After a busy and unusual year, and with the December issue safely printed and distributed in late November, it was time for John and I to head off on our big OE - "Overseas Experience". So, we hitched up our caravan and headed south to cross the Cook Strait.
A highlight and bucket list destination was Stewart Island - not at all what I expected, with mild temperatures, gorgeous golden beaches, crystal clear water, and prolific bird life.
Experiencing bird life up close and personal was magical. Within minutes of landing at Stewart Island we encountered a kereru sleeping on a head-height branch not 2 metres from us, unphased by our presence. And tui apparently showing off to us, always just out of arms reach. We frequently heard bellbird (korimako) song – as my cell-phone ringtone is a bellbird it was quite disconcerting, especially since it’s rare to hear one in Auckland!
At a visit to the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head we observed thousands of red-billed gulls who have made the area their breeding ground. The car park is literally covered in guano – which surprisingly is pink! Apparently, that’s how it should be because these birds’ natural diet is krill, not ‘fish and chips’.
To experience birds, both exotic and native in their natural habitat has been a real pleasure. It’s made me think about the common and kindly-meant practice of ‘feeding the birds’ – usually cheap bread or leftovers from lunch. In years gone by it was a favourite pastime for our family to go and feed the ducks and I guess we felt that we’d ‘helped’ them. It certainly hadn’t occurred to us then that we were doing quite the opposite; the only thing we were helping was to artificially bolster the population.
A visit to NZ Bird Rescue in Green Bay this week was an enlightening experience. I saw first-hand some of the ducks currently in care recovering from avian botulism - a widespread problem, particularly at this time of the year. On a single day in January the centre admitted 16 ducks suffering from this horrible illness. The toxin produced from botulism causes paralysis, often resulting in the bird drowning.
One of the things that contribute to this is bread rotting in ponds.
I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘bird-lover’, but perhaps I am. I don’t love that there are swarms of pigeons and ducks defecating around our house, but I really enjoy the tuis feeding off our flax and bottlebrush, and to hear the moreporks (ruru) in the bush at night.
Perhaps what I really love is nature in balance.
What will be your enduring memories from this unprecedented year? The year in which COVID-19 was an excuse for anything that didn’t happen.
Running a community paper gives one a great perspective on how much never happened in the aftermath of two lockdowns. Calendars wiped clean and at times there were no events to cover.
This has meant that Kerrie and I have had to go out more and find stories to include in the Beacon. We have done more controversial stories in greater depth than before. The upside is that we have enjoyed making stronger connections in the community. We have also worked together on the paper more closely than ever before, which has mainly been a good thing!
Like most media, it has been a challenging year financially. Beacon is about as low cost an operation as it is possible to be. We would have ended this year in the red if it had not been for the support of our advertisers, sponsors and COVID-19 relief from the government.
Running on this knife edge is why there are some stories that you either will not see in the Beacon, or they will only get a passing mention. There are many large council and government organisations that employ armies of comms and PR people and they produce, at great expense, the stories about the million-dollar projects in our community. But they are unwilling to sponsor those stories or place advertisements, instead expecting us to personally subsidise them for hundreds of dollars a page. Nope. Not happening. We would rather tell the stories that are about you, not about them.
Next up is Christmas and the quintessential kiwi summer. What will that look like without international tourism and kiwis (under house arrest) in NZ? We are about to find out! COVID-19 lockdowns have already caused a lot of domestic stress in finances and relationships, so perhaps this year we will not see the usual summer spike in relationship breakdowns and suicides. Being aware of the potential problems is to be prepared and look after yourself and those that you know and love.
While 2020 has taught us some unexpected lessons, we are over it. Like a smorgasbord, take the things that you liked from the year and leave the rest behind. May 2021 be a lot more boring and yet much happier.
Christmas blessings to you from us.
John and Kerrie Subritzky.
By John Subritzky
It’s fair to say that there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with the way 2020 is turning out. The war on COVID-19 has left many casualties. The government has done its best to cushion the financial blows as well as fighting the virus, but everyone has been affected to some degree. We have all lost almost a year of our ‘normal’ life. Families separated across borders have had an especially difficult time, and as one ages it becomes more apparent that there is a limited supply of years available.
Personally, what has impacted me is seeing event calendars wiped clean – twice. This has affected the club I work with, the organisations that I volunteer with and most significantly, with the Beacon. As a community paper a lot of our content relates to local events, schools and organisations. How do you fill a paper when those stories are not coming in? You must go out and find stories and write them up, so I have become a lot more involved in writing than before.
Recently my friend Gary Colville wrote about the seasons of life compared to the seasons in nature.
Autumn can be a time of letting things go – even things that have served us well. He says “Maybe you have had to let go of some things like a relationship, job aspirations, a profession, money goals, or you may have realised that you need to shift in the way you think, relate or behave around people.” Dark clouds and winds of adversity can cause insecurity.
Winter can be uncomfortable. 2020 feels like a long winter to endure for many of us. With trials come opportunities to gain strength to overcome the next challenges. Conversely, we can prolong our pain if we are unwilling to change, to let go, to forgive.
Spring starts slowly and can still feel like winter. Some people live in a prolonged winter of life if they are unwilling to let go of the old instead of preparing for new growth. When we feel fresh and alive, we can look forward to summer with hope.
For summer, Gary says “It is a place of warmth, laughter, freedom, adventure, empowerment and fruitfulness. Oh, what glorious, powerful satisfaction is waiting for those who are willing to be reclaimed, reshaped and renewed during autumns and winters. Our summers will be long, pleasant, fruitful and satisfying.”
Life is too short to be living in an endless personal winter. With determination and the help of those we know and love, we can grow into a summer of freedom. I trust that you have the hope of a satisfying summer in your life.
Is this the deal of the century? The government enables the racing industry to ask the Avondale Jockey Club (AJC) to hand over the Avondale Racecourse - which is the club’s private property - to the industry body. The racing industry can then sell the land and pocket the estimated $300 million. The AJC gets…nothing. That is one sweet deal for one of them.
The winds of change are blowing through the derelict old public stand at Avondale Racecourse. The beleaguered Avondale Jockey Club is in a David and Goliath battle for survival. The AJC is an incorporated society with about 250 mainly older members. A good race day sees about 400 people at the course. In recent years the club has struggled to produce an annual cash surplus, but now the existence of the club is under threat because they own about 30 hectares of prime Auckland real estate. The land could be worth $300 million and has no significant debt or encumbrances.
Since their first race day meeting on Saturday 26 April 1890, the club has overcome many difficulties, but now a plan has been produced from the highest levels of government to take their assets without compensation.
The 2018 Messara Report proposed radical changes. Patronage at racecourses is in free fall and racing is facing strong competition from overseas sports betting. The NZ racing industry is already undergoing huge structural reform and in May it was bailed out by the government with a $72.5m emergency rescue package. Most of this was needed to pull the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA), which operates the TAB, back from imminent insolvency. "Of the immediate grant, $26 million will be used by RITA to pay its outstanding supplier bill, which it hasn't been able to do because of strangled revenue," Minister of Racing, Winston Peters said.
The Racing Industry Bill is currently working its way through parliament. It is expected to be passed into law before the September election. A significant part of the bill deals with how to take over assets from about fifteen racecourses nationwide that are deemed to be surplus to industry needs. The mainly provincial tracks have minimal capital value, but Avondale is the massive exception.
The racing reforms will be mainly paid for by declaring Avondale racecourse to be surplus and sold, with the proceeds “transferred” to the racing industry. The AJC, the Avondale community and West Auckland are expected to cover the cost of nationwide reforms that will benefit even the well-off clubs like Ellerslie and Cambridge. The result that Avondale gets is that we will lose 30ha of open green space, ten sports fields, and the venue for the iconic Avondale Markets. The Whau Ward already has one of the lowest ratios of green space of any ward in the city.
A select committee reviewed the bill and there was significant concern expressed about the provisions for asset transfers. Several specific protections would require the Minister to consider whether there are special circumstances regarding the use of the surplus venue by the community, including not-for-profit use and historic donations of land made to the venue by the community. It is doubtful that any of the nine proposed conditions apply to Avondale. If agreement is not reached, then a reviewer can be appointed to go through the issues. Failing agreement, then an Order in Council can be made taking the assets.
Another criterion for club dissolution and transfer of assets to the racing industry is that the club is deemed to be no longer racing by not holding a race day for two years. The irony is that clubs who wish to race are now being denied race days in the coming season calendar by RITA. How can a club stay active if it is not allowed to host races? Along with fifteen other clubs, Avondale has been excluded from the calendar.
The AJC had already felt like the unwanted relative after previous discrimination. They had fought industry attempts to close the track in 2008-2009. The lucrative weekend profit sharing race days were taken away and AJC was left with the minor midweek races that were only expected to break even. Their season was progressively shortened. Fixtures were reduced from fifteen race days in 2015 to twelve race days in the following two seasons. Then last season there were only nine race days – the lowest possible level under the NZ Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) funding model. Now there might never be another horse on the track.
Unlike weekend races where clubs get a commission for on-course betting, there is neutral income from holding weekday racing as AJC Treasurer Tracey Berkahn explains: “NZTR’s policy that drives racing activity, applying to all racetracks in New Zealand, is a ‘command model’ designed to achieve various outcomes, including that clubs holding weekday events (‘industry days’) break even on those days and generate no income for themselves. For Avondale JC (and many others) commissions for the club from the level of on-course betting are non-existent.”
It is mind-boggling that 180 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, that now in 2020 there is a brand new law being passed to enable private property to be acquired with no compensation by the Crown on behalf of a government regulated sporting code. New Zealand has spent three decades working through trying to redress other historic injustices so why create new ones where private property rights are extinguished without compensation?
The only dissent on the review committee was from the Green Party who added a minority view:
The Green Party acknowledges the almost one-quarter of submitters who raised important concerns about Subpart 2 of the bill, allowing the Minister to approve the transfer of assets and “surplus” venues from a local club to the racing industry. The committee heard very strong opposition from many country clubs, in particular, who are largely sustained by their local communities and who fiercely dispute the view that they are a drain on the industry as a whole.
We heard different visions for the future of racing in Aotearoa New Zealand: one that embraces a diversity of racecourses and supports trainers and community participation around the country, and another more heavily invested in a smaller number of “strategic” venues providing all-weather tracks and high-stake races. A majority of submitters, who are less likely to be negatively affected by any transfer of assets, supported the second view. There is a very clear disagreement within the industry that needs to be resolved, and is not, in our view, convincingly resolved by the evidence. The Green Party believes industry leaders need to better engage with and understand the role and value of smaller clubs within the industry as a whole as well as their communities.
It really is starting to look like the AJC is doomed. The Racing Industry Bill reflects the New Zealand First Party policy on racing. This policy is part of the Coalition Agreement that put Labour into power. Winston Peters is Minister of Racing and he is the sponsor of the Bill. As Minister, he will be making the decisions on club asset transfers once the bill is passed into law.
Deborah Russell, MP for New Lynn, wants to retain some of the community use of the site. In June 2019 she said that her major concern was protecting community amenities such as sports facilities and the markets based at the site. Beacon asked her how this could be achieved politically, and Deborah responded that as a back-bench MP, she has limited options. The reality is that even the Prime Minister could be unable to prevent the sacrifice of the AJC without destabilising the coalition government.
At Auckland Council level, the property arm Panuku has been foreshadowing the conversion of the racecourse into higher density housing. Panuku’s Avondale Town Centre Regeneration plan 2017 looked at the AJC site’s strategic value for a quality master planned development. In the interim a specific proposal was that connections to Avondale would be created to future proof access should that area need to be developed.
Cr Tracy Mulholland, Whau Ward, has championed the development of a council pool and recreation centre. Last term, $105 million was provisioned for this over the next decade. Acquiring part of the racecourse land would be an ideal opportunity to lock this project in as part of the Avondale town centre redevelopment. It would be another slap in the face to Avondale ratepayers though if they had to buy the land back once it was transferred to the racing industry.
The racecourse saga is rapidly gaining momentum with a range of possible buyers lining up to profit from the misfortune of the AJC. Politicians also want to be seen to be advancing the housing development of the racecourse. The only certainty is that there will be little if any green space left if the land is developed for intensive housing. The Kainga Ora proposal for 236 new apartments for Highbury Triangle is one example. Development of apartments up to 12 floors on the similar sized 28ha Unitech site in Mt Albert also show how it could work out as the future of Avondale.
With the likely changes to the racecourse there could be positives for the racing industry and for the ongoing redevelopment of Avondale, but at what cost to the AJC and local people?
By John Subritzky
In coming years, people will ask you about your memories of the global pandemic and how it affected you. We are living through a history-making period right now!
Your answer will depend a lot on your personal circumstances, especially your health and employment. The bigger picture is how society and government may change. After government intervention in many areas of our lives for months, will there be a shift away from private enterprise being so influential to more state activity?
This issue of the Beacon marks our four-year anniversary. We truly hope that we can continue to publish in the coming months. We are small local fish in a big nationwide pond.
We have seen recently how vulnerable the top tier of privately owned media is in New Zealand. Bauer Media dramatically exited its dominant position early on crashing many much loved magazine titles. Next up NZME offered to buy Stuff for $1 which was rebuffed. Mediaworks (incl. TV3) has been up for sale for a long time with no buyers and the television arm could be closed.
The media shock wave has finally woken up government and local bodies to the risk of losing NZ media. Indeed the public sector has contributed to the crisis by being entranced with vanity metrics of clicks on campaigns that send advertising revenue offshore to Google and Facebook in their tax havens. Recently the public bodies have returned to support local simply by allocating some budget onshore. That support is evidenced in this issue.
The strength that local and hyperlocal print like Beacon has is a loyal and engaged audience who want to read stories about the people and the place where they live. We know because of feedback we receive regularly from people just like you, that the Beacon is widely read and enjoyed in the community. We are committed to continuing to publish for as long as we can still meet our costs because we love what we do and we love being part of this community.
As you can see, our advertisers are a vital and integral part of the Beacon. We can’t publish without them. Businesses are as much a part of our community as you are. So please choose to use them when you can, and let them know that you saw their advert in the Beacon.
Thanks for reading this issue and for all your support. We would love to hear from you with your comments and feedback.
by Kerrie Subritzky
At the time of writing (20 March), the whole world faces an unprecedented challenge with the coronavirus. We have had far worse plagues in the past but the worldwide impact on daily life and financial stability is new territory. We are in uncertain times for a period, but life will come back to ‘normal’ for most.
In the meantime, let’s be diligent about voluntary precautions to ensure this pandemic doesn’t get a foothold in our country. Surely it’s worth the inconvenience and discomfort of a few weeks self-isolation to shorten the timespan and potentially save lives? And remember to reach out with kindness to neighbours who may need help, especially the more vulnerable.
For the second year in a row, ANZAC commemorations have been cancelled. However, we feel it’s important to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, and so we chose a local ANZAC story as our lead article. We hope you enjoy the read.
We are very grateful to be able to produce this issue of the Beacon – it very nearly didn’t happen, but it’s important to us to keep publishing if we can, despite difficult times. With virtually every special event and regular community gathering cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19 precautions, our What’s Happening pages quickly became irrelevant.
But it was the downturn in advertising that had the most effect. Despite this we managed to pull together a “little Beacon” according to the constraints of our budget. Our grateful thanks to our advertisers.
Many businesses will be hurting right now, but if we can all just hang on, batten down the hatches, and take precautionary measures, “this too shall pass”.
Update 26 March 2020:
This time last week I was working against the clock to get our April issue out. It was to be a much smaller size - a "little Beacon" due to virtually every event being cancelled ahead of growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Well, I won that battle against time, but not the next one. Unfortunately our April edition which was printed last weekend, is now gathering dust in a warehouse in Wiri. And it's not going anywhere until we are all clear of this virus.
Our distributors, Ovato, tentatively say deliveries will resume around 25 April, but we all know this "new normal" is going to last a bit longer than that.
Fortunately, the April edition could easily fall into the 'evergreen' category. That is, the articles contained in it will still be relevant in a couple of months, or longer in most cases.
We have sent it out to our subscribers by email, and it is now also available online, but will need to wait and see what happens with the print copies. I did manage to personally deliver around 800 copies to retirement villages, and about 100 to Countdown Blockhouse Bay early this week, so there are a few floating about the community.
We won't be publishing a May edition, but will keep you updated with any developments beyond that.
If you'd like to stay updated, subscribe here to my email list.
Stay safe, and stay sane out there.
By Kerrie Subritzky
There’s a lot happening out there in our corner of Auckland, and this issue of the Beacon reflects the diversity of activity and interest in our community, and beyond!
March is traditionally a time when extra emphasis is put on our environment. Coming up this month we have the annual EcoFest West to look forward to, spanning from 21st March to 19th April. Check out our back page for more about the festival, and make sure you go to their website which has details about all the fabulous events you can attend. There will be something for everyone, young and old!
By Kerrie Subritzky
Many of our readers will be aware of the Beacon’s history and watched its progress over the past three-and-a-half years since its first issue in June 2016. However, as we have recently welcomed New Lynn and Avondale to our readership, I thought it’s high time we introduced ourselves properly.
The Beacon was formerly Newstalk Blockhouse Bay, and was started by Brom Breetvelt from Words Communications. It had been serving the population of Blockhouse Bay for about 21 years before John and I took it over. We renamed it Beacon Blockhouse Bay as we felt it would only be a matter of time before NewsTalk ZB took issue with the name (despite Brom having it first!)
While we were thinking of a new name, my dad Geoff Brebner, who grew up in Avondale, mentioned that when he was a teenager in the fifties there was a newspaper called The Avondale Advance and Blockhouse Bay Beacon. Blockhouse Bay Beacon seemed like the perfect fit for us and so it was.
As we expanded our little paper into New Lynn and Avondale, we decided it was time to just be the Beacon, as we want all our readers to feel that this is their local paper. It’s going to take time to make the community connections in the new part of our circulation, and that’s where we need your help.
We believe a local printed publication like the Beacon is one of the foundations of a strong and connected community. Reading stories about regular people just like us, keeping up with local events and having a publication that the public truly can contribute to is important. And “online” just doesn’t cut it. There’s an integrity about print that just doesn’t exist online.
The Beacon is all about community and our aim is to tell the stories of our neighbourhood. In years to come we’d like people to be able to look back through our many editions and see snapshots of life as it was for us then. As a monthly publication we can’t really be ‘first with the news’, but we can tell the stories of everyday people, and keep you informed of what’s happening in the community.
To that end I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to our readers, both familiar and new, and invite you to let me know what’s happening in your part of the community. So many of you are involved in interesting stuff; clubs and organisations, schools, sports teams and the like. We’d like to hear from you, and tell your stories in the Beacon.
In fact, in the February edition we are planning a clubs and organisations feature to showcase the opportunities locals have to get involved in something. If you’d like your organisation to be part of this, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also go on my monthly email list to stay updated with when to get your ideas in to me.
By John Subritzky
Today as I write this (mid-October), it is a very significant day for one mum. The sun is setting on what would have been this mum’s son’s birthday.
Kerrie and I are on a long-planned cruise. A few days ago we shared a dinner table with two sisters from Australia. In the following days we kept bumping into each other. It was only after we talked about our son attending the funeral of a school friend in Nelson who died tragically, that their story emerged.
One of the sisters, let’s call her “Jane”, had some years ago discovered that her son was in danger of taking his own life. The only way that she could access professional help in the state system in Australia was to prove that he was serious about ending his life. What a crazy system! Anyway, she cracked the pin code on his phone and photographed a conversation that he was having with his friend. Long story short, she got an intervention, her son came through it and years later he is doing just fine.
The second sister, “April”, was not so fortunate. Her son took his life totally without warning. That was four years ago, days before his birthday. His birthday is today. April relied on the support of her sister Jane to help get her through the crisis. They are both on the cruise with us today. I can’t imagine what is going on for them.
Of the two stories, one person had the opportunity to intervene. Jane picked up on something and acted. Everyone needs to have their antenna up and be aware of what people close to them are going through. Sadly, many people do not give any hint of what is going on inside, but for those that do, let’s be there for them!
As parents away on the other side of the planet from our son, we were concerned about how he was processing the loss of a very close friend. Although awkward, knowing to ask the vital question of whether he was considering ending his own life and being reassured that he was not, was so comforting to us when we were so far away from him.
Michael Hempseed from Christchurch, says in his book Being a True Hero – understanding and preventing suicide in your community, “I run suicide prevention seminars all over New Zealand. Most people who attend say they expected the seminars to be like pulling teeth, yet when they actually came to it, they went away feeling hopeful. Every single person on the planet will almost certainly encounter someone who is suicidal in their lifetime; how you respond to that person may be the difference between life and death.
I’ve met so many different people and the topic of mental illness is almost universal. I have met many people, the world over, who say “I want to do something to help those with mental illness. If I ever encounter someone who is suicidal, I would want to be able to help, but I don’t know what to do or where to start.” This book will empower you to recognise the signs of mental illness, distress and suicidal behaviour, offer support where you can and to refer someone to professional help when necessary.”
by Kerrie Subritzky
September's Beacon was a huge challenge to produce, not just because it was of epic proportions - 50% more pages than usual, and 75% more copies printed (yes, our print run is now 23,300!) ...
No. It was because for the first time ever we missed our print deadline!
We had some “technical difficulties” which caused us to miss our slot in the print queue, which caused us to miss our spot in the overnight truck, which meant I had to get up at 5am to drive to Beacon Print (no relation!) in Whakatane to pick it up and get it to our Auckland distributors.
My mum offered to come along for the ride, and turned out she was quite handy when it came to loading the vehicle - I had anticipated there would be a few guys who could do their thing and load us up in ten minutes or so while we found a cafe, but sadly, no. The lads of the outfit had the morning off so it was down to the chicks - me, Taryn from Beacon Print, and my elderly mum (don't tell her I said 'elderly') - who formed a chain gang of three to load the 920kg of Beacons into the vehicle and trailer.
We lumbered off with our load and called in to Waitakaruru on the Hauraki Plains to hand-deliver a copy to my dad (who was starring on the front cover). He was pretty chuffed.
As I slowly recovered from the massive effort of that week, privately lamenting over some typos and the layout not being quite how I had planned it, I was grateful that those on the receiving end of the Beacon (you!) were blissfully unaware of the turbulent events that preceded delivery.
There’s always a silver lining in every cloud, and it often makes a great story!