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One step forward for maintenance, two steps back

An extract from Swamp Fever by Gerard Hindmarsh – the story of his life as an alternative life-styler in Golden Bay, northwest of Nelson, published in 2005 by Potton and Burton.

Some situations, natural or otherwise, get better; others don’t. Like the amalgamation of
Gerard Hindmarsh
the Golden Bay, Motueka and Richmond County councils into the Tasman District Council in 1989. By Gerard Hindmarsh.

I personally believe that centralisation of services to Richmond was an expensive backwards step for our remote area. For a start, the Golden Bay County Council had built up an impressive inventory of equipment. Any emergency or road work could be responded to immediately at the discretion of a capable works manager who knew the district like the back of his hand. At his disposal were a fleet of graders, trucks and tractors ready to do the job. 

These were all removed over The Hill to Richmond, and services then tendered out to big business. Instead of one contractor being responsible for mowing the roadside, we now have four huge tractors plus support vehicles, all with flashing lights, that periodically come over from Nelson to do it in one hugely extravagant circus. Because they all act with standard imprecision, the roadside flax which binds their blades has become their declared enemy. Roadside tailoring techniques as employed by proud locals like Harry Wilson are no longer a requirement for the job.

Our rates go up and up, and the situation we find ourselves in plainly ridiculous. Around four years ago I noticed that a section of culvert that drains my swamp under the highway was collapsing. If it went completely, flooding of the main highway would be inevitable. So, I called the TDC in Richmond.

‘Sorry, we contract all that sort of thing out now, can you ring Sicon,’ the receptionist instructed me. But the man at Sicon said they were only responsible to the council for bridges and reserves. ‘Better ring Transit, they do all the highways,’ he advised.

The man at Transit New Zealand [pre-NZTA] told me their highway inspection work was now being done by the consulting civil engineers Montgomery, Watts and Hazard, based in Nelson. ‘Better ring them.’ So, I did, but they told me to ring Opus International Consultants, who had recently been contracted to advise them on impending maintenance. ‘We’ll be out your way soon, I’ll drop in,’ the Opus man said. At last, I thought, some luck.

Two months later he turned up with a small digital camera, but he didn’t seem interested in the culvert at all when I showed him. ‘What’s its number?’ he just kept asking. ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘It doesn’t have a number. I’ve lived here for 30 years, and it’s never had a number.’

‘Sorry, mate. It’s gotta have a number on a peg somewhere,’ he said. ‘We can’t fix it if it doesn’t have a number. We’re only on contract you know, and we gotta go by the book these days.’

I gave up at that point, deciding to fix it myself, which I did, digging out the offending section with a shovel and re-concreting it before filling in the washed-out section with gravel I carted in from Parapara Inlet.

Just 60 years ago, the 25-kilometre stretch from Takaka to Collingwood had seven roadmen permanently assigned to it, each responsible for a section of the gravel road. Harry Wilson of Onekaka used to be one of them. He told me he knew every culvert along his stretch nearly as well as each one of his kids. Every day he’d walk the full length of his section carrying his shovel, first on one side then back the other, tidying up water tables or re-spreading gravel  as he went.

Drivers in cars and horse-drawn traffic would more often than not stop to talk to him, keeping  him up with the local gossip and  road conditions right down to the state of all the big potholes throughout the district. He told me there was nothing he felt prouder of than his bit of road; in fact, all the roadmen competed as to who could do the best job. It was a matter of great personal pride among them.

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