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Published: 01 April 2022

By Andy Ross

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Cobden revisited

Cobden, a suburb of Greymouth, is proving to be an interesting place to explore. 

Cobden is just across the Grey River from Greymouth and is joined to the town by a road and a rail bridge. The rail bridge is relatively new; a replacement for the beautifully designed Howe Truss wooden bridge that once curved in a graceful "S" shape across the river. It is along the river that The Barber flows, and it is across these bridges that the foggy wind whips on these cooler days of autumn. 

We have been exploring the suburb because of a book, "Remembering Cobden", published in 1986, that relates the first 125 years of the European settlement of this part of the West Coast. It is of particular interest because our home, The Cobden Gospel Hall, is mentioned in the book as having been erected around 1924, making it old by the building standards of New Zealand. While it is interesting to learn about the pre-colonial times here, that will require a visit to the library to find the books and, because "Remembering Cobden" is now in our collection, we have started with that period. 

A cute blue house in Cobden. A cute blue house in Cobden.Cobden has lots of the lovely wooden houses that New Zealand seems to specialise in. Many are based on a simple template but with added decoration and different layouts. Many are also State Houses, the New Zealand provision of affordable housing: cute, robust and spacious dwellings, some with windows that go around corners to light even the innermost recesses of the building. There were also some rather grander buildings, most of which have now disappeared or been converted into flats or, in one instance, a motel and in another, a shopping precinct. There is a small Primary school just down the way, and the fire station with its rather alarming siren call to action, tested on Saturday at midday. 

The suburb lies along the river. Stretching from the Cobden Quarry, once the site of a Maori fortified village/ settlement called a Pa, to the beach, it is laid out in a grid pattern, regular intersecting rows of wide roads with blocks of house and garden along each street. The result is a pleasing uniform pattern but one that is made much more interesting by the colours and designs of the houses. On our block we have bungalows, our hall, houses with shaded porches, picket fences, open gardens and what must once have been a shop and is now a store for equipment. They all hark back to the early and mid-twentieth Century and nowadays people are buying up these older properties to restore because they are affordable and solidly built. 

At the opposite end of the township to the Quarry, with its limestone cliffs draped with native bush towering over the river banks and road from Rapahoe and Runanga, is Cobden cemetery. It is small and many of the graves are now lost to the elements. In this climate with its 2.8 metres of rainfall a year, wooden crosses and buttresses do not last long. The only remaining marks are those areas where stone or concrete has been used to mark the departed, or small circles of pebbles that must once have held up the crosses or been laid atop the final resting places of those earlier Cobden residents. It is peaceful, this cemetery, surrounded by trees, screened from the view of most passers-by. 

Cobden's lagoon is home to ducks and geese as well as eels and frogs. Cobden's lagoon is home to ducks and geese as well as eels and frogs. Nearby is the lagoon, a reclaimed dump where the town once threw its rubbish. A few years ago the dump was subjected to a tremendous storm that destroyed a pebble beach and exposed great quantities of plastic that had been buried. Back in the days when this was a rubbish heap the long-lasting life of plastic was not understood so lots of it was put under the earth and was then uncovered by the waves. The decision was made to reshape the landscape and now ducks, both native and introduced, live on the lagoon, and native planting has been providing a haven for birds and insects. In this area Nursery Web Spiders have been spinning their magical bundles of silk in the planst as protection for the spiderlings, and, beside the walking paths that run around the lagoon, one can hear birdlife scurrying through the undergrowth, eating whatever is living in the leaf mould. 

On these outskirts, horses and sheep are living in smallholdings and Cobden was once much more rural than it is now. A friend who lives a couple of houses down has been telling us about how it used to be when, as a child, the area was filled with activity with a butcher shop, a small grocery shop, mechanics and engineers. Now things are a bit quieter and it is a peaceful, somewhat sleepy, friendly place. Surrounded, as it is, by hills of green and laced by the river, it is somewhere that is easy to overlook in amongst all the grandeur but it is definitely worth exploring this little bit of the West Coast.