The top of Stockade Hill, Howick (photo: Auckland Council / aucklandcouncil.govt.nz, photo manipulation: The Spinoff)

Our definitive analysis of anti-housing anthem ‘Standing On Stockade Hill’

In what seems like an unlikely source of inspiration, a group of Howick singers have created a folk protest song about Auckland local body planning rules. Hayden Donnell steps in to assess a musical work that somehow combines his two greatest passions.

The history of protest music is littered with songs that have seared themselves into our collective memory and left their mark on history. In 1963, Pete Seeger stood for civil rights in ‘We Shall Overcome’. In 1970, Edwin Starr screamed “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing”. In 1988, NWA called out racial injustice in ‘Fuck tha Police’. And in 2019, a group of Howick residents demanded fewer affordable houses during a housing crisis, rising as one and singing “Standing on Stockade Hill, it’s special to us all / Don’t you dare take this away; it’s really not your call.”

At 8 minutes and 7 seconds, ‘Standing on Stockade Hill’ is objectively long. At three chords, it is objectively a folk song. But is it objectively good? At the risk of inserting myself into this story, nobody in the world is more qualified to evaluate that question than me. In a conflagration of events I never thought I’d live to see, ‘Standing on Stockade Hill’ combines my two greatest passions: folk music and Auckland’s local body planning rules. As a result, my line-by-line assessment of it should be considered the definitive take on its place in the musical pantheon.

Standing on Stockade Hill

I’m standing on Stockade Hill, admiring the view,

Wond’ring what it will be like, if they do what they plan to do,

 

It’s good to set your folk song in a location. For Bruce Springsteen, it was the crime-ridden streets of Atlantic City. For Gordon Lightfoot, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For the Stockade Hill singers, a small hillock in east Auckland. All these locations are equally evocative. Meanwhile, wond’ring what it will be like is a time-honoured folk tradition. A strong beginning.

Now everyone get your lighters out. We’re going to start singing about how bad it is to build affordable housing.

Taking this precious scene away from us, just to

Make more concrete epitaphs, to house another few

 

I have some notes.

From what I understand of the Unitary Plan provisions for Stockade Hill, they allowed taller and more dense housing near the top of the hill, in an area formerly zoned for shorter single dwellings. ‘Standing on Stockade Hill’ is protesting those provisions, saying they’ll interrupt the 360° views from the hill’s summit. But is describing new houses as “concrete epitaphs” bad?

In some ways, I get it. There’s a proud history of local government protestors becoming viscerally disgusted at the idea of new housing. On the North Shore in 2009, I wrote an intensely regrettable story about protestors promising the world would end if developers were allowed to build some quite lovely apartments near their ostentatious villas. On Dominion Rd last year, a group of residents managed to kneecap a 102-apartment development because it would block their view of the “silhouetted parapets of the Edwardian shop fronts, to the Waitakeres beyond”.

But in reality, building new “concrete epitaphs to house another few” could be the most important thing to do in Auckland. The city has too few “concrete epitaphs” and the ones it does have are still too expensive. Creating more of them is arguably even more of a priority than allowing Howick residents to keep the bottom quarter of their harbour views during their afternoon walks. Whatever you think, writing off “housing another few” as if it’s some trivial consideration feels offensive, like you bought your house for $17 and a sack of cheese in 1972 and now you don’t really see why it’s so important for other people to get that same opportunity.

Still, here comes the hook!

Standing on Stockade Hill, it’s special to us all,

Don’t you dare take this away; it’s really not your call,

 

This is the hook!

 

I’m driving by Stockade Hill, and see that mighty view,

Comforting to come home to, makes you feel good too,

Seeing the sea so blue, relaxes the mind,

A picture worth a thousand words, no need for me to find

 

Some of these rhymes kind of feel a little forced.

 

Standing on Stockade Hill, it’s special to us all,                      

Don’t you dare take this away, it’s really not your call

 

This hook is kind of inaccurate, in that it (setting residential zoning rules) literally is the council’s call.

Still…

 

The council needs to think again, as the people take a stand,

To protect what represents our home on this precious piece of land,

To take away what’s rightly ours, is sacrilege at least,

But that’s what they intend for us, it’s the nature of the beast

 

I get it. You want to maintain Stockade Hill’s beauty; its status as a place of respite. But singing that it’s “sacrilege” to take away what’s rightly yours, in reference to a site where European settlers put up a stockade to defend their stolen land against Māori attacks feels kind of iffy.

Meanwhile as a former Baptist, I have some concerns with this description of the nature of the beast, which I was told involved more rising out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns, and less liberalisation of local planning rules.

I stand again on Stockade Hill; I’m looking out to sea,

I feel refreshed, I feel alive, and I’m feeling oh so free,

But then the dozers will arrive to crash this special scene,

And bare the land to build upon with concrete blocks and beams,

 

This section of ‘Standing on Stockade Hill’ channels Joni Mitchell singing “they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”, except in this case it’s more like they’re “potentially re-paving a section of land that’s already paved and theoretically putting up bigger houses than are already there”.

Standing on Stockade Hill, it’s special to us all,

Don’t you dare take this away; it’s really not your call

 

*Lighter sways*

 

So take this time to think it through, the view belongs to us,

Not yours to go and decimate, to satisfy your lust,

 

This is an extremely niche fetish.

 

It’s part of our long history, and so’as not to be confused,

Go and take a running jump, and leave us with our views,

 

This is strong wording, and possibly the first time a folk song has called for a council to “take a running jump”. Innovation truly worthy of your 3rd place finish in the regional Rockquest.

 

I’m standing up on Stockade Hill; I’m taking in the view,

I need to hold this memory, until it’s long gone too,

 

I mean, you have a while to hold this memory. Even if the whole area was zoned for three storey houses, it would likely be years before they’re built, if they’re built at all. You might even die first!

 

Taken much against our will, and though the people spoke,

Ignored by Council in their Iv’ry Tower, to them we’re just a joke,

 

As it turns out, the council didn’t think the Stockade Hill protestors were a joke. It tweaked its zoning to ensure the views from one side of the hill will remain unaltered, in a decision backed by the Environment Court. It seemed like a fair compromise, but it wasn’t enough for locals who now want all 360° protected.

 

Standing up on Stockade Hill, is special to us all,

Don’t you dare take this away; it’s really not your call,

 

Some protest songs are about correcting injustice. Others are to protest government violence or discrimination. ‘Standing on Stockade Hill’ is there to protest local government zoning a small tract of already developed land for potentially lower cost housing because it might cost a few degrees of a 360° view. Build a concrete epitaph for the sheet music and bury it in a lead coffin.

 

(Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa, No, leave our views alone,) repeat ad lib

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(Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa, No, leave our views alone,) repeat ad lib

(Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa, No, leave our views alone,) repeat ad lib

 

Christ.


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