Gary McCormick: Politicians fail our heartland

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Gary McCormick as a young man in Gisborne in the 1970s.
Gary McCormick as a young man in Gisborne in the 1970s.

I moved to Gisborne in the mid-70s. It was the wildest and most brilliant decision I have ever made.

I went there purely and simply to go surfing. My mate Dave Timbs from Titahi Bay, with whom I had learned to surf on some of the first fibreglass surfboards, had gone there fresh out of teacher training college in Wellington.

I remember the first freezing old house we lived in. And the first freezing surf in a huge winter swell at what is known as Pipeline on the main City beach. I subsequently lived at Wainui Beach, just north of Gisborne city, and surfed the famed Makarori Point on a daily basis.

Then, by enormous good fortune, the ultimate wave of 70s rock civilisation swept over us. We were California.

You could get a job at Watties (factory now closed) or in the burgeoning wine industry, or clean pub toilets and work as a part-time school caretaker (like me) and surf to your heart's content. We had live music, ranging from Dragon, Hello Sailor, Mi-Sex, Herbs and nearly every other wonderful rock band New Zealand has ever known, in local pubs six nights out of seven.

It was heaven.

There was an ugly interlude when Diesel Maxwell and his merry band of Rastafarians started burning down East Coast farmhouses, and then the trial of six local detectives accused of kidnapping Diesel. (Case dismissed.)

The future of Coast employment was supposed to lie in the "wall of wood."

That never happened. The wine industry took a huge hit with the glut of wine. Watties in effect closed down. The freezing works closed down. The rail link (which is how I first got to Gisborne) is now closed.

There are some lovely cafes and restaurants, new accommodation and the town itself has been spruced up and looks great. But the streets are all but empty on a Friday and Saturday night. A silence hangs over the town.

Gisborne is the victim of the same policy of provincial neglect that has affected many small towns in New Zealand. The town has worked hard to recreate itself and, from outward appearances, has succeeded.

It suffers from the "tyranny of distance" and a failure of political will to preserve our heartland.

That said, my mate Dave Timbs still lives in his bach on the seafront at Wainui Beach, still surfing along with all the other guys and girls.

He, like many other Gisborne folk, made the reckless decision to have a good life - and I have some doubts about what I've done with mine.

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