Some are born in Hamilton, others choose to live there and some others yet have Hamilton thrust upon them, as plenty of Aucklanders are finding out. So what’s it like to actually make the move from Auckland to Hamilton? What hurdles can you expect along the way, and most pertinently for Aucklanders, the real question: is there really a life after Auckland? To answer these questions and more, we asked one of Hamilton’s newest Auckland migrants –Gary Farrow (@garyfarrow) -to describe the experience.
As the familiar thud of the wheels and the ominous rumble of the reverse thrusters reverberated throughout the plane, the inevitable post-holiday blues quickly wafted over me. I had reached the end of my latest trip to the United States, and arrived back in my lifelong home of Auckland. It was September 2016.
Despite the blues, though, there was something new brewing in me. It was a resolve that I hadn’t quite felt before; a renewed vigour to search for that evermore elusive phenomenon in New Zealand – a stable job in my trade of journalism.
By that point in the year, I had clocked up over two and half months of travel – including one long time away to visit Japan, Taiwan, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. I had fared well on that journey. I had travelled frugally but nothing had gone wrong. So I thought, maybe it was time to start thinking outside the square like that in my search for work and existential fulfilment in New Zealand.
The day after arriving back from America, I opened up the usual job search avenues. I saw a job was going for a reporter role at Hamilton News. If I can travel around a menagerie of countries, I thought to myself, do well for myself and be genuinely happy, what’s to stop that sort of surprise coming from somewhere as humble as somewhere outside of Auckland?
I applied for the job, and the next morning I received an email inviting me to Hamilton for an interview. I made the visit, met the editor Danielle Nicholson, we clicked, and the day after that I was offered the job. It hadn’t even been a week since I arrived back from America and applied for the job. It was the fastest and most positive response I had ever received to a job application.
A big decision faced me. Was I really going to up sticks, leave New Zealand’s international gateway city of Auckland, and move to humble Hamilton, which I could seriously say I was less familiar with than Los Angeles from which I had just travelled? I thought long and hard, eventually coming to the conclusion that I may as well give it a shot. I had been searching for a full time journo gig in Auckland for six years, to no avail. If I didn’t like the job, or Hamilton for that matter, I could just move back to Auckland anyway. I excitedly accepted the job offer.
I whizzed down to Hamilton with my sister Amelia (with whom I had also travelled to America) the following Monday, went to a sequence of five studio apartment viewings, and I found one I liked in Melville near Waikato Hospital – a mint, two-year-old unit that I could only have dreamed of affording to rent in Auckland. I submitted my request to stay in the apartment. I couldn’t believe it. I was really moving to Hamilton.
On the way home, Amelia uploaded some introspective Snapchat videos to her feed, showing the Waikato countryside streaming past the lens, overlaid with text saying how sad she was that I was having to leave our home city to get work, whilst also expressing happiness that I had the chance for such an adventure. It was going to be hard for my family, not just myself, that I was leaving.
Fast forward about a week to when I had loaded my car to leave for Hamilton, and Amelia put on a sad puppy dog face as we prepared to say our goodbyes. I, a 29-year-old man, burst into tears. This was the moment of change.
When my mum had finished helping me set up in my new Hamilton residence, she left, fighting back emotion. I still felt sad, but I also felt liberated, empowered, and excited. I was ready for this.
In my first week in the job, I made many valuable contacts – thanks to my new editor Dani, her fiance Chris Simpson, and the reporter who preceded me, Ged Cann, who was there to hand over the reins. He introduced me to Chamanthie Sinhalage, aka Chamfy, over coffee at Mr Milton’s Canteen. She told me about the #lovethetron hashtag, the impromptu Hamilton Coffee Mafia gatherings instigated on Twitter, and emphasised the power of these things and their innate ability to bring a community together.
I thought the concept sounded very cool but, somewhat naturally, cynically presumed that although the idea was great in principle, it might not work that well in practice. But Chamfy, who struck me as brilliantly modest and softly spoken, nonetheless exuded leadership qualities, engagement, knowledge and the aura that she was serious about this. So I trusted her, and didn’t realise this was going to come to define my entire Hamilton experience going forward.
Before long, I was posting photos and comments on social media with the #lovethetron hashtag, seeing an upsurge in followers and engagement on Twitter and Instagram like I had never seen before.
Chamfy had me attending the monthly Breakfast Book Club, meeting many of my new social media followers in person – her boyfriend Dileepa Fonseka, Jess Molina, Iain and Lisa White, Brooke and Jay Baker, Brian and Vicki Squair, William and Alison Durning, Angela Cuming and countless more. I even started going to yoga with several of them, having never been part of a yoga class in my life! (I needed a lot of convincing from Chamfy on that one, but I’m very glad I eventually gave in – still no hope of getting me to master the downward dog pose, though!)
WHAT IS THIS PHENOMENON, HAMILTON?
After around eight months living and working in Hamilton, I find myself questioning how this all came to be. I feel like I have been able to become engaged in activities and friends with a good portion of key figures in the creative and political communities here – to an extent I didn’t reach in Auckland, even having spent my entire life there.
Being a journalist who’s interested in those circles helps. But that’s only part of it. I’ve been involved in many Auckland communities for significant periods of time – including Central, the North Shore, Waitakere where I was born and raised – but none have felt as proactively inclusive and interactive as Hamilton does.
Age, ethnicity, class, political ideology, religious views, professions – Hamilton, fittingly sometimes dubbed the Bridge City, seems to form spans between these unique character traits. Hamiltonians can be expressly modest, but there’s nonetheless a groundswell of engagement in the city – a shared, united passion for what Hamilton is, where it’s going, and what it could be.
Hamilton is a 21st century city, that’s rich in art and culture of all kinds on a per capita basis that would rival Auckland, and that’s got a great clean palette to work with as it develops. While Auckland is in a mid-life crisis, Hamilton is growing up, and I’m excited to be growing with it.