Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Kawerau: Opportunity even knocks here

Terry Ngatai in downtown Kawerau. Photo / Neville Marriner
Terry Ngatai in downtown Kawerau. Photo / Neville Marriner

There're opportunities in Kawerau, even if it just boils down to a chance to get out of the Bay of Plenty town.

Beaurepaires fleet service-man Terry Ngatai would agree with that.

He got his kids out of town by moving the family to Auckland after he was laid off from the Carter Holt Harvey mill.

It was the best thing he could have done for himself and his children. He eventually returned to Kawerau with new skills and a healthy dose of life experience.

"If I lost my job tomorrow, I know I'm not going to go down. My advice to people is to leave town. New places can become new opportunities. You can always come back and use what you learn. There're opportunities here - look at all the empty shops."

Another person putting family first is Makarena Terini.

Her nine children, 67 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren are her pride and joy, even if her family tree is so vast she can't remember all their names.

But like many parents Terini doesn't want them living in Kawerau, the small Bay of Plenty town she has called home for every one of her 72 years. There's nothing for them there.

When one son finished school, she told him to leave.

Even then, more than 20 years ago, opportunity was scarce in Kawerau, which was last week named the beneficiary capital of New Zealand.

A staggering 1324, or 19 per cent, of the town's 6940 residents are working-age beneficiaries.

Living on a benefit is foreign to Terini. She's worked all her life, starting as a 14-year-old needing cash for the flicks and now as a kohanga reo supervisor.

"My Dad said 'If you want anything, you work for it'."

Her children grew up with the same ethic.

"My son wanted to work so I said to him 'Go, get away. The sky's the limit. You don't stay in a square'."

That son eventually rose to a management position at Foodstuffs in Palmerston North.

Last week he moved to Australia to work in the mining industry, joining scores of other Kawerau-raised ex-pats lured across the Tasman by the prospect of not only a regular pay cheque, but a healthy one at that. Terini said he wouldn't be back.

"He'd be struggling if he stayed here. There are no jobs. The young people here are struggling because they are on the dole."

Mates Te Peeti Te Pou, Naevoa Karekare and Jordan Komere, all 18, know work is hard to come by. The trio are doing a health and fitness course through Te Wananga o Aotearoa to help them break into the job market, but Karekare reckons it's more about who you know than what you know.

Two of his siblings have gone to Australia, where they enjoy an easy lifestyle and good money, he says.

Marcus Merrick sees more opportunities than challenges after recently being made redundant as assistant caretaker at Kawerau College.

Jobs are scarce, yes, but he won't be joining the queues at Work and Income.

He and wife Jasmine are taking on the lease of the closed-down Kawerau Hotel restaurant. They hope to be serving their first customers next week.

"There are options here ... people need to look at the opportunities that are on their doorstep."

Kozy Glow Cafe worker Coralie Forward thinks some unemployed people are just too fussy. Her job isn't the most exciting, but she is proud to support herself.

Her two adult children are working too and her son is saving hard from his supermarket job to move to Australia.

- Herald on Sunday

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