19 July 2019
New Zealand Army driver Private Nathan Connell says the sight of plastic waste entangled with washed-up logs or buried under rocks and silt in Fox River is heart-breaking for West Coast locals like him.
While growing up in Dobson, a town of about 600 on the banks of the Grey River, Private Connell spent school holidays with his family exploring the West Coast’s untamed native forests, rivers and glaciers.
“It was quite a shock to hear about the rubbish contamination of Fox River. Seeing it first-hand made me really sad,” said Private Connell, who is one of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel helping the Fox River rubbish spill clean-up.
Every day, he drives a Pinzgauer light operational all-terrain vehicle to transport Department of Conservation (DOC) staff and volunteers to work sites along Fox River and pick up bags of rubbish filled by the volunteers.
“I was eager to come home and give a hand. It’s good to help out,” he said.
Heavy rain the previous week had made the tracks leading to the Fox River work sites muddy and difficult for normal vehicles to access.
“The terrain is quite rough but with the Pinzgauer we have been able to take the volunteers quickly to where they need to be,” he said.
Private Connell had been keen to join the Army since he was a child. After completing nine months at Greymouth High School, he persuaded his parents to enrol him at Mawhera Services Academy in Greymouth, which offers a military-oriented programme with strong emphasis on discipline, physical training and leadership skills.
“My granddad was an infantry soldier who served in the Vietnam War and I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
He enlisted in the Army in 2017, after working for two years at a dairy farm outside Greymouth.
Trained to drive Class 5 vehicles such as the Pinzgauers and the HX60 medium and heavy operational vehicles, he hopes to deploy some day to the NZDF missions in Antarctica and the Sinai Peninsula.
“It would be great to use my skills in an operational environment and learn from the experience,” he said.