A Love Letter to Auckland
By: Roro Vinod (they/them)
The formative memories of my childhood are set in a terraced house at the end of a desolate cul-de-sac. There’s one moment that has always stuck with me: when I was seven years old, my neighbour was arrested on drug charges. It was a peculiar experience, not because of the melodrama or the chaos, but rather the lack thereof. I was struck by how anticlimactic it was - nobody panicked, he was back shortly after and his backyard stayed unmowed and overgrown. In many ways, I suppose it was a microcosm of an Auckland life. If you walked up our street, you’d find a little bridge overlooking what I imagine was supposed to be a stream. I don’t think I ever saw a single drop of running water, just the indignant stillness of a swamp that mocked expectation. The land mimicked the people. They had a shared nonchalance, always waiting for something to happen. Often when people dedicate something to their hometowns, there’s an air of romance about it. Maybe it encapsulates the glamour of the big city, or the homely twee of a small town, but it’s always cinematic. It’s as if these places are designed for tacky landmark montages in a Hallmark movie. It was hard for me to ever imagine Auckland in the same vein - it seemed to lack the spirit of intrigue and excitement you get in all the great cities. Auckland is the sort of place where we collected pumice rock on Māngere Mountain and if we were lucky, we got the thrill of figuring out which rocks were actually cow shit. On a nice day, one might risk their life to feed the birds at Western Springs, and even the rabid geese seem a little half-hearted about their bloodthirst. The Sky Tower, our crowning glory, stole its look from the Seattle Space Needle. Its awkward phallic structure feels like a testament to the city - desperate to prove itself, constantly out of sorts - a deep, bored loneliness.
The Metro Centre captures the spirit of everybody and everything I’ve ever known in Auckland: rough around the edges, a little nonsensical, but somehow still standing. It makes a spectacle of its own discord, daring us to make something of it.
They say you love things not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. I guess it’s a strange form of Stockholm syndrome, because I find myself belonging here more and more every day. I’ll also voraciously defend this city against the observations of its visitors, who are probably right. I find myself falling in love with its flaws the more I discover them. I went to a cinema in the Metro Centre on Queen Street the other day. The ground floor is entirely barren, haunted by the memory of the former food court. Centre-stage is a spaceship elevator that is as dated as it is wondrous. The theatre is on the top floor and it’s impossible to make your way back downstairs the same way you came in. It is a sad, hollowed- out carcass of a building with incredibly poor design planning. But for all of these same reasons, it’s also kind of beautiful. The Metro Centre captures the spirit of everybody and everything I’ve ever known in Auckland: rough around the edges, a little nonsensical, but somehow still standing. It makes a spectacle of its own discord, daring us to make something of it. And I suppose that’s why we live here. We are driven by that same sense of boredom and listlessness that is the Auckland adolescent experience. We choose to make something joyous, bizarre and entertaining of it.
In the end, this is what unites all Aucklanders. A marvellous sense of social innovation and a tenacity of spirit. There is something about Auckland that never quite feels like a real city, like New York, London or even Melbourne. I once had a friend who was visiting for a weekend and asked what there was to do, and I couldn’t come up with a single idea. And yet, I still love living here. There is an endearing awkwardness about it all: the way it tries to emulate the glamour of other cities, like a child who’s gotten into their mother’s makeup. The magic of Tāmaki Makaurau isn’t in its exciting locations or its blowout events or its sparkling, sprawling grandeur. Rather, it’s in our ability to make something out of nothing. It’s in the endless possibilities of a Friday night 10pm call-to-arms where we make our way to some half-hearted house party with nothing but a bottle of wine and a dream. It’s in the romanticism of sitting in a circle at some random park and listening to music as if we’re at a witches’ sabbath. It’s in the potential to make an inane walk down K’ Road some sort of surreal performance. There’s something miraculous and profound about our instinct to create art out of the mundane, and I think it’s a skill that is inherent to living here. Kipling once said of Auckland in his Songs of the Cities: ‘Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart’. And it is purely out of that loneliness that we seem to create loveliness.