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Year in Review: March 2023

The Times-Age looks back month-by-month on what made the news this year. Crowds flocked to Golden Shears, Smiths City closed its doors and an outpouring of love for politician Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender mayor, who dies, aged 65.

March 1

Police thought drivers had had long enough to adjust to new speed limits on SH2 after a month of taking an ‘education-first approach’. Police issued 10 speeding infringements in a short speed-focussed blitz in recent days in the 50kmh zone at Boundary Rd in Featherston. Acting Senior Sergeant Courtney Sandilands, area response manager for road policing, said police had given motorists time to adjust to the reduced speed limits.

Two people involved in a prolonged Masterton robbery that left the injured victim $1300 out of pocket avoided prison at sentencing. In a decision from the High Court Justice Cheryl Gwyn sentenced Trent Te Ahu Josh Petersen to home detention and Leanne Hema to intensive supervision for their respective roles in a 2020 robbery.

March 2

As the first day of Masterton’s “Wimbledon of shearing” dawned, spectators and competitors flocked to the region. After a two year hiatus due to covid-19 pandemic restrictions, not to mention Wings Over Wairarapa’s recent postponement, the opening day of The Golden Shears – the world’s premier shearing, woolhandling, and woolpressing championship – arrived with high hopes the event would provide a much-need economic boost to Wairarapa.

When it came to election spending, South Wairarapa’s new mayor Martin Connelly was in it to win it. Connelly spent $9846.62 on his campaign last year, more than double that of fellow mayoral contender Daphne Geisler, who spent $3608.95. Alex Beijen spent no money on his campaign to retain the mayoralty.

March 3

Five buildings in the Masterton district were yellow-stickered after Cyclone Gabrielle blew through the area. Masterton Distict Council said it carried out rapid building assessments in the Tīnui area to determine whether buildings affected by flooding due to the cyclone were safe to occupy. To enable the management of ongoing risks to people from buildings, the Tīnui township and surrounding areas – including Castlepoint, Mataikona and Whakataki – have been “designated” under the Building Act 2004.

A favourite for surfers, yes, but in recent years, the giant swells have meant only one thing for residents on Wairarapa’s rugged south coat – a disappearing road. With a second EcoReef now installed along a notoriously eroded section of Cape Palliser tarmac, it’s hoped that regular road closures and single lanes will be a thing of the past.

March 4

Smiths City announced it was shutting its doors after less than two and a half years in Masterton. The well-known furniture and whiteware retailer’s last day of trading is expected to be on Sunday, March 19. A spokesperson for Smiths City said that the lease for the store was ending in two weeks and Smith City was not going to renew its lease.

March 6

The buzz went well beyond the shears, with the War Memorial Stadium positively electrified during the third and final day of the Golden Shears. It was a triumphant return for the ‘Wimbledon of shearing’.

Farm machinery retailer Norwood confirmed it was in the process of consulting staff about the possibility of closing its Masterton outlet. In response to queries from the Times-Age, a Norwood spokesperson said in a statement: “The potential closure of Masterton is subject to a proposal that staff are currently being consulted on, and the outcome
has not been determined.”

March 7

Wairarapa’s beloved Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transgender mayor and Member of Parliament died, aged 65. Beyer’s friends announced “with the heaviest of hearts” that the national treasure had finally succumbed after a long battle with kidney failure. Born in Wellington in 1957, Beyer rose to prominence in local and central government in what many considered an unlikely place – Wairarapa. After her election to Carterton District Council in 1993, Beyer won a landslide victory in the mayoral election in 1995 and was re-elected as Carterton’s mayor in 1998.

March 8

A cool head and the quick actions of emergency services were credited with saving a life at Castlepoint. A teenager fell into the water fully-clothed while clambering on Castlepoints’ notoriously treacherous reef. Emergency services, which responded to the alarm shortly before midday, said time was of the essence in preventing a drowning. Castlepoint Volunteer Fire Brigade controller Anders Crofoot said the teenager – who was transported to Wairarapa Hospital by ambulance – suffered injuries after being battered against the rocks near the lighthouse end of the reef.

March 9

Commuters crawled along SH2 between Masterton and Carterton as the new Norfolk Rd roundabout layout caused further delays to the already slow section. The new road layout for the Norfolk Rd roundabout was marked out by road cones and still had a gravel surface. Waka Kotahi NZTA said that it would not re-seal the roundabout until early April.

March 10

A family plagued by poachers for decades were left distraught at the cold-blooded killing of a beloved pet. Hinakura residents Pip and Shane Wilkinson woke to gunshots in the early hours of Saturday morning, and the sight of their hand-raised deer, Baby, maimed in their front paddock. They subsequently learned armed police officers apprehended a vehicle travelling at speed near Parkvale on Saturday morning.

March 11

In light of Waka Kotahi NZTA’s changes to SH2, data obtained by the Times-Age under the Official Information Act [OIA] revealed that in the past 22 years, speed was a factor in only one fatal crash between Masterton and Featherston. The data also showed the section from Masterton to Carterton was considerably more treacherous than the Carterton to Greytown and Greytown to Featherston sections of SH2.

March 12

One person was airlifted to Wellington Hospital in critical condition after a two-car crash in Featherston. Emergency services attended the scene just after 11.30am. The crash happened at the intersection of SH53 Revans St and Lyons St, which led to SH53 being closed and diversions put in place while the serious crash unit investigated.

March 14

The long-awaited sale of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre could be on the horizon thanks to liquidators having found a potential buyer. Accounting firm Grant Thornton – which was appointed as liquidator on February 5, 2019 after the centre entered liquidation in December 2018, owing more than $15 million – said an unidentified third party that’s believed to meet the requirements for government approval had expressed interest in purchasing the Wairarapa campus and home dairy farmland in Taratahi.

March 16

Farm machinery retailer Norwood’s Masterton store survived closure, but up to 11 staff would lose their jobs. What had been a team of 16 staff in Masterton would now be reduced to about five, Norwood chief executive Tim Myers announced. Myers confirmed to the Times-Age that the company had planned to close the Masterton store too, but after consultation with staff, a decision was made to keep it open.

March 17

Greytown Medical Centre was forced to front the public about its acute lack of general practitioners and explain its ownership structure. The public reckoning at the new Five Rivers Medical facility was standing room only, as the practice explained its attempts to find a solution to the doctor shortage and listened to residents vent their frustrations about wait times and a revolving door of GPs.

March 20

Speculation had been rife, but the National Party finally put rumours to bed by confirming that Mike Butterick would contest the Wairarapa seat in the 2023 general election. Butterick would have been hoping that second time’s a charm, with Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty confirming he would be standing for re-election – setting up a repeat of the 2020 election.

March 22

Almost a year after a late-night walk turned to tragedy, questions about the death of Lawziah Karaitiana remained, with neither his family nor police able to move on. On May 7, it was one year since Lawziah Karaitiana lost his life on the Masterton-Castlepoint Rd. The 20-year-old was found unresponsive in the early hours of that Saturday morning and assumed to be the victim of a suspected hit-and-run. Despite an extensive investigation, and multiple appeals for information, police and Karaitiana’s family are no closer to understanding what happened.

March 23

A 24-year-old woman facing serious drug charges reappeared in Masterton District Court after being arrested at what police described as a “gang-affiliated address in Carterton”. She was remanded in custody overnight, with court duty lawyer Ian Hard requesting a note for segregation. The woman’s friends and family in the public gallery were visibly upset as she was stood down. She was facing one charge of possessing a class A drug – methamphetamine – for supply, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

March 24

A comparison of local data with ACC claims indicated a large number of dog attacks were not being reported to local councils. According to Masterton District Council records, 17 dog attacks were reported between 2021 and 2022. But a study using regional ACC claims has estimated that nearly 100 dog bite injuries occur each year in the district. There were 17 ACC claims for dog bite injuries estimated per year in Carterton, but only one was reported to the local council between 2021 and 2022, while South Wairarapa Council received seven reports compared to an annual estimate of 31 ACC claims.

March 25

Martinborough locals were dismayed and angered as the Martinborough Golf Club [MGC] organised the felling of a large number of old oak and other trees without following an agreed process. Both the Martinborough Community Board and South Wairarapa District Council expressed disapproval after it became clear the golf club had not followed a formal written process for removing the trees, with one resident referring to some of those involved as “cowboys”. The MGC committee confirmed about 25 trees bit the dust on the course to make way for clubhouse development.

March 27

In the final part of its decades-long settlement, the Crown apologised to Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa Tamaki nui-a-Rua. Iwi and Wairarapa locals gathered at Queen Elizabeth Park in Masterton for the historic event. Settlement Trust chair Haami Te Whaiti said the day was an important step towards reconciliation. He said the iwi was thinking of its ancestors as the apology was delivered to them. Nearly two years after signing the deed of settlement – which includes $115 million in redress and the return of 27 sites of cultural significance – the iwi has now been able to hear an apology, something that its ancestors fought hard to receive.

Wairarapa cancer survivors and supporters turned out in force in what was, undoubtedly, one of the most successful Relay For Life events. For 16 and a half hours, more than 750 people cut a half-kilometre lap around the Clareville Showgrounds, raising more than $150,000 for the Wairarapa Cancer Society.

March 28

Wairarapa employers falling foul of their own employment agreements stand to lose thousands of dollars in personal grievance claims. Wairarapa barrister Jills Angus Burney spoke out on what she called “fatal mistakes” made by employers after the Times-Age became aware of an allegation of unfair dismissal relating to a well-known business in the region. Angus Burney said employers’ ignorance of their own employment agreements could cost businesses in the region thousands of dollars in personal grievance claims – and the number of cases was rising.

March 29

More than 40 people attended a meeting at Hinakura Hall to hear experts discuss available options for the failed road into the valley. Five different possibilities for the route from Martinborough were presented to locals – costing as much as $11 million and taking as long as three years to complete. David Stewart, principal geotechnical engineer and engineering geologist at consulting firm WSP Opus, described how a progressive landslide has caused Hinakura Rd to collapse over the past two years. “The landslide is about 500 metres long from top to bottom and roughly about 100 metres wide.

March 30

A man was flown to Wellington Hospital after being cut free from the collapsed house he was trapped under. Emergency services including police, ambulance, and Fire and Emergency [Fenz] descended on the Chester Rd property in West Taratahi at 9.40am. Fenz crew worked to stabilise the house before cutting through the floorboards to rescue the man, who was reportedly not pinned but still unable to free himself.

March 31

Long waits were to be expected at Wairarapa Hospital’s emergency department [ED] as more than one in four patients were not seen within six hours earlier this week. Kieran McCann, the interim lead of hospital and health services, said in the 24 hour period to midnight on Tuesday, only 73 per cent of all attendances were treated within six hours of presenting at the ED. The current target wait time at the ED is 95 per cent of those presenting seen within six hours. A Masterton resident who wanted to remain anonymous waited with a family member at the ED for six and a half hours last week before giving up and going home. “It was a shambles,” they said.

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