Tapping into Southland spirit

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong and partner Karen Bellew celebrate with family and friends.
Southland District Mayor Gary Tong and partner Karen Bellew celebrate with family and friends.

Southland, thank you, writes Gary Tong in Southern Focus..

I have been elected as your mayor for the next three years and I have been humbled by your support.

To be elected in favour of two very outstanding sitting councillors was incredible.

I have the greatest respect for councillors John Douglas and Paul Duffy, the latter I've chosen as deputy mayor.

The days following the election have been amazing and I know the next three years will be full of surprises, happy times, meeting some great people, rekindling old relationships as well as the occasional sad event.

I've been a Southlander since 1981 and it never fails to amaze me how the resilience of the people of Southland always gets through.

From the 1984 floods and family tragedies to happier times such as winning the Ranfurly Shield - I've been there, part of our community and part of that true Southland spirit.

The role of mayor means it's now time to stand down from a number of committees and get on with moving the district forward with the support of a fine bunch of councillors.

My role will be to lead council with transparency, trust, energy and the support of our Southland communities.

The office of mayor comes with many responsibilities, the first of which I consider to be acting as your representative for all things Southland.

Southland is a great place to work and live and we have plenty to offer visitors to our region. We must build on what we have and investigate other ways to entice tourists, investors, businesses and people to the district.

There is no such thing as a bad idea. If you have an idea then either contact myself or Venture Southland.

During the campaign I became aware of a number of issues that have affected a small number of ratepayers but I also found that the majority of ratepayers have confidence in our council.

Nationally the Southland District is recognised as an exceptional business model which demonstrates how a council can function effectively and efficiently. I'm proud to be leading such a fine example and look forward to continuing that work.

For those of you who don't know me I'd like to tell you a little bit about myself.

I was born in Auckland in 1958. I am the eldest son of Pearl and Alf Tong, very hardworking parents who strived to bring up their five sons in hard times. I have lived in Northland, the West Coast, Porirua and Canterbury. As many of you will know I was the manager at Borland Lodge for six years and I remain a trustee of the Borland Lodge Adventure and Education Trust, a role I'll continue for as long as I can.

Borland Lodge is an excellent Southland-owned facility for educating our youth in outdoor pursuits.

There have been a range of jobs in my working life, including farm worker, railway employee, police officer, Southland District Council property officer, adviser for Emergency Management Southland, adviser for Land Search and Rescue, Fish & Game ranger and co-owner of the Invercargill Kiwi Holiday Park.

My partner is Karen Bellew. Karen is now running the holiday park with assistance as required. You may know her from her work with the Invercargill Repertory Society, Invercargill Rock and Roll Club, Hokonui Gold and the Radio Network.

I have two adult children, both of whom live in Southland, and Karen has three adult children. Between us we have nine grandchildren.

Karen and I are prepared for the next three years and she wants to be involved in helping our communities in a number of ways.

I will be out and about in the community once I settle into the role. If you see me please don't hesitate to come over and say hello.

As your mayor I'd like to ask you to continue to be Southlanders, to support one another in times of need and get out there and know your neighbour. Thank you again.

» Gary Tong is the Southland District Mayor.

The Southland Times