Pop CultureFebruary 12, 2022

Why is there a giant Cartman in one of Auckland’s poshest suburbs?


Alex Casey visits the most talked-about house in one of Auckland’s wealthiest suburbs – and meets the man who built the Cartman sculpture in the front garden.

On the corner of one of the flashest streets in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country, there is a large concrete sculpture of Eric Cartman from South Park. The Auckland suburb of St Mary’s Bay typically makes headlines for $20 million mansion reveals and housing that earns five times as much as the typical New Zealand household, not for an oversized effigy of the foul-mouthed cartoon character, known for calling everyone a “fat bitch” who should “suck his balls”. To say that the big Cartman looks out of place among the multi-million-dollar homes and hundred-thousand-dollar cars would be an understatement. 

I first encountered the big Cartman about seven years ago. After jumping the fence at St Mary’s Bay school to play tennis on the posh courts, we followed our game with a customary sheepish walk around the area to perve at all the gargantuan homes. I remember high security gates, perfectly manicured hedges and glittering harbour views. I remember little dogs on leashes and puffer vests. I remember Eric Cartman, sitting there on the corner, grinning at all of the excess and demanding that people of the suburb “respect my authoritah”. 

That single haunting image of Cartman plagued me for years. It didn’t make any sense. Why Cartman? Why St Mary’s Bay? Who made it? How? I could have sworn I took a selfie with him, but I couldn’t find evidence of it anywhere. I scoured old phones, hard drives, photo albums. Nothing. I asked friends, family, workmates, strangers. 

Nobody seemed to remember the Cartman.

One night in January, I snapped. We had been to see the film Spencer in Newmarket, and I had spent almost the entirety of the film thinking about the big Cartman. After the movie, my associate and I drove slowly around St Mary’s Bay, scanning in the darkness for his distinctive yellow pom-pom beanie, his hard-to-miss rotund red frame. Around every corner, disappointment. Maybe Cartman had been destroyed? Maybe the Cartman never existed? Maybe, like Kristen Stewart’s Diana herself, the big Cartman was my Anne Boleyn. I went home, but I did not give up. 

An hour later, scrolling through St Mary’s Bay location tags on Instagram, we had a major breakthrough in the case. Someone had captured the Cartman during their silly little lockdown walk at the end of September, 2021. Surely he’d still be there in January, 2022? Who would destroy a Cartman at a time like this? I couldn’t stop pacing. My associate attempted to appease my jabbering by cruising street by street on Google Street View, until he found Eric, beaming and resplendent in red, on the corner of Yarborough and Dedwood. 

Before Cartman and after Cartman. Photo: Google

The next day, I jumped in an Uber and headed to the Cartman house. I had prepared myself for every possible situation. If the owners weren’t home, I had written a plea on The Spinoff letterhead to interview them about the Cartman. If they were home and didn’t want to talk, at least I could see the Cartman with my own eyes. As I tumbled out of the Prius in the blazing sun, a woman waved at me from the balcony of the Cartman house. Cartman-o, Cartman-o, wherefore art thou Cartman-o. “I want to talk to you about your Cartman,” I barked from behind my mask. 

“You’ll want to talk to my husband Bill,” she yelled back. 

Now, if you are sitting there trying to imagine the kind of legend who would sculpt a huge Cartman to plonk in the middle of a swanky suburban street, I promise you that Bill will exceed your wildest dreams. Giant handlebar moustache and gold wire frame circle glasses. Glittering diamante-dotted earlobes, offset by bare feet and paint-splattered t-shirt. I couldn’t believe he was standing before me, the man who sculpted Cartman with his very own hands. 

One man and his Cartman. Photo: Alex Casey

“He’s misunderstood, isn’t he?” Bill said, his two long-haired dachshunds yapping at his feet. “Bill, let’s not do this now” – his wife June had now scurried in from the outside balcony. “We’ve got guests coming over, and what if they come early?” I gave him the letter, made a plan to come back, and excused myself. Maybe that’s why you don’t door knock people at 4pm on a Friday. I eyeballed Cartman through the fence as I left and he stared back at me, still grinning. 

A week later, I was back in Cartman’s postcode. Bill offered me the option of a beer or a brandy as we sat in the empty living room of their enormous villa. The two dachshunds bustled past the doorway yapping blindly, desperate to find the stranger in the house. “Don’t look at them or they’ll bite you,” June warned urgently. “Just ignore them.” I kept eye contact with Bill across the lounge, fighting every urge in my body to look at the two sausagey shapes that were now bounding towards me at a great speed. 

Their barking started to die down – was I allowed to look at them yet? “No,” said June. “Just carry on talking, they are working out if you are OK and then they will come to you.” In my hazy peripherals I saw a sausage shape beginning to squat near me on the shaggy green rug. “And don’t you dare do a-” 

Too late. One of the sausage dogs was now pissing near my foot. June hollered at him and put her foot directly on the pee patch as a marker, toe pointed while the wee rapidly soaked into the shag. 

“You feral bastard – Bill can you go and get the paper towels?” As Bill scurried off to get cleaning supplies, June explained why the dogs were acting out. “They know something is up, you see, because all the furniture is gone and there are new people shifting in and out.” That’s right, after 24 years on Yarborough Street, Bill and June are finally selling the Cartman house.

Bill and June and their sausage dogs. (Photo: Alex Casey)

Having lived in St Mary’s Bay since the mid 90s, the couple have seen the suburb change through their bay windows. “It used to be brilliant, there were derelict houses all over the place,” Bill recalled. “There were kids everywhere, it was just a real diverse cross-section of people, a real working-class, blue-collar area.” June remembers an eccentric old woman who lived down the street, chain smoking with a budgie on her shoulder. 

Bill has been retired for 16 years, after a life spent digging roads and tunnels. Sculpting is a hobby he picked up when he found himself with a bit more time on his hands. Would he consider himself an artist? “A bullshit artist, perhaps,” he said. “I’m a constructor, not an artist. I have to model it off something, I can’t dream something up on my own.” He told me he wishes he could be like one of his creative idols, Hundertwasser, or any artist for that matter. “When they just dream something up? Brilliant.”

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the big Cartman is not the first sculpture Bill has created – it started with their frog-shaped letterbox. “We needed a letterbox, so I made one.” He sculpted the large amphibian using Ferro cement, steel frames and chicken wire – materials he uses for all his works – and inserted a small sensor that would let out a croak whenever anyone walked past. “When it rained he would get laryngitis,” June said. “I’d be in the kitchen and I’d be so sick of the bloody croaking.”

The croak has long gone in the frog but Bill wasn’t finished with sculpting, next constructing a life-size version of their dearly departed fox terrier Molly, followed by an enormous version of their dearly departed fox terrier Molly. “And don’t forget the stupid robot,” said Jill. “He did a stupid robot which had this big stupid wand thing.” “Lightsaber,” Bill interjected. “It would stab you in the guts every time you went out the door. I got so sick of it I snapped it in half one day.”

The first frog. Photo: Alex Casey

After the robot came an Awanui Hamon-inspired sculpture, which Bill and June consider the kaitiaki of their dearly departed fox terrier Molly. “When Molly died we scattered her ashes out there, and the sculpture is guarding her,” June said solemnly. And right next to that guardian? The big Cartman. 

“Yeah, I think Eric was after that,” said Bill, who you’ll notice only ever addresses the sculpture by his first name. Why South Park? “I just thought it was absolutely brilliant. Nothing is sacred. It’s so out there. They chuck off at anybody and everybody, it’s bloody brilliant.” He watched the show consistently for a few seasons, but has tapered off more recently. “The good thing about not watching South Park over the past few years is when the repeats come on you haven’t even seen them before, and it’s just brilliant,” he gushed. “Vivid imaginations.”

Bill still has a VHS tape recording of one of his favourite South Park episodes. “It’s the Oprah Winfrey episode where there was the Cockney guy with the gun who was living in… a certain part of her body.” He took a moment to crack up privately to himself. “It’s ridiculous, nothing is sacred. Nobody is sacred on South Park. God, they give the Catholics hell, don’t they?” 

He repeated, once again, that he thinks Cartman is misunderstood. “There was one episode where there was a kid he didn’t like, so he ground up his parents and fed them to the kid with soup,” he added, as if presenting evidence to a jury. “Soup made of your own parents? Brilliant.” 

Suddenly, I had a brainwave. Is the Cartman a symbol? Is Bill actually the Cartman in this scenario, seeking vengeance on the people of St Mary’s Bay by making them eat his Cartman soup with their eyes on their daily excursions? Does he consider it a rebellion against the suburb? “I think that’s fair to say,” he smiled. “I’ve always liked colour. The uniform around here is black Nike shorts or leggings, black Nike shoes, black Nike hat, people don’t even wear a single colour these days. God, how boring.” 

If it is supposed to be an affront to the suburb, the neighbours haven’t made their voices heard. “Nobody has ever protested about it,” said Bill. “I’m sure there are some people around here who don’t even know what South Park is.” Cartman remains in great condition despite being over 13 years old – and he’s only been repainted once using test pots from Resene. “I always used to go in and tell them I was working on kindergarten projects because they’d always give me free test pots,” laughed Bill. “They were about $3 each and I didn’t want to pay that.”

The many shades of Eric. Photo: Alex Casey

As the couple prepare to leave the suburb that they have called home for nearly three decades, one question remains – will the Cartman stay or will the Cartman go? “We’ve never been that attached to material things. It’s lovely having them, nice having them, but once they’re gone, they’re gone,” Bill mused. They haven’t been asked to move the Cartman for their pending open homes as yet – perhaps for the best as they will need four to five strong people to carry him off the site. “The people who carried him down here are either old or dead by now,” June laughed.

Because she doesn’t think the next people who buy their home will want to keep the giant Cartman, June is planning on taking him with them when they move to their place up north, surrounded by bush. “Cartman can go in there where no one can see him. He’ll cope, he can have all the wētā.” That said, if the buyers are keen to keep Cartman in situ, they’d be happy to leave him in St Mary’s Bay. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting him, but if they do, that would be good with us,” said Bill. 

“One way or another, he’ll end up where he needs to be.”

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