The month it rained old northern clothes

Last updated 16:49 30/01/2014
Pat Veltkamp Smith
Columnist Pat Veltkamp Smith was Southland Times women's editor until 1997 and is a former president of the Southland Justices of the Peace Association.

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We're not being elitist here but have you noticed there's one sure way of knowing a real Southlander?

Watch his reaction to rain - in January - after days of it.

If he is over 40 - he will equate the days of rain with the flood of 30 years ago - one of the Hundred Year Floods that were a feature of Southland in the century past. Remember, it came about after days of rain like this.

Not really like this.

Then the rain fell and didn't stop, not for days.

Now when rain comes and we say it hasn't stopped all day, that's not so.

Mostly rain does stop every few hours, or long enough to rescue washing, catch the mail, pick parsley , rosemary and thyme, visit the compost, empty stuff into a wheelie bin or two - any two of the above done in the dry time.

But 30 years ago, in January 1984, it rained non-stop day and night and suddenly the signs were there and relentlessly water moved in and houses, streets and suburbs were cut off one from one another and towns from bridges and bridges from roads and we were lucky to stay at home when others were evacuated out into schools and halls, lucky to have a spare room to share and clean dry clothes too.

Boys who were 10 then are now 40-year-old householders and their parents, probably 70?

No lives were lost and damaged property was repaired and reclaimed.

Invercargill mayor Eve Poole led the charge on the day and in follow-up months ensured that the city became, gradually, flood- proof, a legacy we enjoy now.

Throughout New Zealand people responded to a welfare call for help and the Red Cross was inundated with the clean-out of northern wardrobes. We received bridesmaid dresses, old school uniforms, outworn long-johns and some pretty tap dresses.

Today, Red Cross holds a clothing mandate, which means they can out fit 100 men, women and children in new basic track pants and tops, underwear and sneakers.

It took a age to clear that donated clothing, an age.

Still sometimes a heliotrope bridesmaid's dress or weirdly striped pyjama pants appear and memory stirs - but not much else.


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- The Southland Times


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