8 Jun 2017

Locals band together for post-quake support

8:44 am on 8 June 2017
Marlborough farmer and wellness advocate, Doug Avery says the community has embraced many things on offer post-quake.

Marlborough farmer and wellness advocate, Doug Avery says the Ward has embraced many things on offer post-quake. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

At midnight on 14 November last year, New Zealand singer/song-writer Mel Parsons was sitting in the queue for the ferry at the Wellington terminal.

She and actors/comedians Amelia Dunbar and Emma Newborn had just finished their North Island Woolshed tour, and were headed south through Kaikōura.

The horse truck they were in, began to rock. And then it shook violently as the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that started in north Canterbury tore through Marlborough and then ploughed beneath Cook Strait towards Wellington.

"We all kind of... froze. It went on for so long. It was a surreal experience."

What they did not know then was how it would set them up to be part of the recovery services available to the top of the South Island.

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Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Marlborough Primary Health chief executive Beth Tester said more than 300 people from the small rural Marlborough communities of Seddon and Ward alone have taken up the offer of free health clinics after last year's quake-damaged not only property but hearts and minds too.

Residents have also taken up the offer of help provided through less traditional means, such as massage therapy and music.

Ms Parsons and her troupe packed out the Ward Town Hall recently with their comedy and music show Sons of a Bitch. The show that brings town and country together did more than make the community laugh - it got them out talking.

The event was organised by Farmstrong and the Rural Support Trust, and was repeated throughout communities in south Marlborough and north Canterbury.

From Germany where she's currently touring, Ms Parsons told RNZ that music makes the stories flow.

"For a lot of people it was a bit of an escape from the constant stress of living with so much damage. A lot of people came up and talked to us after the show, which I take as a real privilege and I think that's a little bit of the power of music. I mean, I don't want to be too cheesy but it transcends the normal communication route."

Marlborough residents pack the Ward Town Hall for Mel Parsons and the Son of a Bitch music and comedy show.

Marlborough residents pack the Ward Town Hall for Mel Parsons and the Son of a Bitch music and comedy show. Photo: Supplied / Mel Parsons

Ms Parsons said New Zealanders might be suffering from "earthquake fatigue", but it was not until she met people directly affected that she understood the level of distress and damage.

Marlborough farmer and wellness advocate Doug Avery said it was encouraging that people had taken up what was on offer.

"There's been some wonderful stuff happening and I think there's a huge sense of gratitude from nearly everyone I know at the response."

Marlborough Primary Health said psychosocial support was in the mix of health services set up post-quake. Ms Tester said people were still seeking out the counselling services on offer to help them deal with lingering problems post-quake.

She said it was a good sign when people recognised they needed help.

"I think it's great, and the fact we've had support from our GP community and our nurses within the primary health organisation has been absolutely wonderful, along with the fact we're trying to establish a long-term arrangement to keep healthcare access on the (Marlborough) coast," Ms Tester said.

She said the clinics stopped in Clarence and Kekerengu because of low numbers attending but residents from those areas could attend free clinics in Ward.

'Everybody just wants things to go back to normal'

Nelson-based holistic therapist Tonya Ball is providing massage and yoga clinics in Seddon and Ward through the recovery fund. She was also surprised at the level of take-up.

"It was a gamble - some people don't like to be touched but sometimes it's easier for people to speak to a stranger than it is to someone close. People are needing to just offload.

Ms Ball said it was clear there were still many people waiting on insurance assessment to damaged homes - some still without heating.

Insurance Council figures show that just under half the 9000 claims for the upper South Island have been assessed so far.

Ms Ball said it was a central theme from her clients.

"Everybody just wants things to go back to normal, with the assessment taking so long on the houses. These people can't really move on anywhere as they have farm animals and children. Some are still living in caravans and with their in-laws, which is a bit of a stress on relationships."

Doug Avery said the key to creating healthy populations was to build mental resilience, so people were better prepared to cope with things like natural disasters.

The Marlborough District Council said social recovery was included in a plan that will run until December 2018.

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