Monday, April 14, 2008


Sir Ed's statue


By Gregory Wood

Welcome to Hustlerville, a small seaside town at the end of Auckland’s northern motorway. For over half a century Hustlerville has fought to retain an image as a holiday town. But with the growth of Auckland and the extension of the motorway, Hustlerville is fast becoming just another satellite suburb of the metropolis.

Back in the early days however, the leading figures of Hustlerville must have had noble ambitions for this place. They erected an imposing statue of Sir Edmund Hillary in the future town centre and named it Hillary Square. Today, Sir Ed’s statue is surrounded by a little garden in the midst of a car park. Council workers clear away from the small shrubs a daily build-up of fast-food wrappers blown in by the sea breeze. Sir Ed’s statue faces the beach and the sunrise, and nearby there is a small plaque marking the death of Princess Diana. But any ocean outlook has long gone, blocked by beachfront houses, a block of shops and a Macdonald’s drive-in with its endless queue of cars.

Behind Hillary Square is a short dead-end street called George Lowe Place, which is named after George Lowe, who was a member of that famous 1954 expedition when Sir Ed and a sherpa named Tenzing became the first to climb Mount Everest. George Lowe Place ends at the doors of two panel-beating shops, an auto electrician and a tyre depot. Car wrecks in various stages of restoration line the street, its tar-seal scarred by tyre skid marks.

Leading off George Lowe Place is an alleyway called Tenzing Lane, which is named after the sherpa Tenzing. Here, there is a second-hand shop and a parking lot lined with industrial waste bins at the rear of shops. The names of these two mountaineers, Lowe and Tenzing, are used on street signposts to show the way to a semi-industrial area, a dumping ground for car wrecks and unwanted furniture.

“So what is the problem?” a small voice inside my head asked. “Walk one block back from the main street in any town and you’ll always find industry and ugliness. The tourists only see a fa├žade and come away smiling, while the rest of us get on with making money. That is the way it is.”

Seeking some sort of respite, I went to Sir Ed’s statue and paused for a moment to ponder the great man, and Lady Di’s memorial. “Surely they wouldn’t put a statue of Sir Ed in such a prominent position just to attract tourists to be photographed next to?” I thought. “He is not a prop; he stands for something.” Just what I did not know, but had to find out for some peace of mind.

I resumed walking along the road engrossed in my thoughts and found a small path, which led to an estuary, where small wading birds gathered. Approaching female walkers nodded a greeting as if relieved that my walking shoes, drink bottle and cap signified a ‘safe’ man.

Further up the path a woman walking a beautifully kept longhaired spaniel pulled off the walkway a long time before I was even near her to let me pass. She was of average height, reasonably attractive, but gave me only a furtive glance. I saw anguished eyes on a drawn face. About fifty metres behind her walked a tall man of solid build and a shaved head. A pair of wraparound sunglasses hid any touch of emotion on the face. He did not acknowledge our passing but stared impassively ahead, not taking his eyes off the woman with the dog, keeping pace with her as if he held on to her with an invisible leash. He seemed to be walking the woman just like she was walking her beloved pet. After reaching a safe distance I turned to watch them disappearing around a small headland. For a sad and fleeting moment the path had become a stage, and two actors were playing out the final scenes in a tragedy play called End of an Affair. My heart went out to the woman; the man looked incapable of changing. He also looked threatening.

Finally, the walkway led to the beach and that first initial blast of salt air. Just beyond the water’s edge, kite surfers skimmed across small waves attached by lines to kite-like sails hovering high above them. At times, they would rise into the air with the force of the wind against their sails. Black-backed gulls reeled overhead, dropping shells onto the sand until they split open, even if it took half a dozen attempts before revealing that treat of fresh shellfish.

The wind strength was perfect for these large seabirds. Once aloft, they can swoop and dive as easily as the tiny common gulls, and turn in huge arcs, their bodies freed by an invisible velocity. When that happens, a walk along the water’s edge is like taking part in an aerial ballet. Look up, and a moving tapestry of sailcloth mingles with the outstretched wings of the black-backed gulls, which seem to revel in the company of an even bigger ‘bird’. One’s senses are overwhelmed with the roar of the wind and surf, and a screeching as the gulls commence diving runs in mock air battles before arcing back around for another game.

As the sun went down and cars again lined up outside McDonald’s, I found myself back at Sir Ed’s statue. During that time, someone had placed a red posy of young pohutukawa stems at Ed’s feet. It seemed that the statue was being used as a site of solace, a place to remember and dwell on a distant past with a different set of values.

The wind had died now. Tomorrow, I must bring some flowers for Lady Di. Now, that is progress. And while I’m there, perhaps that first faint touch of a sea breeze will again caress my skin as if being touched by a phantom lover. When that happens, it will be time to heed her siren’s call and leave this modern world for those soft sensuous sands. There, we will hold each other close, her silken hair swirling in the wind as the tempest encircles us and takes us up, soaring and sharing in that incredible celebration of life between Nature and the human spirit.


Jack Ross said...

Good on you, Gregory. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one posting to this blog. Any more creative (or critical) responses out there?

Gregory Wood said...

Thank you Dr Ross. In many ways Hustlerville reminds me of the poem Incantata by Paul Muldoon, that epic outpouring of grief over a lost love, which one tends to listen to like the wind coming in gusts, picking up on his scores of beautiful lines.
Hustlerville, for all its flaws, which I am acutely aware of, is something I had to get out of my system to move on from it.