Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Research Roadtrip: Waimate

Waimate is a small town in South Canterbury, 20kms north of the Waitaki River. The population of the Waimate District (which encompasses Waimate and a number of other smaller towns) is around 7,000 people.

And while things mightn’t be as bleak economically as in the 1980s, a walk around Waimate town will still yield a number of closed and boarded up buildings.

Tea Rooms: closed
Back of the main street: barren
Mr Whippy: sprinkled with graffiti

More about Waimate after the jump...

The main street does, however, have two second hand shops located opposite each other.

Second hand shops are never a good sign. The higher the percentage of second hand shops in your town, the more dire your situation. I swear, post-apocalypse it’ll be all cockroaches and second hand stores.

Cliffs/shags at St Andrews
The reason I took the 7km detour off SH1 to visit Waimate is it’s roughly halfway between Oamaru and Timaru. My fictional town of Marumaru South, which features in this story from Sport 38 and is a major setting in THE NOVEL, is located somewhere between these other –marus. But unlike Waitmate, Marumaru is located on the coast.

Coastal aside: this particular stretch of coast, around the Waihao Box and Wainono Lagoon, is very difficult to access… It’s either the crumbling, spotted shag-lined cliffs like at St Andrews, or the boggy paddocks, electric fences and wild rose embankments in the nameless farmland.

The inaccessibility was frustrating at the time, but it does mean I have some licence to plonk down whatever geographical features I want in THE NOVEL (within reason) as few people can dispute the picture I paint. So Marumaru looks a bit like Baring Head, which looks a lot like the southern side of the peninsula just south of Moeraki (I’m not sure what it’s called), which is only 70-odd kms south of the mid-point between Oamaru and Timaru. Time for a breath.

Anyway, back to Waimate. While its geography and history will differ from Marumaru, the town’s present is very similar the present I envisaged in '30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South’ (and which continues to inform THE NOVEL).

Where Marumaru’s former grandeur is embodied by its boarded up department stores, Waimate’s biggest monument is St Patrick’s Church. It dominates the entrance to town from the North and seems to be kept in good nick (I’m basing this on the exterior as it wasn’t open for me to view inside the afternoon I visited).

There were a number of other buildings which seemed loaded with significance greater than their uses (past and present). Perhaps it was just because I was walking round with a camera (locals were non-threatening and standoffish). Perhaps it was because I came looking for certain things, for what you might call architectural metonymies.

But I challenge anyone to look at the shell of the Arcadia Theatre (which actually started life as a shopping arcade; plans are afoot to renovate and reopen it as a theatre) and not be struck by it. Whether it makes you feel wistful, or mushy, or maudlin – it makes you feel.

So, Waimate. I loved my time there.

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