For the second and final Auckland post I did think I should probably balance the first Otara post – poorish and Polynesian – with one set in a suburb more affluent and white.
But when I read that 40% of Auckland’s population were born overseas and that according to a recent study by Statistics New Zealand, minority communities are almost certain to outnumber whities in Auckland in the next few years, I decided to choose a suburb that might be more reflective of Auckland’s future than its past – Avondale, west of the city centre.
Quick facts. Settled after the late 1850s when the Great North Road was built. Early industries included brickyards, tanneries and market gardens. Semi-famous for the ‘Avondale spider’, a huntsman spider from Australia, as well as Sunday produce and flea markets. Population wise, a real mix of people from all over the globe.
Let’s do it.
Part 1: At the local mosque
Wandering around the shops at Avondale I found a spice shop run by some Afghans. Was there a mosque nearby, I asked. Yes, just up the road, turn left, you can’t miss it, they said.
But I did almost miss it. Because Avondale’s mosque doesn’t look anything like a mosque – more like an oldish school hall without a minaret or dome in sight.
What was very mosque-like, however, were all the people piling into the unassuming building – Afghans, Indonesians, Indians and Somalians, all dressed in their traditional clothes. Swarthy men in white salwar kameez-type suits, caps and keffiyeh scarves. The women covered from head to toe. This was a mosque, no doubt about it.
Part 2: From Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to Bangladesh and India
The article I read about the impending shift from white to non-whites said that, between 1986 and 2006, “the numbers born in Asia and now resident in New Zealand increased by 661 per cent, with the Chinese (899.4 per cent) and Indians (841.6 per cent) dominating growth”.
While I certainly saw a huge number of Chinese at the Sunday Avondale markets, I didn’t see that many wandering around the suburb. I did, however, see a lot of people from the Indian subcontinent, including a lovely woman from Bangladesh and another from India. Did they like Auckland and were they fully accepted here? Yes and Yes.
With all these people continuing to arrive in NZ from all over the planet, I wondered what the original inhabitants thought – the Maori. Unfortunately I’m none the wiser – the only Maori I met in Avondale was a wonderful man called Jacques. His full face tattoo was so intriguing I completely forgot to ask his opinion on the subject. Instead we discussed his name – his mum named him after Jacques Cousteau because he was the guardian of the sea. Cool.
Part 3: Tonga
While the Chinese and Indians might be pouring into Auckland, the number of overseas-born Pacific people also doubled between 1986 and 2006.
Unlike Samoa which was once administered by New Zealand (1914 to 1962), the kingdom of Tonga, with its 176 islands, has always been independent.
Maybe that’s why the Tongans in Auckland always seem quite regal. Especially when they’re dressed for church, like the ones I met late on a Sunday in Avondale. They’d gathered after church for choir practice as well as a meeting of elders.
And those wraps around their waists? The women’s decorative waistband is called a kiekie, the men’s, a ta’uvala (which they wear over their tupenu, which is a wrap around skirt with pockets). Both are worn for church.
Not that Samoans don’t have a commanding, striking look about them. Check out Samoan John in his church threads, picking us some Chinese takeaway on one of the main shopping roads of Avondale.
Everyone I met this week smiled broadly when I asked them how they found their adopted home, Auckland. It reminded me of my travels around some of Sydney’s outer suburbs, where people from around the world are able to start new, productive lives.
Not that it’s all a bed of roses. But while racism and discrimination might exist in suburbs like Avondale, for many people, it’s still a better life than the one they left behind.
Speaking of leaving, we left Auckland on Tuesday, flying off just after sunrise. Peering through the window at the city below, the harbour a perfect sheen, I thought how sad it was that so many tourists would never venture beyond the showy bits, as impressive as they are. If only they shunned the harbour tour and headed inland, to suburbs like Otara and Avondale, they’d see a whole other side of the city. Possibly, dare I say it, a more interesting one.
On the ‘home front’
Coco and I want to say a huge thanks to our Auckland friends, Gay, Mark and Meisha. Not only for housing us these past few weeks, but for endlessly driving me around, feeding us every night, and taking Coco off my hands for most of the time. After a year of juggling this project with being a mum and provider of three meals a day, it was such a relief to have at least one of my jobs taken care of. Aside from that, Coco loved her stay with you guys – as well as beautiful Ruby (dog), Saba (cat) and Coco (cat!). You’re all wonderful!
We arrived in Melbourne yesterday and tomorrow we’ll launch into my first suburb here – suburb No 50. 50! Can you believe it?
This suburb has been brought to you by Anna Steiner, Chloe and Monique Leung
See you next week.