North v South

The South Island’s home to grumpy, grunting, emotionally-retarded Blue Stratos users. The North’s full of narcissistic Douchelords. Peter Malcouronne — southern boy, now Auckland man — has a foot in both camps.

I’m 12-years-old, playing ping-pong with a mate. After each point — and I’m not always this charmless — I snap Daleklishly “Die Aucklander!” I win the first set and am way ahead in the second when my mate snaps, gets me in a headlock and rams my head into a concrete-block wall. Such are the travails of the Southern Man.

I was born at Dee St Hospital in Invercargill (now sadly, notoriously a McDonald’s). I lived in Bluff until I was two when my father, a Methodist minister, was appointed to Glen Eden in West Auckland. But I didn’t forget where I came from: I faithfully, foolishly supported the Southland rugby team, second-division strugglers who spent most of their time battling Wairarapa Bush. And I became an avowed South Island nationalist: many teenage hours were spent drawing maps of a vast mythical land made up of the extant South Island — and 200,000 sq/km of reclaimed land that stretched out past the Chatham Rise. ‘Great Southern Land’ by Icehouse would be the national anthem.

At family holidays in Gisborne, people would ask me where I came from. And I’d say I was living in Auckland “at the moment”, but that I was from Bluff. For to say otherwise, was to ensure taunts of “Dorklander” or “JAFA” — followed by the invocation of the latte/boatshoes/cellphone troika. However, my Auckland-denialism had little to do with dreary stereotypes: it was more an adolescent desire to stand out from the pack — to be different — whilst simultaneously wanting to be part of a tribe. So I was a Southlander, albeit one who didn’t go back there until I was 18.

That was in 1989. I went with my father. We were welcomed like prodigal sons — three dozen (!) oysters plonked in front of us when we arrived; Dad’s former tennis partner had also dispatched her man into the broiling sub-Antarctic to catch a blue cod. “They look after you down here, my boy,” Dad said. “Southern hospitality it’s called.” He wasn’t wrong. “Just let yourself in,” people would tell us: “The front door’s locked, but the back one’s always open.” Other observations: Southlanders prefer blankets to duvets and always seem to have the radio on. Just chattering away in the background — Radio Foveaux mostly.

I’d just started university and had a couple of Che t-shirts packed away and, very likely, a copy of The Communist Manifesto. Even so, I warmed to these gritty, quietly-decent small “c” conservative Southlanders. Some of them voted for the wrong party — one even had a picture of Muldoon on the mantelpiece — but these were people who mucked in at working bees, baked pikelets for their neighbours, then fixed them up with feeds of fish later on. Good people. My people.

Remember: not all Aucklanders are fraudulent money launderers… or dim, narcissistic DoucheLords.

Dad and I returned to Auckland a fortnight later followed by a most unexpected epiphany. For the first time, I realised I’d come home. This city where I’d grown up — West Auckland specifically — was mine. It wasn’t so bad: not all Aucklanders are selfish slumlord housing speculators who whine on about Nanny State and the RMA and not being allowed to fell all the trees they want.

Just as not all Cantabrians are rednecks who’ll tell you — as I was told in a North Canterbury pub last year — that the problem with Auckland rugby is there “are too many coconuts… You need a white guy in there running the clipper. Even a Maori”. Nor are all Wellingtonians smug, puffed-up, self-styled intellectuals who lounge about in the summer chill listening to National Radio more than is good for them.

And so here I am: a citizen of Auckland, a city with the best beach in the world (O’Neills) and, very likely, the worst architecture. I’m a Westie, a member of the tribe so staunchly represented in the documentary Outrageous Fortune. I feast at Valentines — free — on my birthday. I shall be seeing AC/DC in concert. Twice.

I still support the Stags though. October 2009. I’ve ducked into the carpark at Henderson Pak ’n’ Slave for the week’s shop. There’s a game — Southland versus Canterbury — on the radio. Early in the second half, Southland lead by three points. I decide I’ll listen for another five minutes. Then another five. Then five more… then there are five minutes to go… and then, and then… and then we win! We’ve won the Ranfurly Shield. For the first time since 1959.

I sit there in the dark, listening to the post-match — to the crowd bellowing “Soooooouthlaaaand”. It’s fabulous. I even get a bit teary. By the time it’s all done, the supermarket’s shut.

First published in North & South magazine, March 2010.