Over the 158 years of its history, the people of Puhoi – the settlement first founded by Bohemians from the Austrian Empire in 1863 – have coped with the traumas of leaving a Europe settled for thousands of years to travel to the other side of the earth.
They tamed a wilderness, faced starvation, struggled to adapt as citizens of a foreign-language speaking colony, shared the ups and downs of the colony’s warfare with Maori, two world wars, the Spanish flu pandemic, several waves of polio, a flood which swamped the heart of the settlement and adapted to a new society, whose descendants now know little of the old ways of life and of the original settlers.
However, would they ever in their wildest dreams, have anticipated climate change, plus the arrival of a true pandemic, which would threaten the whole planet, its environment and the people of every nation?
Have the skills of survival learned over early pioneering years been of any use to this generation of Puhoians, who now struggle, along with the rest of New Zealand, to keep their heads above water in these present times? Times which have seen the spread of disease, drought, bushfire threat, loss of plant and animal species, job loss, economic failure, scarcity of essential materials, and the polarisation of opinions and anti-Government regulation antagonism.
Well, Puhoi has come off lightly. We still share the same trends as the rest of New Zealand, but are lucky enough to have the basics – land, fresh air and a village lifestyle, with comfortable, warm homes on the whole, and space for children to play, to garden and keep stock. Also, neighbours to care for and converse with. But a once-lively social life centering on community meeting places – shop, post office, church, hall, library, cheese factory, hotel and sports club, are no longer all to be taken for granted. Some have adapted to the new regulations and some have closed.
Our proximity to shopping centres and services has been helpful to Puhoi, but at the time of writing the library is shut, ditto the cheese factory and the pub. Gatherings we looked forward to – such as the January axemen’s carnival – have been given the chop. The monthly village market is long gone.