Sunday, 13 March 2011

Give Me Land, Lots of Land

Leading his goat to glory:
a competitor at the 2011 Kumeu Show.
“The country is closer than you think”, said a billboard for this weekend’s Kumeu Show. It’s a catchy slogan, not meant for deep analysis, and sadly it’s only true in relation to the limits of urban sprawl: it doesn’t stand up when I think how long it takes to drive from my bungalow in the ’burbs to areas that appear untouched by a developer’s dreams or a town-planner’s schemes.

In the years I’ve headed northwest to Taupaki, Kumeu, Huapai, Riverhead and Waimauku — names from the map charting the way to Muriwai surf-beach — urban Auckland has expanded and the rural idyll has receded. Vineyards of the west have disappeared or started to straggle, and at the end of the Northwestern Motorway, Westgate has arrived. The latter may sound like Stargate and Watergate combined, but it claims to be “the thriving retail and entertainment hub of Auckland’s Northwest corridor... a statement in convenience, accessibility and variety”.

This weekend, my partner and I decided to go to the Kumeu Show. The organisers say this agricultural and horticultural event held annually in the late summer is the largest show in the southern hemisphere, and it’s been attracting townies like me for at least 40 years. (This I know, as my dad took me when I was a kid.)

There’s something special about checking out the chooks, admiring the axemen and noting the newest shearing techniques while eating hot chips out of a paper cup. And for those who want it, there’s all the fun of the fair: ye olde Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, haunted house, shooting gallery, Dodgems, and the open-mouthed clowns whose operator turns their heads.

There’s no need to promote the show to locals. They know it’s coming and presumably choose between clearing out, hunkering down at home, or entering some of the numerous competitions that A&H (or A&P) shows are known for: Adult Jams and Jellies, Novelty Animal from Vegetables and/or Fruit, or Giant Decorative Dahlias, to name but three on Kumeu’s schedule for “indoor exhibitors”.

I wanted, of course, to check out not only the chooks (etc) but also the local library and the locale. With Kumeu officially part of Auckland rather than Rodney District, as it was before November 2010, its public library is one of the 55-plus I can now borrow from — part of this latitude of libraries that I blog about.

A scare at the fun fair part of
Kumeu Show.
(Photo: Carol)
Giant marrows have their uses:
an indoor exhibit and winner.
Things became confusing on our Saturday morning drive when we reached the end of the motorway stretch of State Highway 16. Roadworks have gone on at that intersection for ages now, and every time I drive through (quarterly, at least), the lanes and directions seem radically different. But we made it through, still facing north-west.  

 Past George’s Strawberry Garden we went, past Soljans Estate Winery (whose carpark snared us during a prime-ministerial cavalcade a few years back), past... hang on: where did that massive roundabout come from? And that one? There they were, like crop circles placed by aliens in the night — except they’d arrived in the middle of the road rather than a paddock, and presumably exemplified increasing road use and urban sprawl rather than some inexplicable part of farming folklore.

We called in to the library before going to the show, as the former closes at 1pm on a Saturday and the latter goes on all day. The Kumeu Public Library is just past the place it’s named for; it’s at Huapai. I struggle to understand how two villages can keep their names while snuggling so close as to be on top of each other, but perhaps the local history I’ve since borrowed will explain.

Doug Armstrong, a local mayor and former TV presenter, opened the Main Road library and accompanying council offices in 1998 (the year Westgate came to be). It still seems brand spanking new, which is not to say it’s not well used: I get the feeling it is, though when we visitors from Avondale strolled in to the near-empty building just after it opened, the staff lamented that this was not a typical Saturday. Locals, they said, had called in during the week to avoid the show-related traffic jams.

A younger library user stands on his
own two feet.
(Photo: Carol)
 This library has a semi-circular design, with windows out to lush green grass. Inside, it’s as neat as a new pin. Around the curve are chairs, the practical but accommodating café type that’s designed to make you stay (and buy more coffee, or in this case browse more books). Displays are immaculate; everything looks carefully shelved; signs, notices and pamphlets are everywhere, but each is in its place. And oh, joy: the computerised catalogue is clearly identified. At many libraries, I find it hard to distinguish between computers for consulting the catalogue and those for general use of the internet, though of course there can be an overlap.

Some of the orderliness I saw at Kumeu may be common to all the former Rodney District’s seven libraries — this is the first I’ve visited — but I suspect somebody on staff has a very tidy mind. Perhaps it’s the friendly person who leapt to adjust the Pasifika display (an Auckland-wide library initiative, timed for the festival) before Carol photographed it to show her West Auckland school.

What did I expect to see at the Kumeu library? Farming stuff. Viticulture and the like. Muddy gumboots. They weren’t in evidence. Instead there was Pasifika, a display of books on how to “Get that job”, a crimescene-themed display of thrillers making good use of a desk (one of several individual workspaces tucked into an alcove, though in full view).

But why should an area that lives and dies with its boots on (be they gumboots or riding boots) have “farming country” stamped all over its library? People in Kumeu, its sibling villages and hamlets have enough of that without falling over it in a place they go to escape. Besides, the sort of books you might expect in a rural library are present, filed in the correct Dewey Decimal order.

Pasifika at Kumeu. (Photo: Carol)

Teen book covers displayed.
On the shelf at 636.5 I chanced upon a good wodge of books on keeping chickens, and the library catalogue has 17 such listings linked with the Kumeu branch. That’s more than you might expect in its suburban equivalent — though with chickens described as “the new black” at the Kumeu Show, Auckland’s EcoDay and even Facebook, this may be debatable. Are they the urban greenie’s chihuahua? Perish the thought! (That’s a quote whose source is in Oxford Reference Online, to which you can log-in using your library card.)   

As do other Auckland public libraries, Kumeu offers free computer and internet use, though in this case it’s courtesy of the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa. The latter is is not some hippie/commie/separatist/peacenik outfit — God forbid, in the true-blue Prime Minister’s electorate — but a national and public libraries initiative to implement the government’s “Digital Strategy”.

I imagine Kumeu availed itself of APNK’s largesse before the district became part of “Auckland”, but the library staff clearly appreciate the increase in resources that the region’s single network of libraries has made available. The reference librarian, who came across as a great networker, talked of access to more collections of books (including Waitakere Libraries’ collections spanning 45 languages other than English), more reference databases, more everything. This, she and the others intimated, could only be good for local people.

We spent an hour at the library before making our way to the showgrounds. There we paid $15 apiece and a few bucks for refreshments to wander, experiencing sights, sounds, smells and tastes into the early afternoon. In the photos we took that day, the show stole the show — that’s what these things are for — but I enjoyed the Kumeu library just as much. I couldn’t help wishing it would tear up its Saturday timetable and stay open after 1pm: what I would have given to sink into one of those library chairs after all that walking about... 

Kumeu library: a place to rest
as well as read. (Photo: Carol)

For a recent rundown on Rodney District population and development, check out this story in the Rodney Times.


  1. That vegetable marrow creature is really something! My mother would have made chocolate cake with that vegetable... about the only other good use possible.

  2. Yes, it would be good if "more everything" could include more hours of weekend opening. Both you and Wendy have commented on squeezing in enough time before a library closes.

  3. I guess extended hours need to be based on reasonable estimates of how much more the library would be used — oh, now I'm sounding like a bean counter!

    I've never forgotten how, when Borders opened in Auckland CBD, they were open late every evening and I wished the library could be too. But I understand that there are limitations. I just hope that we will all use this community resource we call a library as much as possible.