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In a similar expression of sentiment in 2020, participants in 2023 noted that Waiouru, whilst it did have many families, tended to attract more single people to the area for work, especially in the Army Camp.

"Especially with Defence, if you've got wives or partners that have got good jobs in the city, you come to Waiouru so you've got to give that up. So you have a lot of people come singly and go home at the weekends."

Because Waiouru was populated by a large community of people who came to the town specifically for work (NZDF or otherwise) mostly without extended whānau, participants felt that members of the community paid particular regard to being supportive of each other. However, it was considered that older people were perhaps more socially isolated.

"They have to rely on their neighbours. Or if you're part of the Playgroup, then you have to rely on those people to kind of get you through."
"I like seeing that on Facebook. Someone whose dog is out, someone will text it."
"We've got a really good community Facebook page, you know? Quite often you might see something like, I’m home sick today. Can anyone walk my dog? Do you need your washing hung out? Do you need anything from the shop? Everyone kind of recognises the need to be there for each other."
"We have lots of groups for kids and kids’ things, but there’s not a lot of groups that, yeah, the elderly could tap into for social, particularly during the day."
"When life gets tough, as it does for various families at different times, people will gather around and you don't get that everywhere. But because we're so close, too, you can't help but notice peoples’ business so for some people that’s challenge too. When people put two and two together and come up with six. But when the community needs to pull together or somebody passes away, the community is there."

For those needing their services, social workers were available in the community, though considered more accessible for Defence personnel and their families.

"External social workers are overworked, and they'll can't always provide a timely response."

Crime was not a big problem for residents of Waiouru and people felt safe living there.

"They wouldn't dare."
"We've always said I think Waiouru is one of the safest places in the whole country."
"Our police are very community focused. And there’s one MP (Miliary Police) but that’s only for the housing area."
"Little bits (of criminal activity) have come into the town over time, but it’s dealt with that quickly. I’ve even seen there was a guy […] I think he was there a day and he was bought a ticket for the bus and sent back to where he come from."
"You can’t be associated to anything like that and live in the community. That’s it. The whole town knows the rules, the NZDF, and even civilians will pull out those rules."
"This is a town where your kids can play out on the street at night and they know when to come back in if they get in trouble somewhere, there’s always someone to say, come on, I’ll take you kids home. I don’t know many other towns where you’d let that happen."

Family harm was raised as an issue, and although participants were concerned about this, they felt that the problem was not disproportionate to that faced elsewhere:

"We would probably have the same statistics as any community with domestic violence. "

It was noted that some aspects of community connectedness were eroded during the COVID lockdowns, and it had been difficult to reestablish these:

"We lost momentum in the community during that time because we couldn't do anything. We lost momentum, we're trying to pick it back up. Some people are still anxious to get back out again as well."

Although participants felt that there wasn’t a lot for teenagers to do in Waiouru, they spoke very highly of the ‘Rangatahi 360’ programme:

"It's bothered me for lots of years and it hasn't changed much is the lack of things for our teenagers. But they’re trying. They're trying real hard."
"That Rangatahi 360 is amazing. That's brilliant. They've got about a dozen kids and they are teaching them everything. The life skills, they're teaching them."
"I think it's through Ngāti Rangi."
"And they learn how to use chainsaws, and fish, how to hunt. How to build. Carpentry. They're building stuff."
"It's fabulous."
"They went to Whanganui a couple of weekends ago and went fishing. Orienteering up on the station."
"Built seating for the cemetery, just for the community to enjoy. They're getting absolutely amazing skills. "

Participants were concerned about a lack of availability of tradespeople in Waiouru. This did not just affect residential houses, but also the facilities that were available for the community:

"Is that a country wide thing though?"
"There’s got to be good money in it."
"I don't know if that's just a problem for Waiouru."
"The lack of trades problem doesn’t just affect houses, it affects infrastructure within camp that our community has access to. So, our pools are being refurbished. They closed them in December of 2021? And the community didn't have access basically for a whole year. That's significant for the community and for training. And then it's just limped along. Now it's open but no changing sheds. I couldn't speak to the whole issue but I would say that part of that is getting tradies, or that we have to outsource tradies from Palmy who come and ... but that affects our community not being able to use the pools. And it affects Defence, too; they have to do assessments on who can go into the pool, so then they lock everything down so then not all of our community can use the pool so it can exacerbate the 'them' and 'us,' you know?"
"It becomes an issue too because earlier on the community actually fundraised, put a whole lot of money into that pool so the community could use it. And then more often than not they can't go into it."
"And sometimes with the tradies most are travelling, and sometimes with the security clearance they need them to come in and they have to come from Palmy or Hamilton and by the time they get here half the day has gone anyway. They work for a couple of hours then it’s knock off time to drive four hours back to Hamilton."
"Painters and stuff like that, they actually have to find accommodation to stay here."
"You couldn’t use the community hall for a while there because it had black mould. So we had to get contractors in and this is a facility that used to be available all the time. At the moment our sports complex is not available for our community. Rugby have got limited access to that now because it flooded. Then the electrical box blew and we have to wait weeks and months for a new one. Those are things that our community groups work really hard to get up and running and we can't provide people to fix it."
"The motels in town they're quite often full with all the painters and contractors."
"You can’t get a tradesperson as a civilian."
"It flows on to our community."

Although in many respects the civilian and NZDF populations of Waiouru shared resources, workplaces and facilities, participants described that there remained a ‘tension’ between the two groups:

"And it’s the ones that live here all the time in the community that are the ones that are going to get behind (community resources) in the long term. Defence come in, they make, families make quite a lot of demands, we want this and that, and then two years later they’re gone."
"There is quite often those little tensions between them and us. The positioning of the new playground was a real big one. You know, the fact that, I suppose, the civilian side of it was that said we live here, we’ve lived here for years, all of that and NZDF actually get a vote on where…? I get they're part of the community, they get a vote on where that playground should be positioned but then in six months they're gone. They'll leave! "
"The people on the main road wanted the playground there not just for the local children but to encourage people to stop and support the businesses down there. But NZDF, and within their rights, said, well, we can get something done up here and we can help. But they already have access to three playgrounds. So it ended up with a lot of discussions but in the end, it’s going on the main road."
"It was quite a division. It was really causing divisions; it was a shame. It was causing a lot of…"
"Just had to do it. Get over it. "

The nature of postings to Waiouru often also mean that children lost friendships when their friends’ families left Waiouru:

"I feel sorry for them because the kids, they end up with these really good friends and then it's like, we're going to move on. That division between army and civilian is that you see that gap starting to break. They move on, the new people move in and it's almost like that generation has to start life again. They make friends at kindy and by the time they start school it’s a whole new bunch of kids. "

Participants observed that the relationship between the NZDF and the permanent resident population tended to hinge on the actions and attitude of the camp commander.

"Defence now, at the moment, especially the one they've got at the moment, he's trying his best to make it all... to keep the community together."
"Mind you, he's been here off and on, and different times with children. Going to kindy, going to school. He knows this."
"You'll get one camp commander come in and they're doing this and backing that, and then they'll leave. You get another one comes in with a different... you know, we’re not doing that any more even though we said we were going to. It's kind of like, ok, this has all changed again."
"You get some come in that are really community focused and really try to bring the civilian community in with it and then the next one will come in and it will be, “No! This is a Defence area!” And we feel like we get pushed out again."

Biggest challenges for Waiouru.

  • Lack of facilities and opportunities for children and teenagers.
  • Housing shortages for workers.
  • Maintaining and negotiating the relationship between NZDF and civilians.
  • Access to health and social services.

Best things about Waiouru.

  • Safety.
  • Community connection and spirit.
  • The natural environment.
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