Local Politics in Palmerston North


I’m sitting staring out of my glass doors at the rain.  The tail end of cyclone Pam which has devastated Vanuatu has lost intensity and is now raining generously on Waiheke Island and much of the East Coast of New Zealand.  My trees are grateful and the Tuis continue to sing raucously as they voraciously eat the purple Mahoe berries.  It’s time to catch up on a few adventures.

I recently stole a few days to visit Palmerston North.  In New Zealand, Palmerston North is a bit of a joke, being branded the most boring place, so people look at you askance when you tell them you are going there voluntarily.  One of my oldest friends lives there and has led an artistically fulfilled and contented life for over forty years.  I went to Massey University, on the outskirts in the early 70’s and found the adjustment from a small country town to this ‘boring’ city quite manageable, enabling me to progress to Christchurch, Auckland then London.

The Scenic train
The Scenic train

I took the Auckland to Wellington train which leaves three times a week but on a Saturday, there is no ferry from Waiheke early enough, so I had to stay in town.  It’s a comfortable journey, with headphones if you choose to listen to the excellent commentary, pointing out interesting views and local history along the way.

Waikato region
Waikato region
The loop timber milling region
The loop timber milling region
Mount Ruapehu from National Park Station
Mount Ruapehu from National Park Station

There are stunning views from the Waikato area south through the Taupo volcanic plateau and the Tongariro National Park. The volcanoes were clearly visible, with hardly a cloud in the sky.  The journey continued to be spectacular though the ex- timber milling area of the upper Whanganui River and then into the deep ravines of the northern Manawatu.

My friend, Stephen wants to show me the good news first so he took me to see the newly expanded Globe Theatre http://www.globetheatre.co.nz/

He’s very proud of the new space with flexible seating.  There’s also an enlarged café area and space for exhibitions.  This community theatre has been well funded by the local council over the years with top-up fundraising from globe supporters.  It is a universal fact that community arts provisions have their detractors and champions on local councils.  When times are tough, it’s often the arts which get cut first.  It is therefore no surprise when I see some journalistic mischief on the front page of the Manawatu Evening Standard.  There are photos of all the projects the Council is planning to cut and top of the page is the ramp the theatre needs to build to allow disabled access from the auditorium to the café.  I don’t think whoever has suggested this realises that the building will be non-compliant.  But then the Globe has always had its enemies.  While I was there, the Mayoral elections were in full swing and each candidate was promoting their own achievements.  One young candidate, who has consistently tried to block Globe development attempted to claim that its success was due to him.  The interviewer pulled him up sharply.  Needless to say, that candidate did not win the election, but will no doubt live to stick a few more oars in the works.

Plane tree stump on Broadway
Plane tree stump on Broadway

One of the best local council stories I have heard so far, was happening right here in Palmerston North.  Here is my fictional dramatisation of what happened to the Plane trees in Broadway – one of Palmerston North’s main shopping and entertainment streets.

 The Plane Trees of Broadway

 Scene1: Council offices, meeting room

Council official:        We’ve had loadsa complaints about the birds in                                                Broadway at night. (He slides a huge file over the                                                  desk to a councillor)

Councillor 1:             This comes up every year; we’ve got to do                                                             something.

Councillor 2:             What’s the problem? No one goes to Broadway at                                          night, it’s dead.

Councillor 1:             I do, to the cinema and theatre.  You see, my dear,                                           the birds roost in the trees.

Councillor 2:             Birds tend to roost in trees.

Councillor 1:             If you park your car under one of the trees, it gets                                          covered in bird shit.

Councillor 2:             Don’t park under a tree.

Councillor 1:             Just because you ride a bike, in fact you are the                                                 only one I know who rides a bike around.  All                                                      those cycle lanes we put in, just for you.

Councillor 2:             Don’t be silly, lots of students cycle in the term                                                time.

Councillor 1:             Anyway, they’ll have to come down.

Councillor 2:             Can’t we get a falconer in, or play Shirley Bassey loudly?

Councillor 1:             There would be complaints about both of those                                               suggestions.  No, the only way is to cut them                                                       down.

Council official:        Do you wana do a consultation?

Councillor 1:             No way, there’ll be an environmental protest.                                                     We can’t afford that.

Scene 2

Councillor 1:             We can’t afford that.

Contractor:                Well, we can reduce the price by $xxx,000 if we                                               cut the trees two metres above the ground.

Councillor:                What happens to the stumps, won’t they send                                                    out shoots?

Contractor:              Get the parks department to paint them with                                                      something. They’ll eventually rot away … in time.

Councillor:                Just do it mate.

Scene 3

Arts Councillor:        We are appalled by this decision, done                                                                     without consultation.

Councillor 1:             Well, we can’t put them back now.

Arts Councillor:        They are an eyesore, and there’s already a surge                                               of opinion about this.

Councillor1:              The cutting down of the trees?

Arts Councillor:        Interestingly, no. They’re unhappy about the                                                      ugly stumps.

Councillor1:              What can we do?

Arts Councillor:        It just so happens that the Arts Council has                                                          discussed this and suggests that the stumps are                                                turned into works of art?

Councillor 1:             Art?

Arts Councillor:        Yes, we suggest either commissioning a wood                                                    carver or an artist to paint the trunks. It could re-                                            vitalise Broadway.

Councillor1:              Have you done a costing?

Arts Councillor:        Yes we have, it’ll be $xxx,000.

Councillor 1:             Do you have funding for this?

Arts Councillor:        No, we thought you should fund this.  Could be a                                              good re-election move.

Councillor 1:             (Head in hands) I’ll have to go to finance and get                                                 back to you on this.

The end – or not

the Lido – still looking good and shorter than I remember

I enjoyed Palmerston North. The drive around my old university grounds to marvel at the changes; training at the Lido where I swam as a student preparing for the inter-varsity meet; watching a powerful live recording of The Crucible from the Old Vic in London; a French movie and a great Thai meal all made the journey worthwhile.  Of course the connection with old friends is always a delight.  The flight home gave me a fantastic aerial view of Mount Taranaki and the West Coast.

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