As he departs for Auckland, Dick Frizzell reflects on his life and times in Hawke’s Bay.

A funny thing happened when we bought our beachside property in Haumoana and started to build, with the rumours of the property’s aquatic history ringing in our ears. Five hundred or so metres up the beach the Tukituki River began to ominously and inconveniently eat its way round the leading edge of the southern stopbank.

In a very generous and quite unexpected gesture to the Haumoana villagers, The Council (and in this account I will refer to the various councils involved as ‘The Council’ because the constant accountability overlap between all the different councils and the Napier fiefdom is too hard to unravel) threw a large and impressive groyne out into the sea from the end of the stopbank to direct the flow of the Tukituki away from the Haumoana CBD.

And very effective it was too … ugly but effective. The cost didn’t bring Hawke’s Bay to its knees; there were no time delays or any resource-consent problems (it doesn’t seem too complicated a process if you’re awarding the consent to yourself).

And then, wonder of wonders, this mighty pile of limestone boulders and interlocking akmons proved to have a fabulous and surprising ‘unintended consequence’. It immediately began to capture unimaginable cubic metres of gravel on its downside – our side – and the beach in front of our house got bigger! So big in fact, that the occasional thrill of our modest inundations from the sea became less and less, to the point of becoming a distant memory.

A few years later, when the WOW group was formed to find ways to convince The Council that the Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton coastal community was an iconic stretch of beach real estate more worthy of protection than being ‘abandoned to nature’, we began by arguing for the value of groynes. Sternly told by The Council that the cost of a groyne field would be millions of dollars more than relocating (in a ‘managed’ way) an entire community to the safety of Otane – and that it wouldn’t work anyway – we silently pointed to the Tukituki groyne and the great isthmus of shingle amassed in its wake.

The Council gave us a withering look, muttered something about the irrelevance and unreliability of ‘anecdotal evidence’, and put it to us in no uncertain terms that just because something works in real life was no proof that it would work in theory!

Obstructive negativity

I supply this personal anecdote by way of illustrating a significant point that has come slowly to me in the course of all this dodging and duck-shoving, and goes a long way, I think, to explaining why Hawke’s Bay might not be the shining model of ‘provincial progress’ that it could be.

The Council seems to be totally committed to operating from a position of determined negativity.

Better and safer to say, ‘no, no, impossible’ from the get-go and back away into the dark recesses of the council chambers than come forward with a welcoming smile and say, ‘let’s see if we can make this happen!’

I don’t think this cultivated science of arse-covering is endemic to Hawke’s Bay, but it does seem to flourish down here to an extraordinarily accomplished degree!

The sunny disposition of the geography is not reflected in its governing bodies. Someone’s not keeping up!

It’s a simple trick…positivity…and I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen what my old friend Bob Harvey did for Henderson. Henderson!

We lived through a nightmare of obstructive negativity when we built the house (still there!) and I lived through it again with WOW. The mad threats, the fabricated figures, the general atmosphere of contempt … not a great model of how to treat your citizens and definitely no way to manage an important resource! There are better ways, but I’m not sure if the current culture at The Council is capable of the paradigm shift required to adopt it.

This is a great place, with great people doing amazing things, and they deserve better.

I’m looking forward to coming down for a visit already!

And return we will…for that visit…because none of the above gripes about The Council’s peculiar notion of forward thinking (want a used Havelock pod anyone?) has anything ultimately to do with this return to Auckland. Things just change.

I spent forty years of my adult life in that sprawling great mess of a city, aiding and abetting as it struggled to define itself. And now that it seems to be making some actual headway (which it started to do the minute I left, oddly enough, which could be a good sign for Hawke’s Bay), I thought I should get back and enjoy some of the payback!

And the grandchildren are conveniently beyond baby-sitting these nine years on, so we will have dodged that one.

A huge chunk of my professional life is still up there of course, quite literally in some instances, and I had no idea how that worked until I walked away from it. It’s a long commute!

So Auckland won the tug-of-war. I can’t live in two places at once so something had to give.

But to Hawke’s Bay’s credit, it has been an amazing experience … leaving the big city for the rural … something that a lot of people talk about doing and never do.

Been there done that!

A genuine point of difference

Wow. Lived off crayfish for a year over at Waimarama with the extraordinary John Pinel. Designed and built the dream beach house from scratch (painless, thanks to Concept Builders). Got into the cushion and teatowel business. Started a wine label. Made some very special friends. And even did a few paintings!

Maybe it’s the space down here that makes you feel you can do this – start things, have a go, get a couple of mates together and make it happen. I’m not sure it could happen on quite that level in Auckland; too much competitive buffeting maybe.

And I guess this loops me back round to The Council again. They need to embrace this ‘bottom up’ idea: throw their arms open wide, say yes to everything (and wriggle out later – works for me!), lengthen the runway, fix up Clifton Camp and its strategic boat ramp.

Join in! Facilitate!

Which brings me right back here … to Te Awanga, Haumoana, the Cape Coast. A unique stretch of classic old-school New Zealand beach culture, unspoiled thanks to those beautiful pebbles. Something to be treasured … cultivated.

I can’t understand why all this isn’t screamingly obvious. When you’re presented with a genuine point of difference (instead of the identical ‘lifestyle’ blandishments that all councils dream up, thinking they’re the only ones to do so), you’d think that time and money would be expended on figuring out how to exploit it. Enhance it! Listen to the people rather than aggressively dump on all local initiative!

It’s a very frustrating and unhelpful climate to live out your life in. ‘Anecdotal evidence’ tells you you’re living in paradise, but Council’s expert opinion tells you you’re dreaming, and that in one hundred years they’ll be proved right, because ‘they know’. Well, good luck with that!

I’m going back to Auckland… Haumoana isn’t going anywhere.

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