Last weekend I attended the 30th anniversary of the Waimapihi Housing Co-operative which I helped set up in Holloway Road, Wellington, in 1988. We had successfully fought for a government designation to be lifted (they were going to bulldoze the gully and turn it into playing fields) and then the task was to enable the tenants to have first right to buy,

Even then, some tenants would never be able to raise a mortgage, or like me, didn’t believe in private ownership of housing, and we were able to borrow money from the Housing Corporation and buy seven houses plus a renovation fund. As we recorded an oral history, David McGill, who was our resident architect for the renovations pointed out that the co-op was able to take advantage of a six month window of opportunity. The government had been researching the usefulness of co-operatives as a means to provide housing and had set up a fund, which was then quickly gutted by the Roger Douglas faction. But we had been ready and able to take advantage of that brief moment.

But the reunion also brought back vivid memories of the eighties. It began of course with the mass mobilisations of the anti apartheid movement and the intense debates within the movement – between communists, Maori, feminists, lesbians, churchgoers… Meetings and protests were extraordinary performative affairs. For me the era was one of community involvement for the first time, of fathoming the practice of the progressive communist, and of being faced with feminism and the Maori struggle. We did a series of plays based on first contact: Thomas Kendall, Parihaka, Te Puea.  We toured marae with one of the plays which took me to the heartland of Maoridom. I tried to fathom the reality of oppression at the personal level, for example the victim of sexual abuse, as opposed to the ideology of oppression and the spokespeople for the ideology. They were intensely difficult issues without easy solution.

During the reunion I wrote a poem within a simple framework I use for primary school creative writing students. First line, one word, second line two words etc.


Mickey Savage

George Maureen Pop

The protests of ’81

Old working class, new lefties

Blend in born agains, hippy craftspeople

A common enemy,  the corporate capitalist state

A diverse whanau searching for new social relations

Clearing the gorse. for some a time of healing

Changing property relations, dancing revolution, as Rogernomics entered stage right

dissolving the commons, speeding up production, investing in investment, privatising pain

But a co-op preserved something of the dream, as consumerism claimed centre stage

P1110858 Waimapihi Housing Co-op 2018