Notorious reputation not right, say Kawerau residents

By Kristin Macfarlane

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KAWERAU isn't a bad place. In fact, it's a town where family-based activities are always happening, the community is close-knit and most of those living there get along.

That's the message from those who know the town best - people who live there and have lived there for a large part of their lives.

A Kawerau woman, who only wanted to be known as Leah who works at Kawerau Preschool, moved to the town 18 years ago with her partner for work.

She has raised her family there - including her five children now aged between 11 and 22 - and has loved being part of a community which she describes as close-knit and family-oriented.

"It's been just a great town to raise my family in. There's always something going on in our town."

Kawerau has again hit the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks.

On December 29, a 71-year-old Kawerau woman was brutally bashed in her home. The woman suffered a broken cheekbone and possible broken nose in what police called a "serious and nasty" attack. The incident sparked a lot of media attention and many people from the town took to social media to vent their frustrations over the attack.

Within two weeks of that incident the town was struck another blow - Kawerau's main employer, Norske Skog Tasman mill, announced redundancies. The mill's general manager Peter McCarty said the number two paper machine would close permanently as of January 9 and the 110 redundancies would take place over the next three to four months.

And then on January 10, Kawerau suffered yet another blow - a fatal stabbing in Holyoake Cres. The victim was 23-year-old Gareth Kaipara. The accused, a 31-year-old unemployed man, was this week charged with murder and is due back in court at the end of the month. It's a lot for one town to have to deal with in such a short space of time.

Following the incident, residents and former residents rallied together on social networking sites concerned about their town.

However, despite the negative attention the town has received of late, Leah said most of the things that happened in the town were positive.

"What's happened has shocked me," she said. She said what has happened, doesn't mean the town was a bad place to live in at all. She said the town was often labelled a town rife with gang problems, which she refuted.

"The reality of our town is we're quite a close-knit community, everybody pretty much knows everybody," she said.

Leah said like every town, there were a few who got into trouble but you couldn't escape that no matter where you went. She said in all her years in the town she has not had any trouble and she felt safe.

While she did admit there were a lack of job opportunities for some, overall there was plenty to do.

There were events such as Christmas in the Park, King of the Mountain Race, woodskills festivals, major kayak events and more which attracted people from around the country to the town. She said hunting competitions, athletics and dog shows were also regular events in the town.

"I think we're on the right track."

Leah believed those few who were regularly getting into trouble should get more involved in some of these events to allow them to keep occupied and gain new skills.

"They would love hunting, who wouldn't?

"Fishing and all that kind of thing."

However, she would like more emphasis put on those type of events to attract tourists to Kawerau so they could enjoy their rivers, lakes, bush and more.

"There is so much going on here, it's a real shame we get tainted."

Another woman, who only wanted to be identified as Melanie, told The Daily Post she has lived in Kawerau for 14 years and for most of that time has felt safe.

"I've always loved being in Kawerau."

However, she said lately she had not felt the same way and felt a little uneasy about the attacks which had occurred.

But she would love for it to go back to being the town she knew, felt safe in and loved being in.

She too believes those giving Kawerau a bad name were a small few and hopes the community pulls together to show those few people they won't accept them in their town.

"The whole community should come together and put a stop to all the violence."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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