SocietyMarch 5, 2016

Power rankings – Whau the People assess the horrific spiders of Avondale


Whau the People is an arts collective based in Avondale, Auckland. They are currently raising funds to run a creative community hub, which will be home to exhibitions, performances, talks, parties, workshops, and other various events. Their aim is to make creative events part of the normal everyday life of a suburban area.

Avondale gave its name to a particular type of Australian huntsman spider, Delena cancerides, that arrived in the suburb by ship in 1924. It quickly became associated with the area, featuring on everything from shop fronts through to local newsletters. As a group that is trying to shine a light on some of the other more interesting things happening around here, for a while we really tried to stay away from the spider. However, for the 2015 Whau Arts Festival we gave in, and invented a “Spiderquarium”, complete with live spiders. It was by far the most popular attraction of the whole festival, and gave us a whole new insight into their mysterious powers. Hereby, our list of various types of Avondale spiders:

5. The spiders in Spider-Man


Not especially scary, given the subject of the film, but one of them is very powerful, turning Tobey Maguire into a heartthrob. Points for using the Avondale spider breed, but points off for not getting them from NZ. Is an Avondale spider an Avondale spider if it’s born in Los Angeles? This officially licensed lamp, bearing a striking resemblance to Dale, (see below) says yes.

4. Avondale Primary School logo


Has to be the most boss school logo in the country; whilst other schools are happy with kowhai flowers or native birds, this school happily plasters massive spiders all over its signs, website, and newsletters. Allegedly meant to represent a “web of knowledge” it’s clear the school authorities just have a very good grip on psychology. Most of their students are too terrified to put a foot wrong least the seemingly inert spiders around their school suddenly come to life and chase them down.

3. The spiders in Arachnophobia

1990 was a somewhat arid year for NZ film; (with the notable exception of An Angel at My Table, making life better for all fuzzy haired introverted writers everywhere), and there certainly was a dearth of horror-with-spiders-blockbusters. It meant that when Avondale spiders were used in Arachnophobia we were all really proud, which is probably the apex of New Zealanders being really proud of something un-momentous just because an overseas person was interested in it. En masse, the real spiders are pretty terrifying, but quickly eclipsed by the larger animatronic spiders and John Goodman’s know-it-all exterminator.

On reflection, it’s actually a pretty clever marketing technique to tell people in small places that their local icon has been used in a movie. There’s probably small villages in Croatia and Ecuador that also claim “their” spiders were used. What suckers we were just because we thought Steven Spielberg liked some of our spiders.

2. Dale


One ruler to rule them all, Dale was moved from the rather less glamorous roof of a local petrol station to be the shining feature of the suburb in yet another of example of the NZ mania for oversize town icons. Like the Ohakune carrot, Dale is inevitably required to be in the background of any sort of media report from the suburb. Unfortunately Dale dismays both arachnophobes and spider fans alike: the latter because of his sheer size and menacing red light eyes, the former because any arachno-fan worth their salt knows that Avondale spiders don’t spin webs, and they’re reddish-brown, not black. Avondale holds a birthday party for Dale every year; in 2015 his present was a three metre long scarf knitted by various locals so that he doesn’t get cold in winter.

1. A real Avondale spider


Only because we’re too scared not to say they’re not number one: * Not content with being large and hairy, they don’t spin webs because they hunt their food; that’s if they haven’t already chowed down on other spiders from competing colonies. Landcare Research says: They sit motionless on walls and then rush after prey. They very quickly devour prey, sucking all the juices out and discarding the hard outer pieces.

In summary: they’re the Usain Bolt of the arachnid world, and are vampires. Fine individually, but a terrifying combination.

* Before you all write in to say that they are harmless to humans: we know. It’s just more fun to pretend they’re not.

Whau the People are too modest to admit it – but they’re amazing. And really need our help to keep doing their amazing work in Avondale. Click here to go and help the cause through PledgeMe, feat excellent and well-priced merch!

Keep going!