11 Apr 2019

Gun club president resigns after closure order and residents' fears

8:11 am on 11 April 2019

Driving towards Makarau, overlooking the Kaipara Harbour, the views are breathtaking and a world away from the bustle of Auckland. But as soon as you turn into Tuhirangi Road, it becomes obvious that all is not well in this rural paradise.

Protest signs near the gun club.

Protest signs near the gun club. Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

Signs along the roadside read - Stop Shooting! Tuhirangi is sacred land, prior rights belong to us, Environment Court said no!

These are all signs put up by locals vehemently opposed to the Auckland Shooting Club at number 287.

A swastika sprayed on to a shed with protest signs on the neighbouring property to the gun club.

A swastika sprayed on to a shed with protest signs on the neighbouring property to the gun club. Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

Residents have been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the club and allegations have been levelled that its members systematically remove or tear down protest signs, while intimidating messages - including a swastika - are tagged on their properties.

The Court of Appeal yesterday released a judgement forbidding the club from continuing its operations and its president said he's standing down as a result.

John Raffaelli helped set up the Keep the Peace Makarau Valley Group in response to the club's arrival about two-and-a-half years ago.

"They've been parking outside my house 'cause I've got the address for Keep the Peace. And they sit out there, you know, off and on," he said.

"When you walk up to them they drive off and I know it's the gun club because they've got their personalised gun club plates. And the issue I have is they've got guns in the cars. It's like, you don't want to be too aggressive with them or anything 'cause they've got guns."

Whenever a legal decision went against the club - or locals protested its presence - it was followed by retribution.

"Around Christmas, they came up ... at night allegedly possum shooting," he said.

"One of the neighbours phoned the police because there were gunshots and torches down in the gun club area. They're normally not there at night so you kind of worry that someone's down there.

"The police came and reprimanded them, but when they left they had a trailer with them and it was filled with our signs - we've got photographic evidence of that - and they put a swastika up on one of the neighbour's sheds."

Mr Raffaelli said the terrorist attack in Christchurch had amplified the concerns of the small community.

"Directly after the day of that shooting they were up there first thing in the morning with high-powered rifles, shooting.

"They shoot on Christmas Day and I'm anticipating they'll be shooting up there all over Easter. They believe - and this is what he stated - it's his right to shoot and no-one can stop him. So it doesn't count that we might have a personal right to have a nice quiet life."

'If you hear this, you're in range'

A protest sign at the club which was destroyed.

A protest sign at the club which was destroyed. Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

Another local, who RNZ agreed not to name because she feared retribution, said they had received threatening messages.

"[A sign said], 'If you hear this, you're in range'. Alongside a swastika. And at the same time, we had a sign that said, 'Quiet, babies are sleeping'. That had been ripped off and ripped up.

"And it just felt threatening. It made me wonder, who are the people behind this? What else could they do?"

Auckland Shooting Club's Chris Gee told RNZ he resigned as the club's president yesterday in the wake of the Court of Appeal decision.

He moved to reassure the Makarau community that they were not in danger.

"All I can say is that they shouldn't be worried about the club. The club's closed now," he said.

"I don't even know where these things are coming from - these are terrible allegations. I'm just shocked, you know, I mean, I know of no member that would park outside somebody's house, nobody that would intimidate anybody, nobody that would do these things. These are allegations that should go to the police"

Mr Raffaelli, however, remained sceptical given when Auckland Council previously revoked the club's code of compliance, they continued shooting anyway on the grounds - they claimed - that they were doing so as private citizens and not as a club.

He also pointed out that the land the club is on is not owned by Mr Gee but by the members Raymond Myles O'Brien and Victoria Pichler.

"But what still concerns us is the last time [they] were closed down they just started shooting as 'guests' of Raymond on his land and the shooting never stopped.

"We'd quite like to see what actually happens before we take him at his word. Because taking them at their word has never worked for us in the past."

Joy, relief, celebration

Vipassana Foundation trustee Kirsty McKay.

Vipassana Foundation trustee Kirsty McKay Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

The Vipassana Meditation Centre has been leading the legal action - it made arguments about the way the noise had been measured and lead contamination.

But it was extensive earthworks at the site, which was the reason for the court revoking the certificate of compliance.

One of the centre's trustees Kirsty McKay hopes things will get quieter in the idyllic valley, but she's aware it requires the council to enforce the ruling.

"There's a lot of joy, a lot of relief, a lot of celebration, but also tempered by a measure of cynicism because we've not seen council enforce these decisions in the past. So I think everyone will be very relieved once we see that council's actually stopped the shooting."

Auckland Council - in a brief statement - said it was considering the Court of Appeal's decision.

Police did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.