Route 4 to Fordlands
This Rotorua suburb inspired Once Were Warriors, its bus service was rerouted after an attack on a driver and pizza companies stay away. But Fordlands residents say it’s a few bad eggs that ruin it for the rest. Donna-Lee Biddle reports, with photos by Ch
New solutions for suburb that inspired Once Were Warriors.
As the green bus rattles along Ford Rd a young child sitting by the window raises a closed fist to people walking the streets. ‘‘Yoza,’’ the youngster shouts. His face lights up when an older man returns the gang sign. There are few passengers aboard route 04 to Fordlands: the youngster and his brother, who are sitting with two young women, and an older man in camo gear. One of the women is clutching a portable speaker and she treats the other passengers to Tupac Shakur’s rap song Hail Mary. The brothers bop their heads. Weatherboard ex-state homes line the road, some with freshly painted fences and manicured lawns. The bus rounds the corner to Wrigley Rd, the heart of Fordlands, and these fences, too, are freshly painted. But the artists this time have tagged fences, posts and houses with spray paint. Near a bus stop, a shiny blue sedan stalks the street. Two adults sit in the front of the unmarked police car, and a little brown child’s hand creeps out the open rear window, its fingers spread in the wind as the car picks up speed. It was on this bus route, just two months earlier, that a 60-year-old driver was punched and kicked by a mob of children, some as young as eight. Because of previous incidents, too, of kids throwing rocks, council re-routed the service to avoid Wrigley Rd. It was reinstated last month after meetings with the community, council, and police. Ma¯ ori Wardens now ride with the drivers and there’s more police around. Rotorua Police Area Commander Anaru Pewhairangi says many of the initiatives have been community-led and council says it’s working. One bus driver, who asked to remain anonymous, has never felt threatened on the job, even on route 04. ‘‘You treat people with respect, you get respect in return. You treat them like s..., well . . . ‘‘ It’s not the first time Fordlands, also known as Ford Block, has been in the spotlight. Domino’s temporarily stopped delivering pizzas last year after a worker’s car was stolen. Rotorua police area prevention manager Inspector Stuart Nightingale said a ‘‘well intentioned’’ police officer told the company it would be wise to stop deliveries in the area, so they did. The company has started delivering again. A month later, a man was seriously assaulted outside the liquor store in what residents described as a gang-related brawl. Police stats show the 1417 crimes committed in Fordlands in three years include 184 robberyrelated offences, 160 thefts, and 146 assault related crimes. They’re sobering statistics, even for the suburb that inspired Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors. Duff
grew up in Rotorua and although he didn’t live in Fordlands, his relatives did. He named it Pine Block in the novel.
It wasn’t always this bleak. Fordlands was once a symbol of the state house dream. The community was built in the 1950s, back when the concept worked, local principal Colin Watkins says. He believes all provincial cities have their own Ford Blocks.
A big economic shift in the 1980s meant a lot of unskilled labourers who lived in the state house suburbs lost their job as industries such as forestry and railway changed. Then began a cycle of unemployment, spanning three and sometimes even four generations.
Watkins would know, he has cups of tea with most of the families here and has been Westbrook School principal for a decade. When the school’s roll blew out to over 700, the Ministry of Education wanted to establish an enrolment zone that would exclude Fordlands. He fought and managed to retain a good chunk of the area in his zone.
Though the community is rich in culture, many are struggling financially. The New Zealand Index of Multiple Deprivation says it’s the most deprived place in the country, with a high Ma¯ ori population of about 1700, about half of whom have no qualifications and bring home an average income of between $10,000 and $20,000 per annum.
About 38 per cent of Westbrook students are Ma¯ ori, and a large number of them live in Fordlands.
Hardly any whakapapa to Te Arawa, the local iwi. Some have come to the area with their families to find employment, or a new beginning. Others moved to the area to escape their past, for whatever reason, and ended up in a ‘‘potpourri of cultures’’, Watkins says. And then there’s the folk who make a lifestyle out of crime. ‘‘And sadly they have children, and the children who know no different are brought up to be little hoods – to become gang members.’’ Watkins says most are mistrusting of government agencies, so the solution lies within the community – to find those with mana that can lead their community in a positive direction. Watkins has seen it done before when he was principal at Whangarei’s decile-one Otangarei School.
Much like Fordlands, Otangarei was a state-house suburb, graffitiridden and fire-damaged. In the late 1990s, the school had high rates of violence and truancy and a high annual turnover of pupils.
That all changed after a community-led project to keep the streets safe expanded from youth to involve the whole community, and two years after launching, the crime dropped, Watkins says.
The most important thing the project did was entering the school’s kapahaka group in the Northland championships in Kaitaia for the first time in 25 years.
They won – twice and the community saw it could be the best at something.
Back on Wrigley Rd, among derelict houses with boarded up windows, Irihapeti Waaka is perched on the steps of her home. It’s the best spot to keep an eye on the goings-on. The young ones don’t like how nosey she is, she says.
The mother and grandmother knows the bus driver who was attacked by the kids. And she knows the kids who attacked the bus driver. It was in part the work of her and the Fordlands community group she belongs to, that got the bus service reinstated.
She and the group are among those keen to find solutions. The group started community fun days as a way of strengthening the neighbourhood, and to develop ideas about how to make their community a better place.
Next on the 61-year-old’s to-do list is to clean up the abandoned houses. There were 18 at last count. But none are worse than the eyesore she’s confronted with each morning as she opens her curtains.
Shards of glass litter the floors of the threebedroom brick home at 44 Wrigley Rd. Tiny plastic bags and bongs with remnants of oil are scattered on the floor. Discarded nappies, wall cladding, and dozens of alcohol boxes pile high on the back of Barry Skinner’s ute.
Skinner is friends with the owner and has been called to clean the house about eight times this year. It was nice once, but it hasn’t been tenanted in years.
The children who know no different are brought up to be little hoods – to become gang members. Coliln Watkins
Kids sleep in the abandoned houses. Some, including the city’s homeless, party and light fires. Waaka sees people dumping rubbish at number 44 every week.They yell profanities and threaten her, some so bad she asked her 22-year-old son to move back in.
‘‘We’re trying to do our best by cleaning up the place,’’ Waaka says.
‘‘A clean place makes a clean community, eh. And a paru place, well, nobody wants to stick around here if it’s paru. And because all the old gangs have gone, it’s all the young and up-andcoming that are damaging all our houses.’’
Two houses over , a group of teenagers and young men in blue glare from the driveway. Fordlands is a Black Power stronghold and the young men make their gang affiliations known.
‘‘Everyone thinks we’re druggies and alcoholics but they need to keeps their noses in their own fences, eh,’’ Tama Hemi says. ‘‘We’ve grown up here and it’s all good. It’s quiet. But everyone thinks otherwise.’’
Like Hemi, Tiegan Moke grew up on Irene St, off Ford Rd. The block is home, she says. And now it’s home to her three-year-old daughter Tamara-Lee.
When friends visit they don’t stay long. But Moke feels safe in her home and loves her cul-desac. She lives next door to her mum and siblings, and across the road from her brother.
‘‘Fordlands has always had this bad rep, but it really is a good community to live in. There are more good people than not.’’
Although a bus route was canned after a driver was assaulted in the Forlands suburb of Rotorua, three-year-old Tamara-Lee Hyde (pictured above) and her mum Tiegan Moke say they love the place.
Tiegan Moke, 20 and her threeyear-old daughter Tamara-Lee Hyde enjoy living in Fordlands.
Fordlands Community Committee member Irihapeti Waaka is frustrated by the state of some of the houses in her community.
Barry Skinner removes rubbish from his friend’s investment property that has been empty for more than six years.
Left to right: Tama Hemi, 21, Kereua Hemi, 18, Andre Tapsell, 21, Dan Hemi, 28, Brandon Theodore, 17, Tunohopu Martin, 16, Reihana Tautari, 24
Residents in Fordlands are fed up with youth tainting their community. Looking down onto Waterlow Street and Huia Lyons Reserve.