Parting Shot: Change is in the air


Last week, Mountain Scene moved offices. Our 30-year veteran Scoop is now safely ensconced in his third Scene site. Notably it’s his first at ground level.

He’s taken it in his usual inimitable style: “If you need me, you’re now 20 metres closer to Brazz.”

Some of the team packed their desks early and, thankfully, had a dung-out of the common areas.

Me, I put my head in the sand.

But I knew the momentum of the move was unavoidable. At a certain point, it was always going to overwhelm me and take me with it - an uncontrollable force, like a tourist van sliding along the Glenorchy-Paradise Road.

It’s amazing how you can sense change - like a barely perceptible change in wind direction (which, sometimes, builds to a hurricane).

I sense change coming to Queenstown’s council.

Admittedly, there’s an element of tea leaf-reading to this - some would say I’m attempting to craft a narrative - but I assure you I’m not alone.

A long-time Queenstowner told me earlier this week that she’s caught a whiff of something.

She says: “People aren’t willing to just lie down; to sit there and take it.”

The spidery hands of pawn-movers are possibly at play and shadowy forces are gathering, waiting for the right time to break into the open. Given the local elections are in October, we might not have long to wait.

Talk of change made me think back to my first Queenstown stint.

While working for the ODT in 1999, I sat through weeks of Environment Court hearings as the Wakatipu Environmental Society took on Queenstown’s council over landscape protection.

The society won. The court ruled the pro-development council’s plan was “completely inadequate”.

Friends of the Gardens were organised and loud, should the council try (as it did) to build something deemed inappropriate on the coveted public space.

It’s not that people hated the council, per se. But they kept a close eye on it and made damned sure councillors and staff knew if it was out of step with public opinion.

I see similar things happening in Queenstown today. Take the example of the Ladies Mile trees.

Last week’s story from the late Bill Walker’s daughter, Sonya, sparked a public outcry that forced a reprieve - temporarily at least. There’s talk of some people being willing to chain themselves to the trunks to prevent the axe falling.

Last year, there was the bunfight over the location of the new Kawarau Falls Bridge. A bunch of erudite locals conducted a well-orchestrated campaign to move the bridge further downstream, backed by new data they collected themselves.

Yes, the NZ Transport Agency gave the impression of listening and went with its original plan.

But The Man, if you like, had his cage rattled. He knew The People wouldn’t take his bluster lying down.

Now I’ve lived in big cities – London, Sydney, Auckland – and loved it. I’ve also enjoyed visiting some of the big American cities, with their all-you-can-eat, any-time-of-day attitude.

But I prefer a small town. You’re forced to get to know people.

You can’t just shutter the windows of your inner-city apartment, lock your door and throw your hands up in mock frustration at not being friendly with your neighbours.

And in this way, whether deliberately or not, you start caring about the place - how it functions and what it looks like. Yes, even how shit the Christmas decorations are.

If indeed the wind has changed in Queenstown then it might reach hurricane strength by October.

The big battle for these shadowy forces will be to articulate their vision clearly - and then gather enough votes, and numbers around the table, to see it through.