February 26, 2005 – 7:00 pm

Yesterday we went to the Silverdale A&P show (Agricultural and Pastoral) with our friend Pam and her two kids aged about 13 and 14. It was a blast, with everything from prize pumpkins (112kg or so) and enormous bulls to a carnival alley and rollercoasters by way of wood-chopping and dog trials. Fun!

Jenine was quite surprised at how small the show was. She’s used to the Fresno County Fair that goes for two weeks and has tens of thousands of people go through. She seemed to think that with the splitting up of farms around the Auckland area into lifestyle blocks for erstwhile accountants and lawyers there’d be a corresponding increase in the A&P show. I had to explain that A&P is old school, gumboots and tractors getting together to see who’s hardest core. If you’ve got ten bulls you’re raising for meat, none of ’em will be entered in the show, and the chances are that neither you nor your spouse cooks let alone enters the Best Pikelet contest.

This great lifestyle sham is rampant in New Zealand, this unjustified belief that it’s possible to have the best of the rural location and the yuppie values without having to associate with rural people or the urban location. The townies bring the city with them–house prices go up so the rural families who have lived there for generations can’t afford to any more, the farms are sliced up into more lifestyle blocks, the lifestylers get the shits at the changing character of the place (or realize that a few animals are still a pain in the arse to raise) and subdivide to make a profit, and before you know it the place isn’t a rural location anymore, it’s well down the slippery slope to suburbia.

Twenty years ago, Orewa was a sleepy little seaside village filled with retirees and people hardy enough to survive a 40m commute to Auckland. Now it’s filled with commuters and there’s a ghastly pink ten+ story apartment complex in the middle of its downtown. It’s a horrendous abomination, so of course there are constantly developers floating plans to build more.

When my uncle had a house at Snells Beach, twenty years ago, it was another retirement community. Now it’s bustling suburbia, with its own Red Shed (Americans, think “Wal-Mart”). I picked up a hitchhiker driving to Snells a few weeks ago, and he said, “yeah, Snells Beach has become Orewa.” There’s a huge subdivision going in (“Whisper Cove” or some such rampant tweeness).

Matakana’s my prime example of boom being bad for the atmosphere. When I knew Matakana, it was nothing–a few farmers, a pub, a mill, and a gas station. Now there are markets where thousands of people fight to get in, boutique patisseries, and other such crimes against the rural atmosphere. The creation of this “Matakana” brand standing for yuppie ideals of rural bliss has been calculated and engineered. And successfull–wineries that are practically in Warkworth or in Leigh are calling themselves part of the “Matakana Coast”. Matakana doesn’t have a coast, it has a shitty little muddy river chocked with soil runoff from the farms that lined it.

The branding of Matakana has made it a mecca for the same type of hippie-ish urban refugees that flocked to Sebastopol in California, with the same spike in property prices and clash of values. The yups brought with them this idea that Matakana should be a “slow town”, preserving its sleepy nature. They’ve just tried to put a prohibition on farmers from subdividing the large rural farms that still remain. They say these things from their houses only made possible by farm subdivisions (one new street has 15-20 new houses packed incredibly tight together, and there are more planned). A friend in Sebastopol said, “in this town you’re either a cowboy or a hippie”. In Matakana you’re either a country boy or a yuppie, and the country boys woke up one morning to find that they were suddenly a minority.

Warkworth, another quiet colonial village, has plans for a six story looming monstrosity in the heart of downtown, which the people are thankfully fighting. Even Leigh, 5 minutes from us, has plans for change. The owner of the pub is going to close it in two months’ time, level the site, and build luxury chalets, yuppie cafes, and a fucking helipad. Yes, a helipad. Because apparently the deafening racket of helicopters is perfectly in character for the sleepy fishing village of Leigh and the “slow town” Matakana Coast. God save us from rich wankers and their greed, or at least make me rich enough to run from them.

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