Township celebrates with true sense of community

Sunrise over Aramoana. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Sunrise over Aramoana. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
New Year's Eve in Aramoana was a night to remember, writes Tony Eyre.

''Writers are introverted people by nature,'' poet, novelist and New Year's Honour recipient Diane Brown says.

As one who likes to string a few written words together, I can relate to her conjecture, particularly on New Year's Eve when my preference would be to see the old year out stretched out on the couch at home with a glass of something, rather than heading to some popular festive hot spot for the usual extroverted razzmatazz.

With John Donne and a few revellers in the household reminding me that ''no man is an island'', I reluctantly accepted an invitation to a gig at the Aramoana Community Hall where crib-owners and holiday-makers gather each year to see in the New Year.

This popular coastal settlement, 27km from Dunedin, has long been an attraction for weekend picnickers, seafood gatherers and bird watchers. And notable aesthetes like Ralph Hotere and James K. Baxter, drawn by Aramoana's beauty, have wrung out time-honoured images in paint and poetry of this''pathway to the sea''.

Driving from the expansive flats of Te Ngaru into the closed in, maze-like Aramoana settlement, I could not help but feel a sense of tragedy that devastated this tiny township back in 1990 - the massacre this close-knit community has tried to move on from, despite the best efforts of film-makers or inappropriate behaviour from insensitive sightseers.

As we pulled in to the Aramoana Domain, the community hall was pulsating to the sound of popular local musician John Fogarty belting out hit songs like Proud Mary from his alter ego, John Fogerty of American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival. The night was still young as relaxed partygoers slowly drifted into the hall from their evening barbecues.

The chatter was friendly and familiar, as to be expected from a community built on successive generations of crib identities.

In any small rural or seaside township, the community hall is at its heart and Aramoana's crib-style meeting point is no exception. A huge sculptured royal albatross spreads its wings in the rafters and a wall-mounted display of collected seashells helps define this coastal village. A few days earlier the hall had hosted the Aramoana League's photographic display of the history of the village, including images of the Save Aramoana Campaign - this staunch community's 1980s resistance to a proposed aluminium smelter in the area.

Night finally closed in and the steadily expanding crowd of dancing revellers drifted outside to cheer on a visiting fire entertainer. Stripped to the waist, this agile performer whirled his flaming double baton around his head and gyrating body, tossing the mesmerising circles high into the darkness.

Not missing a beat, Fogarty drew his crowd back into the hall with Jerry Lee Lewis's Great Balls of Fire. The dance floor was full of young and old. A grandmother coaxed her perplexed grandson on to the floor to join in the rhythm. A dog, searching for under-the-table scraps, was led by its front paws into the middle to dance with a local Mr Bojangles in his worn-out shoes. Others were content to sit around the perimeter, having a drink and observing the dance-floor antics.

With the witching hour fast approaching, it was time for the introvert to take his leave. I could not even be persuaded by Fogarty (or his Fogerty namesake) to ''let the Midnight Special shine a light on me.''

As we drove out of the domain - our car headlights picking out the surrounding macrocarpa and pine trees silhouetted against the night sky - it was reassuring to know salt-of-the-earth communities like Aramoana continue to celebrate the good times as well as draw strength from the bad times and ''can take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.''

• Tony Eyre is a Dunedin writer.