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Grey Lynn as it used to be

Wednesday 4th December 2013

Grey Lynn, in central Auckland, used to be known as a gritty working class suburb with a strong Polynesian community. Now, three decades later, it's better known for its cafés and a median house price that sits around the $1 million mark. Dominic Hoey, also known as rapper and poet Tourettes, tells of the suburb he grew up in.

In 1980, when I was three years old my family moved to Grey Lynn. Our new home was a three bedroom villa with yellow paint flaking off its weatherboards. The high ceilings were decorated with ornate plaster patterns and black mould, spreading out like giant spiders web and in winter the wind made the wallpaper balloon

Had you told me back then that the houses on those streets lined with rusted cars from the '60s and half dead trees would one day fetch over a million dollars I would have thought you crazy. Grey Lynn was a place where children and dogs alike were left to their own devices, wandering the streets until hunger drove them home. Where someone, a refugee from the many halfway houses that were spread through the community was always yelling on the street about some injustice, real or imagined. Where violence was the answer to most problems. Where cars disappeared without a trace and the distinctive pop of CFC cans exploding could be heard echoing across the valley when people burnt their rubbish. 

Dominic Hoey: Back in the 1980s Grey Lynn was a place where children and dogs alike were left to their own devices.
Dominic Hoey: Back in the 1980s Grey Lynn was a place where children and dogs alike were left to their own devices.

Eddy Fifield/The Wireless

At the top of my street was Grey Lynn Primary School. Despite failing to learn to read or write within the beige prefabs I was introduced to the cultures of my classmates. At an early age I could say hello, goodbye and swear in Tongan, Samoan, Maori and Niuean. If you happen across a photo of the Grey Lynn primary cultural group circa 1985, I’m the chubby white kid in the lava lava. Ironically when we did interviews for the video I couldn’t track down a single one of my Polynesian or Maori friends from school. Which speaks volumes of the homogenised make-up of today's Grey Lynn residents (and my poor internet skills).

Much of my formative years were spent at the spacie parlour on Surrey Crescent. Like many of my peers I was addicted to games like Double Dragon and Raiden, feeding the large wooden arcade machines 20 cent pieces until I either ran out of money or was forced off by the older kids. The arcade, the name of which escapes me, was a glorified corridor with machines lining both walls. It smelt of cigarettes and piss and a juke box played the hits of the day while we battled aliens and street gangs.

Today the school has a top decile rating, the arcade has become a Dominos, and if you can find a room for less than 200 a week you probably don’t have windows.

Most of my friends don’t live in New Zealand, let alone Grey Lynn, and I rarely go there.

I miss aspects of what it was but not others, being part of a community was cool, getting punched in the face every other week was not so much. 

Grey Lynn definitely shaped me as an artist and person, and while it continues to inspire my work, this inspiration comes from memories rather than what the suburb is today.

Dominic interviews his mother, Vicky King and two childhood mates, Lubin Rains and Elliott Francis Stewart about how Grey Lynn used to be:

Video produced by Eddy Fifield.

This content is brought to you with funding assistance from New Zealand On Air.

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