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East Cape

February 14, 2007

Normally a country is forced into following the neo-liberal economic model by either the IMF or a CIA-backed dictator.  New Zealand however, did it voluntarily causing a lot of disruption to the lives of the little people and  having a permanent effect on the economy from which the country has only just recovered 20 years later.When I say ‘the country’ it sounds as if the whole place is now prospering but in fact there are some areas that seem to have been permanently cut adrift. We’ve just travelled down the east coast of the North Island where I used to live as a child. My childhood memory may be a bit vague but the rural area really seems to be in a state of serious decline these days. 

Travelling across the top of the East Cape it appeared that a lot of the farmland on the hills had been returned back to forest – by design or chance, I don’t know.  Much further south near Gisborne the farms looked a lot more prosperous. In between though are the farms that are on the brink of failure.  

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 The photos show very dry conditions but it’s not until you up close that the entire hillside has barely enough grass to hold the soil together. Most of New Zealand is quite lush so this was a bit of a shock and frankly I’m surprised people are still trying to make a living out of this land. The soil must be exhausted.

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 Remembering that this is an area where my family lived for a few years, I was stunned to discover some ruins at Tokomaru bay, 50 kilometres north of where we used to live. Except for the lack of bullet holes, the last time I took pictures like this was in Croatia eight years ago and I just didn’t know there was anything like this in New Zealand.

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This must have been a thriving area at one point, these are large warehouses even by modern standards and the picture below shows what is still the country’s longest wharf. It has tracks on it for goods carts and must have been quite an engineering feat in it’s day. 

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In 2007 however the thing is barely able to take it’s own weight and there is a sign warning visitors to allow no more than ten people to every 12 metre span. Many of the handrails are falling off and underneath much of the reinforcing steel has rusted and broken through the concrete.

  There are also a lot of abandoned houses and especially shops in the area but what really amazed me was to see people living in houses like this.

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If you open any book on New Zealand history you’ll see black and white photos of buildings exactly like this with white settlers standing in front looking proud to have finally moved out of the tent.

  This has always been a very remote part of the country – some farms had to use the beach for access right up until the 1970s – and while I freely admit to having lived only in the ‘nice’ areas for the last few years I was surprised to find an area with such a prosperous past where civilisation is so clearly in retreat.

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