TRUTH, TRANSPARENCY, FOR A BETTER LOCAL DEMOCRACY.
I am french born, and moved to Wellington in 2005. It was initially for a period of two years. Or that’s what I said to my parents. Problem is I didn’t know I would find the place of my dreams. The two years became five very quickly, running a cafe business in between my real job in IT. The cafe was successful, but experts will tell you it’s not a good idea to open a business at the same time a recession hits the world.
So in 2010, we sold the business and I claimed my life back. That’s when our first son joined us. At that stage, it became very obvious we wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon: Wellington seemed to us like the perfect place to raise him, and then later, our second son. Wellington has it all: the green, the cafes, the culture, the sea, the birds, the people. Oh, the people: you don’t know how friendly you all are, here, do you?
Sadly, however, it seems Wellington has become, over the past few years, this controversy factory. We won’t name them here, but let’s just say there are big icebergs coming our way, and it’s not clear we are ready to navigate around them. Writing being quite therapeutic for me, I have talked with my keyboard more than I thought I would in the past few years. And shared these writings with Scoop.
Along the way, Ian’s path and mine crossed, for the people who feel passionate about their city are meant to meet. So we did, after I’d read almost all his posts on Inside Wellington. Our friendship was born, one based on respect and understanding between like-minded people. Ian has now handed me the key of his brain-child, Inside Wellington, an honour I never thought I’d receive.
I hope to make Inside Welington a mirror of its city, one that magnifies its struggles, its flaws, and offer, along the way, some words of wisdom to rise to its challenges: to become a sustainable city that lives to the wellbeing of its people.
I was born in Lower Hutt in 1973. Don’t be worried readers; I didn’t reside there for too long. My father is a civil engineer and was working for the then Ministry of Works, which saw our young family move to Turangi so he could work on the hydro scheme, one of the last of the massive “think big” projects over the era.
My extended family comprised of teachers, artists, engineers, and practical people. As kids, eventually there were six of us, we were taught to be conservationists and much time was spent growing up on a farm in Puketitiri, a small settlement nestled up against the eastern side of the Kawekas, there is still no cellphone reception up there unless you stand on the roof of your car in a very particular part of the valley.
I was first published in the Evening Post at thirteen. I was hooked for life. Seeing your byline and having the realisation that people were reading what you had penned introduced a permanent addiction.
By then, we had lived in Miramar for many years. I remember cycling everywhere in those days, we didn’t need cycle lanes out that way the roads were, and still, are, so wide. I remember cycling in the howling southerly, oilskin flapping, fingers completely numb.
Wellington was a very different place back then. Boring was an understatement and none of the vibrant entertainment life we have now existed. It truly was a government town, and the grey dressed drones could be relied on like clockwork in their nine to five monotony.
When I was fourteen, the family moved to Gisborne, which may have well been the dark side of the moon. The culture shock was sudden and large.
After a rather pathetic attempt at finishing my schooling, I went to the local polytechnic and gained my certificate in business computing. Technology has always been a passion of mine and pays a lot better than freelance writing, where the heavy emphasis is on “free”, something that has never bothered me as writing is pure love and hopeless addiction.
At twenty-seven I moved back to Wellington, to a house in the same street I grew up on. Later, I moved to Strathmore and have been there for nearly a decade.
I’ve written for so many publications that I forget them all. Kiwi Surf Magazine, the National Business Review, The Age once or twice, Capital Magazine, M2, Pulp Magazine, Espy, several online Ezines (called blogs these days), and a host of others.
I started writing about local politics a decade ago, all over a pedestrian crossing on Strathmore Avenue.
The Council had resealed the road and failed to put any safe crossing in place during the interim leading to several near misses with kids. I, angrily, entered an email discourse with an officer who was sarcastic and in return, I was increasingly rude.
Ultimately, the email broke down into a series of sweary exchanges and the officer threatened to cut me off from the Council in total, tell all the Councillors to have nothing to do with me and made a vague mention of legal action.
I was, like so many others that have a run-in with the Council, instantly activated.
Strathmore Park Blog was born that very day and ran for several years with well over 1 million words and thousands of posts when I retired it. It focused solely on the Council and its performance. The blog had a very large following, and it taught me a lot.
Local politics is important to people, and the Council is important in the scheme of the city; however, it is also an often poorly performing mechanism with an abhorrent attitude to the residents of the city. It needs to be held to account and over the years as people have been activated, as I was, several commentators have appeared who follow the WCC avidly.
Don’t get me wrong, not all Councillors and Council Officers are bad. No one goes to work to do a bad job deliberately. However, there is a contingent in both areas that need to go and let the newbies through to make some progress.
After twenty years of practical IT work, I threw in the towel and became a consultant and analyst. Ten years later I have worked with most of the large government agencies in Wellington and big private companies. My tutor said, on day one, “computers are not about machines, they are about people”, something I have never forgotten.
Often, we deploy technology and expect people to follow it, which is generally a recipe for failure. Instead, we should apply technology to people problems where appropriate.
Nowhere is technology more appropriate to help humans than in a city. It still infuriates me that the WCC has a 1950’s style of thinking when it comes to urban planning that keeps the city stunted. There are pockets of excellent thinking within the Council, do not get me wrong, but the powers that be are often dinosaur-like in their thinking, crushing any innovation that appears.
I’m a strategist at heart; I like to imagine the future then analyse the various paths and probabilities that arise.
Inside Wellington is an incarnation of Strathmore Park after an extended hiatus where I was spending a lot of time writing for the NBR. Hopefully a little more balanced and skilled than the previous writing that often descended into ranting and railing against the machine.
I live with my partner in a renovated ex-state house in Strathmore. The suburb is a nice microcosm of Wellington with an incredibly diverse resident base. From the ultra-rich to those in poverty, with many different ethnicities.
My partner is a part-time stuntwoman and part-time legal executive. A master of ninjutsu, unarmed & armed combat utilising many different weapons, horse stunts, stunt driving, and other martial arts she is the love of my life. She’s currently learning to set herself on fire, safely, if there is such a thing.
She is part of a pack of stunties, and there is nothing that delights me more than watching them practice while I am drinking a cold beer. A lawn full of arrow shooting, weapons wielding, dive rolling, crazy people is a joy to behold. I think they just never grew up, and nor should any of us.
I can often be found in my lair, the Strathmore Local, a congregating place for the community where there are no barriers due to status, only tall tales and life’s dramas. The beer is cold, the food is good, the stories are epic, and the company is grand.
I’m not a journalist; I never will be, I lack the discipline, training, and finesse to carry out such an important role. I have people I look up to of which Hunter S Thompson is one, though he chickened out just when we needed him.
I also have a lot of time for Lindsay Shelton at Wellington Scoop. He has a keen mind and has gently trained me and acted as my long-suffering editor for republished articles. Grammar and I are not friends.
Robert Fisk is a true journalist who I much admire. The world needs more of these people in an environment where trashy fake news is dominating the airtime.
Such is life, and I hope that I make a small difference in people understanding how local politics work and what those pesky politicians get up to.
If you want to know more, then you’ll find me in my lair.