Hard News by Russell Brown


Floating the idea

My suburb has, these past three summers, enjoyed the generosity of Auckland ratepayers in a particularly pleasant way. The beach at Point Chevalier has, like those at Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers, been hugely improved by re-sanding. Golden sand, from Pakiri, has been shipped in and pumped along the shoreline and the result has been transformative. The project has cost $9 million, but we don't pay a cent extra to use our beautiful new beaches every day.

Not everyone lives in or even near an inner-city suburb, of course. For many Aucklanders, the only source of safe, local swimming is the local public baths. There, there is cost recovery: up to $25 for a family. For many families in Auckland, even $10 a day is going to strain the budget.

The exception in recent years has been the public pools operated by the former Manukau City Council. There, as it is down at the Chev, there has been no charge for entry. Last year, this cost ratepayers there $6.76 million or $3.76 per visit (good work Bernard Orsman for presenting these figures in his story, by the way).

And now, former Manukau mayor Len Brown says he wants to follow through on his "100 projects in 100 days" programme and explore the case for extending the Manukau model to the new Auckland Super City.

Brown's political opponent Cameron Brewer says this would cost too much and points to the inner-city beaches; three of which are in Brewer's own ward.

The Herald's editorial this morning takes a similar view, drolly observing of Brown's claim that he encountered an "overwhelming sentiment" in favour of free public pools during last year's campaign:

Doubtless he did. Nobody rejects a free offer in election campaigns. He could as easily have offered free gymnasiums, free golf courses or free dance classes in the name of health and opportunity. The social case for some of them might be stronger than that for a free swim in a city surrounded by sea.

Public baths are for places with cold climates and windswept coasts. Mr Brown would do better to give deprived children in Auckland a free bus to the beach.

This is nonsense in various ways. There are hundreds of public swimming pools and coastal baths in and around, say, Sydney. And as glorious as my local beach has been this summer, there's no one learning to swim there. That matters.

I took the family away to somewhere we hadn't been in the week after Christmas: a day trip to Hunua Falls. It's a beautiful spot, but I can see why there are so many panicky signs about keeping an eye on kids in the water. And not just kids. I watched a big, tough-looking brown guy brought in to the side of the pool by bystanders. He'd gone out past the ledge and, it seems, couldn't really swim.

Last year's 86 total drowning deaths was the lowest since records began in 1980, but it was still 86 deaths, and drowning comes behind only falls and road accidents as a cause of accidental death.

So it's worth looking at, as even the Herald manages to acknowledge:

Children rely on like-minded parents to enjoy Auckland's aquatic riches and it is said that too many young people in parts of South Auckland never get to a beach. For them free public baths are an answer. The pools are well patronised and provide the young people with fun and healthy activity under supervision.

Few ratepayers of Auckland would begrudge the $6.76 million it cost Manukau last year to maintain six free pools. Few would mind extending that policy to any other parts of the city where children may be similarly deprived. Since some parts of the former Manukau City plainly do not need a free pool it is possible the policy could be extended to all areas of need within a $7 million budget.

Yes, yes, I know: a Herald editorial seems to be at odds with itself. Film at 11.

I suspect a more significant problem with making all council pools free is likely to be that a model that fits a basic open-air pool would be difficult to apply to the Mt Albert Aquatic Centre, with its hydroslide, wave machine, spas and saunas (its co-location with Mt Albert Grammar school would be an issue too).

Brown and his deputy Penny Hulse seem to be realistic about this. Hulse suggests the solution might be to target a subsidy towards children and the elderly, and to concentrate on water safety.

The mayor has asked for a report. I think that's fair enough.


 Long-term readers may recall my longtime enthusiasm for the musical work of Bill Direen -- and, in particular, the literary garage-rock he has played and recorded with his band the Bilders (although the name has become a catch-all for whatever collaborators Bill might be working with in whatever style depending where he is in the world). Well, Bill has a new Bilders, and the lineup is reckoned by the Terminals' Stephen Cogle to be "the best since the 80s".

 Naturally, I'll be there when the the (ahem) "classic" Builders play at Whammy Bar in K Road tomorrow night. And guess what, I have a double pass to tomorrow night's show to give away to the first reader who can click the email link below and tell me names of the first two Bilders albums.

 Put your answer in the subject line!

Meanwhile, here's an unearthed 1982 Ronnie van Hout film set to the Bilders/Builders 'Russian Rug':


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