PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog




In an age structured by google, facebook, an increasingly dense health and safety culture, surveillance cameras on every dashboard and street corner, and (despite a climate crisis) a general preciousness and paranoia about comfort, children are starting to wear high viz jackets to brush their teeth.

Looking after two grandchildren during the school holidays on a very wet West Coast – it has rained all day every day forever it seems – could have made for a difficult time.

We’ve been saved by the ditch.

Let me explain. Given the high rainfall the miners early on dug ditches along each side of the Blackball roads. They’re a metre or so deep. Culverts of various degrees of sophistication cross the ditches at each driveway. The miners probably never got resource consent. The ditches are untidy but they work, becoming small creeks in times of rain. They can be a threat to unskilful reversers of motor vehicles (‘ditch parking’ being a local term for driving your vehicle into a ditch) and a drunk falling into a ditch has led to the occasional ambulance call out, but they are also a wonderful playground.

The five year old has spent hours creating a mine in the ditch. Armed with shovel and pick he created bridges and found various treasures buried in the mud. Then he and his sister made boats from cat food tins and raced them along the ditch, under culverts and so on. I joined in but my boat sunk. There were often whirlpools at the end of a culvert, requiring some expert jibbing to escape. We explored the ditch to where it entered the surrounding scrub on the way to the river, but were turned back by the blackberry.

There was no risk assessment management involved except at a sub conscious level – the water wasn’t deep enough for him to drown and he seemed sensible enough not to crawl into a culvert and get stuck. There were no high viz jackets, no checks on the state of the water or the constitution of the mud, no scouring of the ditch for sharp objects beforehand, no need for adult monitoring – if they started screaming we’d hear them. They just said, We’re going to play in the ditch. And unbelievably, it cost nothing. There was no branding involved, no commodification. Nor is the ditch named after a famous children’s author. The ditch is without character or culture. The only genealogy is the vision of practical men on the ends of picks and shovels doing something practical, with the women bringing some scones for morning tea – and I’m not going to judge the ditches as an act of patriarchal oppression.  Thank God the council is not wealthy enough to fill them in or send out an officer to banish the children from playing in them.

At the end of a potentially very long two weeks of child minding, with a raised and clenched fist I shout, Long live the Blackball ditches.

Congratulations, Theo Spierings


We read the statistics regarding child poverty: 1 in 4, 300,000, that sort of thing, but what does it mean – even for those who aren’t going to school hungry or living in cars? What does it mean to be seriously under-resourced and stressed and how does it happen?

A relationship doesn’t work out. Immediately the formulas kick in: one for the DPB, another for the accommodation supplement, another for child care, another for child support – this one ensuring a toxic relationship continues into bitterness and often a desire for revenge. When circumstances change, the formulas have to be renegotiated and there is always a time lag. With the increase in precarious work this becomes a constant, daily battle. This is compounded if there is a major expense or a normal life crisis: a rotten tooth,  the death of a family member or something wrong with the car. There’s pressure to work, but will that work coincide with school hours and school holidays or does after school care need to be found?

These are still young people who need some social life. If families are not there or unsupportive, baby sitters have to be found, and paid. Otherwise, there is no respite from the 24/7 of providing for the needs of children. And children get sick and children get careless. It is reasonable to occasionally wish they had never happened and regret that the best portion of an adult life is lived in relative misery. Of course, love wins out, but occasionally the resentment must be felt, plus the accompanying guilt. Meanwhile, the battle with the bureaucracies continues. With the increasing ease of ‘dobbing in’ the Ministry for Vulnerable Children might start sniffing around – the Ministry is largely a surveillance agency based on hypocrisy: how can a state that creates vulnerable children rescue them? A job opportunity which might provide some satisfaction means you’re not home at 3pm. The child care occasionally breaks down and the kids are left alone. Meanwhile, in the talk back ear, you’re a bludger, a burden on the taxpayer and in need of micro managing by the state.

It’s a situation where having children is damaging to all involved. Of course, that’s what they want. In the old days, the mother had to adopt. Nowadays you suffer differently, but the intent of the suffering is the same: Take that, you slut. And when people are under-resourced and subject to social revenge, there are under-resourced children who don’t cope with the stresses of adolescence. Living in poverty means the random wash of the digital world is attractive and addictive. The cycle begins again.

And meanwhile the CEO for Fonterra, Theo Spierings, gets $8 million annually. It is not questioned. There is no surveillance involved.

In the wider view, this is about the working class being reproduced as cheaply as possible. And in this case it is providing the bulk of the disposable workers for the precarious occupations. Of course it’s not as bad as the Filipino women leaving their children at home to serve the wealthy matrons in Dubai or London or Rome or New York, but it is the same pattern.

Unfortunately, a change of neo-liberal management, even a resolutely positive one, is not going to fix this issue. It requires a revolution.

In another  space, this is interesting:

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