The Christmas Issue

As seen from space

Sometimes, I wonder what it must have been like to reach the rise of those Chain Hills, those foothills of Te Poho-o-Rakitāmau Mt St Cuthbert, and for the very first time take in that view of this wide Omarama basin inset with the silver ribbons of its braided Ahuriri River, to gaze out across tussock land, out to a dark band of beech forest rising to snow-gleaming mountains and further still to the deepest blue of beyond, or, coming to the top of those hills at night  to stare into the infinity of distant universes - to be that pioneering stargazer, navigator, warrior, hunter-gatherer, explorer, surveyor, gold prospector, farmer and settler. The pioneer who knows they’ve found home. "You may live here, but it takes many years to be a local." How many have had those words thrown at them? Someone who has been a repeat visitor to Omarama is European Space Agency German astronaut and geophysicist, one-time Commander of the International Space Station, Dr Alex Gerst. He comes here to go gliding. He has spoken of looking out from the space station as the sun rises over the South Island, of the jewel-like colours of the land, it's distinctive lakes, and the rivers wending their way down to the shore, their alluvial burden dumped and washed by waves along the coast. He has spoken of the huge psychological leap it takes to leave Earth behind and journey into the complete unknown. And he, as many astronauts have, has spoken of how when looking down on our small blue-green planet our differences seem so trivial as to be non-existent.
For the one man from Earth who has spent longest time in space - 362 days over two missions - the re-entry, crashing back through the atmosphere to the planet, was not about on whose sovereign soil he landed. Or whose flag was flying. That did not matter. He was coming home. 

In Omarama and Otematata there’s been much talk of our towns' ‘identity’. Again. Yep, even more than last year. The planners and developers are talking concepts and ‘re-branding’ for "plans going forward". It was raised again at this week’s Ahuriri Community Board meeting (see report below). “Omarama, gateway to the Mackenzie.” “Otematata, gateway to the Waitaki River system.” But we don’t want two different themes, the designer said.

But it’s those differences which make us unique and are to be treasured. Those who tell our old stories, the Waitaha and KaiTahu, named these places Te Ao Marama – place of light and Te Otematata, the place of good flint. Our two stories have been closely entwined since but are also separate.

The strength both our towns share is community – family, friendship, whanau. (Check out the photos in our 2019 album). People will do anything for you and, yes, they will also always know your business before you do. One of my favourite stories this year was about our LandSar volunteers who moved heaven and earth to find someone’s loved one claimed by the Waitaki River so he could be returned to his family. And in the same 24-hours they set out to successfully find and rescue eight young trampers – someone\s sons or daughters yet strangers, whose trip into the back country had come unstuck.  Then there are the dozens who worked together to comfort family, friends and each other after the death of Eliza-Jayne Coetzee, and, on behalf of us all , staged a final farewell. Every One Matters.

These almost intangible qualities which make up our two places - Omarama and Otematata - are hard to describe to others, difficult to see from space. These are the qualities that bind us together but also make our towns intrinsically distinct because they have grown over time from a collective response to our unique histories. These are the qualities that connect us and draw us back home to our place. We know those pathways like the back of our hands. Tūrangawaewae. The place we stand.

There’s one more thing…  Thank you for your contributions,  thank you for sharing. It is a privilege to put the Gazette together and I enjoy every moment. Truly, I could not do this without you.   A world of good wishes to you all ...The Gazette is back February 5, 2020. And from February 19, the Otematata Chronicle will be published once again. In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy this special Christmas issue.  We live in a truly beautiful part of the world and among a community that cares. Let's celebrate our place. - Ruth Grundy, editor.
Photo: supplied
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Mobil Omarama

You do get the feeling there’s nowhere else they’d rather be, and they certainly think there’s no better place to learn. Daniel Aitken (24) and Tom Trusler (20) are the apprentices at Mobil Omarama. Owners Terry and Michelle Walsh employed Dan, who is less than a year out from completing his time, about three years ago when he moved from Cromwell to Otematata to live. Back at high school – Cromwell College – a career in a mechanical field had been talked about given his keen interest but there were no openings at the time. Dan says what he loves most about working at Mobil Omarama is the variety of work he is able to tackle. “Farm trucks, boats, and anything and everything in between,” he says. “The skill set you learn is a lot wid-er”. The study is full-on but because there is so much “on-the-job” experience given at Mobil nei-ther Dan nor Tom have had to spend much time travelling away to block courses. Because he gets to work on such a variety of tasks the study side of it has come more easily, Dan says. Their working day at the garage is 8am to 5pm and all study – which is nowadays done online - must be completed in their own time. Dan, who experienced the "crossover" from textbook to online study says the early days had their challenges and assignments had to be posted in. It meant waiting, sometimes weeks, for feedback about how he was doing. Tom began at Mobil Omarama earlier this year after recently moving to Omarama from Oama-ru. He’d always enjoyed working on cars and “learnt a bit” working on friends’ vehicles. Seven months in, and he’s really enjoying the work which can be anything from pull-ing apart a lawnmower to putting a vintage jeep back together. “It’s good because there’s bit of everything,” he says. An apprenticeship takes three-and-a-half to four years to complete, and as well as Terry’s mentoring and tuition, a tutor calls on a regular basis to check progress and set new goals for Dan and Tom. Once through his time Dan plans to stay on for another two to three years. And although he thought his future lay in building engines he’s found he’s now undecided because so many more opportunities have opened up, especially as new technologies are constantly pushing the horizons. He and Terry are booked in for a course in the new year to learn more about the latest type of fuel injectors. “Terry’s good at keeping us all up with the latest technology.” The evolving world of mechanics is moving towards complete diagnosis by computer. Plus, each vehicle company “does everything differently”, Tom says. Meanwhile, the pair return to working on the task at hand – tuning up an engine 1950’s-style on a post-World War 2 Jeep.

Mobil Omarama
Chain Hills Hwy, Omarama
Ph/Fax 03 438 9834