Neigh­bour­hood watch


They were do­ing some re­de­vel­op­ment and they lit­er­ally said they were go­ing to bring a bet­ter caste of peo­ple here. It’s so bla­tant, you know? That kind of class di­vide.

Do­minic Hoey — Au­thor

It’s not com­mon in New Zealand so­ci­ety to wear the word “poor” proudly on your sleeve. To con­jure prose from your poverty. To draw on your tur­moils and shitty food and old things and cre­ate lit­er­a­ture that speaks proudly of your roots. Yet Do­minic Hoey, aka Tourettes, has built his ca­reer on be­ing the un­der­dog.

The poet, au­thor, mu­si­cian, youth men­tor and now nov­el­ist, sends “fuck yous” to clas­sists and the wealthy. He is an ad­vo­cate for the kids who roam the streets, the kids who graf­fiti walls and the kids who have lots of ideas but no way to ex­press them.

In his just-re­leased first novel, Ice­land, 39-year-old Hoey re­mem­bers the streets of his youth in Grey Lynn, de­picts a ro­mance and ru­mi­nates on the world, youth and so­ci­ety.

Or­gan­is­ing our in­ter­view, I sug­gest Grey Lynn cafe Kokako, a veg­e­tar­ian spot I imag­ined Hoey, a ve­gan, would jump at. But no. “It sounds silly but I try not to go to Kokako since they re­placed the post of­fice and bank,” he emails me. “They” is a term he of­ten uses to re­fer to the sta­tus quo, a struc­ture that never favoured him or his friends.

We set­tle for Oc­cam near the top of Wil­liamson Ave, a cou­ple of streets away from where he grew up on Firth Rd. When I ar­rive, I find him star­ing across the road, his phone sit­ting un­used on the ta­ble. He’s heav­ily tat­tooed, wear­ing baggy jeans and mul­ti­ple lay­ers, grey hoodie on top.

I ask him about his reser­va­tions about Kokako. “It’s not Kokako’s fault, but that was ac­tu­ally the post of­fice, that was a thing peo­ple were fight­ing against, the clos­ing of that, be­cause there’s still heaps of poor peo­ple and old peo­ple who live down that hill and that was their bank and their post of­fice. I feel like if you have to live un­der cap­i­tal­ism, you may as well do some kind of vot­ing for your money.”

Hoey’s pas­sion­ate dis­taste for cap­i­tal­ism has fu­elled his spo­ken-word po­etry for years, and now his po­lit­i­cal and so­cial views have trick­led into his novel, a ro­mance with a heav­ily po­lit­i­cal un­der­tone.

Ice­land was writ­ten in 2012, af­ter Hoey broke up with a long-term girl­friend and, when drunk one evening, ap­plied for an artist res­i­dency in Sk­a­gas­trönd, Ice­land.

The book, writ­ten in Ice­land and a work-in-progress for the past five years, was in­spired by how Hoey’s youth in Grey Lynn shaped who he is to­day. He wanted to make he­roes out of the marginalised, the un­der­dogs, so the story fol­lows pro­tag­o­nists Hamish and Zlata: drug-users, mu­si­cians, dream­ers and artists in the punk scene in Auck­land.

“Un­der cap­i­tal­ism, there has to be an un­der­class, and if you’re in that it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or your par­ents are stupid or there’s any­thing wrong with you,” says Hoey.

The novel pre­sents a rose-tinted view of the past, be­fore gen­tri­fi­ca­tion forced Hoey and his friends out of the cen­tral-city fringe. “It’s that feel­ing of be­ing forced out be­cause of the rents, you know, and peo­ple who didn’t grow up here just buy­ing ev­ery­thing and be­ing like, ‘fuck off’. There was some­thing where they were do­ing some re­de­vel­op­ment and they lit­er­ally said they were go­ing to bring a bet­ter caste of peo­ple here. It’s so bla­tant, you know? That kind of class di­vide.”

Now, Hoey, who is about to move from San­dring­ham to Ti­ti­rangi, feels no affin­ity to the area where he grew up. “Ev­ery other month, some­one’s get­ting kicked out of their flat and get­ting forced fur­ther and fur­ther out of the city. When I left home, it was still re­ally shit but at least you could get a place, but now I don’t know where the fuck peo­ple live.”

Hoey cre­ated Hamish and Zlata and their love story as a trib­ute to his friends, feel­ing that he didn’t ever see he­roes made out of the peo­ple ex­ist­ing at the edges of ne­olib­eral so­ci­eties.

“I don’t nor­mally talk like this, but I felt like this was some­thing that I had to write, and not that this book’s go­ing to change any­thing, but I just kept on com­ing back to the story over and over again,” he says. “My friends who grew up here and lived lives sim­i­lar to the char­ac­ters in the book, those are the peo­ple that it has re­ally res­onated with, and it just meant so much when they read it.”


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