Who Are You?

New Zealand commercial media’s fixation on “fame” and too few consumers have made it short-sighted and threatens its own future.

Radio New Zealand’s Wallace Chapman posted a picture on Twitter a few weeks ago praising NZ’s medical system after a member of his family suffered an illness.

This is something I can closely associate with having experienced and written about a similar experience a few years ago.

Mainstream media site Stuff picked up Wallace’s post and made a story out of it.

Wallace’s original Twitter post was soon removed, and fair enough.

The post’s quick removal would likely indicate Chapman didn’t know about the picture being used as a news story and he deleted it to regain some privacy.

While he is a public figure, Wallace and his family are entitled to a private life, and it’s called “Private” for a reason.

Being the caring, social, media Twitter is, Wallace’s situation received a lot of sympathy – several hundred “likes” and loads of supportive comments.

But you wouldn’t know that from the article, because the item chose to focus on how:

Celebrities > Sub-Editors / Proofreaders, apparently..

This isn’t the first time Stuff has blatantly ignored mere social media mortals like myself.

While I was annoyed at that NewShub incident, it wasn’t so much because I might have missed out on “a Warhol” (a “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” unit), rather it was the terrible “netiquette” of using something I’d written or explained without the manners to ask first, or give credit where it was due.

But it does go some way to highlighting how commercial media seem to have issues with their “Social” counterpart.

“Local news” used to be precisely what local media did – Local people and local issues.

But corporate takeovers and simulcast networking ripped the “local” out of local news.

New Zealand’s regional centres started hearing less and less about their own neighbourhood, and more about the big cities, where their papers’ and radios’ management were now based.

It would be like Auckland getting its news feed via Sydney.

But that doesn’t happen, does it?!

Many places, like regional New Zealand, just “didn’t matter” any more.

And neither, evidently, did regional New Zealanders.

Given New Zealand’s abysmal mental health and suicide statistics, it would be incredibly irresponsible of our media to reinforce a perception that half to two thirds of New Zealand (the proportion of NZ’s population that isn’t Auckland-based) “doesn’t matter”!

Along with this “Big City” focus came more attention on “Big People” – The “Noteable“, “Famous“, and “Celebrities“.

Not only could a majority of New Zealand media’s “target markets“, “demographics“,  “consumers” and “customers” (all big words those in the media like to throw around to justify ignoring local news) no longer identify with where items their media was producing were from, they now couldn’t identify with those who featured in them!

So regional New Zealanders, in their usual “Number 8 Wire Mentality” took to social media – creating their own, locally-relevant news sites on the likes of Facebook and broadcasting their local news and issues on Twitter.

I went to a talk on “Media in Hawke’s Bay” last year where the editor of NZME’s Hawke’s Bay regional paper criticised the likes of Facebook, complaining it took so much of the press’ business away from them.

Yet his paper seems perfectly happy producing stories online and in print that have been reaped from local Facebook pages and groups in the days and weeks before newspaper publication.

Such items are often then mocked and derided by commercial media stable-mates and staff for their “regional New Zealand-ness”.

But don’t get me started on that

Recently the head of one of New Zealand’s commercial news media networks had a public whinge via his own network platform at how they were struggling to survive, while semi-“State Broadcaster” TVNZ no longer had to produce a dividend to their shareholders (the NZ government).

“The small public broadcasting news operations and the commercial players can no longer provide enough news to keep our society healthy at a local and national level.” he said.

“Can no longer provide”?!

For the last 15-20yrs NZ’s commercial media networks have actively gutted regional coverage & newsrooms to increase profits for their big city headquarters & shareholders!

If half to two-thirds of New Zealand is good enough to be an income stream for these commercial media networks, then surely, MORALLY, they are good enough to deserve equal news coverage!

And you know what?

If media outlets started paying more attention to their local consumers again, then the locals might become more interested in buying their LOCAL paper/news content again, rather than turning to social media!

Businesses might even start advertising in traditional local media again!

But what would I know?

These network execs “experts” have been regurgitating the same things for years and years and expecting a different result.

And I’m just a writer from regional New Zealand.

I “don’t matter”.

But if I don’t matter, then:

The Councillors Doth Protest Too Much!

Who is writing the script for Napier City Council these days?

It seems part Shakespeare, part George Orwell, with maybe even a touch of farce, or even Franz Kafka.

There certainly appear to be a lot of actors – An Acting Mayor, Acting Deputy Mayor and an Acting CEO.

There is also a lot of strutting and fretting upon the council and electioneering stage in reaction to what could readily be described as “Big Brother”- like activity from council management.

Napier’s Acting Mayor, Faye White, last week criticised her fellow Napier City Councillors for voicing their criticism and concern to media after it was revealed council management ordered the trawling of social media profiles of councillors who were opposed to the development of the Prebensen Drive pool complex in what appears an attempt find possible breaches of the council’s contentious Elected Members’ Code of Conduct.

How did the Acting Mayor air her opinion on the matter?

By criticising those fellow councillors in the media!

Acting Deputy Mayor Claire Hague had done similarly in an earlier August Talking Point that not only echoed the Code of Conduct, but also did the exact thing she was criticising her fellow councillors for – “publicly criticising (our council staff, not to mention the mayor and) other councillors”!

“These actions go a long way to eroding the level of trust and confidence that our community has in the council” she claimed.

But then went on to say, “Real or perceived errors in our work need to be discussed and remedied in private”.

Secrecy, this perceived “gagging” Code of Conduct, and a lack of transparency and public representation in council business have been major issues in Napier politics for years!

Discussing or remedying errors involving public money, public representation, or public facilities should NEVER be done in private!

THAT is what has eroded public trust in this council – potentially beyond repair.

If councillors are basing their votes upon incorrect, or potentially biased information who is in the wrong?

Those who have mis-represented data, or those who merely rubber-stamp everything put before them without doing their own due diligence, first?

Anyone with a thread of moral fibre must put accountability to the public they serve before their own dignity in these cases.

“Sorry” isn’t the hardest word and “denial” isn’t a river in Egypt.

Interestingly Councillor Keith Price claims the EMCC prevented him from going ahead with an interview regarding pollution in Pandora Estuary recently. “The (possible) breach being described that it may give me, as an incumbent councillor, an unfair advantage over those seeking new election.”

So, as the incumbent (“currently holding office”) Acting Mayor and Acting Deputy Mayor don’t these published opinion pieces criticising those standing for office (neither White, nor Hague are seeking re-election) breach NCC’s Code of Conduct?

Or would that only apply if they had voted against the Prebensen Drive pool?

White “would rather wait until I have all the relevant facts in front of me before deciding on next steps” in relation to what must quickly be becoming a serious employment issue between the democratically elected council and their sole employee – the council’s CEO, who council management and staff report to.

But where will she get these facts?

From the same people who recommended the Napier War Memorial needed renovating, its memorial elements gutted and packed away into a shed at the council’s Austin Street depot while the Eternal Flame is sheltered by what looks like a rubbish tin lid?

From those who said Napier Skating Club did not have the “operational expertise” to be involved in running what would become “Bay Skate” despite 61 years of NSC operation?

Hopefully not from those who caused the Friends of the Onekawa Aquatic Centre to lose faith “in council’s ability to negotiate a fair settlement out of court. After weeks of poor communication, misinformation and obstruction.”

Or those who seem so determined to have a new pool complex at Prebensen Drive, despite overwhelming public support for a 50-meter pool at the current Onekawa site prior to the 2018 Long Term Plan consultation, that they will apparently search through social media for anything to try and undermine the elected representatives who oppose it?

Maybe Napier’s Acting Mayor should pay more attention to the suggestions of “outside commentators”, rather than just dismissing them.

In 2017 Mayor Bill Dalton warned that “Napier City could be the first council destroyed by social media”.

Few could have predicted how prophetic those words would turn out to be!

They weren’t related to this most recent issue, but rather in relation to public criticism of an email obtained by media in which the Mayor encouraged councillors to support CEO Wayne Jack’s reapplication for his position, despite the recruitment agency overseeing the process receiving a number of applications for the CEO role.

This call to action prompted an unsuccessful complaint to the Office of the Auditor General that it gave the impression of bias, or predetermination – something not allowed in local governance – in the council’s CEO selection process.

Jack was reappointed CEO by the council soon after.

At that time, in her role as Deputy Mayor, Faye White spoke of her sadness that “the mayor can’t send a confidential email to his councillors” without it being leaked, saying “When the trust goes … it’s never quite the same.”

Indeed.

Napier deserves better!

 

*A copy of this post appeared as a “Talking Point” in Hawke’s Bay Today on Thursday 5 September 2019*

A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part One

To be fair I wasn’t Halfway Down, more like A Quarter Up…

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Sadly it appears some old habits die hard. Or not at all..

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

So Close, Yet So Far.

The last time I was in Auckland was in 2011 for a Foo Fighters concert at Western Springs.

My wife and I stayed in the centre of town and we were in the city for about the same length of time it took to drive there and back.

It’s not that we didn’t WANT to visit more often, it’s just with IVF, the birth of our daughter, buying our first home, the death of my Dad, my month-long government-funded stay in Wellington, and the death of my Mum all coming hot on the heels of that concert trip, we simply hadn’t had the time or opportunity to go back to Auckland.

So, odd as it may sound, I was looking forward to this operation. As it gave me an opportunity to have a nosey around!

There and Back Again: A Hawke’s Bayite’s Tale

My first expedition for a pre-op appointment and assesment was by road.

Leaving Napier at O-Dark-Hundred I cross the fabled Napier-Taupo road in a mixture of bright, full, moonlight for the most part and pea-soup fog in the middle section around Lochinvar Station.

It isn’t until I am deep into the Waikato region that the sun starts to make an appearance.

And what an appearance it is!

A pink and purple pastoral panorama unfolds around me as the early morning hues illuminate rolling dairy country. Patches of mist lie in valleys and green grass glistens in the gloaming.

It’s the sort of view giant dairy cooperatives pay advertising firms millions of dollars to try and replicate on clogged, polluted urban motorway billboards.

I somehow manage to drive non-stop to Hamilton, where stomach and lower portions dictate I need to take a break for breakfast, stretch and a rest-stop at around 8am.

New Zealand’s state highways and roads really are a story of thirds.

One third is perfectly fine, one third is roadworks and the final third is utter rubbish and SHOULD be roadworks.

I drive the fastest I have ever been legally allowed to drive on the Cambridge Expressway – 110km/h!

The only thing is with that section of road being several hundred meters across, with multiple lanes and (almost) everyone else doing the same speed, you might as well be doing 50km/h – there is no sense of the added “Oomph!” that 10km/h would otherwise bring.

You also still get passed by Audis and Hiluxes regardless of the speed limit, so very little changes, really.

You quickly reel in those who have overtaken you anyway, as further roadworks and rush-hour traffic grind everyone down to a crawl past Mystery Creek.

Having spent the last few hours driving so smoothly and freely, we are now packed together so tightly I can see the irony dripping from their exhaust pipes.

Aside from some stunning native bush views along the northern Waikato River trying to draw your attention away from the road and task at hand, the rather deafening sound of cicadas in river-side pine plantations along State Highway One is quite distracting.

Before you realise what the noise actually is you fear something is going wrong with your car.

Sadly something DID go wrong with my car on this trip once I arrived in Auckland.

The exertion and heat of the almost non-stop trip up made my transmission somewhat fiddly upon starting, so I limited my movements in the hope I would be able to get home in one automotive piece.

Close encounters of the Twitter kind! Paul Brislen and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Never the less I do manage to meet up with fellow Twitterer, technology commentator and pop culture fan Paul Brislen in person for coffee at a swanky Mount Eden Village cafe and pick up a present for my daughter from the equally Twitter renowned Time Out Bookstore.

The appointment with my doctor at the Greenlane Medical Centre goes much better and quicker than planned, and the picturesque view of Maungakiekie – “One Tree Hill” (right behind the hospital) out his office’s windows cheers me up, so I decide to go into town.

This is where the logistics of Auckland traffic come into play.

Greenlane is, in the grand Auckland scheme of things, very “central”. You are kind of in the middle of, well, everything!

This does, however, mean it can take a while to get everywhere.

With my car recuperating at my nearby motel, I decide to test out Auckland’s public transport system and catch a bus into the CBD, do some sightseeing and drop some copies of the magazine I write for, “Baybuzz”, to some of my big-city media friends.

The fare is reasonable and the ride is comfortable, but there is only one issue – the other bazillion vehicles on the road! (I did, unwisely it appears, choose to travel at 4pm in the afternoon..).

What “should” have been about a 15 minute commute takes over half an hour and I get into the CBD just as most of its workers are heading in the opposite direction.

While in Auckland I decide to sample some of the city’s haute cuisine that is unavailable in regional New Zealand – Namely Krispy Kreme Donuts and Wendy’s Burgers!

“No Regerts!!”

After taking in central Auckland for about an hour the day’s driving and events catch up with me and I find myself rather exhausted, sitting outside Britomart without the energy or will to traipse back to the bus stop I arrived from at The Civic Theatre.

I decide to take the train back to Greenlane (have I mentioned before that I think trains are awesome?!).

The train trip takes a mere ten minutes, if that, and another short bus ride delivers me to the door of my accomodation for the night and soon after I am enveloped by the arms of Morpheus.

“I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky,
And the moon turns red,
Over One Tree Hill.”

H.G. Wells, Huka Falls and Home

I wake early the next morning keen to get home, or as far home as possible before any further issues can afflict my car.

At least I THINK I wake.

Merging onto the Southern Motorway in the early hours of the morning is like entering an 80s neon dream.

A river of white, yellow and halogen blue lights stream towards you, as those bound for work in the city make their way in. While ahead, red tail and brake lights form a long, rippling rouge ribbon to the south.

It’s not too disimilar to the “Light Cycle Battle” in the movie Tron (and quite possibly why residents of the next major city in this direction, Hamilton, use the movie’s name as their city’s nickname).

As the motorway heads towards the Bombay Hills the pink and purple tinges of dawn are growing over the horizon.

But also coming over the hills is a scene from “War of the Worlds” – Row upon row of giant power pylons stretch towards the city and motorway.

Not unlike Wells’ giant aliens, these steel quadrapeds actually provide power to the metropolis’ populance, but in the misty glow of dawn they look other-worldly, straddling the red and white streams of light.

Traffic flows freely and smoothly, despite the sheer volume of vehicles that are simultaneously using this small strip of road. The only issue I have is trying to rejoin the flow after pulling over to take the obligitary picture of the Waikato River and Huntly Power Station beyond.

I bypass Hamilton to top up with fuel and grab breakfast to go in Cambridge.

I carry on, eventually stopping at Huka Falls for a walk, where my car decides to play its “lets not start of a while” trick again and in Taupo to take a look at the lake (transiting Taupo so early in the morning on the way up, I had bypassed the town).

The trip back over the Napier-Taupo is far less foggy and dark than the day before and I arrive home in time for a late lunch.

It was a roadtrip I had wanted to do for some time, but now having done it twice in 24 hours with car issues, I think I would prefer to fly next time.

Fortunately they fly you up for operations, which would come around quite quickly.

To Be Continued!

Fortunate Son

How do New Zealand’s talkback “shock-jock” wannabes and their enablers honestly think this divisive “us” verses “them” / “the left” Trumpian, Fox News cant could hold any credibility in New Zealand?

Our nation’s “tyranny of distance” used to be a nice, safe vantage point from where we could see this mindless crap coming!

But not any more.

Words start and stop wars.

Books have stopped bullets.

So to weaponize words, to turn terminology toxic is a very dangerous and stupid thing to do.

In the wrong hands Aware/astute becomes “Woke“.

Polite and caring becomes “PC gone mad!”

And only “Snowflakes” show Empathy.

To say “(“The Left”) want to tell you what is right and what isn’t” is rich coming from someone whose high-paying job is to tell people across a nation via multimedia platforms how their opinion is superior to anyone elses, or how the likes of:

Cyclists,

The unemployed,

Public transport proponents,

And even members of parliament,

Are all wrong!

I consider myself on “the left” politically, but I don’t think I’m superior to, or know more than anyone else.

Mainly because I’ve been told so, or that feeling has been reinforced for decades upon me by the likes of this opinionist – Richer, whiter, more entitled people than I could ever be.

I don’t think I’m better than anyone. But I’m more fortunate than many.

I’m fortunate that I have a home and loving family.

I’m fortunate to be able to provide for that family.

I’m fortunate to have communication skills and access to platforms like Twitter and this site to share my views & opinions.

And I’m fortunate to realise mine is not the only opinion.

Others have different views to mine and they are allowed to express them.

I may not be as highly paid or widely broadcast as many of these malefic media mouthpieces, but I am more fortunate than they are.

Problematic Pacific Plastic

I entered the following in a Sea Week poetry competition last month.
I never heard anything back, so obviously didn’t get anywhere (which is a bit odd..) but thought it was worth sharing nonetheless:

Problematic Pacific Plastic

Our oceans are dying!
That’s not iconoclastic.
You would be too,
If you were that clogged up with plastic!

We’ve got lagoons of balloons,
Whale swimming speed’s off the throttles,
‘Cause it had to get ocean motion,
When you’re chock-full of fizz bottles!

Sea turtles are choking,
When they spy their favourite dish.
Because turtles can’t define
Between plastic bags and jelly fish!

There’s so much plastic pollution
Floating around the Pacific,
They’ve named it “The Great Garbage Patch”!
Y’know, just to be specific!

We need to do something!
All this ocean pollution must end!
For the sake of our existence,
And for our planet to mend!

It’s too much a problem
For us just to park it –
Start by taking canvas bags
To your supermarket!

Reduce, reuse,
Recycle the lot!
Sea levels are rising,
But our future ain’t looking too hot!

So as my poem ends,
I’m begging you, Please!
“Tiakina o Tātou Mōana”
“Care for our Seas”!

Shine a Light

As you may know I’m BIG supporter of my home & region, Hawke’s Bay.

And, as you may also know, I’ve been pretty vocal about how little media exposure (other than disasters & crime) regional New Zealand has gotten over the past two decades in favour of an Auckland-centric focus.

In the last 5 years we saw the rise of smaller news websites like Spinoff & Newsroom, intended to take on the likes of TVNZ, Mediaworks & Herald/NZME.

I had high hopes for these new sites, given how little the main players cared about places like Hawke’s Bay.

I was disappointed.

Early on it seemed Spinoff had more articles about NZME’s Jane Hastings than the actual city of Hastings.

To them apparently one media person > City of 80600+

And if not for the wonderful, award-winning autobiographical writing of the late Peter Wells, Napier would have hardly featured at all.

Hardly inspiring for this regional reader and writer.

Not to be out done, Newsroom’s Mark Jennings essentially declared NZ’s regions don’t matter:

“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems.

There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”

That understandably pissed me off.

The new wunderkind websites had the same mentality as the old media dinosaurs they were meant to be superior to.

It felt like they were blowing the biggest opportunity New Zealand media had had in years – Wherever there was internet access they could have had reporters!

Within the last month the New Zealand government recognized the country has a serious lack of local-body news coverage – particularly in regional NZ and announced a scheme to put several specially focused, government-funded reporters in established newsrooms around the country.

Then last week a story with major public reaction & national implications broke about state carers taking newborn babies from their parents.

The story wasn’t broken by a mainstream media outlet.

It was broken by Newsroom.

And the story wasn’t based in Auckland. It came from Hawke’s Bay.

My region.

So I’ve been right all along?!

NZ regional news DOES matter!?

This should feel like vindication for me, but it doesn’t.

How many issues have been missed because they were “regional/provincial” and “didn’t matter”?

How many wrongdoings could have been stopped?

Jennings’ hypothetical Whanganui sewerage problems?

Homelessness?

Inequality?

This is just the tip of an iceberg New Zealand media SHOULD have started melting years ago!

Heck, in the 80s we had regional news in print and on national TV every weeknight that stopped these bergs from forming in the first place, let alone making it out into the shipping lanes and causing casualties.

We have regional stories that deserve coverage, as many have national implications; A specialized regional local government reporter program in the works, and a Provincial Growth Fund to assist NZ’s growing regions.

Isn’t it time NZ’s commerical media refocused back on the regions, too?

There’s a saying goes:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

Regional New Zealand has a whole lot of growth going on. Not all of that growth is going to be good.

It’s going to need a lot more solar energy from traditional & digital NZ national media to keep regional growth rot-free!

Regional Rugby’s Lament

Listening to the talk of NZRU CEO, Steve Tew’s, resignation annocement on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report the other morning I was irked by how much his / NZRU’s focus was on the international game & stage under his tenure, while it’s felt, like with so many other big New Zealand corporate organisations, regional / grassroots rugby has been ignored under his tenure.

How many Super Rugby, or even All Blacks games (Napier has hosted only two in 20yrs!) could have been played in sold-out, 15,000-20,000 capacity regional stadiums like McLean Park, rather than the regularly 1/2 – 3/4 empty Eden Parks, or (Wellington’s Westpac Trust Stadium) “Caketins”?

Main centre Super Rugby fixture crowds have been pitiful and/or declining for some time, and the whining about low attendances from rugby bosses has only gotten louder, yet do they change tack and spread the games around?

Hell no!

HOW MUCH??!!

Hawke’s Bay and their NPC team, The Magpies have been fortunate to have the local support, income and success over recent seasons to weather the storms Tew bemoaned.

Hawke’s Bay, its team and its fans have been regularly providing the talent, the turnout and the income for Tew’s organisation for years, so why haven’t NZRU returned the favor?

Or, under Mr Tew’s reign, has rugby in New Zealand become more about the money than the mana?

Rocket, Man!

“Three, two, one, blast-off!” A screen-grab of Rocketlab’s most excellent live stream service just a few moments before I courl see it with my own eyes!

Note: This piece appeared as a “Talking Point” in Hawke’s Bay Today on May 7 2019.
It is a combination of two posts I wrote on this site over the previous months, but I felt they worked even better when moulded together.
It proved very popular – I even received an email from Rocket Lab thanking me for writing it and they sent me a goody bag to show their appreciation.
I was just stoked that my own region has joined the likes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Bozeman, Montana (for you Trekkies out there) in pioneering aeronautics!

When I was younger my Mum and Dad would often sit outside at night, looking at the stars and watching for satellites.

I always thought it was a bit odd.

I remember seeing Halley’s Comet in 1986 and wondering if I’d still be alive the next time it came by in 2061.

Heavy stuff for a 9-year-old.

In the early 2000s I watched a documentary series, Space, hosted by Sam Neill.

The first episode showed just how small and insignificant we were in the universe and the second showed how easily we could be wiped off the face of aforementioned astronomical plane.

The 23-year-old me felt insignificant enough as it was without the whole universe chiming in. I didn’t bother watching beyond those first two instalments.

So the night sky filled with stars became a bit of a stranger to me – a passive aggressive bully, if you will.

I tried to ignore it.

Then I became a dad, my own dad passed away, I had my own medical drama three years ago and then mum died last February.

I started looking at the night sky again – going outside when the International Space Station was due to silently streak high over New Zealand.

Admiring just how bright and red Mars is as it rises in the eastern sky.

I even started taking my daughter out each night to “wish upon a star” (she usually chooses what is actually the planet Venus, but whatever).

And maybe I was even thinking, hoping, a couple of those twinkles in the night sky might just be my parents looking down on us.

And so it was I found myself staring skyward twice on Sunday, May 5.

It started with a cold, dark, 5am start and me standing out in my back yard catching a dozen glimpses of “shooting stars” – as the annual Eta-Aquarids Meteor Shower was at its most visible in the eastern sky.

We spent our daylight hours out and about around Hawke’s Bay going to Anderson Park playground and Ahuriri beach in Napier, and Keirunga Park Railway in Havelock North under stunningly clear blue, autumnal Hawke’s Bay skies.

As we drove back to Napier from Havelock North along Marine Parade there was a clear view north and east across Hawke Bay towards Wairoa and Mahia and we remembered there was to be a Rocket Lab launch that evening.

Sure enough, as 6pm rolled around we watched the live-stream of the launch countdown and lift-off on YouTube, then headed outside to where I had seen the meteor shower 13 hours before and with the benefit of a darkened evening sky we, along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people around Hawke’s Bay saw a very bright red-yellow light slowly rising in the eastern sky – Hawke’s Bay reaching for the stars!

As little as 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would be standing in my back yard watching rockets being launched from a Hawke’s Bay site, but here we were.

This was very cool and I must admit to even shedding a proud tear or two, because this has long been the sort of thing I have written about, expected and hoped for from my Hawke’s Bay home.

For my 5-year-old daughter this is hopefully her new, very spectacular, normal.

It may not have been the first Rocket Lab launch, but it was certainly the most visible and symbolic for our region.

Just as The Spirit of Napier reaches for the rising morning sun on Marine Parade, here was Hawke’s Bay launching satellites into space.

In 2014 National government finance minister Bill English had the audacity to say, while on a visit to Napier:

“Hawke’s Bay’s seasonal low-wage economy isn’t going to change in a hurry, so let’s get good at it”.

How wrong he was.

While New Zealand’s Auckland-centric commercial media networks still obsess over surreal estate prices, traffic issues and radio announcer reckons, Hawke’s Bay has been quietly thriving, growing and reaching for the stars!

No longer the butt of that snide Auckland slight “A visitor from Hawke’s Bay” at Metro Magazine-covered parties – With tech hubs, call centres, as well as a rocket launch facility, “A Visitor TO Hawke’s Bay” is becoming something people aspire to as our region becomes an even more attractive place to live, raise a family or open a high-tech, or web-based business.

I’m looking forward to watching more Rocket Lab launches on clear winter evenings and New Zealand being reminded of just how astronomical Hawke’s Bay’s future will be!

Long Train Runnin’

Daughter in Frame and her “Bestest Friend” wave at friend’s Dad, who drives for Kiwirail

As I have written before, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Miss B has a best friend, Master B (no relation), who she met in Kindy.

As their friendship blossomed, we got to know his parents.

As it turns out Mister B is into model trains, like I am, but the cherry on top was with his job as a driver for Kiwirail, he offered to take me on a ride in the cab of a freight train one day.

This was a dream come true!

I’ve been a train nerd for some time and how can you not be?

I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!

A thousand or so tonnes of steel and cargo, pulled by a thousand-plus horsepower engine, rolling along long, snaking tracks through New Zealand’s gorgeous countryside is appealing to admirers of engineering, physics, environmentally-friendly logistics AND aesthetics!

I had previously travelled on the commuter trains in Wellington and Auckland, but the last time I had been on a train in Hawke’s Bay, was taking the Bay Express down to Wellington in the mid to late 90s, shortly before the passenger service was terminated.

 

A few weeks ago he asked if I was free to go for a ride in the cab of a freight train to Woodville on Waitangi Day.

Was I?

Hells, Yeah!!

He said there was a catch – He would have to pick me up at 4am.

This was no catch – For more than a decade my (non-writing, but paying) job has seen my alarm go off at 3:30am six working days out of ten.

With the excitement of the trip ahead of me I had been waiting outside, staring at the stars, for 15 minutes by the time he arrived to pick me up.

In the cab of DL class locomotive number 9135 we leave the Napier yard not long after 5am and after rumbling through a slumbering central Napier, the throttles are opened and we started out along the Hawke Bay coast and over the Tutikuri and Ngaruroro river bridges at the (appropriately named, given the day) Waitangi Wetlands.

Turning inland at Clive we go through the revitalised industrial and logistical hub of Whakatu before running right through the centre of Hastings.

As we exit Hawke’s Bay’s major urban areas the train doesn’t immediately speed up a whole lot, as rail repairs and recent hot temperatures mean the pace is kept relatively slow in case rails have buckled, or moved in the heat.

But that’s fine, because it’s safer and means I get to take in more of a view few get to see these days.

One thing that stands out is all the cool old stations in places like Opapa and Ormomdville.

Where small settlements were set up around these refueling and watering posts and local produce, goods and livestock would have been loaded and unloaded as little as 40-50 years ago, there are often just the station buildings remaining now.

Crossing the braided Waipawa and Tukituku rivers is also very cool.

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Occassionally I look out the back window of the engine and watch the train’s wagons snake around curves behind us.

 

After several more hills and bridges, rivers and sidings we reach the Ormondville Rail Viaduct – A rather impressive (and slightly more than impressively high) structure.

For safety’s sake we cross it at 10km/h, but given its height, narrowness, and the fact it is taking the weight of our several-hundred-tonne train (and us) I am quite happy to be safely across it as quickly as practicable.

Not long after that we are heading towards my destination of Woodville.

The train will carry on to Palmerston North, but as I am not qualified/certified to go through the tunnels of the Manawatu Gorge in an engine, I must wait here for the driver to return.

I end up having a decent wander round and seeing lots of little bits of this town many just pass through and, since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road, many have bypassed altogether.

Today, despite several more empty shops than last time I passed through, the town still seems quite busy – Likely with people on their way to see Phil Collins at Napier’s Mission Concert that night.

As we drive back to Napier I get to reflect on what a great experience this trip had been.

It’s always important to be open to new or different perspectives. Recent events in my life have certainly made this awareness somewhat stronger, and riding in a freight train has certainly been that.

It would be great to see more trains operating in New Zealand again, especially when every wagon represents at least one less truck on already busy and often fast-deteriorating roads.

And, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Something In The Water

NCC workers keeping one of the city’s biggest stormwater drains clear.

During last week’s rather atrocious weather across Hawke’s Bay Napier’s continuing water woes became even more evident, with Napier City Council issuing a notification for residents to refrain from taking baths, or flushing toilets for 36 hours on Wednesday the 5th of September, as the city’s wastewater system failed to cope with the amount of rain that had fallen almost continuously for 24 hours.

For the second time in less than 18 months, Napier City Council released stormwater and sewerage into Napier’s Ahuriri Lagoon, otherwise known as “Pandora Pond” after more than 90mm of rain fell in 24 hours between Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th of September.

That’s almost twice the average for the entire month!

Similar events occurred last April when the tail ends of Cyclones Debbie and Cook successively hit Hawke’s Bay hard and the City Council discharged 2.5million litres of wastewater into Pandora Estuary.

In both cases warning signs were erected around the estuary and immediate areas warning against swimming and the collection of seafood due to the public health risk of possible contamination from sewerage in the water and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the region’s environmental watchdogs were alerted.

Pandora Pond – Looking a bit murkier than usual after the heavy rains

“But how does sewerage get in the stormwater?” you might rightly ask.

It’s to do with infrastructure, namely pipes.

Ideally rain falls from the sky, onto your roof, into your spouting and into the stormwater system via gutters and stormwater drains / creeks and eventually into rivers / lakes / out to sea.

Unfortunately some spouting goes into the wrong drains around the house – Wastewater drains from bathrooms, showers, laundries, which gets treated with sewerage from.. um.. “other drains”.

During severe weather events, such as the one we’ve just gone through, having the wrong pipe going into the wrong drain can greatly increase the amount of wastewater in the system.

But Hastings and rural Hawke’s Bay had more rain than Napier did – at one stage I saw a reading of 191mm for HB, 66mm for Hastings and “only” 43mm for Napier in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday.

So how come Hastings only started to feel the effects of the severe weather a day or so later, with Porta-loos distributed to some residents in the suburb of Akina, as their stormwater and sewerage systems stated to struggle?

From the makers of “Highway to Hell” and “Stairway to Heaven” comes “Driveway to Puddle”!

It could be something to do with Napier being coastal – The seas were certainly huge for most of the week and it would be hard for the water to drain out to sea when the sea is doing its best to get onto the land.

Marine Parade’s walkway was a mess on Thursday after high seas accompanying the storm battered the coast

It could be the fact we’re the lowest point above sea level in Hawke’s Bay.

Water naturally runs downhill and it might take a day or so of heavy rain for natural drains to back up the height difference between Napier and Hastings.

Or it could be that the city’s pipe infrastructure just isn’t up to it.

It has been known for some time that Napier’s water infrastructure was aging badly and in need of repair soon, if not overdue.

This has been the problem with Napier’s drinking water – It isn’t Hawke’s Bay’s aquifer quality being sub-par – The water down there is just as clean and pure as usual, it’s been council infrastructure – Bores, pipes and reservoirs letting the side down .

You might remember during the region’s contentious amalgamation debate and vote three years ago that Napier’s infrastructure was a rather large sore point.

I was strongly opposed to amalgamation, seeing the way it was promoted merely as a cynical attempt to sell off and/or privatise council departments (like water) and assets.

Amalgamationalists claimed Napier’s pipes were in a bad way and would likely cost many millions to repair / replace, while NCC’s vanguard staunchly defended its underground assets.

“Napier is very well positioned to meet any future infrastructure related growth or renewal challenges.”

“The short answer is Napier’s infrastructure, I can assure you, is in excellent shape.”
Napier Mayor, Bill Dalton. September 2015

It looks like council hierarchy might have, yet again, spoken too soon.

Even the NZ Auditor General’s office piped up, so to speak, on Twitter after this week’s rain referencing some 2016 stormwater analysis.

But the most odd pronouncement over the issue must go to the regional paper, Hawke’s Bay Today’s, new editor, who wrote on the weekend after the deluge that “A Wee Bit of Wee Never Hurt Anyone, We Hope ”.

That was just outright bizarre!

Has he not heard of Giardia? Campylobacter?
Has he not simply tried searching his own paper’s website for the words “Havelock” and “Gastro”?

His newspaper did win an award (albeit under the previous editor) for being “news central” for the Havelock North Water Crisis two years ago, after all.

Or maybe he just needs to talk to the mother whose child got sick after swimming in Pandora Pond.

Again, his newspaper reported on the incident.

Whichever way you look at it SOMETHING needs to be done – And QUICKLY!

After last year’s rain event and stormwater release the Regional Council said the deluge was a “Once-in-Five-Year” event, but had since scaled that estimation back to once-a-year”.

To its credit, Napier City Council has put aside over $20 million for refurbishing its water systems in the coming years, but after almost back-to –back yearly events, could it be too little, too late?

Our climate is changing (whether radio host Leighton Smith believes it or not) and the weather is getting more severe, more often.

Sea levels are expected to rise and Napier’s population is expected to grow by at least 2,000 households in the next ten years – Increasing the demands and challenges on infrastructure even more.

If we don’t do something to counter its effects fast, we face severe safety and public health issues and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s environmental regulatory department and some regional councillors have already aired concerns and displeasure with how Napier City Council management has dealt with these recent events.

Perhaps we could delay some of the council’s glamour projects, like the $45 million seafront Aquarium upgrade until we have the city’s water supplies going in and out the right ways.

After all, who will visit the refurbished aquarium if we’re all too sick, or washed away to get there?