'Good on you and thanks': The hardworking people who brought Wellington back to normality

Mike “MOD” O’Donnell is a professional director, including of RNZ, writer and facilitator, and a regular opinion contributor.

OPINION: I buried my dear old mum a couple of weeks ago.

At 90 she had had a full innings. Steered away from academic pursuits by her parents she enjoyed an outdoor life working with horses and farming down south.

She and my Dad taught thousands of kids at the Sandow Riding School outside Christchurch and hundreds of grown-ups at the South Canterbury Hunt which they ran prior to that.

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She threw the same energy into angling in her retirement. Whitebaiting at Haast in September and October while living out of a 14-foot Zephyr caravan. Then fishing her cherished Rangitata River for salmon for most of the summer, before heading up to Taupō for autumnal trout.

I helped move her up to Blenheim a few years ago and gardening became her passion. From dawn to dusk she set about supercharging the dry Marlborough soil into dark fertile loam, winning a couple of Garden Marlborough prizes along the way.

At around 88 her body let her down and I moved her into care.

Sadly her mind didn’t adjust well to the lack of activity. The last year or so were tough on her and on the caregivers around her.

Not that you could tell that from the caregivers and other health providers helping make her comfortable. Without exception their delivery was warm, professional and patient.

Caregiving salaries in the provinces are around the average wage of $59,000. And I can tell you right now that they earn every cent of it bless them.

I arrived back in Wellington last week, the day after the protestors had been evicted and Thorndon given back to everyday Wellingtonians. Coming off the ferry we drove past the legions of cleaners getting rid of the detritus of 23 days of occupation.

From picking up wet mattresses, to broken dunnies and rotting food, the cleaners went about their business professionally and pleasantly. Talking to one of them as she lifted a cracket toilet bowl onto a truck she noted that someone had to do the job and she was pleased to be helping return public land to the people. Good on her, I though.

'Good on you and thanks': The hardworking people who brought Wellington back to normality

Cleaners and clean-up teams don’t always get a lot of respect but they certainly had mine that day and were critical to restoring access to Wellingtonians.

Two other groups stand out to me as doing the same. Groups that often get the borax poked, but from my observations did their job honourably and professionally.

The first are police. I’ve been to demonstrations in Germany and in the United States, and I can tell you it’s nothing like the tolerance and patience shown by the thin blue line in Wellington. Overseas you get the short sharp shrift and there’s no mucking about with this “community policing” malarkey.

Many of the protestors were everyday New Zealanders who spoke courteously with police. But a hell of a lot were not. Police were abused, assaulted, and had biohazards thrown at them.

They were also policing what was a pandemic incubation area which meant they were often unable to go home and see partners and kids at night.

Watching the final eviction on March 2 and the taunting and projectile throwing, I could only imagine the self-restraint it took for police not to take a swing at the provocateurs. I wouldn’t back myself to be as cool-headed.

The second group I’d call out are the journalists who covered the event from start to finish. Journalists who got pushed, punched, called Nazis and received death threats.

One reporter friend of mine was invited to enter the camp only to be bashed on the head by a self-appointed protest guardian and knocked to the ground.

I know of others who were threatened with bottles of petrol and had camera and recording gear broken, so they couldn’t capture scenes inside the camp.

It took old-fashioned guts to keep on fronting up to Parliament grounds each day, not knowing if you would leave unscathed and uninfected.

Yet despite this I read and listened to journalists committed to giving the disenfranchised a voice and searching for the genuine amongst the nutters.

Dominion Post editor Anna Fifeld posted a Letter from the Editor a few days ago. It gives blunt insight into the mechanics of covering a 23-day protest – from filing to faeces. It was saddening to read that five Stuff journalists covering the protest caught Covid-19 over the duration, but the content they produced will help form the content for this chapter of Aotearoa’s history.

At my beloved Radio New Zealand they faced similar threats and did a cracking good job. Sitting in bed at 5am on day 23 glued to the RNZ app on my phone I realised that good live broadcasts are truly an art form, and these fullas nailed it.

The thing is that none of these professions – cleaners, police or journalists – are top income earners. Hell some are hardly even middle income earners.

But like the caregivers who took care of my mum in her last year, they are professional, hardworking and humble.

So rather than trying to finish my column with a slick business metaphor, I’d just like to say good on you and thanks. Nga mihi.