Island Life by David Slack


I am curious. Yellow?

This is not a good time to be a doubter or nay-sayer. The tale of Auckland is your cartoon standard: two men in rags, lost in the Sahara, a cruel sun beating down on them. A drink of water. Any water. For pity's sake, we want water. Finally, a pond; a tiny pond. One staggers towards it, reaches down, scoops. The other one sees, from a few steps back, that the water looks a suspicious colour. Yellow. Like camel piss. Wait! he says. The other wheels around, eyes wild and accusing. You've been moaning for days for water, and now that we find some, you moan about that!

I'm sorry, I can't help it. If I think I see camel piss, I have to say something. That stadium looked like camel piss. The viaduct redevelopment is not bad as far as it goes, but when you stand it up against Wellington's waterfront: camel piss. Super City? Well, I want to believe, and God knows, when you get emails from Hamish Keith chiding you for your negativity, you wonder if you're being unduly cautious.

And yet the fact remains, I see indecent haste and shallow thinking. Let's be Frank: Spencer or Lloyd Wright?

I may be blinkered: I heard the name 'Party Central' and recalled that tragically un-hip '40-Below' function they held for grooving Nats of the Farrar generation. I also think of the facility they set up in Paris for the Rugby World Cup. They plonked it between the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower like a wedding marquee. Inside, you found a sports bar for Kevlar credit card holders. The Eiffel tower is breathtaking. The Place du Trocadero is, to use the approved term, vibrant. But that tent was nothing special.

So there's that. There's also our history. We take on projects with a gorse-pocket mentality. I've got a mate who can get it for you wholesale. Half way through the project we take fright at the escalating price and we start to cut corners. Take our harbour bridge. Please.

And then there is the question of the fence. The big red fence. The fence that bars us from our harbour. Of course we should want to bring it down. But let's think this through. Is it really smart to have a cruise ship terminal on the same wharf as a Party Central site?

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there were no border controls. Immigrants could come and go at will. Mosquitos could come and go at will. Whisky could… well, whisky has probably always had duty owing. Here's the thing about a modern border. It has to be controlled. That's why you and I can't wander at will around Auckland International Airport. There is airside and there is our side. The one is sealed from the other.

If you want to have a cruise ship terminal on the same wharf as Party Central, then you will need to have separation, as they do right now on Princes Wharf. Go and take a look. It's the part behind the chicken wire fence. Also take a note of all trucks that come and go, provisioning the cruise ships.

So. What do you want, Slack, you whiner?
The wharf should be entirely open. No cruise ship terminal. I do agree: it's a marvellous venue for a public facility. But can it please not be a mere replication of the viaduct precinct with some kind of public auditorium? I am leery of the haste that attends this project. If you want to see how easy it is to fuck up a colossal opportunity, come over to Devonport and look at our sorry wharf building, officially opened by HRH Prince Edward in 1992. Admire the forlorn empty shops and the two upstairs restaurants - best views in Auckland! - which have not opened their doors one day in the last decade.

I'm as thirsty as the rest of you, but I'm not drinking anything yellow.

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