Domino's takes it too far by refusing to enter a Rotorua suburb

OPINION: News this week that Domino's pizza franchise has ceased deliveries to a particular suburb of Rotorua brought back memories.

For more than a quarter of a century the area in question has been referred to as "Fordlands", as if it were purpose built by Henry Ford or his descendants, a "motor city", or part thereof, in the manner of Detroit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ford Rd and its subsidiaries enjoy a certain notoriety all right, but it is not for motor vehicles, the theft of a Domino's delivery car there on June 1 notwithstanding.

Its fame stems rather from the poison pen of Alan Duff, whose magnum opus Once Were Warriors was set in a fictionalised Rotorua, even if the subsequent, highly successful screen adaptation shifted the action to Auckland. At least Temuera Morrison, a bona fide local, was cast in the lead part of Jake "the muss" Heke, an alpha male of the type that only the "Ford Block" could produce.

Ford Block was what we called the region in the 1970s, when I grew up in Rotorua. It had a reputation for poverty and crime. It was the home town's ghetto, a region supposedly to be feared if not avoided at all costs.

I speak of course as then and now a middle class pakeha. The reality never quite measured up to all the tall tales and borderline racist exaggerations.

Many is the time I walked its streets, en route elsewhere. I was never mugged or physically assaulted. I did not fear for life and limb, even if there was a certain exhilaration at venturing into unknown territory.

Passing through Ford Block was one thing, going to school there though was quite another.

In the mid to late 1970s, Rotorua enforced strict zoning laws that determined exactly which educational institution a pupil had to attend.

Even though I lived within easy walking distance of Rotorua Intermediate, the law demanded that I bike for 20 minutes to Sunset Intermediate, on the outskirts of Ford Block. The mother of one of my best friends was so aghast that her son would be required to do the same thing that she took her protest all the way to the Minister of Education.

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Beryl had a point. There was a whiff of social engineering about the whole concept.

Essentially, the young folk of the middle class where being integrated into a school dominated by those from a much lower socio-economic level. The proportions of Maori to pakeha at Sunset Intermediate were much different to those experienced at primary school level. Your classmates were rougher, tougher and less refined. There was bullying and the constant threat of violence.

While individual teachers were excellent, anti-intellectualism pervaded the place. Having neither courage nor strength, I was ill-equipped to cope.

How I avoided being punched in the head I shall never know, though I do recall being indebted to a chap called Anthony Rikihana, who persuaded a group of his proto-Jake peers to leave me alone after an ill-advised comment was taken the wrong way.

Still, some sights witnessed nearly 40 years ago stick in the memory. A guy shorter than I was – one of the very few in the school – being pummelled by a group of Maori teenage girls, his face bloodied and defiant, shamed twice over, the assault itself compounded by the gender of those doing the beating.

These memories might conceivably tempt me into supporting the Domino's embargo. However, they are rather superseded by own father's relationship to Fordlands.

For the last decade or so of his working life, Dad oversaw the state accommodation in the area, employed by the Housing Corporation. He was required to chase rents and assess properties and did so fearlessly, demonstrating respect for tenants and getting it in return.

One of the few work stories Dad told me concerned a colleague who did not get out of his car when in that part of town. He made his Fordlands assessments from the side of the road, behind locked doors, too afraid to engage with the very folk he was meant to be helping. The moral was clear: This man was a coward, not just a professional disgrace, but a failure as a human being.

New Zealand as a society cannot function if we give into such paranoia and racism. The mean streets of Rotorua are not those of Harlem. All citizens have an inherent right to pizza delivery.

 - Stuff


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