My Hometown: Auckland

A view of Auckland city from Mt Eden.
From My Hometown, 8:00 am on 13 January 2024

Auckland, the City of Sales, Queen City, also known as Tāmaki Makaurau. 

We’re the biggest city in Aotearoa, a super city you could say. Born on 30 January 1840, we are an Aquarius (trust me, this explains a lot). We’re intellectual, creative, independent and don’t like being told what to do. Also, according to the stars, we’re not incredibly social, at least not when compared to the rest of the country.

Auckland’s home to 1.6 million people and they’re not all European settlers. We have the largest ethnic Polynesian population in the world (take that, Brisbane). With immigration comes culture. The finest dining you’ll find in the southern hemisphere is here; I’m talking of course about Evelina’s Polynesian Food in Clendon Park, with Lil Abner’s in Papatoetoe taking a close second place.  

I am a second-generation immigrant, something I’m equally proud of and grateful for. In the late 70’s my father migrated here from our ancestral lands of Samoa. He came here on his own, worked three jobs, eventually affording a home (a feat I will never amount to achieving) and starting a family. This isn’t a unique story; many other immigrants have come here over the past decade for work, family or church. Auckland was the land of milk and honey. 

So'omalo Iteni Schwalger with a Samoan flag.

So'omalo Iteni Schwalger: "My father, fresh off the boat, lived in Morningside. Today we’d be lucky to afford parking there." Photo: So'omalo Iteni Schwalger

Was is the key word here. Life here was sold as something other than the reality. Although the dark period of the dawn raids happened nationwide, the effects were particularly felt in Auckland where the majority of Pasifika called home. These experiences have impacted communities to this day.

Gentrification has led to far less diversity in certain neighbourhoods. Places like Ponsonby and Grey Lynn were once home to many Pasifika families, now they are far and few between. My father, fresh off the boat, lived in Morningside. Today we’d be lucky to afford parking there. As of present day, we’ve been pushed further and further from the city centre. 

I was born and raised in Glenfield, a predominantly European neighbourhood. It was excruciatingly clear brown people were in short supply. Regardless of this, we forged our own communities on the shore and strived. I moved from the north when I was 17, and I don’t think many people know the genuine heartbreak of not being able to afford a home in the neighbourhood you grew up in. I’ll probably never return to living in Glenfield because of it. However, I’m grateful that now living in south Auckland, I’m greeted with an ethnoscape more recognisable, and far more welcoming. 

Educate to Liberate mural in south Auckland.

"Living in south Auckland, I’m greeted with an ethnoscape more recognisable, and far more welcoming." Photo: So'omalo Iteni Schwalger

Samoa will always be home, but out south feels about as close to that as I can get without a plane ticket. That’s not to say Pasifika culture is the only culture on display. South Auckland is home to many backgrounds and they’re proudly represented on every street corner, in every school, at every barbershop. The diversity is arguably what makes south Auckland feel so welcoming to me. It’s something that Auckland as a whole lacks, and would benefit greatly from.

Unfortunately, most Aucklanders only know us from music, sports and the occasional news headline, I feel for people who haven’t gotten to experience the level of community that only south Auckland can provide. Get down to Clendon, get yourself a steak and cheese, and try tell me this place doesn’t rule. 

If you want to get to know Aucklanders as a whole, catch a train. I’ll never forget the day Harry Styles came to town. The moment that train arrived at Britomart it was sardine-stacked with fans dressed to the nines. By the time we reached Newmarket, there was little room to stand. The sheer vocal disapproval of school kids as the train pulled into their stop, only for them to discover there was no room for them to get on, magical. Aucklanders don’t like change, and we hate having to wait for the next train just as much. It’s nothing personal against Harry Styles’ fans either, it’s just Auckland.  

Eden Park on game day.

Aucklanders are united by knowing that their teams are better than the competition, no matter what the game is, Schwalger says. Photo: So'omalo Iteni Schwalger

Getting on a train to Eden Park on game day is an atmosphere like none other. Free public transport means it’s packed to the brim with loyal supporters. We don’t have any sort of synergy, no chants, there’s no jeering, just a firm internal understanding that we’re better than whoever the away team is. 

For all it’s faults and flaws, I love Auckland. Auckland Anniversary is better than Christmas to me, it’s the best public holiday of the year by far. Our Super Rugby team? The toughest. Our trains? A cultural experience. Volcanoes? We have the most. You like beaches? Long Bay baby. Move out the way Cuba Street! Karangahape Road coming through. Look, you just can’t beat Auckland on a good day, my friends.  

So'omalo Iteni Schwalger is a presenter on RNZ's TAHI podcast.

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