INTRODUCTION: The Wellington Code? Be nice, bitches
It’s a well accepted Wellington rule that people gotta be nice to people if we are going to get along. In a city this size, you’d be dreaming if you didn’t think that treating people differently might come back to haunt you. Wellingtonians just haven’t got time for pretension, whether you are a local, tourist, banker or plumber. There too many people coming and going for that. Wellingtonians are polite folk but if you try and act like a bit of a dick, we’ll show you the door. Because of this, Wellingtonians are always up to make new friends. Wellingtonians have their priorities sorted - people come first almost every time. And you can guarantee that even if you have left Uni, you’ll meet people daily you knew from another life.
Brothers of Miramar - A Wellington Bromance Tale
An example of this is that a few years ago I was re-introduced to a group of tight young men through one of my oldest good friends that I went to school with. These ‘Miramar men’ grew up in the Eastern suburbs, as tight knit as brothers. From a young age, they went to school around Rongatai and Kilbirne, mucking around together and teaching each another more from friendship than their teachers ever could hope to. From that grew a strong sense of self, each other and what was important in life - namely family, food and friendship. And at the heart of that group is a street smart guy called George Harach.
George Harach: The immigrant's son
George is a quiet guy, the silent observer. You won’t get to know him quickly. He will make you work for it. Trust isn’t cheap, after all. George is not the type to hand out flimsy promises hastily, trying to catch your eye with a shiny something. If you do win his trust, there is an understanding that he will back you completely. I wanted to talk to George about his history, his aesthetic and why he has such a passion for the city. Like many, including me, he is a first generation New Zealander. Unlike me however, he came to New Zealand from Lebanon with his family in the 80’s. They that didn’t speak English and truly started from scratch in a Wellington that is much less multicultural than it is now. I can’t help but think it must have been hard. How do you find your place, not only in the city, but also between two worlds where your parents are staunchly traditional and from the old country, and your present is influenced by friends, music and a love of dance?
George Harasch was born in Lebanon. He was born in 1983. His family came to New Zealand in 1986 to provide a better life for the family. His mother didn’t work in Lebanon. His father worked at a bank and was also an officer at the Port taking care of security. “And then the war broke out. He’s told me some crazy war stories.” George doesn’t have many real memories of Lebanon “It’s real vague - like I don’t know if it is a memory or a dream. I feel like I experienced something. Or maybe it is things I just heard. Me in a garden, maybe at my grandparents. It could also be my parents have told me stories.” Like a dream, George’s life in Wellington began before he could remember, but his heritage has shaped his life and his aesthetic from a love of hip hop to his friends.
“My older cousins would dress me up as a kid and I would perform for the family. My aunty used to pretend to faint, like the women did at Michael Jackson concerts”
George’s family first lived in Roseneath with his uncle, moved to Lyall Bay and then to Miramar where they have lived ever since. When he was a young boy growing up, George discovered Michael Jackson, and with him his first love. He became enamoured with the smooth operator, copying his dance moves and watching videos. The influence of Jackson gave rise to George’s keen interest in dance and performance. Like Jackson would become another person on stage, George would become Jackson in his family kitchen in Miramar, escaping from everyday life and bringing joy to those around him. “My older cousins would dress me up as a kid and I would perform for the family. My aunty used to pretend to faint, like the women did at Michael Jackson concerts”. George’s passion for performance was born.
When it came to the work at school however, there was little time for fooling around as far as George’s parents were concerned. His father had gone into business with his brother as a Tailor. He was determined that traditional education would be the best route to a better and happier life for his son. “They were very very strict about education. Knowing that we [George and his two siblings] were doing well in school was their priority.” George says. “But school was really hard for me as a kid. My parents couldn't help me with the language, so I struggled. It made me want to rebel. There was always that pressure, you know, to be a doctor or a pilot. I wasn’t a big fan of school growing up.”
George explains that the understood his parents had his best interests at hearts. “They came from a country where they were doing well and life was good. When they arrived in New Zealand, they really struggled. My dad didn’t even speak the language. It made them really want to push me to do something because they sacrificed everything to bring me here. They didn’t want me to be an actor because they saw no real future in it. I think they were just trying to guide me as good parents. But when I was young I wasn’t having a bar of it.”
The sense of rebellion only grew as George got older. He went to St Patricks Catholic School in Wellington and constantly found himself in trouble. “Not showing up to class, getting into fights. All that young and stupid behaviour.” There was one redeeming feature of school, however, in George’s eye. Drama Class. “At St Pats I got into drama. It was the only class I would show up to.” George laughs. His parents despair compounded things further. “It was an ugly time. It made me dislike school more knowing I had to go to school and pretend to be someone I wasn’t."
Nevertheless he stayed in school until seventh form ended to please his parents (“I was barely ever there”). Once he left, he enrolled in business school at Massey University, but found himself back in the same rut, struggling to attend classes. George was unhappy but didn’t know how to break the cycle he was stuck in.
Music was always an escape for George. “If things were bad at home, or if I was in trouble, I would always find space to get away and listen to my own music” he says. George’s first album was Michael Jackson, soon followed by more American Hip Hop - Wu Tang, Naughty by Nature, NWA and Dr Dre - all were big influences. “I feel like music helped me realise I needed to do what I wanted to do. In hip hop they talk about struggle. It attracted me because I could relate. The idea of growing up troubled, hadn’t done well at school but made a career being honest to themselves. Not everyone works in the same way. Just because you’re not good at reading doesn’t mean you will never do well in life.”
Finally, everything came to a head. “I woke up one morning. I went ‘I’m sick of trying to live this miserable life of being fake’. So I pulled out of the class and told my parents ‘I’m gonna audition for drama school’”. Georges parents were disappointed and “didn’t talk to me for months”. Despite the set back, and lack of encouragement, George auditioned, got in and studied solidly for 3 years at the New Zealand College of Performing Arts. For George, the transition to following his own passion “felt amazing, felt right”. But seeing how upset his parents were at the start was also disheartening. “I just felt like I wished they would support me for what I wanted to do. They came around. It took a while. But before that happened it felt like fighting against the current until I learnt to swim.” In the final year he invited his parents to come and watch him perform. George remembers seeing them there, finally watching him onstage. “They actually saw that I could do it and that I was good at it. They could be proud of me. They saw me for what I was, this creative person.”
Real kid done good
After drama school, George auditioned for performances touring New Zealand funded by different government Ministry’s. He got the lead part. “It was my first paid role. It was 6 months on the road, performing for colleges.” After that year finished it was re-funded and George was called on to reprise his role. On the second tour he met his girlfriend, Holley. Touring showed that George could teach others with his performance skills, not just academic. “We also would do workshops with students after shows to teach them about safety and healthy relationships.”
George has also worked over two years on the Hobbit movies, first as a Goblin and then a motion capture actor, a huge career highlight. “They put us in these big suits which we couldn't move in - that was crazy.” Because of the restrictions of the costuming, the scenes were re-filmed using motion capture, where an actors movements are tracked using technology. George was selected because he was singled out for his ability to move well. “That was probably the biggest role I have ever done - motion capture was brilliant.” George also was encouraged by a person from the Weta studio to do work on his stunts. This culminated in going on a specialist course on the Gold Coast for stunts. “it’s just a crazy run of luck that I lived in Miramar and Sir Peter Jackson sets up his film studios next door. I love Miramar.” George has also set up a dance studio in the past, DJ’s, has done other shows and is currently producing music for himself.
George however keeps it real - his day job at the moment is as a high rise window cleaner and he also helps out at 5 Boroughs Diner in Mount Victoria from time to time “One of my favourite places to eat as well” he says “Except for mum’s cooking traditional Lebanese food at home, or over at my mate Ali’s house”. Most of all George loves Wellington. “It’s probably the greatest place in the world. It might be a comfort thing.” He says, “You’ve got all your friends and family and you know where you are in the world. It’s a small city. You’re never waiting in traffic. You are so close to water and the beaches. There is as much opportunity as anywhere if you put the work in. If Peter Jackson can do it, anyone can do it” George laughs “I mean, why not. You just gotta be persistent”.
George has finally made peace with his talents and his passions it seems. And he has made peace with family. Family, food and friendship. It seems this young Lebanese Wellingtonians has got those priorities sorted. Hollywood should take a lesson from George Harach, I think. There’s time for everything.