Goodbye 2020, Welcome 2021, Where to from here?
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 8-1-2021 16:50
Well, that was an interesting year. With 2021 well and truly here, it’s time to take time to belatedly reflect on the past year and where I want to go with Marlborough Online going forward. For over twenty years, I’ve put many hours of effort into this website, however if I’m lucky, it pays for its hosting, and if I’m not it continues to exist because I’m able to subsidise it with income from paying work. If I were an employer, I’d probably have been convicted of slave labour, as an article can sometimes take several hours to research and write, or revise, and the return for the whole site over the course of a year is typically hundreds of dollars, which also has to cover hosting costs.
Contrary to many, in a way, I can honestly say I miss 2020. I’m used to working from home on my own. That was never really my choice, however being a bit introverted and having the odd bout of social anxiety, endless rejections applying for jobs over the years resulted in me creating work for myself when I couldn’t find anyone else to employ me. It’s actually a whole lot easier answering a call from a client when you know they want your services than cold calling people hoping someone will employ you.
The down side of working in digital services is that there’s a lot of time spent in social isolation, so what has stressed other people having to endure for a few weeks, I’ve pretty much got used to over twenty years. Having the family home for a number of weeks during lockdown, made my days considerably more social for a time, and the demand for my services went up as people suddenly found themselves having to work remotely and have systems moved to the cloud.
Fortunately, complete lockdown didn’t last too long here in Marlborough, so I was able to get out and about finding things to photograph and document.
Covid under control, Climate Change next?
While most people have been worrying about Covid-19, I’ve been taking a somewhat longer term view, and quite frankly, climate change terrifies me, as by the time the average person experiences personal tragedy on the scale Covid-19 has wrought, there will be absolutely nothing that can be done about it, and given the Kiwi she’ll be right attitude, it may take personal tragedy before people actually start taking real action.
I’ve done work for probably most of Marlborough’s major industries at different times, and I know tourism, the wine industry, aquaculture, and forestry all risk costly harm from climate change. What gives me hope is the local innovation that has established these industries in the first place could go on and find ways to combat the effects of climate change, and potentially turn out to have huge export potential into the bargain.
Since I already work from home, it might not seem like there’s much potential for personal change, however as a family we have managed to cut our vehicle usage considerably to the point we’ve realised we can get by as a one vehicle family, especially after my wife’s car’s battery failed through lack of use.
E-bikes are still a bit out of our price range as are hybrid or electric vehicles, but it’s amazing how much low cost, no guilt family fun it is to have with plain ordinary bikes. In my parents’ day, bikes were how kids got around. My father told me the story of how one summer holidays when he was a teenager in the 1950s, he and his brothers cycled from Christchurch to Blenheim over several days while his parents took the car with his youngest brother. Back then the road was unsealed, and bikes had no gears, so it must have been quite an expedition, but it must have left an impact, as when Dad grew up he ended up settling in Blenheim where I was born. Now days, there are plenty of options for bikes, and in spring I bought my first mountain bike which has given me access to more rugged parts of Marlborough than I could manage before with my hybrid bike that could only handle modest off-road riding. One of my passions is photography, and it turns out that cycling and photography make a great combination, as cycling provides greater mobility than just walking, but with the ability to start and stop at will, and take things at a pace where you notice things around you. My nine year old daughter has a range of about 10km with breaks included, although that can potentially be extended with chocolate or the promise of MacDonalds. (I know, I know, fast food isn’t exactly the healthiest, but if you’ve got to ride 10km or more before you’re entitled to it, maybe it’s not quite so bad.)
Housing and history
One undesirable outcome of New Zealand’s otherwise excellent Covid-19 response has been runaway house price inflation, and due to a series of medical events over the last 30 years, although I have savings, I’m yet to get on the property ladder, and the prospect of ever doing so looks increasingly remote. With that in mind, gratuitous trips at my own expense to explore and document Marlborough seem increasingly frivolous as I need to try to save every last cent to try to avoid having to retire to my car. It’s not that my love of Marlborough has in any way diminished, simply that the cost of having security around the roof over my head makes me think twice about spending money. There’s also the uncomfortable issue of whether I can afford to stay in Marlborough long term, and if not, that directly impacts the future of Marlborough Online, as if I’m not in Marlborough to explore, to photograph, to document the region, then this website will become increasingly outdated and irrelevant.
I’m actually in an enviable position compared to some. Through a quirk of history, I rent from my parents, and they’re willing sellers if I could find the money, however I have siblings, and my parents can’t afford to offer me preferential treatment, so they must sell at market rates in order to not disadvantage my siblings. As a result, insane market conditions are making what should have been almost a guaranteed home once I’d saved a bit more, increasingly unattainable, and to say I’m angry is an understatement. In a recession, houses should not be gaining value faster than people can earn money, and whether it’s immigration controls, capital gains tax, wealth tax, or a means test on super-annuitants who own more than one house, someone needs to do something fast, otherwise all the appeals to back local businesses are going to be an utter waste of time, as more and more people will find their incomes soaked up just keeping a roof over their heads. Arts, culture, domestic tourism, hospitality will all eventually come under pressure as higher proportions of incomes end up committed to housing, and all those things employ people whereas houses, once they’re built employ very few with the exception of occasional maintenance work.
Reading some of the history of my ancestors, it was relatively common in colonial New Zealand for people to face financial hardship, and then bounce back, sometimes multiple times, as acquiring a home and other possessions wasn’t difficult to achieve.
Here in Marlborough, many of the earliest European settlers were squatters; they simply found some unoccupied land and took it over without paying anyone for it. In spite of that, as New Zealand developed, it has been in a situation before where too much property ended up in the hands of too few people. Back then, the government of the day took decisive action, and broke up several large runs, with 224,090 acres in Marlborough acquired compulsorily by the government between the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, and split up into small holdings. I doubt the government of today would have the temerity to compulsorily acquire land and establish a new town naming it ‘Ardern’, but here in Marlborough, the names Seddon and Ward live on as place names as a reminder of a time when a government did exactly that. It’s unlikely that any party in parliament would consider such a drastic measure today, however it’s interesting to reflect on how far past governments were prepared to go to deal with property crises.
What next for Marlborough Online
In 2020, I started updating many of the place names on Marlborough Online with dual Te reo Māori and English names. I’ve always had some interest in history, and it seems a bit sad to limit yourself to only around 200 years of history when you can have 800 years, however to do so, that requires recognising Māori names and knowledge. I’d like to continue to expand on some of this earlier local history as I’m able, although documenting Māori traditions and history is a more complex and sensitive issue than just researching history books since it needs to respect tangata whenua.
I recently introduced categories for articles and blog posts, to improve discoverability, as although the hierarchical structure I’ve used till now works well for most content, sometimes content could fit more than one category, and this makes it easier to categorise content.
I’d like to expand on the biography section, which has been badly neglected for some time. My approach is ‘world famous in Marlborough’, so anyone who’s achieved anything of significance locally, even if it’s not enough to make national news, is worth including. I’m a bit of an introvert and experience a bit of social anxiety, so cold calling people asking for an interview isn’t something I find easy, however if you know anyone who you think deserves a mention, get in touch, as I’m more than happy to come and interview someone and write up a biography if I know I’m welcome. I guess for me it’s a bit like the Māori tikanga around going onto a marae. Until you’ve had a pōwhiri, you’re a stranger, and those who stick with tradition won’t go onto a marae until they’ve been formally welcomed, but after that they’re part of the whānau.
As always, if you have any ideas for content, feel free to get in touch, although it must be Marlborough related. I’ve had plenty of offers of articles from people who indicate no knowledge of Marlborough, in return for links to their websites. When you get an offshore gambling outfit claiming they recognise a common interest, I think it’s pretty clear it’s just a scam. I’d love it if locals would come forward with sponsorship, and if there are any bright marketing types out there who can figure out a way to monetise Marlborough Online, I’d be happy to share revenue, but I can’t afford to pay money for ideas that don’t get results, so you’d need to be prepared to accept a commission on results rather than up front payment. Even if you can do nothing other than spread the word about Marlborough Online, that’s helpful.
Have a safe and prosperous 2021.
Cite this page
Cookson, C. (2021). Goodbye 2020, Welcome 2021, Where to from here?. Retrieved March, 9, 2021, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/goodbye-2020-welcome-2021-where-to-from-here