Reported sightings of an elderly local identity have produced no breakthrough in the long-running case, police told a news conference this morning. The city of Nelson has been missing for decades.
"We can't continue the hunt much longer without some hard evidence," said a dejected LandSAR head, Sergeant Swanni Todd. "We've got little to go on. Nelson hasn't shown up on the national radar for yonks."
Police suspect the aged city is suffering from dementia, wandering aimlessly and living in the past. They released a photo of Nelson, conceding that the image itself is dated. It shows a community bristling with potters, artists, musicians, youth and vigour. A poster for the World of WearableArt is discernible in the background.
"People will have to use their imagination," said Sgt Todd.
"Our sources tell us the artistic types are still around. Hospital managers say large numbers are fronting up at A&E complaining of numbness in their hands - caused by sitting on them for too long. The council has hired an overseas consultant to look into it."
Police say their resources are stretched by an ill-defined search area.
"There's no heart to the place. We've got all these little scattered venues where Nelson might be. Itsy-bitsy stuff. Our job would be so much easier if it had a hub such as a community meeting place or performing arts centre where we could focus our resources."
Sgt Todd vented his frustration: "Porirua's got one; Levin has just built a beauty; Blenheim is working on its second. Tiny communities like St Arnaud, Moutere and Murchison, they've all got them - and mostly built by themselves. Nelson's been dithering for years, scattering money to the winds on knick-knack facilities, a few of them pretty dog-eared, I've gotta say."
The glut of "visions" of Nelson that have surfaced in recent weeks fail to re-invigorate Sgt Todd.
"I don't want to sound cynical," he said, " but we get these every three years around council election time. Attention-seeking, much of it. We are obliged to check each and every ‘vision' out, but they usually amount to stuff-all."
Police profiling of the lost city reveals a weakness for caffeine. Search teams have followed the aroma of grinding beans to 60 or more outlets in the CBD alone, with no firm result apart from requests for coffee-cup holders to be added to police utility belts.
Logistical problems have also hampered the operation. Searchers cannot locate decent food for sale after 9 o'clock at night - a time when similar communities are still sipping their pre-dinner drinks.
Sgt Todd refused to give up hope. "You never know in this game. I've seen miracles. We might find Nelson tucked away somewhere, enjoying a wee snooze in the sun. Meanwhile, we are circulating the city's particulars where they will gain maximum coverage - newspapers, TV, radio and ACC secure records."
Anyone with information concerning the whereabouts of the city is asked to ring their local police station. "We've also set up a freephone number, 0800 FLOUNDERING."
Sgt Todd said police were on the verge of scaling back their search for Nelson. "Staff may need to be reassigned to a national inquiry growing out of Wellington. Our comms centres are fielding a lot of calls about the disappearance of New Zealand."
The Nelson operation has not been entirely fruitless, he added. House-to-house canvassing unearthed a bycatch of other crime. "We located an affordable residence for first-time buyers in Victory. It was taken into custody before it could deflate the property values of decent citizens. The matter has been referred to the Reserve Bank."
Searchers also stumbled on a clandestine "D lab" at a Rocks Rd address. "They were manufacturing illicit ‘Detour' traffic signs to place at either end of the road."
Police estimated the signs had a street value of millions of dollars.
❏ ❏ ❏ Joking aside, I note the great demigod Parking has also reared its head in the local body election campaign. Parking is most devoutly worshipped in Richmond, of course, where it usurps most of the CBD - and what a stirring sight those vast hectares of asphalt are.
Can it be coincidence that Richmond has the most soul-less shopping precinct for many a mile?
(We learn nothing. The new "big-box" retail development at Annesbrook promises to be just as bleak.)
Central Nelson bends its knee to the Deity with "Free parking Tuesdays", and the council also piously fends off all pleas for the pedestrianising of Trafalgar St. Even small bits of it.
In the suburbs, free parking is year-round as thousands of residents leave their cars, wagons and mobile homes on roadsides and berms owned and maintained by the council.
A generous concession, though a little unfair on those of us who pay the capital cost of land, plus ongoing rates, to accommodate our vehicles. Perhaps a rates rebate would be appropriate. A wannabe councillor might take that up as a policy platform.
- © Fairfax NZ News