Eketahuna – It’s a long way from the city
By Bridget Wellwood , Chair of both the Eketahuna Our Town Committee and the Eketahuna / Mellemskov Museum
How does a small town, famous for being in the middle of nowhere in particular (Eketa-where?) hope to survive in today’s economic climate?
We are up against it – unemployment, low socio-economic stats, unstable dairy prices, a reputation for rainfall, for starters.
With only 450 people living in town and over half of those people earning less than $20,000 pa, the challenge of economic development seems unobtainable.
Yet Eketahuna residents are working together to find local solutions, to push the boundaries, and to draw people closer.
We are a resilient community and out of adversity Eketahuna has always bounced back. After the petrol station burned down, we responded by floating debentures (seeking the support of the local farming district as well) to rebuild a new station, now leased by local operators but still owned by the community (Eketahuna Charitable Trust). People said it couldn’t be done – but the business is flourishing.
Similarly the local grocery store faced closure – debentures were offered and it is now a thriving Four Square leased, but jointly owned, by the Eketahuna Charitable Trust and Masterton’s Trust House. It is the hub for the community.
There are too many community organisations to list, people here want to make a difference. If something doesn’t exist we roll up our sleeves. For example the local Youth Trust want a Skate Park – these kids are out fundraising, and are being well supported by the community (and funders) for their initiative.
We have a library, a good health centre, primary school, swimming pool, op-shop, police, ambulance and fire services amongst our locally run services.
Eketahuna has always been a stop off point. Today people stop for the (newly upgraded) loos and petrol, as well as for the fabulous coffee shops and boutique design and interiors shops that are now open, or to explore some of the lesser known attractions – the Cliff Walk, the local art gallery, or a round of golf.
The Eketahuna Our Town Committee wants to capitalise on possible tourism benefits so we are undertaking a number of projects, such as mapping routes to take advantage of the growth in recreational biking, The Eketahuna / Mellemskov Museum is re-inventing itself, becoming more interactive with the community and hosting pop-up exhibitions.
And the newly developed Eketahuna Railway Station – a collaborative community project to reinstate a small station – is a huge success bringing people here on steam train day excursions.
We have also become event focused running a variety of historical, medieval and art expos over a number of weekends throughout the year.
Self-employment is a good option here and people are thinking hard about social enterprise and collaborations as an effective means to reduce overheads – working together in shared workspaces makes good sense.
We are rebranding the Eketahuna experience getting beyond people’s perceptions that we might be a backward place to some new quality tourism products. Small we may be but that certainly doesn’t equate to our vision of how things might be in our future.