heard,” he says, “I spoke to my kaumatua, they knew nothing about it at all. How’s that?” Ngāti Whātua have five other marae in the area and none of them was consulted either. “Had we been informed, I don’t know, there would have been some to and fro. But when you don’t consult the people of the land, and don’t know about the history of the land, it kind of rubs people up the wrong way.”

“We’ll accept the finding of the court,” says Kirsty. “Almost certainly.” But she’s desperately hoping it will be in their favour. And if it’s not? They’ll dig in and fight the resource consent the club will need for its expansion plans.

Meanwhile, just over the hill, the diggers have been in: the Auckland Shooting Club is getting ready to open next month. Local MP Paula Bennett will be doing the honours.

To be continued…


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