Counties-Manukau essays



Bruce Ringer

Graffiti has been a serious problem in Manukau City for at least three decades. In March 1980, at the opening of the Mangere Boystown, Councillor Colin Bidois noted that Manukau City Council had spent more than $17,000 on eradicating graffiti the previous year.

About October 1984 ‘bombing’ – outbreaks of widespread and rapidly executed graffiti, often using fluorescent paint – came to Manukau, probably inspired by a film called Beat Street and in imitation of the so-called ‘street cultures’ of New York. In March 1985 Metro magazine published an article naming Otara Town Centre Auckland’s “graffiti capital”.

In March 1990 Manukau City Council established a task force on graffiti. About the same time, as if issuing a challenge, taggers defaced Otahuhu’s First World War memorial. The task force’s proposed strategies included stronger police action, graffiti-buster patrols, and commissioned murals. Graffiti was now spreading to so-called “better” areas such as Beachlands and Maraetai. In 1994 came the first calls to limit the sale of spray cans.

The graffiti situation was probably not helped by the release of Lee Tamahori’s film, Once Were Warriors, in May 1994. This featured scenes set in identifiable Mangere and Otara localities adorned with old cars, rubbish and extra graffiti provided by the filmmakers themselves.

Tagging, by now more common than bombing or graffiti ‘art’, was still regarded as a minor misdemeanour. In July 1996 almost two decades of relative tolerance came to end when local police for the first time charged a tagger under the Crimes Act (he received a light non-custodial sentence and was soon back in business). By 1996 the annual cost of graffiti eradication in Manukau had reached $347,000.

On 22 May 1999 citizens’ frustrations boiled over at an anti-graffiti ‘summit meeting’ in the Manukau City Council administration building. This led to the expansion of voluntary clean-up efforts around the city. At the same time official sponsorship of graffiti murals continued. On the first day of the new Millennium artist Jason Mokotupu completed a commissioned work depicting the “energy of the day” on the walls of the Hayman Park toilet block. (Like most such works, this was itself soon tagged, and has long since been painted over.)

For some years significant anti-tagging work was undertaken by volunteers of Keep Manukau Beautiful and similar organisations. This work was taken over by the Manukau Beautification Charitable Trust in December 2001.
The Trust massively and successfully expanded the eradication programme. Other initiatives, however, were working against it. In March 2002, for instance, the opening of a new ‘international standard’ skate park facility in Hayman Park was followed by persistent tagging on nearby footpaths, trees and sculptures. A February 2003 report revealed a major increase in graffiti in Manukau over the previous year; similar increases were reported in Papakura and Otahuhu. Manukau City’s annual graffiti bill now exceeded $1 million.

Manukau City Council began to look for long-term solutions. On 22 November 2005 the Manukau City Council (Control of Graffiti) Bill, seeking stronger penalties for tagging and a ban on the sale of spray paint to minors, was introduced in parliament. It met with support from most parties but bitter opposition from the Maori Party and the Greens.

As the debates continued, the tagging wars expanded. In March 2006 taggers in Pakuranga viciously assaulted a citizen trying to protect his neighbour’s fence and left him lying unconscious in the street. In May 2006 the Pukekohe Youth Centre closed down because of an attack of graffiti. September 2006 was notable both for the launch of a controversial ‘spray art’ mural in the Pacific Events Centre and an outbreak of fluorescent tagging in the once noted beauty spot of Kirk’s Bush, Papakura.

In November 2006 the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, chaired by Labour MP Steve Chadwick, returned an unfavourable report on the graffiti bill. It favoured development of nationwide programme instead. However, amidst widespread concern over Governmental delays, Manukau’s graffiti bill passed its second reading at the end of June 2007. It then stalled.
On 28 January 2008 an alleged tagger was stabbed to death on a Manurewa street. This was a wake-up call. The Government immediately announced the forthcoming release of its long overdue nationwide STOP (Stop Tagging Our Place) strategy. This was formally launched by Prime Minister Helen Clark on 15 February 2008 at the Clendon community centre.

STOP introduced measures that had been under discussion for a decade or more. Whether or not these will succeed is as yet uncertain. What is certain is that no measure can succeed that ignores historical evidence that graffiti results less from socio-economic factors than from malign cultural influences and individual choice.

Graffiti 1.  Graffiti 2.  Graffiti 3.  Graffiti 4.  Graffiti 5.  Graffiti 6.  Graffiti 7.  Graffiti 8.

Photographs of tagging taken on 20 January 2006. (Bruce Ringer, Manukau Research Library/ digital collections)

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For more information: see Manukau’s Journey.

Publication record: first published in Connexions, no. 94, February 2009, p. 11. Revised for publication on the Manukau Libraries website in September 2009.

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