Gathering refugees find haven at college

Nelson Mail - 4 January 2000

While Hare Krishna devotee Jambarati served food to hungry cold wet Gatherers at the Canaan site until her cooker's gas supply ran out, Tracey Webb and Alice Sandbrook were standing in the rain slowly getting hypothermia.

"We'd been standing in the rain for about six hours on Sunday trying to get a lift and waiting for the buses when Alice collapsed," said Tracey as she stood barefoot in the sun under the trees at Nelson College yesterday.

Tracey, Alice and three other friends from around the country met in Picton last week to go to The Gathering. They were a group of the 130 Gathering refugees who took up the offer of a warm bed, hot shower and food at Nelson College on Sunday night. Two mates, Jarrat Syne of Feilding and Jo Clarke from Blenhein, left the sodden site on Saturday night for the warmth of a Motueka hostel. It was the last time they saw Tracey, Alice and Catherine Clarke until Monday morning.

"After Alice collapsed they took us to a first aid tent in a four-wheel drive," said Tracey. But Catherine wasn't ill enough to travel down to Motueka's Salvation Army centre, nor did she get to travel to Nelson Hospital by ambulance. She made the trip to the college alone. "They checked my heartbeat again in the ambulance and then again at the hospital and said I was fine and could go now," Alice said. [see note 1 at end of article]

Adrift in a strange town late at night, Alice was saved by Trish Gargulio. The wife of Nelson College's headmaster collected Alice from the hospital and took her back to the college. "She came and picked me up and made up a bed for me and gave me food and a hot shower - and now we are all back together again," said Alice as she looked round her group of friends who had been reunited through the hospitality of a college principal and the organisation of the Salvation Army.

Curled under a duvet with two other Hare Krishna devotees, Lisa Wilkinson and Anna Nichol, Jambarati did not look like a woman who has only had six hours' sleep in three days. The Dunedin trio were among the 19 devotees who served more than 8000 meals at the Krishna's Food for Life stall at The Gathering. "On the last day, we gave people hot ginger tea because they were so cold," Jambarati said.

"Most of the time the rain wasn't an issue and it didn't stop people from having a good time," Anna said. "But towards the end, it was crisis time and people were being taken off with hypothermia and we were seeing people collapse."

Jambarati said many Gatherers were just not prepared for the weather. "I was talking to people who didn't even bring a jacket." Jambarati said organisers should be more prepared for cold weather and rain and let people know how changeable the hill's weather was. [see note 2]

"Half the people had left by the time the mud was four inches thick," said Lisa who was suffering from the flu. "The place just looked like devastation," said Anna.

Experienced Gatherers, the three women did not even attempt to enter the stalled line of home-going traffic until 9pm. "We just kept serving food up until the last minute when the gas ran out and the boys turned the power off," Jambarati said.

She said the devotees had taken three tonnes of food supplies up to the site. They left with 100kg of potatoes. With Nelson accommodation crammed, the trio made their way to the police station, then on to the Salvation Army, which directed them to the college.

"We've got to say something about the hospitality of the college - and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army," said Jambarati. "In reality the rain really brought people together. In the end, they started looking after each other."

Helen Murdoch, Nelson Mail, 4 January 2000

WebEd's corrections

note 1

This section is written in a very misleading way. Alice was the one who needed to be taken offsite and checked out at the hospital, which she was. They said she was fine and that she could go. We are sure they didn't just turn her out in the street. Catherine was not suffering from hypothermia, and therefore could not be fitted in the bus which took those people to Motueka and Nelson. Our priority was people in need, and much as we would have liked to, we couldn't have friends taking up places on our safety vehicles. To mix up these girls' stories in the same paragraph is misleading to say the least.

note 2

We spend 6 months of each year warning Gatherers about the extremes of temperature on Takaka Hill. It's in our booklet, on the website, and throughout our radio advertising (in fact we spoke about little else in our advertising on the radio stations and on FreshFM in the Nelson region.) In all of Ali's media briefings before the event, in the newspapers, on the radio and on TV, she spoke at length about what Gatherers should bring, and about how to prepare themselves for the Canaan Downs experience. But in the end, there is only so much we can do. We cannot force Gatherers to bring warm and waterproof clothes, we can only advise them - and this we believe we did better than any other event could have done.

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