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Red rubbish bags filled with litter picked by members of the Tongan community in Auckland. (Image: Bianca Cross)
Red rubbish bags filled with litter picked by members of the Tongan community in Auckland. (Image: Bianca Cross)

SocietyJuly 13, 2022

Who picks up the rubbish after an unofficial but expected public gathering?

Red rubbish bags filled with litter picked by members of the Tongan community in Auckland. (Image: Bianca Cross)
Red rubbish bags filled with litter picked by members of the Tongan community in Auckland. (Image: Bianca Cross)

It was no surprise that league fans celebrated in Ōtāhuhu after the Kiwis vs Mate Ma’a Tonga test last month. But some were surprised by the amount of rubbish that was left behind.

Ōtāhuhu is known to many Pacific people as Little Tonga, and it has become a tradition for many Tongans to celebrate their national rugby league team in Ōtāhuhu after a match at the nearby Mt Smart.

That includes a week-long parade on Great South Road on the week of any Kiwis vs Mate Ma’a Tonga match, or anyone vs Mate Ma’a Tonga. Most recently, Tonga supporters celebrated (despite their team’s loss) with flags atop cars and people cheering along Ōtāhuhu’s main strip. This type of gathering on a Saturday night has happened since the Rugby League World Cup in 2017.

The celebrations aren’t an official event, but are always expected. So much so that there were community wardens and police officers present last month to monitor the situation and ensure people present were safe.

But while security and monitoring were all increased to accommodate the expected activity, local facilities weren’t. More specifically, rubbish overflowed around the standard bins along the street as the crowd struggled for places to dispose of their litter.

On Sunday morning following the Kiwis win against Mate Ma’a Tonga, the Ōtāhuhu Facebook page posted a status that read: “So [Tongan flag emoji] is anyone coming back to clean up [raised eyebrow emoji]” along with photos of the large amount of litter.

Otahuhu FB
The original Facebook post that was deleted a few hours after it was published. (Image: Screenshot)

In the first few hours it was up, comments started to grow and the post was shared across the platform as well as on Instagram and TikTok. There were people who were upset at the fact that people had messed the streets of Ōtāhuhu, but there were also a large number of comments made that were outright racist, abusive and vitriolic towards the Tongan community. The Ōtāhuhu community page has a following of over 11,000 people.

The post has since been deleted. But it did pose a good question: whose responsibility is it to ensure rubbish volumes are accounted for on nights like these?

The game was held at Mt Smart Stadium, and many of the people in Ōtāhuhu would’ve come straight from the game. Director of Auckland Stadiums James Parkinson said although they were responsible for hosting and delivering the rugby league double header and, as part of this, were responsible for event-related litter collection in the immediate surrounds of the stadium, they had no involvement of any nature with the Ōtāhuhu celebration. 

I contacted Auckland Council’s 0800 NODUMP phone line, the contact number if you want to report littering in a public place. The friendly staff member referred me to her senior who is the head of the central team. He was unaware of the situation in Ōtāhuhu and suggested it was best I get in touch with the South Auckland team to see if they received any complaints regarding my query.

The South Auckland team had no idea also about any excess rubbish in Ōtāhuhu and said there were no reports filed on Sunday 26 June for litter dumped on Great South Road, but suggested I contact the main Auckland Council phone line directly.

Council’s head of area operations Oliver Kunzendorff said the post-match celebrations that took place in Ōtāhuhu were not council permitted nor on council land and as such, council had no interaction with those involved beforehand.

“It is disappointing to hear that some of those celebrations resulted in excess rubbish being left behind, and we would like to thank those in the community that took the time to go out and clean up, especially those that weren’t involved,” Kunzendorff says.

Tufui Kama of Tafengamonu Consultancy Limited is one of those from the community who spent her Sunday afternoon picking up the litter.

Tufui Kama and her family and friends after two hours of picking up litter in Ōtāhuhu. (Photos: Supplied)

Kama was upset at what she read online and ashamed that people from her community had left her neighbourhood in such a mess. She rallied up a few family members and friends and with their own red rubbish bags, voluntarily picked up as much litter as they could and used their own vehicles to dispose of the rubbish properly.

She says there were around 15 other Tongans tidying up too, including a pastor, his wife and an elderly man with his grandchildren.

Kama hopes the youth and community can also learn from this, that it’s OK to celebrate, but to do so responsibly. “We are lucky enough to be able to celebrate the way we did and so we must return that respect to the community and keep it clean.”

“We made the mess, so we must clean it up,” she says simply. “For us Tongans living here in Auckland, Ōtāhuhu is like our Nuku’alofa and we are taught at a young age to tidy up after ourselves and respect our homes, so that’s what led me to want to go help.”

But cleaning up after rugby celebrations is hardly the norm. When fans spilled out from downtown venues like the Cloud after Rugby World Cup matches, they didn’t return the following morning to clean up any mess they left along the viaduct or Queen St. There was an expectation of increased numbers in the area and steps would have been taken to accommodate for them.

In Ōtāhuhu after a Mate Ma’a Tonga match, it’s also expected that there will be increased numbers, with fans celebrating into the night. So why were no steps taken to accommodate for them?

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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