Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Born of the void Print E-mail

ImageThe yard foreman was very unhappy when I called in at Timber Poles in Merton Road. His problem was that a whole truckload of poles had just been returned. He did not need it. He was trying to clear the yard as it was due to close down in a few weeks at Christmas. It was almost as a joke that I said I would take the lot. He offered a price I could not refuse. I suddenly found that I owned a truckload of poles. My problem was that they were in Glen Innes and I wanted them in the Hokianga.




Kiyomizu, Kyoto
It was going to take me a few days to organise a truck, and he was not willing to wait. The only option I could see was to put them at the end of Peacock Street, and to then truck them from there to the Hokianga.

One of the peculiar attributes of poles is that they seem to get bigger the further they get from the yard and the closer they get to your site. By the time my poles arrived in Peacock they seemed enormous, and as the empty truck drove away I began realising that I had bitten off more than I could chew, and I was going to need to follow Peter Carey's suggestion to "chew like hell".

While I was trying to organise a truck to take them away the neighbours were not idle. Cedric Mathews was not only threatening to kill me at the time, but also to kill Livia. He saw his chance when Livia innocently parked her car alongside the pile of poles. He cut the binding straps and rolled some of the poles onto her car. It seemed like the perfect crime. She would not know her suspension had been damaged until she rolled out on a corner and killed herself. I would then be the person to blame.

Joan Chapple saw her chance to drive in a knife and rang the Council. It was a situation for them to fall in love with. A chance to nail the underdog and support the affluent middle class. Very soon Peacock Street was running with inspectors. No one thought to tell me until Livia discovered what Cedric had done.

I was told to shift the poles onto my site. That seemed like a good way of destroying me as they knew it was impossible. I insisted that I wanted the poles in the Hokianga. They would hear nothing of it. Anger levels escalated.

The more I pleaded for common sense the more the Council saw the chance to wield their power. I refused to budge. They refused to budge. Finally they issued a court order demanding that I should move the poles onto my site within 24 hours.

It was a challenge, and I decided I would bite the bullet. Kiyomizu was born. The project was on its way. I was just following instructions.

Within 24 hours every pole had gone from Peacock Street. I knew I had enemies, but I also discovered that I had friends. In addition I had timber jacks and all my father's logging equipment. I had grown up in the bush. Sam, with his wonderful Fijian smile, said he would give me a hand.

There was a route through a neighbour's property which none of my enemies in the Council or at the Bay knew about. I built a Medieval dolly with tyres off my wheel barrows, and with block and tackle it was possible to inch each pole a little closer to my site and a little further away from the Hokianga.

The job was not made any easier by an abscess which exploded beneath one of my teeth. When I could no longer stand the pain I took an hour off to race in to my dentist on Christmas Eve to get the abscess lanced. The Council inspector laughed at my pain and assured me that as far as they were concerned I could drop dead following their demands, and they would not care. Power warps minds. A nice uniform can turn human beings into sadists.

As they watched me succeed the angry neighbours could only resort to hurling abuse at me. Their cruel plan was collapsing before their eyes. At that time Cedric was frequently breaking into my property and I knew it would not be safe to leave the poles lying on a 45 degree slope. He would have simply rolled them down in the night to demolish my house. I needed to dig them in and make them secure.

Very soon a pole platform was in place and everything was secure. Exactly as the Council had requested. Exactly as everyone had said was impossible.

I would never have achieved any of this without such an intense resource of negative energy. By taking everyone's hatred and turning it into positive energy a miracle had been made possible.

Along the way I realised that my scheme of getting the poles up to Te Ohu  was hopelessly ambitious. I would never have made it. Cedric and Joan had turned what would have been a disaster into a success. I have always felt grateful to them for what they did. The bitter hatred of the Council was just what I needed.

Kiyomizu would never have been built if I had been given time to think about it. It happened because other people gave me the strength to make it happen. Instead of worrying about a permit all I had to do was to follow the instructions of the stupid bureaucrats in Council. This was indeed a very satisfying way to build.

8 June 2004


8 June 2004


8 June 2004


8 June 2004