Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: It's time to talk about ways we could earn more

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Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Tuesday, 12:51; there's about 20 people in the cafeteria, mostly councillors and council staff invited to see what they do here, how they do it and what the doing does - for them, for us and for the country.

Which is a lot, as we've already discovered. Hundreds of jobs, millions in wages and many millions more earned from exports. The manager's spoken of these things, presented the facts and figures, explained how they move tonnes of soil to reach tonnes of soil and how they move tonnes of that soil to extract mere grams of gold.

Mere in volume but not in value. There may only be grams in each tonne of dirt but that's enough and has been for 20 years. 290,000 ounces of gold go from here each year to the vaults and bullion markets of the world. Soon we will see for ourselves how they quarry and crush the rock to find the flakes of gold within it. Our gumboots and hard hats are in the corridor. There are fluoro vests to wear and the bus is waiting.

But it's 12:51 now. Bernie asks everyone to stand. We do. The silence is sudden.

A bird sings outside. The brain flies where it will. Everyone is doing this. Everywhere. The whole country. Stopped. Still. So much sadness, so many tears. Faces. Noises.

The girl in black looking for her brother. The man in the photo with dirt on his face. Where we were when they were there. How our building shook. But not as much. The PGC building. CTV. How we covered that big snowstorm in the 90s when no one else was, people working 24 hours or longer.

Ian was there. And he's still here. Others aren't. Like ... Last September, we joked about that first quake and the wardrobe falling over.

Last September. Last year. That other minute of silence. The Pike River memorial service. Greymouth. Tree ferns. Those wisps of mist that drift through the bush at dawn in the Paparoas. Blackball, years ago.

School. Christchurch Boys High, unscarred - at least on Sunday morning - no cracks on the two-storey brick building built in the 1920s and strengthened since. The magpie in the tree. Contrasts. Contrasts. The CBD. Shattered. Joggers on Memorial Ave. People walking their dogs.

A congregation gathered on the lawn in front of their damaged church. Hornby and Blenheim Rd, busy, unchanged. Dad's old church, St Mary's, in Addington, where we carried pumpkins to the altar at Harvest Festival, undamaged. Locked.

There was a Civil Defence team there on Sunday, resting on the warm grass, having lunch. They'd been visiting homes, checking on people. "Half of them have gone. Just up and left."

Judy's drive, full of silt. Pete's house fine. "When we need to, we just go round the corner to the Port-a-loo." People casually leaning on the concrete columns holding up the four-storey carpark at Christchurch Airport. No fear. Cars coming and going. Planes leaving. Erebus. Tangiwai. The Napier quake. So much sadness. So many tears. Always. Again.

You can think a million thoughts in two minutes.

And we did. Then the silence stopped. We got on the bus and toured the mine. We saw the great holes in the ground, like meteor craters, with the 200 tonne trucks winding down to the diggers, small as toys below us.

We saw where the gold is gleaned, we saw the fish hatchery and the sheep on rolling paddocks that once were part of the mine. We saw the little lake below the road, nestled in bush and wild country.

"Half of it's natural, half's reinstated," says Mark. No one could tell which half was which. Great wealth has come from this land and there is no sign it ever happened.

Tourists come here. They take photos of the ducks on the hatchery pond.

Driving home on Tuesday night, there was a news item on the radio about how to pay and who should pay for the rebuilding of Christchurch. Someone wanted a levy. Someone else didn't.

Everybody's arguing about how we should pay. No one's talking about what we could earn - the things we could do that we're not doing that would pay some bills, employ some people and create new wealth.

Understand this. New Zealand is not a small country. You could fit Switzerland into Canterbury. There's room for Holland and Belgium in Southland.

There are many things we could do here that we have, till now, been too precious to consider. We must consider them now.

The earth can help us restore what it's destroyed. And we can restore it, after it has. We saw that on Tuesday. We weren't looking at who should pay. We were seeing what we could earn.

- NZ Herald

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