In living memory, these resident tribes could be called the settlers/farmers and the bach owners. They were joined in the 1960’s- 1980’s by ‘alternative life-stylers’. Each group had significant numbers but distinctively different interests and priorities and were rooted in differing philosophies.
Large tracts of land were in the hands of the settlers/farmers, often the descendants of the original island families. They farmed the land, usually by running sheep, and sent their stock off island to provide for the needs of the wider Auckland region.
There have always been bach owners. This group were mainly Aucklanders who wanted to retreat from the mainland occasionally but didn’t want to live full-time on the island. They sought a getaway from city life but their motivation was primarily rest and recreation to enjoy the beaches, boating, and rural environment away from the city.
The ‘alternative life-stylers’ came to Waiheke to escape the constraints of city life. Just as they migrated to many small rural areas around the country, they wanted to retreat into a slower world where they could afford a property bigger than the typical suburban quarter acre and attempt to live off the land – living the dream. Their aim was to recreate the bush and birds of earlier days and turn a denuded Waiheke into an island paradise.
Over time and with succeeding generations each tribe has changed.
The settler/farmers have morphed into the lifestyle blockers. They tend to be ‘hobby’ farmers who soon find out that you have to work hard to make your block of land productive. Some move on, others stay and become successful farmers, entrepreneurs and business owners. They are the vineyard owners and wine-makers, olive oil producers and, increasingly, offer holiday accommodation. They have created a new economy on the island based on tourism and exporting. They have put Waiheke on the map, brought it into the 21st century and opened it up to an international audience.
Many of the bach owners have now become luxury holiday home owners. Alternatively, their original small bachs have been sold to realise wealth from increasing property prices or to make way for the bigger (sometimes monstrous) holiday homes of the rich and famous, the jet set who fly in occasionally for a few week’s ‘R and R’ before leaving again for sunnier climes as the weather gets colder. These homes remain unoccupied for large amounts of the year.
Sadly, the true alternative life-stylers have been displaced and vastly outnumbered by a sub-tribe of ‘highly dependent life-stylers’, people who depend for most of their income on the taxpayer. Insofar as they have jobs, they work for the State, the ‘community’ or a growing proliferation of NGO’s (non-government organisations), but more often than not, they have grown up to be unemployable. They believe the State ‘owes’ them a living and look down on people who actually work to earn their money. To give themselves some ‘street-cred’ they pose as the instigators of everything from organic food and composting to paper bags and bicycles. They exhibit a watermelon culture of being ‘green’ on the outside but inside they are - far left reds.
Since the advent of the fast ferries in the mid - 1980’s, a new tribe has joined the island, the commuters. Their community of interest is Auckland where they work, play, shop and visit family and friends. They tend to be short-stayers, usually around four years, who come with a highly romantic view of life on the island. If a few long rainy winters don’t sort them out, then their children reaching the end of primary school usually does. Increasingly, their Mini-Mees go to select schools in town, and they eventually return to the big smoke as the demands of careers, growing teenagers and their social connections mean time is at a premium and an up to four hour daily commute becomes untenable.
There are, of course, exceptions to these generalisations and many will not fit easily into such neat stereotypes. The point is that there is no uniform, same-thinking, overarching Waiheke ‘community’, though there are some areas over which there is general agreement - such as not wanting water and waste-water reticulation because that would mean wholesale development; nurturing the natural environment and caring for the individual areas over which we have responsibility.
It is when there is discourse over the island’s future that the tribes try and assert their particular world view, for example when a District Plan is formulated and its subsequent reviews.
Given that the review of the Hauraki Gulf Islands District Plan (HGIDP) has only recently become operative (2013) after years of consultation and wrangling, and Auckland Council is still going through the process of developing its own Unitary Plan (of which the regional provisions apply to Waiheke), your Local Board should be keeping you informed and up-to-date and looking forward to some conclusions. It is extremely divisive, therefore, that instead of keeping his eye on the ball, elected member John Meeuwsen (who, let’s face it, is only the Board’s front person), should seek to further divide the island into warring factions, over another self-serving, hair-brained scheme for greater power.
Meeuwsen’s tribe looks backwards to a mythical past when Waiheke had its own County Council, where everyone rode around on horseback or in buggies and hung out, chewing the fat over how the pumpkins were doing and the mushrooms were growing. When there were few if any visitors, a subsistence economy and no tourism industry.
Meewsen’s tribe is not my tribe and never will be.
I want to be part of a Waiheke Future where we struggle with the complexities of managing the increasing numbers of people who come here, find solutions and welcome change and the benefits it can bring. I want to enjoy a Waiheke lifestyle with its laid-back (but not lazy) way of approaching the world but also participate as part of a vibrant and growing city.
‘Their Waiheke’ is not ‘My Waiheke’. My Waiheke is ‘Waiheke Future’ not ‘Waiheke Past’.