Faces of Auckland: Migrant leaves fear behind

21:30, May 26 2014
Mary-anne Stuart-William
A DIFFERENT LIFE: Mary-anne Stuart-William lives in Mt Eden. She moved from South Africa to Auckland 10 years ago.

Auckland is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with more than a third of its citizens born overseas and boasting more than 200 nationalities living here.

Faces of Auckland is a series talking to those who have left all corners of the world to make their home here, reminding us why Auckland is so good.


Mary-anne Stuart-William feels she left a jail cell behind in South Africa to start a new life in Auckland.

As a 26-year-old she was determined to leave crime-ridden Johannesburg behind 10 years ago.

Stuart-William had been carjacked, had windows smashed and was afraid to walk the city's streets alone.

"When I left there I was very, very frustrated with the situation and I felt like I was living in a jail - I think that would have just kept getting worse. I was angry and frustrated all of the time which is no way to live," she said.

"It's so hard to imagine how different my life would have been if I hadn't left."

Her mother had also struggled to shake that frame of mind when she moved here 18 months ago.

"It's taken her a while to relax because that's just life there - life is a little bit like survival," Stuart-William said.

"It's not the same here and you take a while to realise that everyone's not out to get you, or trick you, or rob you."

Stuart-William left all of her friends and family behind and arrived in New Zealand with little more than a suitcase and a list of recruitment agencies.

She found a job as a technology project manager, went back to South Africa to pack up the rest of her things and within a matter of weeks was living in Auckland.

The move was so quick that New Zealand Customs held her at the airport for three hours suspecting she was a smuggler.

She now lives in Mt Eden and splits her time between working in Auckland's CBD and Wellington.

The cost of living in New Zealand was higher but in the scheme of things it was a small price to pay, she said. 

"You can't buy this lifestyle in South Africa, so it's a no-brainer for me."

"I can walk down the road at 10 o'clock at night and just not worry about things. It's just being able to have the freedom to do what you want, when you want and not having to second-guess it.

"Auckland was a much more family-oriented city, she said.

"That was quite an eye-opener for me. Seeing dads with their kids was quite different. There is a lot more equality between men and women here."

Adjusting to Auckland life meant toning down her South African "in-your-face" approach for a more reserved Kiwi attitude. But she didn't leave everything behind.

"I've always got biltong [South African cured meat] in the house. Luckily mum has learned to make it."

She continues to visit family and friends in South Africa but would never return to live, she said. 

"I have no regrets. Not one. I've never, ever looked back."

Is New Zealand tolerant of different cultures and are you able to express yourself your cultural identity fully here?

Compared to where I come from - it's very noticeably tolerant of other cultures. Having said that, I've noticed a lot more intolerance in the last four or five years towards the whole Asian culture from mostly Aucklanders.

You hear a few things around that maybe you wouldn't have heard before. I guess a lot of it comes from a fear of losing the New Zealand identity.

Personally I've never experienced any negativity about being South African, except for when the rugby's on.

There was this one time at Eden Park when I was in my Springbok jersey and somebody turned around and threw a bottle at me.

Have you ever travelled in New Zealand outside of Auckland and where to?

I've travelled quite extensively throughout New Zealand with work around the North and South islands which is fantastic. I got to see all of the places that I wouldn't have otherwise seen.

I spent a weekend in Gore which was interesting. Queenstown is one of my favourite places to visit it's just beautiful and I'm in Wellington every second week. I was just up at the Bay of Islands at the weekend.

What is best about being an Aucklander?

In summer there's so much to do, and so much free stuff to do - that boggles my mind. There'll be a free concert on at the beach or at a school or in a park somewhere - there's always something to do.

There's just a lovely, lovely beachy feel about Auckland. You've got such breathtaking scenery on your doorstep you've got to get out and see it.

If I was Auckland mayor I would...

Put together a strategic plan to sort out the road infrastructure and the traffic issues.

I use public transport because if I drive to the CBD from Mt Eden sometimes it takes me an hour. It's just ridiculous. I'm only 5km away but Dominion Rd is just nuts in the morning.

One of the things I really don't understand is why we don't have a train to the airport. It's easy enough to say just do that but there's a whole lot of road infrastructure problems that have been created from years of not planning it properly or anticipating what the actual growth of Auckland will be.

It will have to be a much more holistic approach than what is being taken at the moment.

Do you watch rugby and do you support the All Blacks?

Of course. I support the All Blacks as long as they're not playing the Springboks.