After a relaxing night with members of the Nelson LEC who had kindly welcomed us in to their homes, we were ready for a Tuesday full of community service, driving, and learning about the origins of the Labour movement and Labour Party.
The morning began at House 44 on Karaka Street, where the community project’s organiser Jane showed us what was in store for us. House 44 is a project run out of a Housing New Zealand property, which works to strengthen the foundations of the surrounding community. It does this by engaging the neighbourhood’s children and often their parents as well, through initiatives such as free breakfasts, holiday programmes, and adult education to help families work with organisations like Work and Income. When talking to locals we found out that since the project began problems like petty crime had dropped significantly in the area.
We were split up in to two groups: some of us joined a helpful team from Bunnings who kindly donated the gear to set up a community barbeque area next to the local community gardens (it was our job to mix and lay the concrete), and the others worked with the centre’s builder Wayne to construct raised planter gardens out of donated apple crates. The barbeque area will be free for the neighbourhood’s families to use, providing a place not only to cook but also to get together and socialise. The raised gardens will be helpful for older people who find it hard to bend over to tend to vegetables, or for new families with young children who like to play in gardens at ground level. It was a great day doing hard work in the heat and we were glad to be able to help such a great organisation, allowing them to get on with other important tasks; they were very grateful that we were able to get these tasks done quickly.
Straight after finishing work at House 44 we were on the road on our way to Blackball. The drive was three hours long, with stops for swims at Tahunanui Beach and the Buller River. We were also very grateful to be able to join the Labour Party’s members in Murchison for an afternoon tea they kindly put on for us – thank you!
We arrived at Blackball after some rousing renditions of ‘Solidarity Forever’ in the van accompanied by Shona’s expertise on the ukulele. West Coast Labour based MP Damian O’Connor as well as Paul, a local artist, had the BBQ ready and were able to talk us through some of the history of Blackball and the beginnings of the Labour movement in New Zealand. After dinner we walked up to the entrance of the old Blackball mine, which was the site of one of the first successful industrial actions to take place in New Zealand. In 1908 a local miner, Pat Hickey, refused to return to work after a 15 minute lunch break, contending it wasn’t nearly enough time for lunch. He was later fired for being a ‘trouble maker’ and union strikes later followed. The industrial action was later resolved, but history had been made.
After returning to the ‘Formerly Blackball Hilton’ we had a yarn with some of the locals and headed for a luxurious rest to prepare for the jobs ahead of us the next day.