Hot heads, dry weather and rare birds

23:00, Dec 26 2013

2013 saw the Big Dry break farmers' hearts, teachers take to streets over troubled payroll system Novopay, and some long-awaited answers about a plane crash that claimed two lives. 

The "Big Dry" becomes one of the most serious droughts in the region's history. The month opens with hopes of rain but a total fire ban is placed over the lower North Island for the first time in history on March 7.

A North Island-wide drought is declared by Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy at a press conference on a farm in Colyton on March 15.

By March 18 the Manawatu River level is at its lowest level recorded since 1928. Two days of substantial rain arrives the day after; mud sloshes around farmers' gumboots again and smiles return to faces.

Making census

Five dog bites, three naked encounters and a touch of heatstroke challenge census collectors delivering forms to Manawatu homes. Every person in New Zealand was to fill in the census on March 6 with statistics from the region collated and released in early December.


Pay anger mounts

Frustrations reach fever pitch over Novopay for teachers. Manawatu school staff take to the picket line to publicise their displeasure. Teachers travel to a Palmerston North union-organised demonstration from as far afield as Levin on March 5 to protest on the six-month anniversary of the roll-out of the maligned payroll system.

Relay rakes it in

Manawatu's 13th Relay for Life on March 9 and 10 is the biggest yet, raking in more money than ever before. More than 2000 people, divided into 112 teams, run, walk and wheel their way around Massey University's Hokowhitu athletics track. At the end of the event, $321,784 has been raised - well up on the $308,604 raised at the same time last year.

Club collapse

St Patrick's Day celebrations are marred when a 20-year-old Palmerston North woman collapses in Shooters Bar and Nightclub. Dearna McLauchlin is taken to Palmerston North Hospital by ambulance in the early hours of March 18, but does not survive.

Funding is for the birds

Endangered birds are almost cast out in the fight against predators by Horizons Regional Council. All but four councillors decided to abolish funding to the Kia Wharite pest control programme, held up by then conservation minister Tim Groser in 2009 as "a model for conservation projects", from July 1 at a meeting in mid-March. The council quickly realised its mistake and reinstated the funding in May.

Bar humbug

Eric Southee's attempt to open a central-city bar comes to a head when a judge lambasts police for trying to use a witness statement from a Palmerston North sex worker to discredit his liquor licence application. Mr Southee sought to open Rockz Karaoke Bar on the corner of Rangitikei and Cuba streets. The judge slams the "dirty toenail" tactic and grants Mr Southee a licence to open, but the business fails a few months later.

Church doors close

The pews fill for the final time at the historic All Saints Church as more than 600 people farewell one of Palmerston North's most prominent buildings. A special hymn festival and organ recital was held in the nearly 100-year-old church on March 24. Its doors shut indefinitely on Easter Sunday after fears about its structural integrity.

Commuters happy

It's a case of use it or lose it for the Capital Connection, with the Palmerston North to Wellington service given a stay of execution. After months of uncertainty the commuter train's future is ensured for two years by KiwiRail in late March.

Air crash findings

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission releases its findings into the July 26, 2010, crash near the Taonui Aerodrome that killed Flight Training Manawatu chief flying instructor Jessica Neeson, 27. Student pilot Patricia Smallman, 64, also died when their Cessna collided in mid-air with one piloted by student Manoj Kadam.

The report lists a string of possible causes for what happened and finds the occupants of both planes may not have been aware of each other's position.

Manawatu Standard