GUEST BLOG: Shirin Brown – Waiheke – Celebrating advocacy and lunacy


“Waiheke is full of activists and lunatics”.  Reading Doug McKay’s comments provided a hilarious start to Sunday morning.  The throwaway comments are also disturbing, reflecting the contempt and continued battle Waiheke and rural communities face in having our basic needs met by government entities.  Not to mention the socially damaging view that people who stand up for community values and environment are completely bonkers.  

Well this lunatic community has higher input into local board feedback than every other in the Auckland area, aside from Aotea/Great Barrier.   People can identify local board members by name and our local newspaper, radio station and facebook pages keep us informed of issues that affect us. 

As a population of 9,000 in a city of 1.8 million we’ve always had to pull above our weight, often maligned for seeking workable solutions to simple problems.     We also wonder why no brainers, like additional water tanks for water storage, haven’t reached Auckland sooner, particularly given the water shortages the city is now experiencing.  

Nuclear free, GE Free and TPPA free. We have a heightened sense of awareness of global issues and threats.   As an island community within an island nation, we’re like the canary down the mine, noticing the effects of rising housing prices often before they are felt by other communities, where it’s possible to move just that little bit further away to get something cheaper.  by moving just a little bit further away.  

Council staff have been genuinely surprised that the Waiheke Local Board had its own housing strategy to address housing access and affordability.  And yet, according to the 2013 census figures, significant numbers of renters spend more than 60% of their income to live in rotting baches, and live on a median annual income that is $2,400 less than Auckland. This housing unaffordability, while 30% of houses remain empty, splits families and friends, and sees people who have grown up and lived on Waiheke all their lives, forced away.  In fact, when Mr McKay’s comments came through on the intercom, the committee were waiting for the submission of the Waiheke Health Trust’s plea that Council land be held for community purposes.  

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Our island population experiences comparable issues to the rest of the country but often with less support.  Addiction and poverty are an issue for many of us, particularly affecting young people who then struggle to engage with the opportunities of the city because work and study options are an unaffordable hour away. 

And yet we continue to be self-reliant and consistently solve our own problems.  A Friday night Friends of the Street service gets our young people home safely and has reduced our drink driving statistics, while  a Kai Conscious programme  feeds people, teaches people to cook supermarket rescue food that would otherwise go to waste, and provides a meeting place for all sectors of our community.  

Nor are our protests unreasonable.  The recent protest around bus routes highlighted a major shortcoming around the recent AT consultation.   According to the 2013 census, the 60 to 74 year olds are the fastest growing age bracket, with 58% of the population are aged over 40, compared to 43% in Auckland.    To their credit, AT changed some of the routes in response to the request for greater coverage over higher frequency.  

Meanwhile the press and Auckland Council continue to favour the mythical and lopsided view that we are only an island of nimbies and wealth.  Genuine concerns are dismissed as coming from ‘colourful characters’ who are difficult, parochial or stopping progress.  

We call it having fun with the things we stand up for.   Moreover, simply talking about the issues never seems to get any press coverage at all, nor does it dig us out of the quagmire of bureaucracy.  Since the forming of the Supercity in 2010, we have marched up Queen Street with a penguin look-a-like protect our waste contract, (since lost and recently returned),  and we’ve carried a coffin onto the ferry to protest unaffordable ferry fares.  Most recently a few of us drove a sheep down to Wellington to draw attention to the ridiculousness of plonking  a marina into a transport gateway that receives over 95% of our freight and is the only island access point for vehicles.  This issue is now in its 4th year, having cost the community $450,000 to date.   

I feel honoured to be labelled a lunatic if it means standing up for what you believe in.   My time on the Local Board and since have shown me what it means to feel empowered and to fight for community interests, and to get the best out of government.  Skills I now hope to take into the National political arena by standing for Labour in Tāmaki.  

Let’s position Waiheke as something more interesting and valuable than as a playground of the rich, to be taken advantage of and patronized.    It is a refuge, where successive generations of community and environmental advocates have fought to retain its rural character and maintain its feel as the jewel in Auckland’s crown, a place for all Aucklanders to enjoy, not just the superwealthy as is often promoted.  

‘We are far enough behind to be ahead’, not because we’re too stupid to know otherwise, but because we understand the value of undevelopment and work hard to protect what we have.   Perhaps more importantly we pave the way for other communities to question things that are done at them rather than with them. 

Shirin Brown was elected to the Waiheke Local Board from 2013 to 2019.  She is currently researching for a PhD in local government and standing for Labour in Tāmaki.  



  1. Its a racist little island that are disrespectful to the Tangata Whenua Ngati Hura, Ngati Kura and have engaged with an unelected iwi board with no legal authority.

  2. Disappointing first comments on Shirin’s item. Out marae is inter-tribal and especially welcoming to all islanders. If you have an issue with that, take it up with the marae leaders.
    On the wider Waiheke comments, we were surprised not by his sneer but that Doug McKay only noticed now that we are activists and lunatics (in earlier times Waiheke was called Cadbury Island, “full of fruits and nuts”).
    Waiheke is older, whiter and poorer than median Auckland. Housing is unaffordable and long term rentals that include the Summer months impossible to find. The ferry commuting costs are the highest in the world. Our high school is ranked in decile 6, hardly first class. And on-island employment in hospitality and horticulture is seasonal and badly paid. All the boomers here come from elsewhere and live elsewhere too, leaving their homes unoccupied for most of the year.

  3. Shame to see people who know nothing about Waiheke (obvious from their words) make such disparaging comments. The most privileged of Waiheke, in general, are the holiday home owners who do not actually live here. Like anywhere, we have wealthy people right through to very poor people.
    Waiheke is actually one of the least privileged places in Auckland. There is poverty aplenty here but you wouldn’t know it from the media. Holiday home owners and weekenders who want to retire here are not the community.
    The people who are fighting to protect the environment here and to provide low cost housing and who run the marae etc are a diverse bunch that include Maori and Pakeha and a range of other ethnicities and origin stories.
    Racism is also something that exists everywhere, and, like everywhere else, Waiheke has its fair share of unapologetic racists. No different to anywhere else in NZ. And probably a whole heap better than some places. So a bit of a red herring.
    To categorise the activism and diversity here as a ‘racist little island’ is just completely misguided. We should be working on solidarity between all our communities. Not dismissing genuine social justice and environmental movements because of some wildly inaccurate media created stereotype.
    That is the only way real community wins.

  4. it is difficult to bust myths, and Waiheke’s myth as the island of the entitled is certainly one that’s hard to crack. Interestingly, New Zealand faces a similar myth on the world stage. While it’s convenient for the tourism industry to position Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, as a clean green paradise, there are relatively few New Zealanders who have actually enjoyed the adventures that it provides to others. Our domestic violence, depression and suicide figures are really high for the OECD, housing is unaffordable, the cost of living is really high, and our waterways are polluted. Of course there are some who are entitled, but like everywhere there are people just living as well as they can with what they have.

    Incidentally, Waiheke is also a refuge and a place of empowerment for Māori as well as New Zealand Europeans and migrants. Our pan marae is strong, welcoming, beautiful and is a centre of our community for both Māori and non-Māori.


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