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Icons of The West – Tim Shadbolt


“I don’t care where, as long as I’m mayor.”

It has become one of those famous trademark quotes linked with Westie Icon serial mayor, and New Zealand’s longest serving mayor Timothy Richard Shadbolt.

Although he was born in Remuera in 1947, Tim Shadbolt was for many years not only one of New Zealand’s most famous and colourful characters, but the most famous Westie of his generation.

The Shadbolt family was in the UK and Tim was only five, when his father was killed in a flying accident while serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Tim’s mother brought her two sons back to New Zealand and West Auckland where Tim took his schooling variously in New Lynn, Blockhouse Bay and Avondale before becoming a foundation pupil at Rutherford College. There, with no hint of the radical and rebel he was to become, he was both a prefect and a member of the school council.

It was later, at the University of Auckland that Tim Shadbolt emerged as the most famous renegade leader of the social revolution in New Zealand in the 1960’s and ‘70’s.

Shadbolt helped shake New Zealand society to its foundation as the number one foot soldier of a generation that was at war with “the establishment” and its stifling values. They protested against the Vietnam war, apartheid, prisons and the way they were run, landlords, city councils, government, the universities and an American navigational system called Omega.

They also protested for things. They were in the early environmental movements, in support of Maori land issues and grievances, feminism, legal and social equality, even the right to listen to rock and roll music and the right of men to wear long hair.

They shook New Zealand to its core and they frightened many but the very man who was most recognisable in all this, was also the least threatening. Timothy Richard Shadbolt, was one of this country’s most charismatic characters; a young radical who on the one hand was shaking everything up and on the other reaching across the “generation gap” with his trademark humour and infectious grin, that almost nobody could resist.

He was sincere, goodnatured, a blazingly good orator and possessed a rapier wit that had them splitting their sides at times. Tim could see the funny side of anything, even being in prison. He was arrested 33 times (once for saying the word bullshit in public) and jailed twice for nothing more threatening than his belief in freedom of speech.

The second time he was jailed he penned the infamous book “Bullshit and Jellybeans” that predictably shocked and provoked with a rawness and brutal honesty that made it a best seller and recognition as one of the great New Zealand biographies.

In 1970, he set up a commune at Huia and took up a new trade as a concrete contractor. However, he still found time to get himself arrested, joining the historic occupation of Bastion Point by Orakei Maori and supporters determined to prevent the Government selling the land which was not theirs to sell. In the same spirit, he joined the late Dame Whina Cooper’s great land hikoi.

Nevertheless a new Shadbolt was also emerging. In 1975, by now a father of three, he moved to Glen Eden and was elected to the school committees of Konini Road and Glen Eden Intermediate schools.

In 1983 he confounded everyone, by winning the election as Mayor of Waitemata City which until then had been a bastion of conservative politics. It was the beginning of the transformation of both Tim Shadbolt and West Auckland. The irrepressible student radical towed his concrete mixer behind the mayoral Daimler to make a point. Even the concrete mixer was given a character typical of Shadbolt. He called it Karl Marx because it made a lot of noise but didn’t work very well.

The mayoral chains also famously went missing, spawning a whole chapter in the encyclopedia of urban myth.

Tim’s first term sowed the first seeds of what was to later become Waitakere the Eco City, and he then put together “Tim’s Team” of environmental pioneers to win a second term.

In 1989, however, Waitemata City, and the boroughs of New Lynn, Glen Eden and Henderson were amalgamated and became Waitakere City, with Assid Corban as mayor and Tim as councillor.

Three years later he disappeared from West Auckland and in ‘93 re-emerged as the new Mayor of Invercargill, a position he retains to this day.

It was an unprecedented career move, making him New Zealand’s first “professional mayor” in the sense that he saw his political skills as being portable. It was also when the famous saying “I don’t care where, as long as I’m mayor” was coined, but not by Tim. He said it but it was written by an advertising agency in the script for TV commercial for cheese he was fronting.

In all, Tim Shadbolt has served a total of 25 years,and is now in his ninth term as Mayor; two in West Auckland