Island Life by David Slack


That's my cab

The front page of the New Zealand Herald this morning honours the memory of George Bernard Shaw. Unable, it seems, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation, it offers us a long, loving description of Chris Carter’s pink shopping bike and many photos of Shane Jones’ banana seat.

You want a Labour government scandal? Here’s a scandal. In the first decade of the new millennium, New Zealanders pretended their houses had become worth twice as much as they were, and borrowed 100 billion to make it true. Now they owe that much to the world’s banks, and the debt is a great albatross around our necks. Our kids will have to find twice as much money to buy a house as they would have ten years ago, but their income will be little more than it would have been 10 years earlier.

If you want to talk about lack of control in a cabinet, that’s where to point your keyboard. Let us trust that this brave new government which valiantly ignores public opinion and cleaves to sound policy will quickly fix the mess.

And that’s all from me. You may have noticed the gap between posts getting longer. My work needs more of my time, and will do for a while yet. I plan to do this again, somewhere, some time. If you want to stay in touch, you’ll find me on Twitter as @davidslack. I thank Russell for giving me this platform; it’s been a great ride, I’ve made some marvellous acquaintances through it, and along the way I’ve been finding my own voice. Some days I like it, sometimes I think I still prefer to hear the client's one. So long.


Burning Down the House.

I can be careless and I can be hasty and that gets me into trouble from time to time, but today I broke new ground by setting our house on fire.

There is a two-storey house behind ours. It is grand in its own way, and a spectacle; its walls of Sydney sandstone blocks arrived here as sailing ship ballast, and the cracks in their grouting are quite large enough to easily wedge in a paperback.

Nonetheless, spectacle or not, who wants to look at a wall? It was shielded by a long stand of bamboo when we moved in 20 years ago. It was scruffy and eventually we cut down the lot. Immediately two things happened: our neighbours in the grand house invited us over for dinner to thank us for letting in the light, and we realised we had to replace the bamboo. Who wants to look at a wall?

We settled on a selection of trees - a few natives and two Mexican Evergreen Alders. We got some good big specimens from the Big Tree Company, dug some good deep holes for them, and to hasten the process we threw in a nice big helping of Mag-Amp capsules. It's what plants crave.

I swear if you looked slowly you could see those Alders grow before your eyes. They had beautiful deep green leaves, and delicate branches that swayed gently in the summer breeze. They were perfectly formed and they came thrusting out of the ground and surging past our roof as though rocket-propelled.

Before long we had ample screening. Before long, they were too big for us to prune. Before long we were getting them pruned by men with climbing gear.

And then the trifold door to the deck began to jam. We packed out the pile below, and freed it up, but then winter came, and the problem returned. We adjusted the pile. It freed up again. Summer came and the door jammed again. It gradually dawned on us: the clay ground beneath the door was drying out in the summer heat, and the pile was shifting. The drier it got, the more the building was shifting. And right next to the deck and door were two mighty Mexican Evergreen Alders, getting bigger every day and sucking every last drop of water out of the nearby ground. Our trees were bending our house out of shape.

There was No Alternative. We called up the men with the climbing gear and the chainsaws.

They came last Wednesday with a chipping machine so lethal it made the one in Fargo look like a kids' toy. Within the hour we had a reinstated view of the block wall and a 3 cubic metre pile of mulch on our berm. They were happy to take it away with them, but Karren planned to put it all on the garden, and given the unhappy condition of her shoulders, I was clearly the man for the job.

My haste and carelessness springs possibly from the goal orientation I deploy to get me through a dull job, which is to say: just how fast can I get this fucker done?

With a little help from our neighbours, three wheelbarrows and two wide mouth shovels, we started heaving mulch around the garden. We were soon out of empty patches and I began building a large pile around the stumps of the Mexican Evergreen Alders. Higher and higher it went, faster and faster I emptied. Barrow after barrow. Wheel, tip; wheel tip. I didn't even register the outdoor garden spotlight as it disappeared under the first barrow load. By the time the last barrow was emptied, it was probably about a metre down.

Practical-minded readers will have doubtless joined the dots. On Saturday night I turned the switch for outdoor spotlights and the garden came alight. Perhaps a couple of hours later as we and our dinner guests came to the table, Karren asked: "do you smell smoke?" I waved my hand: Oh that would be our elderly neighbour lighting her first fire of the winter. It usually puts up a lot of smoke. Later, as we went to bed, I thought to myself - that smoke smell is quite strong.

I thought no further.

We slept through the night.

Meanwhile, outside, next to the deck and the trifold doors and the stump of the Evergreen Alders, a fire was quietly smouldering.

We woke to a sunny Sunday morning, and the strong smell of smoke. We looked out from the kitchen, across to the deck. "What's that smoke?" asked Karren.

Was it the mulch steaming in the morning light? No, it was the mulch, alight. It had burned in a two metre strip alongside the deck, which was itself glowing and smoking. Our house was, in the mildest possible way, on fire.

The buried outdoor spotlight had been trying that prior evening to cast its lovely beam, but all it had been able was do was heat a deep pile of wood chips to the point of combustion.

We unfurled the hose and let the water do its work. I felt sick. What if we'd left the light on overnight?

I see Michael Laws in the paper thanking God for saving his daughter's life. I can entirely understand his relief and his gratitude, but I believe he's looking in the wrong place. Sometimes cruel misfortune stops just short of your door, sometimes it comes right in and makes itself at home.

I don't believe we were saved by our Lady of the Blessed Sprinkler. I think we were saved by Karren turning the light off; she, and her parents, and our daughter, and I, slept through the night, just sufficiently safe from mortal harm.

If I were to put any other face to what happened, I'd be looking at the Mexican Evergreen Alders. First they tried to pull down our house by sucking the water out of the ground, and then when we cut them down and chopped them up into chips, they combusted and tried to set our home alight.

We're safe for now, but I may sleep lightly for a while, knowing that the garden that surrounds us has a deep layer of that very same chip pile. Waiting. Watching.


Everyone loves a quiz.

You have three minutes.

1. Complete the sentence: "If Radio NZ sounded like Kiwiblog…"

2. You are at Showgirls and you have a ministerial credit card in your pocket. Should you pay by the glass or get a whole bottle?

3. You have 30 dollars' worth of mining shares and you are the minister of foreign affairs in a cabinet that wants to dig up the National Parks for unobtanium. What will your statue look like?

4. What does our Prime Minister mean when he says: ''I'm going to Maui, where are you going?''

5. You are a political party. You organise protests the length and breadth of the country deploring the electoral finance bill as a threat to democracy. You win the election and then proceed to hand control of Auckland city to a collection of unelected and unaccountable bodies. You follow that with a law that strikes down proposed legislation that fails to satisfy "the principles of good law making". Is there anyone with whom you can share a drink and piss yourself laughing, without those lefty tools at Radio NZ getting wind of it?


Anyone can do design.

Continuing today's open mic theme, I'd like to also introduce a designer friend of mine, Fraser Gardyne. His chosen topic: the logo competition they've just cooked up for the Auckland Super City. Personally I'm uneasy about the diversionary bread and circus dimension to the thing, but his objection is professional.


If the council is expecting graphic design to be the product of a public competition from folk from all walks of life, then why not apply the same concept to other public works? Let’s have the public design carparks and road networks etc? Could it be because those works need experienced, professional, trained experts? Just like graphic design actually.

It is a widely held public perception, 'anyone can do design'. To create a logo that is successful and workable takes talent, training and experience. It also takes process, and this isn't it. As recently evidenced by the Queens Wharf fiasco.

Sadly this is another instance where politics gets in the way of the best result for the long term working objectives of the new Auckland Council. The ATA have shown a total lack of understanding and respect for our visual communications industry. The considered and professional use of our highly skilled graphic designers has been recognised by enlightened business and public bodies as a prime success motivator for their activities.

An effective logo comes about through a brief. Effectively there is none in this case. "We're looking for a logo that's compelling, elegant and compact", any logo brief could say that. The design process normally goes from a briefing stage, through research and development of initial ideas, presentation to and feedback from the client, through to design development and approval of the logo. This agreed logo is then developed and applied and guidelines for it's consistent ongoing use are developed.

Good graphic design comes about through a logical, considered process and the countries best practitioners are well qualified and equal to the best in their profession globally. Practically, logos need to be able to work across a wide range of media, and need clear guidelines. Yet, a panel of celebs, many of whom I know and respect in their various fields of practice, are being asked to judge the results of a wide open public competition into which no self respecting designer would enter. Why would you give away your most valuable asset, your creativity and experience, through a faulted process with little chance of success and no control or ownership of your ideas?

Fraser Gardyne.


So, what do you think of New Zealand so far?

I don't care to be railroaded. The Auckland landscape is littered with the debris of last-minute plans. Nonetheless, Graeme Osborne, who is the chief executive of Tourism Auckland, has given me pause for thought with some rather dismal pictures. Let us begin with the slide show, and his commentary.

This, Graeme says, is how we handle their baggage.

And this is how we process them.

So, what do you think of New Zealand so far?

He has an argument to make. I remain leery of spoiling a grand opportunity through haste, but I'm happy to give him a platform. I now turn the microphone over to Graeme Osborne. Please feel free to debate in the usual manner.


At least four consultants’ reports in the last 12 months. A public competition to procure a suitable design. In-depth analysis for the last 12 years. And still we fumble for the right decision on what to do with Queens Wharf.

Let’s get on with it. We need a decent cruise ship facility and public open space on Queens Wharf. That’s why the Auckland Regional Council and the Government agreed to buy it from Ports of Auckland.

The work has been done. Endless reports support the view that the $97 million option – including wharf repairs and a $49.2 million cruise ship terminal in time for Rugby World Cup 2011 – as the best for Queens Wharf. Right now we have a need to deliver bold decisions and generate momentum, and time is against us.

It’s important to cater for the influx of visitors that the Rugby World Cup will bring. At least 60,000 international visitors are expected here for the event, with Auckland likely to host up to 40,000 of these at any one time. Clearly we don’t have the hotel rooms available for this kind of influx, meaning that motor homes and cruise ships will be required to boost accommodation supply.

We expect that at least two cruise ships will be needed to accommodate fans during the Semi-Finals and Finals in Auckland. How compelling a proposition will it be to have them tied up alongside a couple of old sheds that are better suited as a

holding pen for used cars?

The eyes of the world will be on Auckland like never before and we have the opportunity to create a stylish, welcoming, best possible shop window.

However, Rugby World Cup 2011 is only part of the picture. The true legacy benefit of investment in Queens Wharf will be delivered by the cruise ship sector.

More international visitors to New Zealand arrive on cruise ships than fly directly into Queenstown. In particular, the cruise market is one of the key drivers of United States visitors, our fourth largest source of international visitors. It is a discerning and high-spending market.

Right now we offer a substandard service to cruise ship passengers, which are growing in number. The treatment we give them, especially those leaving the ship in Auckland, is embarrassing.

We are competing with Sydney as a hub port where cruise ships offload and pick up new passengers. The inflow and outflow of cruise passengers provides Auckland with a great opportunity to be a host city and has downstream impact on cruise ship visitors scheduled throughout New Zealand.

We need to make a bigger priority of providing cruise ships and their passengers with a profound sense of arrival and a facility that gives them an integrated transit process to include baggage handling, check-in and forward transport.
Next season we are expecting around 133,000 passengers on 70 voyages. What will they find when they get here?

Tourism is big business for New Zealand. It comprises 10 percent of the New Zealand economy, 10 percent of employment nationally and is our top earner of foreign exchange. Tourism earns $1.6 billion of GST per annum. Yet we only capture 0.5 percent of global visitor arrivals.

Auckland is a key driver of New Zealand’s visitor economy. Of all New Zealand visitor

nights 34 percent are in Auckland, 57 percent of all overseas students choose to study here and 57 percent of film sector GDP is in Auckland.

Tourism is a highly competitive business internationally and we need to be on top of our game with our visitor infrastructure, delivering a top class visitor experience, and in communicating our attractions to the world.

If we invest in the appropriate infrastructure in Auckland, the rest of New Zealand benefits. For 70 percent of international arrivals to New Zealand, their first impressions of New Zealand are based in Auckland. Of this number, 80 percent carry on to visit other parts of New Zealand.

A decision to proceed with the $97m Option 4 for Queens Wharf is in Auckland and the nation’s best interest. It therefore seems appropriate and reasonable that Government should come to Auckland ready to help fund this investment in partnership with Auckland’s ratepayers. These opportunities do not come along often. Let’s seize the moment and move forward.

Graeme Osborne