Our history, our future

T his week New Zealand took pause to recognise Waitangi Day, one of the most important days in our nation's history.

Almost 175 years ago, on February 6, 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The Treaty is one of the founding documents of our country. While it laid a foundation for our country, it has also long been the cause of disagreement and debate, with important differences between the Maori and English versions.

My partner Karen and I were lucky enough to visit Northland recently and saw where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

We also visited Kororareka, where Nga Puhi chief Hone Heke, who had signed the Treaty at Waitangi, later famously and repeatedly ordered the British flagpole be cut down to show his dissatisfaction at the British Government.

It was a little surreal to be visiting places with such significant history and where New Zealanders came together as one, although to this day there remains some disagreement.

I challenge you to think this week about Waitangi Day and our country. We have a rich and colourful past but do you and your children really understand where we have come from?

We live in a great country but especially the place we call home, Southland.

Waitangi Day presents not only the chance to look back at our history, it is also an opportunity to look ahead at what the future holds for our nation.

New Zealand has changed dramatically since 1840, and even the past 20 years have seen big changes.

Our population, nationally and in Southland too, has become more ethnically diverse in recent years, with the growth of dairying in the province bringing more immigrants to the region.

These new New Zealanders are an important part of our communities, and we should take care to recognise this. Together we are what makes Southland special and together we can work to make it an even better place.

Speaking of changes, last week at the council we said goodbye to Liz, our dedicated personal assistant to the mayor and chief executive for the past 12 years. While Liz is leaving the building, she will still be calling in to assist now and then.

We all have a chance in life to progress our employment through professional development or just by taking an opportunity when it arises.

This then leaves a gap in the employment chain that needs filled, and on and on we go, chopping and changing and learning all the time.

Employment opportunities are all around us. Some choose to take the opportunity while others don't. Over the years I have met many motivated and professional people. Some have crossed the world to live in New Zealand, and many have settled in Southland.

My time owning a holiday park has allowed me to meet and talk at length to people from all over world. Listening to these people talk about our country, and our Southland, makes me feel for and embrace the value that other people have for our lifestyle.

It's something we all, as Southlanders, should embrace. We are lucky to live in such a beautiful and unique part of the world.

Southlanders are known for being friendly and hospitable; we're also known to be hardy and resourceful.

It's that resourcefulness that saw Southland District Council launch its new book bus recently.

Last week I attended the opening of the book bus, which came about after the council identified the need for a replacement vehicle to continue the much-loved community service in its Long Term Plan. The previous bus had travelled more than 350,000 kilometres throughout the district, quite a trip by any standard.

The book bus service has been providing the people of Southland with access to books for a quarter of a century.

The new book bus is the fifth vehicle the council has operated as a mobile library and is the first purpose-built vehicle, designed with efficiency and safety in mind.

It is an important service for our rural communities, because it not only offers access to reading and learning, it also provides council services so residents can also pay their rates and gain access to other services.

Next week is a big week for the Southland farming community, with Southern Field Days being held at Waimumu.

The event attracts thousands of people and is a great way for the council to be able to talk to the public and get feedback on a wide range of topics.

The Southland District Council will have a tent at the field days and I will be there too. Please feel free to come along and say hi.

Gary Tong is Southland district mayor.

The Southland Times