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At last!

By Stan Stewart

I can hardly believe it! At last, I am in the office of The Mercury Bay Informer ready to start the job I was supposed to commence in May last year.

Before taking up our position as the new owners of the paper Pauline and I planned to take 3 weeks holiday in Brisbane, with family and friends and most importantly our son Walker, his wife Effie and our grandson Logan. On the day we arrived in Brisbane we were told Walker was in hospital. The hospital visit that day was just the beginning of a ten-month journey. Without warning or premonition our son was paralysed by an unknown virus. His future was murky to say the least. Pauline and I decided that I would stay on in Brisbane to care for Walker and his family. She would return to Mercury Bay and take up her job and mine managing the Mercury Bay Informer.

That was ten months ago. My main task has been visiting and supporting my son and caring for his family. This involved daily hospital visits and a lot of driving in Brisbane traffic. Walker has transitioned from seemingly hopeless (for 6 months) to slow recovery. He has regained the use and function of his upper body and he has some feeling and control in his lower body and small improvements keep coming. Last week he was discharged from hospital and now he is living with his family in a most suitable apartment which we own in Brisbane. We believe the cyclone of ill health is receding.

As we were preparing to come home - it is now our home - a weather cyclone, Cyclone Gabrielle was making its disastrous landfall across New Zealand, starting with the Coromandel. Yesterday with the help of a friend we travelled through Thames and Coromandel Town to Mercury Bay. Two comments:

1. I was impressed at the proficiency with which the slips had been dealt with. Full marks road crews! Also,

I was surprised at how few slips there were. Most of the cuttings were intact.

2. How beautiful, spectacular and enchanting is this route. In my view, starting from Thames and including historic Coromandel, this journey to Whitianga must be one of the most beautiful drives not just in the country; I reckon in the world.

This is not my first time in Whitianga. From 1999 to 2002, I was part -time Minister of St Andrews by the Sea Historical Church. As well as the privilege of being part of this church community, I was also involved in two projects of significance. The first was the restructuring and extension of the historical church building. The building had limited capacity – 70 by memory - and inadequate facilities for toilets and kitchen. I thought there had to be a way for the building to be extended that did not compromise its beautiful historical worth. And there was. With the help of an enthusiastic architect we came up with the present design – a matching addition at right angles to the historical chapel including overflow accommodation, kitchen and toilets.

In a way, the design was the easy part of the project. Two other enormous challenges were - a) Obtaining permission from the Historic Places Trust to make the alterations, and b) Funding the project. These two challenges required going hat-in-hand around Auckland/Waikato head offices and painting word pictures of what was and what could be and meticulous presentations of costs and diagrams. The Historic Places Trust flew their man up who had many questions and not a few worried looks. However, once we had answered all their queries, the Trust gave the project their approval and the funders came on board. As Dorothy Preece says in the front page article, the result is something we can all be proud of and I know it serves the Whitianga community on a daily basis. I remember well, working with Derek Preece the project Manager and Max, Parish Chairman, both now deceased.

My second project was with the Mercury Bay Historical Society. I had made several video films previously, and in 2000 the Historical Society approached me to produce a short video on Captain Cook’s visit to Mercury Bay. I took up their invitation. The end result was a forty minute video titled ‘ Twelve Days – Captain Cook in Mercury Bay’. Instead of a stock-standard historical video, the facts of the visit were woven into a story of two current day fishing mates, one pakeha and one maori. Researching the story and producing the video was great fun. For years the video was on sale at the Museum and regularly screened in their viewing room.

In respect to my interest in Mercury Bay, that is my back story. Now I look forward to making a further contribution alongside Pauline and as part of The Mercury Bay Informer.

Caption: The Rev. Stan Stewart greets Edith Chaney with a kiss at the opening of the new hall extension to St Andrew's By the Sea Church in 2002. Rev. Lester Simpson, Moderator of Presbytery watches on.

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