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Auckland, August 2022

Reflection 3/10 - The Year of Opportunity and Risk's Coda

My trip to Auckland in August last year was the first stop of a three-city tour. It was also my first time back since leaving at the end of the 2021 lockdown. In many ways, this trip provided some closure to what was an anticlimactic year living in the supercity. It was great to see the streets full of life with the shops and cafes bustling, a stark contrast to what it was when I lived there. The scale of the city is otherworldly and it reminded me of why I moved in 2021 - which was dubbed the year of opportunity and risk.

Unlike the decision to first study music, the decision to move to Auckland was actually quite considered. Mind you, at the time, I was enrolled to study in Wellington and set to begin in only a few weeks. Some plans had fallen through and I was on the hunt for a new challenge and adventure. Moving to a new city with three weeks' notice seemed to fit the bill. In high school, I turned down an offer from Auckland opting to study in what I perceived as the more student-friendly city, Wellington. There was always the question of “what if?” and so after some careful thought, a document titled “What should Ferg do?”, and a whole lot of intuition I enrolled in the new UoA masters programme.

The ensuing events set the tone for how I would go about making important decisions from then on: Poorly.

No, not really. Up until that point I was quite happy going for the "safe-option". As an anxious 17-year-old who didn't attend any university open days, I found myself gravitating towards the city I had spent the most time in, usually visiting my older brother as a student. Wellington was familiar: it was the safe road. But only safe in some aspects. Had I originally gone to Auckland, my hall fees would have been covered, so I probably wouldn't have got a job as a trolley boy then checkout operator over the summer. I think I'd have also checked-out before school finished. Scholarship exams were the biggest motivator to keep studying after making UE and the rank score. Although the road was "safe" it also created risk and discomfort and their accompanying opportunities.

Moving to Auckland was different because I actively sought risk and discomfort. I had come to see them as a catalyst for growth and development with their fruits being very rewarding. Although 22 at the time, I wanted to be more independent and get better at adulting. I’d never flatted in Wellington and thus hadn’t permanently established myself there. Moving to Auckland that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be responsible for finding a place to live, getting my belongings there, and setting up a new life completely independently. Although my instinct is to pursue familiarity I recognize the joy in novelty.

Artistically I also wanted to explore risk freely. In undergrad, a friend came back from Nelson singing the praise of their mentor, a lecturer at the University of Auckland. Apparently UoA was "the place to be". Not long after, this lecturer presented a seminar in Wellington, with their lack of pretentiousness blowing me away. He openly described how a major project was an artistic-failure, all with a big smile and laugh. This was new to me. I was convinced art needed to be serious. It needed to be perfect. At music school your art could not fail, because then you'd fail (the paper). Ironically, the same friend who recommended UoA, had a spare room in Wellington that I was looking at taking over but it fell through - the spark that ignited the search for a new adventure.

Arriving in Auckland with just a suitcase, I was eager to set the foundation of my new life. At brunch that day I left the cafe with my phone still on the table. The usual phone-wallet-keys patdown had failed me. Perhaps in Auckland I was to be Ferg the Forgetful. A kind waitress chased me into the streets to return it, making my first impression of an Aucklander, a good one. That same day I went for a walk in the area and found K Road just around the corner. No more than 10 meters in, a homeless man yelled “Have a shave bro!” and so my second impression of an Aucklander was equally memorable. I was overdue for a shave but admittedly when someone without a home heckles you for your grooming, it makes you a bit image conscious.

Before continuing I don’t want to make out that my time in Auckland was cursed, but it is worth mentioning that just 3 days in, a 2 week lockdown was announced. This was enough to take the wind out my sails, but I remained eager to get stuck in.

Once allowed back on campus the music school welcomed me with open arms. Although given the events at the time, I think they'd probably prefer something along the lines of "the school welcomed me in way that was wholly appropriate with no unwanted physical contact". Composition had a fantastic culture. If you saw my last blog, you will know about my insecurities when I was an undergrad. When you move to a city or start at a new school it is natural to feel like an outsider to begin with. At the time I had long hair, a beard, and liked to wear T shirts, jeans, and running shoes, a look that is common in Wellington but quite niche in Auckland. Luckily this was socially acceptable at music school, and after a few classes I came to the conclusion that Auckland music students were just music students with longer commutes.

Throughout the year I became rather fond of the postgraduate composition meetings which often concluded with “networking opportunities”. It was here that I discovered the delight that is a Gin & Tonic, a delicacy introduced by my supervisors. It was also here where the suggestion of going to Nelson would arise setting off that chain of events. Coming from Hawkes Bay and not being a native to the concrete jungle, I found I could lean into the more provincial side of my upbringing. Mentioning that your high school had corn fields and a farm is usually a good start to building a degree of affable urban naivety.

By July I had started to make friends and connections. One of these friends had had a pigeon fly into them on two separate occasions - it’s not really related to this reflection but I find it too amusing to omit. I had even been on a first date along Auckland's famous Beer Mile. This is unusual for me because I can't stand beer. Or the imperial system. My hospitality-survival-technique of trying to be the last person to order, therefore gauging the appropriate communication style with wait-staff, did me dirty. As it turns out, my date was bit of a beer-nut and ordered a 12% chocolate and raspberry stout. And so, without missing a beat I chimed in "I'll have the same thanks". This triggered another hospitality-survival-technique: if you don't like the drink, down it quickly. Obviously I was channeling the risk and opportunity mantra. Regardless of the drink choice, life was starting to fall into place.

It was unfortunate that not long after reaching this point, a point where I was secure and settled, the city would go into an extended lockdown.

One mid-lockdown walk along Ponsonby Road, I told myself to remember, "this is the best year to date". It might not have gone to plan or smoothly, but I had achieved what I set out to do. It took time to adjust to the new culture of the school (and city) but it was worth the risk. The year came with many opportunities such as presentations, workshops, and social gatherings. Overall it certainly lived up to its name, but was bookended by a rather miserable three months in which everything seemed to unravel.

Perhaps this is why returning to the city a year later was so vindicating. It was easy to just slot back in. The first night featured cocktails with colleagues from the masters programme. Another was spent at the legendary Galbraiths with Johnny Chang and other Nelson friends. I even saw a T-Rex at one point. The penultimate day was the best, featuring a ferry trip across the harbour accompanied by Josh T, for a brunch hosted by David and Luciano. I think I tried to cram 3 months worth of activities into 6 days, but I also took time to appreciate the mundaneness of the city functioning as its old self. Memories that were lost to the cloud of lockdown were rediscovered and a new angle was given to my year of opportunity and risk. It really was the best year to date.


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