Poverty was a concern for the group, and it was noted that there are several support systems within the community to ensure people had enough to eat.
“We’ve got a community garden down there; it looks like I don’t know what now. It was all done by volunteers, if you wanted a cabbage. There is a food bank at our church… There is a breakfast club at school for the kids and we have lunch available for kids without food. And there are kids without enough food. We provide footwear, we provide jackets.”
It is common for people to struggle to heat their houses through winter. Informal social networks within the community act as a backstop to families to prevent them going without firewood, however families or individuals who are socially disconnected risk living in energy poverty in the cold months.
“The power bill was $300 last month. Imagine for families? They can’t afford that. But electricity is high, but not as high as Ohakune they have to pay lines as well. Because we have options people look around. It seems extortionate. There’s accessibility to wood for those who are in the know, but…I’m thinking of some families here that haven’t got fireplaces and they use electricity. But even to get firewood, that’s $300 or $400 and that’s a lot of money for people, you have to think about that in advance and save up. Mind you I know people who have said, ‘Hey such and such family need wood,’ and they get wood, it’ll get dropped off. And the elderly get wood through different organisations.”
“Some of it is learned helplessness too though. They are aware winter is coming up, they have to start putting a little bit away. But again it’s that education, are they aware of that? That this is how they should be functioning?”
“We as Māori, we go out and look after our own. Raetihi has majority Māori people in our town so the elderly people never go without. Whether they are related to us or not, we look after them.”
There is a perception that Raetihi has not benefitted from the same level of local government or business investment as Ohakune, meaning that residents of Raetihi receive less than satisfactory service and local government support.
“We get the crumbs and we’re sick of getting the crumbs. I don’t know, I’ve seen a lot of renovations here by the Ngāti Rangi programme, but that’s because this is where the need is. But economical too, if you look at both towns, like we’re the poor cousins here…”
“Also council have played a big part too in terms of how all the development went to Ohakune. Even the council buildings and so forth. It had a lot to do with the ski seasons and that town being closer to the mountain, all the infrastructure went in there. Our town doesn’t change so much with the ski season.”
“It’s all about the ski season. That’s where the visitors are going so they’ll do it up. But no one’s coming to Raetihi so why should they do it up? […] Mind you in saying that we’ve started to lift our games, the walkways, we’re doing that all ourselves.”
“There’s been a revitalisation plan for this town for 20 years. It’s still waiting. And that’s why people here come together, because it has to, because the outside doesn’t help. Council are good at making promises but rarely deliver on the promise. And a good example is the bus shelter. The kids put 18 months into designing a bus shelter, but what they got is not what they designed. There wasn’t enough money… We did a lot of work with the youth over that.”
“One of the problems is the long-term plan. I remember going to one of the first Hui we had on the long-term plan here with the council they said, ‘We’ve put the money into 2021.’ And I asked why, why not now? And I was so frustrated by that. And that’s why small communities like ours, we get discouraged and despondent.”
Several of the participants in the group, who are also involved in community initiatives, spoke of being fatigued by the constant demands of volunteer work.
“Over the years of doing stuff in Raetihi I’ve realised that if you want to get stuff done you’ve got to put your hand in your own pocket. People don’t want to do voluntary anymore. But people get burnt out. And a lot of the stuff we see happen through voluntary work, if you lived in a bigger city the council would help out more and the community less. There is a difference in how this council operates because of its rural situation. Forty-five percent of the council’s money goes on roading which means the communities have to do more than what would happen in larger areas so it means that a lot of voluntary work is required to get things done, but it’s a big pull. I’m sick of giving my time as koha, but I’ll do it to the day I die.”
The role that the local iwi play was emphasized as important to the local community and in holding potential to improve liability further.
“In terms of where iwi sit, Ngāti Rangi have settled and Uenuku are getting ready to settle. And I think they have had a huge impact on the community. Ngāti Rangi have undertaken research into the social sector environment and also looking at the economic development not just for iwi but for all the community. Uenuku are also in that arena so I think about some of the solutions that have come out the research in health, education etc. Those solutions are being worked on. They do involve the community so I think iwi have had a huge impact and will continue to have a huge impact.”
It was felt that there was a not a lot for young people in Raetihi. Boredom, drugs, alcohol, violence and gangs were seen as major issues affecting youth in the town.
“There’s nothing here. Nothing here. And in a week the pool will be closing because it’s only open in summer. It’s too cold. And that’s all we’ve got here at the moment for our kids, apart from youth group on Friday night.”
“I think they did a good job with the park here, the playground, you see lots of family there. But it’s not kept, I mean the lawns aren’t even mowed. They spent all this money and they put these beautiful facilities into our town and then they aren’t even maintained.”
“The kids go at 4pm to play basketball but they meet for fights. That’s new. And as for these kids that come to the youth group on a Friday night, they’re not into what’s going on at the church. Most of them come for the group, but a couple of kids got beaten up a few weeks ago. What we gotta do, a couple of us go on a Friday night just to give a strong presence.”
Participants felt that principles of diversity and inclusiveness were important but were not always upheld.
“It takes a bit of time to be a local, I think we’ve become open minded. We’re a community now that is focused on a better life for ourselves and a better life for our children. And I think we’re moving in that direction, probably not fast enough.”
“I will say too is our culture is a really important thing for us as Māori, not always embraced by this community.”
“There is racism in this town. It plays out as exclusion. There’s a divide between Ohakune and Raetihi. The school here is 70% Māori and in Ohakune it’s 70% Pakeha, and that’s reflected in the make-up of the towns.”