A novelist’s love letter to Auckland
Driving in from northern approaches to the Bridge and I see you there across Rotten Row. The reverse churn of ferry propellers as they approach the landing. The colour Smith & Caughey’s turns in the rain. Your bluestone curbs and the torrent of water that runs down them after a summer downpour, forming small lakes above leaf-choked gratings.
The way the buses ride the curb on the corner of Karangahape Road and Pitt Street, requiring you to jump back. The Barnes Dance pedestrian crossings that dance when no-one is there. The Farmer’s Santa, before his unjust conviction in the court of public opinion. The pubs that once stood guard on every corner. The terrifying hill start on Cook St, that haunted me until the day a lover inserted a Teardrops Explodes tape into the car stereo there and suddenly nothing else mattered.
The Willam Wright figures that have danced in celebration since 1940, tucked away secretly in the Domain, as if their bacchanalian spirit now embarrasses. The fountain at Campbell Crescent where, just once, you did something the way big sister Sydney does. That, at last, you have trains and that Britomart is named for a female knight in the longest of all Elizabethan poems.
Felton Matthew’s crazy street plan, long ago abandoned but still frequently navigated. Courtville, Brooklyn, Cintra, Hampton Court and the Berrisville flats – all keepers of the flame of sophisticated urbanism. The way the ancient pohutukawa sprawls across the path in Emily Place Reserve. The vines on the Northern Club. The emphatic, unchanging, face of St Andrew’s First Presbyterian (where you once pointed out Elvis Costello). The stoic form of the Baptist Tabernacle. The Civic. The Saint James – always the underdog. The Regent, Cinerama, Odeon, Westend and Plaza – all now gone. The memory of youthful visits with grandparents to the tea-rooms of Milne & Choyce, John Courts, George Courts and Farmers.
That I can stand on Milford Beach where the Pirate Shippe once sat and imagine the parties. That you have covered your other sites of loss to prevent me standing on those and crying. That you resisted, Cath Tizard, hellbent on destruction. That I can hear you late at night, sighing deeply after the announcement of another ‘rethink of Queen Street.’
The space under the Harbour Bridge, which you lend to me, so that I might sit and think. The streamlined-modern yacht clubs at Westhaven. The sparkling blue water of the Waitemata.
Your gentle hills, your volcanic cones, your supine, forgiving nature. Your mat of kikuyu, with its ever confident tendrils, the illicit perfume of ginger flowers, spreading in unattended crevices, the nodding heads of agapanthus, and the red carpet of fallen pohutukawa blossoms. The Myna birds, (those handsomely decked out villains), the chatter of Rosellas and the low swoop of the Kereru. The thud of falling feijoas.
The glorious grey of the Manukau. The tidal inlets that snake through your heart. The pop of the mudflats at low tide. Bean Rock lighthouse. Chelsea Sugar Refinery. The way Rangitoto guards you, and the way you guard tiny Watchman’s Island. The South-Westerly. The half-buried bunkers on Hobsonville Point. The scattered remains of abandoned gun emplacements. The secret places you lure me to on Trademe pickups. That point at the top of the Bombay Hill where you wish me good luck on my travels.
That you nurtured me through my early life, forgave my absences and every time welcomed my return.
I love you, Tāmaki Makaurau.
Shelter by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins (David Bateman, $34.99) is available in bookstores nationwide. “Joe is a 21-year-old builder in Auckland when he lays eyes on Leo: a bit older, much more sophisticated and with the kind of allure that makes Joe risk humiliation in order to get Leo to notice him… Shelter is a whirlwind romance with the city of Auckland and her architecture scaffolding their hearts and their story”: from a review by Louise Ward, Hawke’s Bay Today.
Tomorrow in ReadingRoom: Guy Somerset reviews the new crime novel by Dunedin author Liam McIlvanney