There’s no peace on demand in a functioning community

The author’s father (left) takes delivery of his new plane in the mid 1960s.  The hillside in the...
The author’s father (left) takes delivery of his new plane in the mid 1960s. The hillside in the background is now adorned with new houses. Photo: Supplied
The idea rural locations are by default peaceful places is a flawed one, writes  Kate Scott.

A recent ODT opinion piece asks if the peace of Glenorchy will soon be gone — that horse is long since down the driveway and dodging the tourist traffic on the main road as it bolts for the hills, as far as long-term residents can tell.  If, in fact, it ever really existed to start with; it’s hard to imagine we were very peaceful in the gold-rush era or during the scheelite booms. 

The idea that rural locations are by default peaceful places is a flawed one, dreamt up by dissatisfied urbanites longing for some kind of opposite existence where they can get their weekend sleep-in without being bothered by proximate neighbours who like to mow the lawn unfeasibly early or practise their drums into the wee small hours.

For those of us who have lived our entire lives in places like Glenorchy, the influx of new residents with a different world view brings both benefits and challenges.  The expectation that we rustics just need to lean on the gate chewing a straw and making obscure pronouncements about the weather in impenetrable accents for picturesque effect is entertaining until it dawns on you that your role apparently really is just to provide background local colour and not disturb the peace too much.  Rural places are workplaces — stuff happens down on the farm and that stuff can be noisy.  And not just on the farm — gravel quarries, jet-boat companies and the construction sites of all those new houses that didn’t used to be there.

The frequently repeated assertion of people who move to a place like Glenorchy that they liked it just the way it was when they arrived and that they deplore the changes since that watershed moment when they set up house in the neighbourhood displays a spectacular lack of rationality. If you come to a rural community and build a dwelling where formerly there wasn’t one, you have irrevocably changed an aspect of the place yourself and to deride those who follow you for ruining the serenity dishonours the welcome extended to you by the existing community you chose to join.  Change is inevitable and stagnation is deadly for small towns.

The daunting exponential growth of tourist numbers in our small corner of the world certainly threatens what peace may still be available and we all need to think very hard about what level of increase is feasible and, indeed, desirable.  Towns like Glenorchy that are within a 50km radius of Queenstown and its international airport are fairly obviously more likely to be swept up in the tourism tsunami and it is a bit disingenuous to expect no effects so close to such a hub. 

True peace is probably not that hard to come by if you travel a bit further from the amenities of a major centre — but then you lose the benefits of that proximity that for many ex-suburbanites make our area so attractive.  Great rural vistas — yet also sealed roads and an hour to the airport when the rural lifestyle palls and you need a city fix or to reconnect with family and friends left behind.  You could live very quietly in many other deeply rural parts of the country but not that many people really want to be that remote, peaceful though it may be.

Glenorchy may no longer qualify as remote but we are still potentially much more isolated than many other locations with a single road in — and out.  Events that close the road, such as fires or floods, highlight our vulnerability and it is at these times that local aircraft can make a huge difference.  Glenorchy has a perfectly good and long-established airstrip but that grass runway now has new neighbours in the form of a gated subdivision where houses are valued in the tens of millions of dollars.  These part-time residents apparently share the delusion that the countryside should always operate at a hush so they park their private jets in Queenstown and make life hard for Glenorchy-based aviation businesses, leading them to look elsewhere for a secure base. The community needs these businesses to provide jobs and bring high-value tourists to contribute more than the mattress-van occupants and cheap backpackers, but also their on-site ability to fight fires or carry out search and rescue is an enormous bonus when every minute can be vital in emergency situations.  Those without a longstanding affiliation with the high country may fail to appreciate the massive benefits helicopter operators bring to farming, conservation and scientific research, as well as tourism.

Glenorchy has benefited enormously from an increased population and wider spread of skills over the past couple of decades.  But moving to any mountain town in this country that relies on tourism as its main source of income and objecting to aircraft noise indicates a fundamental failure to grasp how such a community functions. Glenorchy lies under the Queenstown to Milford flight path so even in the absence of any local operator we cannot escape the impact of aircraft, particularly when commercial jets also approach Queenstown airport directly overhead at times. 

Rose-tinted nostalgia strikes us all from time to time, but when it comes with a side of imported urban world view where non-working weekends and the notion of property values is accorded more worth than building community resilience, I begin to feel resentful of the twittering worries of suburbia intruding on my bucolic peace with its soothing soundtrack of barking huntaways, topdressing planes and chainsaws.

- Kate Scott is the fourth generation of her family to run Rees Valley Station.

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