Editorial: Lift your town, people of Kawerau

By Greg Taipari

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As we look to a new year with the hopes of bigger and better things to come, spare a thought for the small community of Kawerau.

I have a close affinity to the town. I spent a big chunk of my adulthood there working and raising my children, who are proud to call it their home town.

The little village nestled at the foot of Mt Putauaki has had more than its fair share of attention-grabbing headlines - the type no town really wants to attract.

You only have to look back over the past year to see Kawerau leads the way in teenage pregnancy and suicide, scratch a little deeper and you uncover third, fourth and even fifth generation unemployment. Many of the shops lay empty within the town centre. Our rangatahi (youth) sit idle around the streets having little hope of getting out of a rut and often getting themselves into trouble.

Unfortunately the town has hit the headlines once again at the weekend with a cowardly attack on one of its elders.

A 71-year-old woman was brutally attacked in her home when she went to open the door early Saturday, thinking it was a relative who was arriving late from overseas.

The unidentified man demanded money before attacking the woman, leaving her covered in blood on the floor. He then stole her car.

It saddens me to think Kawerau and New Zealand as a whole have a small element who feel they have to resort to this type of behaviour to get by.

Has New Zealand become that bad we feel the only way is to attack a defenceless elderly woman?

I know there are many great people and things the community of Kawerau has to offer, people like Warrick Godfrey, who was once part of the gang culture and now works with the youth, encouraging them to educate themselves and strive for a better future.

The Kawerau I remember was a town that prided itself in many things such as sport - back in the late 80s it was the winner of the TV series Top Town. It's dragonboat team dominated the sport for more than a decade and it had many national title holders in various codes, no more so than recent world BMX champion Sarah Walker.

I returned to Kawerau just before Christmas to visit my family and it is sad to say, the town had lost some of its lustre. Many of the houses that were proudly occupied by mill workers lay empty with "for sale" signs out front.

But one thing the town still has is its sense of community.

You only have to look at how Kawerau banded together when it lost Corporal Luke Tamatea in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan in August.

The town rallied around the whanau and expressed their sorrow for a brave young man. The same could be said when they turned up in their masses to celebrate Sarah Walker's return after her silver medal performance at the Olympics.

There is a little saying I often like to say to my mates about myself now that I live in Rotorua. "You can take the boy out of Kawerau, but you can't take the Kawerau out of the boy."

Kia kaha Kawerau, get together and stop this type of violence from happening in your community.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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