Southern city of the north

20:42, Jan 24 2012


If I could afford it, I would shout every Hamilton citizen a fortnight at my mate Murray’s house.

This summer I took my Kharyn and the kids on the great southern trek.  

You know THOSE holidays where Dad bores you silly with stories from his highly magnified childhood?. Stories about days spent at 50 foot deep river holes and 17 room castles built in the highest mountains at the hands of a 12 year old boy that (when you finally get there) turn out to be brown stagnant puddles and a few rocks propped up against a vague  ditch on a small hill. Yep, I was Dad on a mission to stamp my memories into my kids’ lives. Predictably, and despite my best efforts, the kids would come away with their own memories of the wonderful south. Penny would fall in love with the shops and landscape, Daisy discovered that skinny dipping in fresh cold rivers is a great way to win dare money from Dad,  and Max loved the fact that every playground in the South island seems to have a disused tractor in it.

I was able to influence one memory however. My family got to experience my mate Murray. Murray is a great mate, and an even greater bloke. I wanted my kids to see the kind of person their Dad wants to be.

Murray always has and always will live in small-town Southern New Zealand. Alexandra.


This is the spot where the smell of thyme will waft from the white clock on the brown hill on a warm passing breeze. I lived there a while.

In Murray’s world, you’d never rip anyone off and if there’s an opportunity to help someone, you’d do it without thinking. Barter is king. There are no deals done, just favours.

A couple of years back I’d found myself travelling to Alexandra for a dear friend’s funeral. Murray had organised for a mate to helicopter me from Queenstown as a favour. When I landed, I was wondering how I would how to get from the other side of town to the funeral. Taxi?  

Bus? As if scripted, a little old lady whom I’d never seen before toddled across the paddock and pressed her own car keys into my hand.

‘Here you are dear, you’ll need my car to get around for the afternoon. Just leave it here on the street with the keys in it when you’re finished with it later on’. When I asked why she was doing this she said that a few weeks back, Murray had been driving past her house, had seen a large pile of wood and had spent a couple of hours chopping it up for her and this is how she could help in return.

Murray is an engineer who does a good honest job. He does what he says he’ll do, he does it by when he said it would be done, and he’ll charge you what he said he would charge you. That’s how business is done. Isn’t it? By and large people pay him on time, and come back again when they need more work done. It’s simple and it’s good.

In Alexandra, it’s assumed that people are good. And because of that assumption, you’d better bloody well be good yourself!

In Alexandra, people park their cars in the streets with their windows left wide open, they leave their houses unlocked, they yak with their neighbours over the fence, they pop into their nearest mate’s house to use the loo regardless of whether anyone’s home, and they say gidday to you as a matter of course. I was reminded of the latter in a urinal at the local club. Standing with my blank-straight-ahead-seldom-to-the-

side-and-never-down gaze on, and the space of one flow, four different guys came and went. Every one of them said gidday, asked how I was and actually waited for the answer.  In a pub in Hamilton, do that and you’re some sort of weirdo. In Alex, don’t do that, and you must be from up North.

Murray would always offer the first beer, and it seemed like his life’s mission to make sure we had a great stay. Boat rides, plane trips, river swims, all the fruit we could eat and anything we wanted.  

Why? Because that’s what you do for guests in Alexandra. He would tease my kids as if they were his own and innately they knew that here was a loving place where crap wasn’t tolerated, and fun was to be had.

Needless to say, Murray’s greatest joy is his family, and he has great reason to be joyous. They are wonderful.

I came away from Alex with a refreshed memory of who I should be and a dream.

Why can’t Hamilton be the great southern city of the north?  Seriously – why the heck not? We’re unsophisticated enough to change, small  

enough to care, but big enough to make a huge impact nationwide.   

Wouldn’t you love to live in a city where people leave their houses unlocked, their cars open and they say gidday to strangers with a smile? Wouldn’t you love to come from the ‘friendly city’, rather than the ‘Chlamydia Capital’?

It makes no sense to me that 98% of people in this city are good, honest, peace loving folk and yet we hide away in our locked houses, cowering behind our insurance policies watching the other 2% on Police 10-7.

I say let’s take our city back. Let the good people roam the streets while the criminals stay inside! If some toerag tags public property, don’t say ‘tut tut’ and wait for the council to fix it. Get some paint out of your back shed and paint over it.

A city isn’t its location, it’s roads, its council debt nor is it its landscape. A city is a group of people who eat, sleep, work and play on a common piece of land.

It costs a lot to change a city’s bricks and mortar, but to change a city of people takes a very small change of attitude, and a change of who we pay attention to.

It’s free, and I hereby give notice that it’s starting with me.

 From now on, I prefer give my headspace to the good people in town, like the friendly rubbish truck driver in our street, the happy lady who answers the phone at the council and the great neighbours we’ve got.

Here are my new rules.

 - Say gidday to someone you don’t know within the next hour.

 - Help someone.

 - Instead of grizzling about the neighbour’s lawn – mow it.

 - Do what you’ve promised,

 - Smile at people.

 - Trust.

But most importantly, be brave enough to assume that that person you don’t know is actually a good person, and behave accordingly.

Remember, a city is who we are, not where we live.

Sometimes a trip to your past is just what it takes to clear the way to your future.  – it worked for me!

Happy new year, Hamilton.

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