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

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

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.’’

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/ STUFF

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.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/ STUFF

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.

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