To answer the question of “who runs New Zealand?”, it’s worth looking to the small trendy beach town on Omaha Bay in Rodney District, an hour’s drive north of Auckland. It’s here that the rich of Auckland have their multi-million-dollar holiday homes, and as Bill Ralston has observed, ‘The wealthy beach community of Omaha is to Auckland what the Hamptons are to New York’. What’s particularly insightful about Omaha is that it is a representation of more than just The Establishment in New Zealand, but instead it appears to contain three separate settlements that represent three different Establishments in New Zealand. And in understanding the distinctively different nature of these three Establishments at Omaha beach, we can better understand who now runs this country. [Read more below]
A holiday playground for the rich and famous
Omaha is located 64 km north of Auckland. It is on a sandspit that adjoins Tawharanui Peninsula and separates Whangateau Harbour from Omaha Bay. From the beautiful 4.5km white-sand beach you can see across to Little Barrier Island, and apparently it has it’s own very warm micro-climate, as well as frequent visits from dolphins and whales. It’s a beautiful place.
But what’s particularly interesting about it is that it’s become an enclave of well-heeled and well-known figures – effectively the New Zealand Establishment. Known sometimes as "Remuera-on-Sea", Omaha’s residents include: Prime Minister John Key (his bach is worth $2.95m), fashion designer Trelise Cooper, Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker ($2.3m), TV presenter Louise Wallace ($1.5m), fertility medicine pioneer Richard Fisher, former BBQ Factory owners Roger and Lorraine Richwhite, and Navman founder Peter Maire. One real estate agent has just set up an office there, and says Omaha has ‘the who's who of Auckland owning homes there’.
An elite place
Visiting Omaha – as I briefly did yesterday – it’s vividly apparent that this trendy seaside community is an elite place. It has cycleways, cobbled-roads, the feel of a modern elite community. One Omaha tourist website states this exclusivity clearly:
A NZ Herald feature on Omaha also points out the unique nature of Omaha:
Some locals, in nearby Matakana and Leigh, are positively disparaging about the place and the kind of rich people who own homes in it. One muttered darkly that they dreamed of "blowing up the causeway" that connected Omaha with the outside world’.
The three Establishments of Omaha
What is most interesting about Omaha is that there appears to be three discernable areas that represented three different eras of the New Zealand Establishment: Central Omaha, North Omaha, and South Omaha.
Central Omaha is opposite the golf course and represents the old Establishment of the postwar period. This is obviously the earliest built area of Omaha and the houses are fairly basic and non-ostentatious. The street names are tradition upmarket names like Caroline Heights, Omaha Drive, Pioneer Crescent, and Bell Parade. This is where the old rich live – those businesspeople that made their money in the 1950s, 60, and 70s under pre-Rogernomics New Zealand capitalism.
Northern Omaha on the Northern tip of the sandspit is where the nouveau riche of the 1980s and 1990s live in very ostentatious, flash housing. Their street names are based on business values and reflect their less subtle rule of New Zealand: Excelsior Way, Success Court, and Reliance Way. This is where the property speculators and sharemarket victors live. The houses are large and spectacular, although the development looks to be a bit over-packed in, and in some cases rather tasteless.
Equally wealthy, but an entirely different type of elite are represented in Southern Omaha, which is a newer development. This is where the new liberal Establishment tend to have their holiday homes. Pointedly, all the street names are exclusively Maori, reflecting the modern liberal Establishment: Te Mana St, Te Mauri Pl, Matariki St, Kewai St, Tuna Pl, Kokopu St, Patiki Pl, Tohora Crescent, Pipi Lane, Taumata Rd, Mangatawhiru Rd, Inahoa Lane, and so forth. And large traditional Maori statues adorn the area. The houses are all architecturally designed. These are the people of the Third Way. They’re clearly not the old monolithic and mono-cultural elite of the postwar period. Nor are they the extreme neoliberal, “wealth is everything” class of the 1980s. These are rich that are in line with the modern state and ruling class ideology that embraces biculturalism and other identity politics. This is the new dynamic Establishment that much of the left fail to understand. They have incorporated “respect for difference”, feminism, environmentalism, healthy living, and caring conservatism, but still remain ultra-capitalistic. They are the future, but the left treats them as some sort of idiosyncratic blip. John Key may actually take his holidays in the Northern part of Omaha (his beachfront bach is even on Success Court), but this is really his true home.
Slump in Omaha
Another interesting development to look at in Omaha is the impact of the recession. According to new reports, 'Omaha is not immune from the property slump’, and properties listed at $1.6 million are now selling for $1.2m – see: Property slump hits Omaha
Another recent article reported that 17 properties were put up for auction in one single weekend. The economic downturn is being blamed. So it seems that even the New Zealand Establishment isn’t immune from ‘suffering’.