Unless you’ve been there, you probably think of Westport as being wet and cold, and the victim of 10 rounds with that heavyweight champion of misery, Economic Downturn.
Not a lot of good things have happened to Westport in the past quarter of a century: a forced stop to native logging hit the place hard and the fortunes of coal have come and mostly gone, with the latest blow being the end of cement production. Over a thousand good paying jobs wiped out in a town of about 4000 people. There’s about 9700 people in the whole Buller District, of which Westport is the capital and seat of power.
Amazingly banana plants grow in Westport, giving the lie to the place being cold and miserable, so if these tropical honeys can grow there, surely anything can happen?
New Zealanders roughly fall into three main groups – people like you and me, Aucklanders, and ‘Coasters’.
The West Coast (or even just ‘the Coast’) is a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the soaring peaks of the Southern Alps and the unpredictable, frequently-stormy Tasman Sea.
It’s a place of lush forest, lush grass, plenty of rain – and human beings as unique as two-headed chooks and as tough as railway sleepers, people who thumbed their noses at the outside world, most famously with their legendary ignoring of six o’clock pub closing.
Māori were here first obviously and the European invasion seems to have been dominated by Irish, given the mix of names and attitudes that still dominate today.
My visit to Westport was prompted by a phone call from one person, Peter Coburn, who with his wife Wendy and young family went to Westport intending to stay two years as a teacher, but 40 years on they’re still there.
Peter’s parents were friends with my parents in our ‘Brighton days’ and I babysat Peter and his older brother Michael a number of times.
The long and short of the call from Peter was that I should come and have a look at some of the things that are happening in Westport to redress the effects of the economic blows.
So I did.
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