A school in South Auckland.
Tell that to people, like me, who aren’t actually from Auckland, and you’ll get that sharp inhale of breath through the teeth and the shake of the head, the culturally accepted way to say “Oh shit, man, that’s gotta suck for you” without having to use words. Tell that to people who live in Auckland, same inhale, same shake of the head, but usually with some added specificities regarding places, people, incidents. South Auckland has become such a pejorative label these days, it becomes easy to just box it up with the latest act of violence and let it fester as some lawless zone of anarchy in your imagination, and then to avoid the place entirely, only flirting with death during the odd trip out to the airport.
I spent about two and a half months in Clendon after I arrived back in Auckland, at the end of the street lined with houses built for an expected boom in upmarket living along the Manukau Harbour that never came due to a perceived “coarsening” of the population, and accompanying rise in crime rates (as an example, the house I was staying at had been broken into three times in the last year and a bit up until I left, the unreasonable price of a house facing a public reserve). I didn’t really get out and about much, instead busying myself with starting my classes two days after arriving back in the country, which involved driving in to the North Shore for an 8:30 start every day. I left not really getting to know anything much about the area, except that the stories about the burglaries so commonplace, representing a mix of thief modes: no-nonsense professionalism; quiet desperation; and thrill-seeking idiocy (the garage of the house was broken into during my time there, but while I was in New Plymouth, but three young youths on the spur of the moment as they walked through the reserve. They did it just before 6 on a Monday evening, a time when most people would be coming home from work – it was just their dumb luck that the owner of the house is a primary school teacher and the house guest a student, because it was school holidays, and we were both out of town, me having left that very morning). It goes without saying, none of those modes have any defence; breaking into someone else’s house is a shattering invasion of privacy and an assault on our view of the world as essentially for us, a place for us to chase our dreams build our nest, raise our families, enjoy being alive. I have no interest in living in any place where the risk of my house being ransacked is so high. I couldn’t do that to my family.
It’s easy to see how negative connections are made and strengthen over time, the news washing over us like seawater, most of it evaporating away – the good stuff, the neutral stuff, the everyday living stuff, leaving only the thick crust of evidence supporting your initial opinion – the senseless violence, the misery, the hopelessness. That’s why I always thank God that I’m going to be a teacher. It is in the classroom that you really get an idea of the true vital signs of the surrounding area. Kids are the canaries in the coal mine for society, I think. And these canaries have a lot to say.
Coming up: what my first placement taught me about multiculturalism and stereotyping.