OPINION: Way, way back in the day our big family of Mum, Dad and eight kids would sometimes call in on Les and Nancy Bielski on a Sunday drive or even during the week in the school holidays.
I doubt Dad would have rung first because you never needed to in those days. The Bielskis had farmed all their lives on hard back country in Mangamingi and had retired to some flatter land in Cheal Rd in Pukengahu. Mrs Bielski wouldn't hear of us waiting in the car or even outside. Instead she'd usher us into the formal lounge with the biggest and warmest welcome ever.
Minutes later the tea trolley would appear with flash silver teapot, hot scones made on the coal range, whipped farm cream and homemade jam. That kind of experience and hospitality was routine in the day and I was reminded of it on two occasions recently, once at Kevin and Jean Down's Wingrove stud bull sale in Strathmore and again at Colin and Carol King's Bexley Herefords sale in the middle of the Awakino Gorge. I must confess I didn't buy any bulls with Simon Payne hammering every last cent out of the buyers' pockets and the market as strong as it is, but the food was fantastic. It was every bit as good as Mrs Bielski's efforts and I loved it, over and over.
That country hospitality combined with most rural families feeling they were a solid and important part of New Zealand's destiny meant they never stood in the way of oil companies wanting to do important stuff on their farms. In fact, they usually encouraged them and probably gave them scones too.
They'd seen the movies, like James Dean's Giant, or J R on Dallas on TV and knew oil people were good people, just like them, really. Farmers of the day had plenty of common sense (still do) so were confident that between them, good oil boys and local government agencies they'd all look after the environment. She was all good to go.
The farmers directly involved were not lawyers and had little use for them usually, but the simple- looking consents they signed back then were prepared by lawyers. Very clever lawyers. No-one then had any idea they might be bandied about in foreign boardrooms, with wells changing ownership, amalgamations, production station facilities constantly growing, more noise, light, 24/7 flare pit activity, busy roads, fear of sudden catastrophe, etc. All that has followed. They had no idea when they signed off a pipeline corridor to get the oil and gas to market, over a friendly cup of coffee, that would open the door to a mass of pipes transporting oil from other wells for processing. They had no idea they would have to be the de facto watchdog at night to notice activities unseen by sleeping Taranaki Regional Council staff.
We see a rising discontent among the affected farming fraternity which is completely separate to the mostly imported and radical anti-fracking brigade. I'm talking about encouraging people who support the same things you believe in; the underdog, the school, netball and rugby, the district, the country, the future. They want the quiet enjoyment of their properties, the maintenance of its value, the protection of its environmental integrity. They do not deserve to be looked at sideways or snubbed in the saleyards, main street or sportsgrounds. They are you, support them.
On a wider scale, I know the importance of the oil industry to this province and this country. Imposing new and tighter rules, or more strictly enforcing old ones, is not going to hurt that industry or drive it away. The ridiculous site safety rules imposed by most must cost an absolute fortune and for whose benefit? So they can look righteous in asking Lucy Lawless to be removed from their ship because of safety concerns? So they can set a legal precedent to claim compensation if anyone protests or questions?
I'd personally feel a lot happier if all after-dark activities involving any materials moving off oil well and production sites were banned. I'd feel a lot happier if all the Cheal roaders were taken a little more seriously and that TRC and oil companies read their letters and detailed presentations and responded to them properly.
I'd feel a lot happier if what's left of our once legendary country hospitality was no longer abused, and people would stop going to bull sales just to enjoy the food.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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