A lot of New Zealanders have a perception of ‘Coasters’ that can only be said to be ‘wide of the mark’. One of our past Prime Minister is reported as uncharitably calling them a bunch of ‘feral in-breeds’. If you come from anywhere other than ‘The Coast’ you will doubtless have an opinion of the people who live there (and I am quite certain a decent chunk of these opinions are made without actually ever having met someone from The Coast, let alone having ever actually been there!)
By the way, it is one of my abiding loves that ‘Coasters’ have a term for anybody who doesn’t come from ‘The Coast’. Irrespective of whether you come from Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Sydney, Moscow, Beijing or The Moon- if you have your origins anywhere that is ‘over the hill’, meaning the other side of the Southern Alps, ie. not that narrow strip of land that is known as ‘The Coast’, you are from AWAY. That is all.
…and another wee note about ‘The Coast’. That term only applies to this ‘The Coast’ when it is used by Coasters whether home or away or if you are actually on this ‘The Coast’ even though anybody living between Wairoa and East Cape refers to their territory as ‘The Coast’. Don’t be confused between the two!
…and the term ‘Coaster’ applies only to any person born on the West Coast. There is a fondly held belief that if you have come from ‘Away’ and live on The Coast for many, many MANY years you will be a Coaster. Nup! Won’t happen. The generous locals will make you feel like one of their own, they will include you in all things, they will never exclude by giving you a label to identify you as different in mixed company, BUT you won’t ever be a ‘Coaster’.
But to the purpose of this post. A few years ago a topic was (briefly) re-visited by our local Council in response to a few locals having a bit of a grizzle about the name of our town. GREYMOUTH! “Oh no! Grey! People from Away think it rains all the time here anyway and we have a town with boring colour grey in it!! We’re not achromatic or boring!! Re-name our town!!” Of course it’s not to the colour grey that the name refers but to Governor Grey, New Zealand’s first Governor but that did generate a WEE bit of discussion and I’m sure some crazy names were suggested.
However despite what general perceptions are of The Coast or the people who live on it, this article appeared in the papers the other day. Read it and believe it. The people on The Coast are among the most generous, the most honest, and the most welcoming I have met. When my wife and I decided to move here some nine years ago it was just one of a number of places I would have been happy spending my retirement in but was ‘somewhere new’. I had seen most of the South Island including The Coast but had never lived in Te Waipounamu (the South Island) and my wife had spent a couple of weekends down South- a family visit to Christchurch as a child and a wedding in Blenheim in the seventies. We decided that following our kids may not be all that clever as there were no guarantees they would be wherever for ever and it wasn’t all that far from The Coast to visit Wellington where they currently were anyway, so here we are.
The Coast has many issues that many might imagine would impact of the state of mind of people who call it home. Isolation, of course is something that has made Coasters what they are- resilient, hard-working, gregarious, helpful, generous and thus isn’t seen as being a negative but it DOES mean that much that Kiwis in other provincial centers take for granted such as retail and service options aren’t as good as they might be. Traditional industries on The Coast are being impacted by conservation imperatives- mining, milling, fishing have all been somewhat strangled and to establish new operations is more and more difficult, so work is harder to find and the economy is challenged. But dairying is alive and well, quality arts and crafts proliferate, tourism is a jewel in the crown given the natural beauty of The Coast is world renowned, and if only the government would make good on their promises about delivering top quality internet to the provinces The Coast could become a mecca for IT based innovation and development given that it is such a wonderful place to live.
So any reason for Coasters not to be happy? Not really. I know I am.