Matt McIvory’s new book “The Grey Lynn Book”, takes a look at the gay history of Grey Lynn and examines the colourful and complex history of one of Auckland’s gayest suburbs.
McIvory’s love of the suburb began in his University days. “I’d always spent a lot of time in that area. As a student, in pubs, bars and student flats. I’ve always felt very comfortable in the area because of the diversity and mix of people.
“You have all sorts of cultures, with people of different statuses that have all got along quite well there. People have been left to their own devices to an extent, which is not quite the same as other parts of the city perhaps.”
The openly gay author’s labour of love began after a trip to the library to find out more about Grey Lynn turned up with no result. “I went to the library to get a book out on the subject and I discovered there was nothing there.”
“So I thought I would write it myself.”
Two years later, the newly released hardback explores the unique and diverse history of the suburb. From early settlement to the influx of new Pacific migrants in the 1970’s, The Grey Lynn Book traces the rapidly changing nature of the suburb as well as posing some questions about its future.
It isn’t so much a history book however, but one that profiles the area’s past and current inhabitants, featuring interviews with a range of eclectic characters such as gossip king David Hartnell who invited McIvoy into his home for a candid profile of him and his husband Somboon Khansuk and local lesbian stalwart Anne Speir.
Intertwined, are exploration of issues such as some major historical and contemporary socioligical issues – such as being gay in Grey Lynn.
McEvoy interviewed Speir who tells him that many gay men chose to stay in Ponsonby while their female counterparts moved into Grey Lynn. A symbolic shift that reflected some of the differing attitudes within the community at the time. McEvoy explains; “The boys had to live different lives because it was illegal for them to be who they were. They had to integrate more to an extent, where as we girls could worry about other things and be more separatist.”
That’s changed now and as McEvoy notes; “there is less antagonism between us now.” What has also changed are the geographical boundaries. Speir says in the book that moving to Grey Lynn was originally seen as the middle of nowhere with the area being seen as the outer suburbs. Now those borderlines have largely dissolved with neighbouring suburbs such as Westmere being almost indistinguishable from Grey Lynn in character and community. Speir also notes that as society becomes more accepting of GLBT people, there becomes less of a need for concentration of the community in any one area. “I’d consider Avondale or Te Atatu as gay as Grey Lynn now,” Speir says.
Speir says that while gentrification has made an impact, there is still an exciting gay and lesbian culture within Grey Lynn, with local gay-owned and operated businesses operating in the surrounding areas such as Garnett Station in neighbouring Westmere featuring as vibrant hubs for GLBT residents.
McEvoy reflects on the wider changing nature of the suburb with a sense of optimism that Grey Lynn will still retain the unique charm that drew the diverse crowd that first settled the area.
A new creative class has now moved into the area, including some of New Zealand’s top media and creative personalities.
McEvoy says The Grey Lynn Book is intended to challenge perceptions about the suburb as much as it is to explore its history. “There are a few challenging things in the book, there may be some people who are irritated, but in the end I want to create some discussion about Grey Lynn.”