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May the breezes be at our backs

ALASTAIR PAULIN - METROPOLIS
Last updated 12:33 26/12/2009
May the breezes be at our backs
MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
SHOWCASE FOR REGION: The Motueka Top Town team Danial Bremner, Alistair Smart, Toni Hodgkinson, Nathan Fa'avae, Milton Paaka, Craig Beatson, Dulkara Martig, and Ralph Lattimore get in the swim at the ASB Aquatic Centre.

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OPINION: After the tryptophan from the turkey, the brandy from the plum pud and the levity from the bubbles, I imagine Boxing Day is a pretty subdued day. Maybe some low light, definitely sunnies, and for God's sake, who gave the kids that drum set for Christmas?

Perhaps it is time for a little quiet reflection, pondering the year that was. At least, that sounds like a high-minded way of rationalising a mid-afternoon kip on the beach. Snoring? I wasn't snoring. I was cogitating.

In that spirit, here's some highly selective 2009 highlights (and a few lowlights) from Motropolis – that mighty region to your north, which is, according to its residents, the best place in all of New Zealand and probably the whole world but we don't say that because we're low-key and modest over here.

After 16 years of being arm-twisted by Jack Inglis, Motueka opened a community-owned hospital that rivals any in the country. Despite many obstacles along the way, Jack's determination pushed the project through. My favourite of the many descriptions I heard for Jack's success was that Jack would turn down his hearing aid so he couldn't hear people telling him no.

He deservedly picked up North & South magazine's New Zealander of the Year title in the health category and if Motueka had its way, would be a shoo-in for Nelsonian of the Year, too.

The Motueka River was named the best river in New Zealand for recreational use by the Ministry for the Environment. Much as I like to imagine that this was based on a barrelful of boffins bopping down the river towing a cooler of stubbies at a ministry picnic, it was actually based on water clarity and lack of e.coli bacteria. At the gorge, it was clearest river in the country and the fourth-least poo-contaminated.

Buddens Books, Motueka's only independent bookstore, closed after 105 years. The closure was attributed to competition from online book sales, and while probably inevitable, didn't do anything for Motueka's reputation as a bit of a cultural wasteland.

Motueka has close ties to Samoa thanks to the RSE workers in the district's orchards, so when the tsunami hit, Motueka responded. One of its residents, Siaki Afioga, is from the village of Lalomanu which was flattened by the tsunami, and he lost more than 20 relatives in the tsunami. Motueka schools, churches and businesses donated money and goods to send with Siaki when he returned to Samoa.

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The town also sent a container of goods to Lalomanu, organised by Siaki's wife, Celia Grey and Tony Brown.

Initially, Siaki was charged $540 for excess baggage, but after the Motueka-Golden Bay News brought the matter to Air New Zealand management, Air Nelson general manger Grant Kerr paid the remaining $1200 to ship donated goods to Samoa and arranged for a new ticket for Siaki to return to Samoa to co-ordinate the distribution of the goods.

There were tears all around at the meeting where that happened, and the gesture was a sign of how everybody, from the bureaucracy of a large, partially state-owned business to five year-old Motueka schoolkids, got behind helping out our Pacific neighbours.

The Motueka Marvels did the town proud in TV2's splat-a-thon, Top Town. With multisport studs such as Nathan Fa'avae and Fleur Lattimore anchoring the team, ably supported by sporting luminaries like Olympic runner Toni Wilkinson and former Tall Black Ralph Lattimore, they showcased our region as a great place for sporty and outdoors types.

To my relief, they trounced my boyhood home of Oamaru, but were then pipped at the post by Taupo in the heat. They sneaked into the semis based on a fastest loser rule and were leading the field until the final puzzle obstacle, where Taupo again overtook them. One more reason to avoid Taupo.

Throughout it all, they laid their bodies on the line for hometown pride. The key to our success, Fleur told New Zealand's couch potatoes, is that "we'll die trying". Team organiser Judene Edger told me the other teams were in awe of the Marvels' good team attitude and sportsmanship.

The year was awful for pipfruit growers and that will have its effect on Motueka in 2010. Great fruit, lousy markets, disastrous exchange rates. Orchardists will be paring their spending to the bone, and so, Motueka, trailing the rest of the world as is its style, may find the recession bites here just when the rest of the country is celebrating the end of it.

But, for now, as High St buzzes with holidaymakers and the retailers ramp up for their busy season, let's banish those thoughts. May your tills ring merrily, may the river run clear and may 2010 bring us all plenty of more stories to be celebrated in Motropolis.

Motropolis is Nelson Mail Motueka reporter Alastair Paulin's fortnightly reflections on life in his adopted hometown. He can be contacted at alastairp@nelsonmail.co.nz.

- The Nelson Mail

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