Putting community into Queenstown

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Watching volunteer firefighters rattling donation buckets on Brecon Street last Sunday got me thinking.

As much as Queenstown occasionally gains an unwanted rap for what some see as crass commercialism and out-of-control revelry, this community deserves to be known far and wide for the fundraising and voluntary efforts of hundreds of its residents.

You might consider that people like these volunteer firefighters have enough on their plates, their lives often interrupted, day or night, for callouts.

The siren prompting the volunteers to drop whatever they’re doing and race to an emergency callout goes off more than 400 times a year so on average at least once a day.

Yet there they were again sacrificing their weekend time to raise money for Leukemia and Blood Foundation New Zealand. It’s the charity cause for the annual Sky Tower stair climb challenge tackled by firefighters around the country – a group from Arrowtown, Frankton and Queenstown’s brigades is training for the 1103-step gutbuster and heading up on May 17.

But hardly a week goes by when you don’t see locals rattling buckets at the top of The Mall or barbecuing sausages at Remarkables Park for some national or local cause, like a sports group raising funds to send kids to a tournament.

Then you’ve got elaborate fundraisers like the art auction last Friday that raised $17,000 to keep the Wakatipu High Branches camp going – or the black tie gig last year that saved the beleaguered Queenstown Lakes Family Centre.

Time and again, locals are asked to bid at charity auctions, sometimes for stuff they don’t want or, like local tourist attractions, could probably do for free or at a highly-discounted rate on a local’s day.

Rumour has it one prominent philanthropist has a room in his house where he stores unneeded auction items bought simply to help some cause out.

Those fundraisers are a credit not only to these bidders, who’ve already paid to attend, but to the people who spend hours organising them and the businesses who donate products and services.

They’re also a huge credit to the familiar faces who MC the functions and call the auctions.

Who hasn’t been to a gig compered by the indefatigable likes of Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson or Brendan Quill or Richard Stringer.

Aside from endless fundraisers, the community heavily relies on volunteers – everybody from firefighters, St John personnel and sports coaches and administrators to event volunteers, stage show cast and crew, Meals on Wheels drivers and Citizens Advice Bureau counsellors.

Then there are the service clubs whose main aim, as the name implies, is to help the community.

To that end, it was encouraging to see Rotary, one of Queens-town’s most established service organisations, call a recent public meeting to try to interest a younger generation in some of its activities.

It’s often said the best thing you can do is to give to others. By that gauge, you’d have to say Queens-town’s actually a pretty giving community.