Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Taranaki Hard review: An endearing look into small-town life

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Waitara has a population of about 7000 people and Stuff reporter Deena Coster is one of them.

Simon O’Connor/Stuff

Waitara has a population of about 7000 people and Stuff reporter Deena Coster is one of them.

OPINION: I expected to hate Taranaki Hard.

As one of the 7000 people who proudly call Waitara home, I was anxious and somewhat cynical about how the series would portray the town, and how that would reflect on the people who live there.

The trailer did not fill me with confidence, and it riled up others too.

The 40-second snippet presented Waitara as a “hard” town which turned out a tough breed of people.

The accompanying footage depicted a range of hectic scenes, including one of the cast urinating on a fence, another getting a tattoo, and a car performing a burnout, much to the delight of onlookers.

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Taranaki Hard, a series following the lives of a group of young people living in Waitara, premiered on Monday night.

Three/Stuff

Taranaki Hard, a series following the lives of a group of young people living in Waitara, premiered on Monday night.

All my life, I have seen Waitara suffered its fair share of battering.

Along with battling the negative stereotypes, it’s coped with adversity too.

It’s a place heavily impacted by the legacy left behind by the colonisation of tangata whenua and the land wars, the financial devastation wrought when the freezing works shut the doors in the 1990s and the national media attention which followed the April 2000 police shooting of Steven Wallace.

But Taranaki Hard, which follows the lives of a diverse group of young people, aged between 18 and 27, is a refreshingly honest, and quite endearing insight, into what it’s like to navigate the triumphs and troubles of life within the confines of a small town.

While the opening scene of the beer-swilling, wakeboarding Axel might have been an indicator of what was to come, it turned out to be completely different to what I expected.

Taranaki Hard was actually pretty good.

The laddish, aforementioned Axel soon starts opening up about his struggles with not having a relationship with his absent father.

Later on, the pregnant Shontaya, brought up in a violent home, and already a sole parent to two young children is thinking about getting back together with her jailed ex, while 16-year-old Fati has to start coming to terms with the fact he might have to move away from his family to achieve his dream of playing in the NRL.

I never experienced Waitara as a young adult, because I left as a teenager to go to university and didn’t come back until I was in my early 30s.

I also never have had to deal with some of the traumas or diverse challenges the group profiled on the show have faced in their short lives.

So, Taranaki Hard gave me an insight into how it could be for people who chose to stay, rather than move away, and the opportunities and challenges that decision brings.

However, at the heart of the show is the personal stories each of those profiled have – their hopes, fears, vulnerabilities, and at times, a sense of being stuck.

Seeing young people talk so openly on these topics is what makes it such a compelling watch.

Taranaki Hard is a four-part series that screens on Three on Mondays at 8.40pm.

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