BENNZ- Welcome to The Real Middle Earth: There & Back Again.

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WILD SOUTH – The Grey Havens – Chapter One.

I began my great NZ road trip in earnest last Saturday when headed down the Catlins to Slope Point New Zealand’s most Southern point where we stayed in the Platinum room at Slope Point Back Packers, courtesy of Justine and Andrew and their three daughters, Anna, Sarah? and Kate. (Andrew get a shot gun quick before they become teenagers).  It‘s nice to see a sheep and cattle farm that has not been tempted to go over to the dairy side. Yet it’s not hard to find the impact on the local scenery in the Catlins. As I discover green slime and lovely nitrate foam bubbling away at Purakaunui Falls, one of the jewels of the Catlins tourism industry. I grimace, aware that the challenge of being able to honestly tell this story to highlight the NZ we see beaming out at us from postcard is going to be hard, as will be the challenge to find solutions. I head back to the car. C is beaming away with her infectious smile and wild windswept blond hair that makes her look like a lioness who’s just brought down a gazelle and is feeling very pleased with herself. My heart skips a beat and I really can’t believe this amazing woman has come into my life. It’s going to be so bloody hard going on the road for four months and being away when I have only just really met her but find myself so enchanted with this slightly quirky overly energetic woman who reminds me of a cross between super soccer mum (so bloody disciplined) and Tigger on speed. So impulsive half of me wants to laugh and the other half wants to tear what’s left of my hair out. (“No, C going and feeding the sharks without a cage might not be such a good idea.”) There is a childishness about her at times which I find myself just adoring. It’s like she just can’t get enough hugs and that’s fine by me. I smile and take one last look at the river and frown. It’s like this bloody country does not believe in itself and goes out of its way in its insecurity to reject any attempt to love it.

C has decided since she has come with me that at least she will see me on my way and instead of heading north, my original goal, I decide to start my journey at the most southern point of New Zealand, Slope Point. This works well with C whose friend Nick Smart runs the Curio Bay Surf School & Accommodation in addition to looking after Olly, a quick-witted renegade who armed with motor bikes, air guns, surf and Catlins as his back yard is possibly the luckiest kid around. He not an easy kid to rear and Nick is doing his best. There is no question Olly has a big heart but he is compulsive and has trouble understanding the consequences of his actions. It causes me to wonder whether nations are like kids: if we don’t get the valuable stuff in our early years, does it impinge on that nation’s ability to have forward thinking later on, to have empathy for others and to learn and own our own errors? How do you take a nation or a person that didn’t get the good stuff and install them so they can learn to empathize and care not just for them others but for themselves in a meaningful long-term manner?

Nick ends up lending us couple of wet suits which get me odd looks from Val at the Curio Bay store. I’m trying to work this out for I feel as proud as punch of my purple wet suit which looked way smarter than all the black ones on show. I feel somewhat crest fallen when C, who’s a surf commando from way back, sees me and promptly falls on the floor in a fits of laughter. Turns out dumb arse has his wet suit on inside out. Take two: wet suit on the right way, this time, we head down to the beach and are promptly rewarded by a pod of Hector’s dolphins who surf the beach and then somersault backwards and then shoot off within seconds beyond the second breaker. Following C’s lead, I enter the surf and when up to our waists begin to float. The curious Hector’s, as C predicted, come up to within a meter of us and I feel truly humbled by the moment. We get a bit carried away in focusing on the dolphins and end up over the continental shelf (way deep). C soon realizes that we are in danger of getting caught in a rip and instinctively reaches out to make sure I’m okay. I’m personally more worried by my imagination of a great white said to lurk out at that depth around these parts so I don’t need much encouragement. Armed with  enough childhood education as junior nipper and regular pool time, I’m a strong swimmer and we swim sideways to avoid fighting the growing rip which comes with the tide change. I hit the beach filled with that lovely adrenalin feeling. It’s an amazing feeling to be here with C. In a short time, she has made me feel more loved than I have felt in a very long time and, after a couple of shitty years where it seems I have had to battle on both the medical, fiscal and emotional side, I finally feel that for the first time in a long time something is going right for me. C smiles at me and again my heart skips a beat. I feel like I’m afraid I’m going to wake up and find it’s all a dream Not a bad way to start the day.

Out of the wetsuits into the glad rags as we dashed off to Niagara one my favourite cafés on the Catlins which has a deep seated love with wild food and wild music. Tonight, however, we get to hear Bruce Judge, a renown Marlborough sculptor, speak at the Catlins Art Festival which we have arrived just at the end of. It’s an excellent night with some good footage of Bruce’s speech which orientated around the thorny equation between creativity and making a living. We missed the main course (but not Bruce’s wonderful speech) but we do get to enjoy the amazing Niagara Falls Café’s dessert and some nice New Zealand merlots accompanied by some Blue Grass jam session courtesy of Bruce and the boys. C finds some poor tourist and goes after them with her passion for whales. I sit back and enjoy the fact that for once someone else gets to do the talking. I, in fact, often find myself in this situation, overcompensating for shyness and nervousness most people would never have a clue exist in me. I end up talking people to death, as another part of my brain is screaming shut up. I just can’t help myself. I find with C I lose that anxiety, that insecure need to be the smartest guy in the room and, oh, she is so funny!

It’s a deal: she will take care of the ocean and I will focus on the land.

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I have loved whales and the sea all my life but the ocean has always scared me – too much of the unknown, too many monsters for my imagination to hide in.  But C has me looking at this wild playground in a new perspective. I am keen to explore it with her, even the sharks she loves so much. But it is her love of whales that resonates with me. As their song reaches out to me, it is so uncannily familiar and I feel if I could just recall what it reminds me of I would discover something important. I have not one iota of scientific fact to back it up, only blind faith but, in my heart of hearts, I feel we are so grossly ignoring just how important their song is and the very existence of such a complex and socially sophisticated mammal they are. We are listening but we are not lessoning. There is much bigger more important world, nay, universe, than the issues that man considers and the whale is part of the factor which when I focus on I find makes things fall into perspective. A weight drops from my shoulders and I’m so glad so thankful to C for bringing this into my life.

At last, I have found a person who gets me, who not only appreciates that my passion for this country is deep and real but  also has an unerring ability to make me remember to laugh as well. This must be what it is like to for a person thirsting in the dessert for eons to suddenly come across fresh, sweet water. We go home. She nestles into my arms. The physical pain is minor and thoughts such as finance, debt, my sick mum, my estranged siblings, injustice, fonterrorism and sociopathic corporate assassins smiling as we give them the keys to run out nation on to the rocks somehow don’t matter and I find for the first time in a very long time that I have no trouble sleeping.

The next day, we are woken at 6:15 a.m. by an almighty “BOOM!”  A hail storm heralds that the fine weather we had being enjoying three day before is over and we will get to experience what Nick terms “Catlins weather, sixteen seasons in one day”. Sadly, there will be no swimming with the dolphins this morning and we packed up and went and said our goodbyes to Andrew and Justine and their three daughters, before I am taken by the youngest daughter, Kate, to go and feed the pet sheep. Slope Point Backpackers has being the kind of place I could happily have stayed at with C  for few more days, had time allowed. It creates a vibe which is reminiscent of what Justine called “the kind of holidays we had when were kids”. Admittedly, me and C stay at the top end of this spotlessly clean flash packer (The Platinum Room) but whether tenting, in a dorm, or in one of the units the family-friendly Slope Point was truly a taste of the New Zealand I had been lucky enough to grown up in. Before the lust for ‘touro dollars’ kicked in and far too many backpackers that I care to recall took on the philosophy that a backpackers meant squeezing as many Israeli battalions as you can into a broom closet stacked high with the kind of beds that will make chiropractors never fear they will be out of work ever again. In contrast, here it clear that old-fashioned ‘your word is as firm as your handshake’ values still apply.

We head off to say good bye to Nick and Olly where we’re joined by Nick’s partner, Toma, who hadn’t been letting a little bad weather keep her from her morning surf and is furiously rubbing her hair with a towel. I’m reminded of our conversation the morning before where the former Toyota Corporate careerist now turned devoted surf ninja was telling me about Toyota’s research into hemp fuel. A conversation sprung by my so far unsuccessful search for a reported hemp farm on Catlins’ coasts. Hemp, I believe, is a much preferable and profitable solution to water pollution caused by dairy farming and, opposed to the stick method of fines, feel farmers will respond better to this method once they know how it can benefit their farms and their bottom line.

The closest, sadly, I had come to finding this elusive farm, however, is the (hopefully unfounded) rumour that it had been pulled out because government regulations had made it impossible to make the venture a realistic fiscal possibility. Hemp, for those unfamiliar, is the distant non-narcotic cousin of the drug, marijuana, which grows (despite being illegal profitably) throughout New Zealand like wild flowers because our weather conditions are ideal for the plant. Unlike marijuana, you would have to however smoke a joint the size of telegraph pole to get high. It is virtually outlawed in New Zealand, not because of the social harm and narcotic dangers of hemp (which is zero) but because …well, for totally insane, bullshit reasons, actually. Especially when you consider this product which once the backbone of the British Navy (when rope and sails powered the Empire) and during World War Two was even mandatory for farmers to grow. After the war, however, hemp came under fire in the USA by lobbyists to the newly-invented synthetic fuel industry who quickly became the backbone of synthetic pesticide industry and fertilizer firms as well. Today, the economic embargo largely remains in place despite, in these days of Al Gore declaring global warming more serious than terrorism and fossil fuels deemed nastier than Osama Bin Laden. This is despite that it is per energy kilojoule not only one of the most efficient forms of biofuel on the planet but the world’s leading carbon sequester on the planet period. In other words, it’s a carbon credit slot machine stuck on permanent jackpot. That it is also an excellent feed for dairy cows is just another bonus.

Perhaps, if the Greens had pointed out how it can fill your wallet and clean your rivers, they might have had more success than their current approach which seems to be about cleaning out farmers’ wallets and complaining of dirty rivers and dirty politics. Any good marketer will tell you a negative, however righteous, is doomed to not win your market over.

Yet in saying that, it is fair to say the greed that lies behind such monopolies and the banning of practical plants as blessed as hemp seems downright socio-pathetic. Especially in a world where the reality of carbon fuelled economies surviving for much longer is about as short-sighted as the whaling boom which would see places like the Waikawa whaling station built in the Catlins in 1838 which lasted no more than six years. By 1842, it would be abandoned as man over-fished and slaughtered the southern whaling pods and better technology, including hemp oil, saw whaling become a redundant industry. A ghost in the making, as surely as the fossilized remnants which appear during low tide at Curio Bay, likes spectres of the past. There to remind us of the last traces of the mighty forests that once marked New Zealand’s link to the ancient continent of Gondwana over 180 million years ago. A time when the self-destructive power plays of man meant nought and the lesson of all this, boys and girls, is – if we don’t get savvy and listen beyond our wants so we pay attention to our needs, we won’t last 100 years, let alone the next 100 million. Our call to grow up and become forward-thinking or continue to act impulsively and pursue our short-term impulses and imaginary fears and end up cutting our nose off to spite our face.

At the time of writing, the South faces a variety of economic hardships not limited to the decision by central government to shut down Invermay Agricultural Research Centre, despite their own analyst questioning this decision, at a cost of 100 million to Otago (along with 85 jobs) and the loss of 200 jobs at Hillside engineering in Dunedin as National elects to buy trains of dubious quality from China instead. In addition, the cities of Dunedin and Invercargill both have atrocious transportation systems (again largely run these days on badly-made Chinese buses) forced on the public by municipal bodies firmly in the grip of a transport industry run by an old boys’ network who gain lucrative tender contracts at cost to the cities’ own financial wellbeing and future. Case in point: an Otago University PHD thesis (ironically written for the Auckland City Council) shows improved public transport based on clean fuel technology not only attracts more tourists but leads to them staying longer where upon they spend more. With these facts in mind, I would fantasize over my tea with Nick, Toma, Olly and C, about a public transport system for Dunedin and Invercargill, based on Otago University academia, Invermay’s practical agricultural research (which could then be on sold to other cities around the world) and the skill set and tools to be found at Hillside who my fantasy world would build hemp fueled buses out of hemp fiberglass. In this manner, hemp would put food on the farmers’ tables; improve transport flow for Otago and Southland, at reduced council cost, while drawing in revenue for both Southland and Otago to the benefit of both. With Invermay and education facilities such as Otago, all the parts are there, the research is sound – all that is lacking is the willpower. One solution, if our authorities won’t grow a backbone, is we simply don’t just wait to be told by those who tell us ‘they know what best for us’ (as they repeatedly line their own pockets) and we just do it. I decide early on this will be one of my goals to find Kiwis who were just doing it to show that such ideas are not just dreams but have real application if you stand on your own two feet and don’t just wait around to be given permission.

For, sadly, whether you are an advocate of Red, Green, or Blue, part politics you’re simply dreaming if you think any of these parties is to going to come and save you. We have to learn to save ourselves.

Looking out the window, as the rain pelts sideways against the window, these thoughts simply add to my feeling that the Wild South seems like one of the last frontier of freedom left. It’s easy to see why, regardless (or because) of erratic weather, dubious cell phone coverage, and all-terrain roads, those who live here are loath to leave, while those who come to live here love this region of forest and sea with a depth and passion as powerful as the ocean upon which the dolphins dance and the surf yearns. Real patriotism without ego sincere and unbranded. Viva le Wild South – land of the free.

C has to head back to her world of children and responsibility. I’m not looking forward to this as it will be months before I see her. It’s a new relationship and I worry that such a distance will be too much for us baggage-bearing mid-lifers. Yet we try to ignore this and treat the day like a weekend outing as we stop in Waikawa which will be where we depart company and I spend my first night on the road by myself.

We pop into the former St Mary Anglican Church, which opened to the farmers and timber fellers in 1932 before closing in 1992 and becoming property of the Waikawa Museum and New Zealand’s smallest polling booth. On this day, the museum, however, is being used as part of the Catlins Art Festival. C fall instantly in love with the quaint stained glass which trap the light and gives the building, with its stained native timbers, a womblike feeling. We soon realize this is not the main exhibit space and, after driving around, find the Niagara Rugby Pavilions and the main exhibit. Much of it is the work of the passionate amateurs, aside from the visiting artist, Bruce Judge. Yet the works also include a variety of sculpture and paintings that catch my eye, largely due to their ability to capture local scenery or due to the wit of the artist. No one ever said amateur meant without heart. We wander around at least three times before it’s clear  that we have exhausted all the art porn to be had and so we decide to head back to the Waikawa Museum and check out the historic exhibits. These vary from late 1800 to 1950’s and give a snapshot of rural town based on forestry and sea. I’m bit disappointed that there is little material on the Maori communities that came before the European. Yet having seen hundreds of like-minded museums over my travels, I believe the largely volunteer staff have done a pretty good job and rate it in my small, rural museum guide I keep in my mind 7 out of 10. To be fair, hunger is getting the better of me, along alongside the fact I know it’s nearly time for C to head home.

C parks outside the museum, next to a mobile fish shop, a rarity on its own right, in contrast to the sight of fish caravans which once littered New Zealand’s coast before the 1977 Economic Exclusion Act was past – legislation which saw the rise of joint fishing venture monopolies (the first stage of offshore firms entering into NZ economic playing fields) and the death of individual fishing quotas. The day is now freezing and people queue up as much as to get a bit of heat off the oil vats as for the fresh, local blue cod available. The cook and owner, Kerry Stronach, however, is nimble and turns the orders around quickly. So soon we are tearing open the paper to discover we have both been given extra fish. These are as crisp and golden as the chips which come with our comfort package and I’m hard pressed to know when I have tasted better. Greedily, for a second, I grieve that’s it not whitebait season. For I can only imagine what the whitebait would taste like if Kerry’s cod is anything to go by.

Lunch complete, it’s time for C to go. I seriously think about saying to C this book idea is daft and instead joke perhaps, ‘I could come home and hide under the bed and just make up the book instead’. She’s not happy either but tells me to not to be a “dick” and “to get on with it”. I’m really unhappy at this point and the idea of not seeing her for months seems like inconceivable torture. Reluctantly, I get out of the car and watch until her white sedan disappears over the horizon. There is a sickening feeling in my stomach as if somehow I know that the most precious gift I have ever being given is just being snatched from my hands cruelly and I’m not going to get it back ever again. I feel about as lost and vulnerable as a small child who wanders off by themselves in a busy airport and thinks their parents have flown off without them. Suddenly, this travel book seems dumb and I don’t want to do it.

I’m not much of a fearless travel writer on my first night out in the big, bad world and, aside from polite hellos ,I don’t mingle much with the young German and French backpackers who have come to Wakawa Backpackers (also run by Nick) for the surf and the dolphins. I am glad for the roaring fire and to sit silently watching the movie playing on one of the backpacker’s laptop. I go to bed early and hope the day will find me back in the groove, telling myself that I’m now one night closer to being back home with C. Never in my life have I wanted something so badly. It works and I head off to sleep, after only a bit of adjustment due to the lack of my pal’s presence. I keep telling myself she believes in what I’m doing and it will be okay – we can make this work. Its all part of the story and will end happily ever after. I deserve this and so does she. I do I do I do…I tell myself.

I’m up early and just want to hit the road on the belief that the sooner I get out there, the sooner I can come home. After a short while I realize that A: I’m up too early as there’s no traffic on the road and B: I’m not 100% certain that I’m heading in the right direction. Nerves get the better of me and I’m conscious that in my panic I’m trying to race things. As this dawn’s on me, a truck pulls up and confirms that unless I want to risk a long wait in the middle of nowhere I might want to consider heading the other way. Irrationally, I decide to hop in with Owen, the digger driver, anyway. Owen, who has lived all his life in the Catlins, asks me what I’m up to. I explain: ‘I’m hitching around New Zealand, looking for good, keen Kiwis who are not waiting to be saved but are doing it themselves’. Owen clearly thinks I’m mad. He may have a point. As he drives off, it’s just me and the cows and the gravel road. I have not walked upon a gravel road since I was a kid and I soon remember what a prick they are to walk along. I’m however grateful that I have my boots and not bare feet. I use to have my feet turned leather hard until the soles were literally torn off during my training for entry into army reconnaissance by my 3 km walk to the school bus each morning when I was about seven. Freedom camper vans drive past me uninterested with disdain. Young Europeans don’t even glance up. A Holden drives by and a girl gives me the fingers. It’s hot and sand-flies are coming out to nibble. I roll a smoke, take a pee and settle myself in for long day of waiting, cursing myself for my impatience. At which point a camper vans turn up and I half-heartedly put my thumb out.

I have not being picked up by camper van since 1989. I can still remember the German oompa oompa music playing at full volume as we crawled along 200 km at forty km an hour. My hatred of what I have come to call ‘rocket launcher target practice’, after all the imaginary missiles I have fired at passing camper vans over the decades when thumbing it in the boondocks, is mutual. So when the van stops, I actually find myself having oompa oompa music flashbacks, cold sweats and I think: ‘no, God could not really be that cruel, could he? With trepidation, I step on board, swearing that, if the first words I hear are “gute morgan”, I’m out of here. My fears turn out unfounded and I’m about to have the most fascinating chin wag I have ever had over a moving Formica table in my life.

Paul Young, a former engineer, who used to make radiators used in power transmission power stations, today helps set up factories for would be inventors or entrepreneurs. Paraphrasing Henry Ford, Paul see his role as helping overcome the common flaw with ‘many people who have a great idea but who fail on the first hurdle as they lose sight of their goal and don’t know how to keep looking forward’ . I discuss with him my fantasy of the hemp, Invermay, Hillside, Otago Uni consortium that builds clean public transport, which offers not only affordable public transport to the locals, draws in tourists, and provides a line of research and concepts, which in turn could be sold overseas creating jobs and generating revenue. As opposed to pursuing an outdated model of putting things in boxes to be shipped overseas by transport facing increasing petrol costs to competing markets that can manufacture with lower wage costs.  He agrees the concept is lucid pointing out Ford’s own hemp manufactured automobile (and highlighting yet another major corporation well aware of the benefits of hemp in manufacturing and transport costs).

In turn, on the subject of energy, Paul points out that not only would it cost a paltry 200 million a year if every government vehicle was rigged to run on LPG. Likewise, he thinks my idea of creating a drilling plan in which, once contracted exploratory work identified where our energy reserves were, we used the result of mineral and energy surveying to restore our credit rating which could then be used to borrow funds to build our own energy development infrastructure (in the manner of Norway) is not without merit. A concept which mean we would have to drill less but get better return to the national coffers versus the 3% we’re currently offered by offshore drilling firms and drilling in a way where we can both put food on the table create jobs and also limit the risk to the environment is logical. Paul points out the fact that we do have refineries in New Zealand, as he refers to the plant built in New Plymouth in 1980.

The refinery had being built with Think Big Loans at the behest of the CIA’s analyst, Robert Ames, (later killed in the 1984 Beiruit bombing, alongside the vast majority of the CIA human intelligence assets in the Middle East) after Ames gave a special briefing to then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. The gist of which stated the energy resources of NZ would be vital, following the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and that the US then expected “Saudi Arabia to be next”. In fact, Saudia Arabia was not next and NZ simply ended up deeper in debt with the refinery then sold for a paltry amount to Fletchers and their consortium partners, Mobile, who effectively ended up with a free plant paid for by the NZ tax payers. Meanwhile, three years earlier, with the lure of oil dollars, , the Hunt Brothers had conducted exploratory work in the very same locations in both Otago and Stewart Island where Anadarko and Grey Mouth Petroleum are now exploring. No oil was found but Muldoon’s government did pass the 1977 Economic Exclusion Act, backed by the Saudis, Chinese and Russians, which backed NZ claims to a new 200 mile economic zone on the condition that NZ then had to open itself up to overseas investors.

The move, coming at the height of OPEC monopolies, when the Saudi dominated oil nations with their western pals in the western oil consortiums, the so- called Seven Sisters, sought to maintain a global price control on oil prices and the last thing they in this environment was for a nation like NZ to start tapping into its own energy reserves.

It was a time when NZ faced ‘carless’ days (which would later inspire the cult road movie and Kiwi classic Good Bye Pork Pie) and the Saudis’ front man, the notorious arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi would fly into NZ seeking joint investments with NZ, specifically in the  meat, milk, timber and fisheries industries. Thus, by 1980, NZ had gone from exporting three million [ three million dollars worth of trade?] to the entire Middle East to amazing trade explosion where it was now exporting more than 400 million in meat dairy wool to Iran alone. Such was the windfall the predecessor to Fonterrorism. The NZ Dairy Board would publish fawning full- page adverts in every daily newspaper each year in the day of the coup to congratulate the Ayatollah for overthrowing the Shah. In the short fall, the buku sand dollars were hard to resist and the smart players knew where their butter was spread. Forty years NZ Dairy farmers can’t sell milk unless they sell to Fonterra and are trapped in a debt cycle that will ultimately destroy NZ sovereignty.

Today, individual farmers who own the farms I passed while chatting to Paul at the table of his camper van, must scratch their heads in wonder as they watch private forestry interests sell carbon credits to the offshore energy sector, who, in addition, get their carbon bill subsidized by the NZ  tax payer, yet they get no return on the carbon credits generated on their land. No incentive to become interested in environmental concerns. Likewise, they face water levy bills from both central and local government. Yet as Environmental South’s own records show, the offenders are not these small NZ- owned farms facing increasing levies where ever they turn. Yet the large offshore firms, which the 1977 EEZ law let in, can now buy where and what they want with impunity. For them, the fines levied are paltry amounts. The young hipsters in Wellington who now dominate the Greens with their smart designer clothes and blackberry, are bearing an increasingly closely resemblance to the Young Nats. Like the Nats, they smoothly talk the party line in rote and actually believe it in blind faith. They’re oblivious to the fact that their policies not only don’t create a  cleaner, greener NZ but also reward some of the greatest polluters on the planet.

Mention hemp to such political zampolits and ask curiously as to why the best known carbon sequester on the planet and natural godsend to dairy farmers in terms of bucks and side effects on cow pats is not advocated as carrot instead of stick to Kiwi-owned farmers. You’re told in automaton fashion that the time ‘is not right.’ This by the same party who then tells us in the same breath that time has run out for the polar bears in regards to our response to global warming. Well, which is it? – because you can’t have both. Unwittingly, the green hipsters have become apologists for a carbon trading scheme (created as stock market scam to be called “weather futures trading”) that has little to do with saving this planet and everything to do with creating yet another ponzi scheme that will destroy this nation’s sovereignty. You can’t but help think of the steaming brown piles that litter the Southland country side. Welcome to the ‘broken earth’ in which we are no longer the masters and commanders of our destiny but at the be-hoof of the few, regardless of whatever ‘ism’ you wish to wrap it in. Political ideology is used to divide and conquer and greed allows the victor to rewrite the history book as they see fit.

When this factor is applied to NZ current market plight, Paul states: “The problem is we have become slaves to those who we export to”. In part, he sees free trade agreements as part of the problem, noting, that in his time making radiators, free trade saw us having to buy steel off Australia. “Yet they then refused to buy our products,” he replies. The end result was that firms such as those he worked for had to lay off workers and throughout NZ small manufacturers and plants continue to falter as “We’re forced to buy offshore products under free trade yet then are unable to or are blocked from selling our own material to the very party with whom we have signed free trade agreement .” Paul offers examples of how the average Kiwi can take action for themselves to if not negate them limit the impacts of the globalist gulag our political leaders of every coloured fraction have wittingly or unwittingly tied us into.

Case in point  – he demonstrates how the camper we are  traveling in is not only solar-powered by a bank of generators that in turn are backed up if need by a generator rigged so once the vehicle’s primary battery is charged the excess then is used to power lighting and appliances such as the camper’s TV. In turn, he has rigged the lighting in the camper so it powers all the LED lighting so that they use the same energy as one 100 watt bulb. He notes how he has also applied this strategy to his home in Coromandel and offers a tip to new home builders, “If instead of spending 2% of your building cost on insulation you build 4%, within your first years you will have recovered the cost in terms of saving made in energy bills”. Paul notes when he first installed the solar used for the camper it cost us around $1000. Today, that cost would be around $260.

During this discourse, we roll into Waipapa Recreational reserve at Otara, the site of Nugget Point Lighthouse which appears in the NZ movie, Two Little Boys. Paul points out the solar power contraption which now powers the link which allows the lighthouse to be run from Wellington. The sea and high winds pound the sand. A tribute to the incredible energy of nature which for centuries powered the sails which drove ships which rewarded us with commerce and punished the unwary and arrogant whose wrecks litter the history of the Southland coast. By 1885, there had been over a hundred shipwrecks, including the demise of the SS Tarua on 29th April 1881 with a hundred and thirty-one lives lost,  leading to the construction of the Waipapa Light House, part of a nationwide grid of light houses set up to protect the rapidly escalating shipping transport. An earnest need for maritime safety, yet in terms of the loss of lives, a far cry from the cost to human and maritime species (also part of our food supply) that the likes of Fukushima and Deep Horizon have cost us, as mankind  have become a species who know the price of everything but value nothing of true worth.  It seems all too often it’s too late.

In 1943, the Light House became the first to be connected to the electric grid line, as sail gave way to coal power and then electrical power plants (powered, in turn, by oil). Could it be that the power of the sea and wind could once again become the forces that drives man’s world as we go full cycle? Back to a time when the light house keepers were encouraged to be self-sufficient and the coastal routes (up until 1980), not the highway, were the nation life- blood? Paul pointing out that certainly the benefit of even petrol-fuelled coastal freighters are worth their weight in light that, “It takes one horsepower of energy for shipping for every three horsepower of energy needed for trucking”. Yet like railways, NZ, a nation on the other side of the world, has chosen to become hostage to the power of the trucking lobby, as our railways were destroyed by the ‘colonels’ of Muldoon’s regime (and then Labour’s, Roger Douglas,) before retiring to become the high- paid director of the newly privatized energy sector. A process which has seen NZ lose control of its energy sector as it was sold off piece by piece to offshore interests who raise the price of electricity every year to the user but not the amount price paid by those who go off the grid and generate via alternative technology their own power needs.  TTTPA illegal ***

A large seal lies on the beach, not willing to pose for the tourists who flock to see this isolated area, in search of something that their busy smart- phone and Facebook- generated lives lack. Patience pays off and the big boy eventually raises its head to get a better angle of the solar rays it basks in, as it waits for the tides to turn and its lunch to come in. Okay, it’s not as fast as McDonald’s, granted but the seal seems happy enough. I chat briefly to Paul’s wife who until now has being driving and doing a damn fine job of acting as tour guide for her back-seat debaters and their visiting friend, Margaret, from San Diego. We clamber back into the camper and shoot off to the next location. The seal no doubt does not notice nor care and why should it, for man all too readily only cares for his own enterprises and plans with little concern (and often gross exploitation) for the twenty two million plus species with whom we co-habitat this earth.

This is not to pour scorn on the intellectual aptitude of man or our own need to put food on the table and, at Lignite Pit Scenic Stop, we find plenty of both. In addition to the concept that commerce and being environmentally aware are not exclusive pursuits. I think I know the South Island pretty well but even for the reconnaissance par excellence scout, Pat, this location is somewhat of mystery. Unaware of what exactly I have wandered into; I initially think this another half-pie attempt by local yokels. Yet become increasingly fascinated by my first exhibit, the Working Man work hut, what we would call today a ‘Man Cave’ of the 1920 ¬ 1960’s. The exhibit, complete with Marilyn Monroe pin up, cream separator and generator and replica Ford automobile is a snap-shot of time, which highlights changes in our lifestyle, advertising, living costs and consumerism. It takes a bit of time to sink in and needing coffee and kai, it’s not till looking at my photos that I really appreciated what this location offers or the depth of thought which went into creating it. I wander in and my ignorance continues to my foot in my mouth as we struggle to find the front door and are greeted by a 1950’s feel, complete with owners who don’t attempt to impersonate urban yuppies. It’s a throwback to a time when dining out meant cold pies and stale lamingtons. Or, at leas,t that’s my misconception. I, however, begin to wander around and read the posts on the wall and start to get an inkling of what this place is all about. Far from being a trumpet of the glory of dirty, old lignite by culture which thinks ‘dairy cows good, greenies bad’, it starts to dawn on me that something is going on here which has little respect for either the institutionalization of Green or Nat party politics. My food arrives – mmmm!

HOMEMADE! pies of the kind made with love and pride. The coffee is nutty smooth, presented with foam love heart and a little caramel raspberry marshmallow whale on the side. The rest of my party are equally impressed by our windfall and, from our seat,s we view on to a carefully architectured landscape previously blocked from our views with wonderment and not a little sadness, as we know we don’t have time to fully take on what will turn out to be more than 16 ha of manicured gardens. This is all the labour of love of former dairy farmer, Dave and his wife, Maria, whose life-story is found on the walls a testimony to something nobler than just making a buck. A labour of love, based in ethics and hard work and humbleness, which proves great magic is not shaped by how flash your rags are. It’s not hard to imagine the love Dave and Maria had with their previous venture as bee-keepers and pig farmers in Northland.

The industry and efficiency of these little insects that literally carry the life line of our plant in their hands are in many ways a reflection of this unassuming couple. In the late 1990’s, the couple discovered the abandoned lignite mine which had Maria declaring, “Its beauty must be exposed.” Their work on the gardens began in 2004 and the construction of the cafe in 2007.

Today, it’s amazing how little press coverage this little piece of southern Eden has received, Dave noting the issue they had with the council in regards to getting signage for what should have been a draw-card to Southern tourism. Musing over this point and while typing this in the Tuatara cafe, I could not help remark on this point to Invercargill local, Kirk Twiss, who I had met a few days earlier, having being introduced to by friend, Anna Huff*** delegate. Kirk remarks, “They don’t want that place to be famous”.

“What you mean.. ‘they’ “, I ask Kirk.

“Mercury Energy. They want to open-cast this area. The goal had been to use it to power Tiwai Point, having taken out the fertilizer component of lignite first”.

A process which, of course, would create more nitrate which the dairy-saturated land needs like a hole in the head. Yet what Dave and Maria are doing is incredible, as they have found another purpose for lignite, as ideal compost for creating, in this case, recreational gardens. Yet this is presumably a technique which could also be used for creating or growing food. I make the promise to return at the end of my trip to Dave and Maria to explore the gardens and their potential. Dave’s parting words hit a chord with me, “We need to stop focusing on money and start looking at how we treat each other and, if we do this, and the world will look after it self”.

Isildur’s People: “I’m Rough and I’m Tough and I come from Bluff”.

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We get to Bluff but, before departing Pat and Paul’s company, we head up to the top of Bluff Hill where a monument has been built depicting the history and geology of the Bluff and the surrounding region. The monument overlooks the harbour on a clear day and from there you can only see not only Tiwai Point, whose smokestack always dominates the landscape, but also Stewart Island and the surrounding Mutton Bird Islands whose history has had and continues to have impact upon the people who live within the region.

The people of Bluff in many ways are the defining nature of this place. Or perhaps it should be said its people have been shaped by the elements in a land that remains untamed and uncontrolled entirely by the modern world that cocoons us with its air conditioning and switch on and off button comforts. Intensely independent and individualistic is the common denominator here. From day one this defined the settlers who came here on the Perseverance in 1813, attracted by seals and flax. Since then, Bluff has produced more than its fair share of personalities who have punched well above their weight, reflective of the town’s ability to produce those who thrive in the face of adversity.

Be it Joesph Ward, one of New Zealand’s first Prime Ministers, or Peter Arnett, the award winning war correspondent of whom it was said, “If you could invent the perfect journalist to cover a war, you would have invented Peter”, or the controversial Sir Clifford Skeggs, or war hero, Graham Burton, poet, Cilla McQueen, All Black Billy Stead (born in Invercargill but who died in Bluff), or media celebrity, Marcus Lush, the little town seemingly has the ability to harness the elements and so, at the end of all that struggle and hard graft, it produces pearls that shine brightly.

Bluff should never be seen as a small, sleepy place where nothing ever happens. Far from it, as a port town it has always had its unique energy and activity that separates it from other New Zealand coastal villages. So, in days past, in the era of the sailing ship, Bluff was not only a bustling place of commerce and trade but one of the mighty port cities which made the world go round. This would continue albeit on lesser scale in the nineteen seventies with the emergence of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

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The smelter opened in 1971 and, at its height, it provided NZ $3.65 billion worth of economic benefit to the New Zealand economy and served as the backbone to nearly 28% of the New Zealand exports which come from Southland making the South (as the locals do like to point out) the work horse of the Kiwi economy. No wonder Bluff has per population more millionaires than any other dwelling place in New Zealand. Mind you, the smelter’s statistics do come from Rio Tinto’s own press kit. Public relations fluff that unsurprisingly fails to highlight the less pleasant factors Tiwai Point has also had on its workers’ health. This issue emerges most clearly in the term “potroom asthma”, a common condition given to those who have worked on the plant’s smelters. Potential health risks also come from the other compounds and particles which are simply vented to the atmosphere or leach from the plant’s unsealed pools into the surrounding land. Photographs provided to me by local, Joel Ryan, in 2011 for example, show a sparkling cloud being released in the wee hours of the morning when the wind conditions blew the plume directly on to Bluff and all that slept there. The impact of such a deluge remains for all purposes uninvestigated by authorities. So the ultimate reality is that you cannot state what the impacts of such releases are. Yet it remains a concern that, aside from millionaires per population, Bluff has one of the highest levels of neurological disorders in New Zealand.

The controversy of health aside, the plant supports over 3200 families and keeps alive many smaller business who are dependent on the $NZ 1.2 billion that the factory, subsidized or not, brings to the Southland economy. Outside Southland, the gains versus risk of quality of life of the plant are, however, not so widely accepted. In 2008, the plant, for example, won the ‘award’ of ‘the second worst transnational corporation in New Zealand’ at the Roger Awards, when it threatened to close the smelter if New Zealand signed the New Zealand emission scheme, claiming the cost of the 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases it produces annually would cripple it. In 2010, RTZ then threatened to close the Tiwai Point smelter (again) if it could not get a cheaper deal for electricity from energy retailer, Meridian, then owned by the New Zealand government. Their argument was that they had to cover recent losses due to the strengthening Kiwi dollar and a fall in aluminum prices. This resulted in 2013, after ‘negotiations’, the decision being made to give Tiwai a “one off” thirty million dollar subsidy which would cover the plant’s operations until 2017, a date which if you were of a cynical disposition you would note will occur after the election. National would have to win a fourth term, of course, to stay in power and ultimately, if they did think they were going to win, they could always extend the deadline yet again at the cost to the New Zealand tax payer. The 2013 negotiated subsidy comes on top of legislative changes to ‘carbon taxes’ ,made in 2012. These changes will now extend transitional measures designed to reduce the cost impacts of the scheme beyond 2012 and into 2017. “In particular, these will extend the ability of many of those with New Zealand ETS obligations to surrender one emissions unit for every two tonnes of emissions.” (the ‘one for two’ rule). Meaning the New Zealand tax payer is expected to pay half of Tiwai’s carbon bill and in effect means they are being subsidized twice. Nice work if you can get it. The reality is it would in fact work out cheaper if the New Zealand government simply paid Tiwai workers not to get out bed in the morning.

Invercargill Mayor, Tim Shadbolt, disputes this conclusion, saying it is a myth that closing the smelter, which uses around fifteen percent of the country’s electricity, would result in lower prices for Kiwi consumers. From the aspect that you would still, so to speak, have a ‘live wire’ running from Manapouri to the site of Tiwai. True but from the aspect of knowing that the smelter always had a set shelf life when it was opened and, knowing that no one has in thirty years has attempted to create an exit strategy for the three thousand plus workers and the Southland economy, the stage remains open for the continual blackmail of both central and regional government by the energy industry. Largely, this falls down to one fact: that those with the power to act, as is too often is the case, are too entrenched in the comforts of the status quo, which rewards them for inaction, to set in motion the necessary revolution of change which will benefit the wider community in the long run. Looking at Tiwai, with it large stacks that stand like watch beacons over the coastland, as seagulls hover there, it’s hard not to think of the analogy of cigarette smokers who knows they should give up, yet then fail to cut down or put in place quitting strategy and then wake up one morning thirty years later and wonders why they are dying of cancer.

Paul and Pat drop me off in Liffey Street, the home of Captain Nolan Henigan. In the three years I have come know Nolan, he has come to be one of my best friends. He is not one to suffer fools lightly, possesses a strong sense of what is just (and what is unjust) and is a dab hand at brewing his own lethal spirits. I have come to cheekily refer to Nolan as Captain Haddock (which as he points out drily in counter retort then makes me Tin Tin). Haddock comes from three generations of Bluff-born sea captains which includes his father, David, and his grandfather, James. They have seen the town thrive and they have seen it struggle, observers to the battle that rages between the parochial loyalty of its citizens, of a kind you see in any New Zealand town and the stark reality the town and its people have suffered as key infrastructure has being slashed by a council which gives less say to its people and is increasingly dictated to by central government in Wellington. Nolan captures this in his life as professional musician of over forty years in his song 46 South:

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46 South

There’s a place where rugged rocks

Rise up from the sea – A place where some ships failed to pass

A lighthouse stands on Stirling Point


Flashing out to sea – Driving rain and winter nights fall hard

Questions run deeper than Bluff hill and the sea

What the hell am I still doing here? – My soul is trapped in this god-forsaken place

No one understands me but I try – Sometimes there are no reasons why


Fishing boats steam the tide – Steaming from the strait

Their catch the life- line for our town – Foreign flag ships steal our fish

Beehive sponsored crime. The smelter spews its smoke at night – Heavy metal Gig


Questions run deeper than Bluff hill and the sea

What the hell am I still doing here? – My soul is trapped in this god- forsaken place

No one understands me but I try – Sometimes there are no reasons why


Questions run deeper than Bluff hill and the sea

What the hell am I still doing here? – My soul is trapped in this god- forsaken place

No one understands me but I try – Sometimes there are no reasons why

Haddock, at the time of my arrival, is trapped on a ship somewhere in the sweltering heat of Australia, probably wonder what “the hell” he is doing there. So I simply let myself in with the key he has left for me. On arriving, I discover another bit of flotsam and jetsam which Haddock has collected on Bluff Road. In this case, it’s Raffle from France who is recovering, by reading and eating chocolate, from his ordeal on Stewart Island where he was warned correctly by Haddock to understand that on the island one mile’s tramping is the equivalent of walking five on the mainland well-groomed tramping tracks.

The Frenchman seems a pleasant enough chap but I am not in the mood, having spent the day talking to people newly-met, for the gaps which come with language barriers and I’m in need of stretching my legs. So I decide to make my way down to the Bluff B&B and Art Gallery to check in with my old friend Walter McIntosh (he prefers to be called Mac), the owner of the Light House B&B and Art gallery.

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A former CIA agent, Mac has lived around the world. The CIA followed on from him joining the army and specializing in languages in his 20’s. He and his partner, photographer and counsellor, Sue Lattimore, moved to Bluff to get away from the world, “to enjoy the things that mattered” in a place which they discovered on a chance visit and fell immediately in love with. Today, Sue works part time and continues her career as professional counsellor, while Mac “minds the shop” and spends his time writing, ever minded by his constant shadow, Charlie, the fox terrier. Charlie, for his own right when not trotting after Mac, will attempt to engage in Jedi mind tricks (largely consisting of earnest eye-balling) in the hope of a stray oyster or piece of fresh, moist blue cod from the neighboring Galley Fish and Chips might be thrown his way. Charlie’s pretty good at mind control or else I have a very weak mind, as I always seem to end up saving him a morsel of my lunch to share with him.

There are certainly worse ways to spend lunch than sitting, in a surprisingly hot Bluff sun at the Light House Art Gallery, eating fish and chips and oysters drinking a cold Heineken, while Mac shares a snippet of his fascinating life with you (and as Charlie sits silently but ever excited and hopeful). When Mac was not writing or at the front desk, he has spent his time exploring the region and he has extensive knowledge of both the area and all of New Zealand, knowledge he has used to entertain and enhance his guests’ stay by chauffeuring guests, family and friends throughout this area and, if required, throughout New Zealand. A master of language and a trained linguist, Mac generally finds little trouble communicating with guests. With a wry sense of humour and a sense of the old school gentleman, you don’t often encountered these days, Mac enjoys his new role as worldly concierge ‘par excellence’ and is enjoyed by Kiwi and tourists alike.

Life seems (from the outside looking in) to be bit more hectic for Sue as she keeps up her role as counsellor in nearby Invercargill, commuting daily while also ensuring the gallery is not just a display of her photographic work which captures the unique character of the region from seals eye-balling seals, to fishing boats gliding back into their moorings after a trip at sea, to a host of local artists from mixed mediums. These include the likes of (but is not limited to) Kees Taal, Bruce Hill, Marion Metz.

Kees Taal is originally from Holland, an artist working with aluminum and copper. His creations of both fish and birdlife are outstanding. Kees’ work is unique. Each piece is handmade and so no two are exactly the same. Kees does not work to order but prefers to work as he becomes inspired. His work is very popular and can also be seen in the Invercargill Museum and Portobello Information Centre. Bruce Hill is a photographer who has a large gallery in Invercargill called “The Bank”. The works he is currently displaying in the The Lighthouse Gallery are pictures of Stewart Island. Marion Metz immigrated to New Zealand in 2004 and soon became inspired to create different kinds of art and craft work.

The focus of the Light House Gallery tends to beam up on local talent that uses the ‘Wild South’ as their inspiration and muse. Certainly, such is the power of this land that is dominated by the sea passionate and cruel, wild and serene, powerful yet nurturing. A striking backdrop for a piece of New Zealand which has played such an intense, yet often overlooked, role in New Zealand history.

I had met Mac three years earlier when I had come down to Bluff out of curiosity, having years earlier reported on several allegations made including those of former police intelligence officer, Pat O’Brien, that Bluff port had being used during the seventies to smuggle arms to anti-communist wars in the Far East. It was therefore somewhat a surprise to have Mac merrily report on how he had worked for the CIA for twenty years in South East Asia. Any ideas, however, of this being more than coincidence, quickly died out, after receiving an in-depth lecture by this liberal anti-gun advocate on the American Constitution. Walter learned knowledge of American constitutional history, largely dashing my Hollywood-shaped image of the American revolutionary heroes. A revolution which Mac points out was, in fact, led largely by people whose agendas were based less on utopian ideals and more on self- serving agendas.

A situation which would crystallize during my subsequent evenings where I raided Captain Haddock’s own extensive library at night and took to reading the fictional naval series of Richard Bolitho. The series has as its historical backdrop British Tory’s “traitors”, misusing crown assets to betray their flag, as the means by which they hoped to rise on the social ladder to take up elite positions in the new empire of America built upon slave dollars. In reading this, I would be reminded of similar tales which emerged in early New Zealand history when you read up on the likes of blackbirders (the colloquial terms used for South Pacific slave traders), such as Bully Hayes, or in books like The Land of the Long White Cloud, which hint at how those eager to make a private profit or gain titles of power would subsequently convince the Royal Navy to turn a blind eye to French, American and even Irish brigs, ships loaded with the underpowered ‘Birmingham trade’ muskets (as opposed to the superior military variant of Tower or Brown Bess used by colonial military forces) to the North Island marauders. More opportunists came south, carried on European ships, with the purpose of wiping out the mutton birders of Ruapeka and Matariki Island here at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand.

In Ruapeka’se case, the mutton birders, located on a fortified pa, were better armed (including having possession of several canons) than the North Island late-comers and were too well-armed to defeat. So Nga Tahu would have to wait, first, for the fall of rival chief, Te Rauparaha and then for the full impact of European disease to hit home. Germs would do what gun powder had failed to achieve, hitting hard the Rakiura iwi, with up to 85 % fatalities. Two hundred years later, Nga Tahu have now come to dominate the region by intermarrying and out-breeding the original indigenous iwi, on whose behalf they would later sign the Treaty of Waitangi, one more factor in the twisted process that would clear the way for dubious land deals, often overseen by those with less than straightforward right to ‘ownership’, a term that would, howeve,r be sanctioned by a hypocritical Crown which publicly talked of native rights and treaties while, behind the scenes, its agents used their status and privilege to compete for their own kingdom and future power-base in this new colonial land.

Nga Tahu, as a contemporary modern iwi, today make their claims on areas which surround the Mutton Bird islands, where descendants of the Rakiura iwi, still maintain some sovereignty under the auspices of the Treaty of Waitangi. Here the situation via marriage is at least tenable but their legacy to claims of those who came before is trickier and increasingly controversial, a legacy which damns Nga Tahu with their own words in the shameful epitaph of a blood-lusting conqueror, whose warriors would boast: “sweet is the flesh of the teachers of Waitaha’.

Waitaha is a tribe whose existence is acknowledged in the very first panel that greets visitors to Bluff Hill in New Zealand law but oddly is not recognized in general by New Zealand historians (the late Michael King being adamant no such tribe ever existed). In part, this is due to the New Age spiel that has been put on Waitaha by ex-Canterbury University lecturer, Barry Brailsford, which, in my own opinion, did more harm than good to the Waitaha cause. However, since then Waitaha claims have been recognized by the Court of Appeal and many historians have softened their stance. Off the record, small town curators express “sympathy for the Waitaha” but in light of the fact that Nga Tahu “control the funding strings” they explain that “we have to be careful of what we say”. Something to think about next time you drive through Timaru and review the Te Ana Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art sign. But, hey, don’t let basic facts get in the way of a good story, eh. Follow the trade winds wherever they blow and you will learn but one truism common to all cultures wherever they may be and that is the adage: ‘history is ultimately written by the victor’.

I arrive at Mac’s this time with my usual sense of good timing, just in time for ‘happy hour’, which on this particular occasion includes meeting yet another Bluffy local, Bernie Procter. In Bernie’s case, he had followed in the steps of follow Buffy, Peter Arnett, choosing as his ship of fate to serve in the Press Gallery, where Bernie rose to the dizzy heights of working directly for yet another prince of commerce, Rupert Murdoch, before fate intervened and “I returned to Bluff to sort out family affairs in a sabbatical that lasted longer than I intended”. Asked of his perception of the modern media, Bernie replies, “in an age where people have never been so educated and so connected never has an audience been so uninterested”

He see this as reflection of the laziness of this age. “Modern media has become a vanity that reaches even into academia, where people only think if they have to” and even then it is without depth or penetration. Looking out to sea where once twelve year old boys held the rank of midshipmen with the responsibility of their ship and men at times placed solely in their hands, it’s easy to see Bernie point out that our children, like ourselves and like most of our parents, have lived in unbridled peace. Once it took month to cross the sea – now information comes instantly as we can text, use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, Youtube information instantly but rarely is it done for anything but entertainment or real necessity. It is hard at times to fathom why the likes of Mac, Bernie or the other Bluff imports I meet, who in all cases have excelled in their chosen fields, choose to come to Bluff. Yet as Mac’s dog, Charlie, lies at Mac’s feet and the evening sun pours in through the Gallery’s front window and three males, well past forty, slowly solve the world problems over a bottle of beer, it is easy to see the appeal of Bluff. It’s the perfect port to take anchorage in a world, which to quote the Spielberg movie, The Green Mile, “went and got itself in a damn hurry”.

I make my farewells and head off to pick up my order at the Galley Fish and Chips. This iconic takeaway includes a tribute to the legendary Fred and Myrtle. It was their Paua house which once drew millions until the pair passed away and the in-laws dismantled the collection, packed it off to Te Papa and then sold the house to the anger of locals. Today, a few clippings and few paua shells are all that remain of the house built on love. Yet while the house is gone, the Galley Fish and Chips made with love continue to pump out fresh cod and mouth-watering oysters which I will be fed by the bucket-load when in next few days the oyster season kicks off – it’s a hell of job but someone’s gotta to do it.

This Oyster Festival held in May draws thousands, as gourmet and party- goers come for the best knees up in the South. Asides from the lobster, this also includes a host of other sea-food, all of which I will be feted and fed in royal style while in Bluff over the next few days. The festival also includes a variety of live music acts and transport in and out of Invercargill, where most visitors choose to spend their night if not lured into the Bluff bars where festivities continue after the official hours of the festival. The punters have a choice of two such bars one being the one hundred and fifty year old Eagle Hotel. Or you can check out the seemingly more popular Anchorage which draws locals, wharfies and visitors to its main bar and restaurant.

It was to the Anchorage that I chose to retire to eat my Galley fish and chips, feeling a bit cheeky for doing so. The bar maid, Konnie, however, gives the okay when I ask permission (just to be on the safe side) and I’m soon made to feel welcome. It is while resting a copy of my own newpaper on top of my work folder that I met Pia, who remarks, “That your paper, man? I love that paper!” Which I admit is a nice boost to the ego. Pia at time also acts as skipper on the Shark Experience and offers to take me out if the weather is right. The serendipity, however, does not stop there: Pia says he knows of another local who liked my stuff and who had also read my book, State Secrets and he would be glad to put me in contact with Kevin. Kevin ‘Stoney’ Bourke, as the locals call him, turns out to be a bit of a local legend. Events, however, would conspire against us that night although I got to meet Kevin’s son, Kane, and spend an evening watching, listening and getting to appreciate the skill of arms of seafarers in ‘Stoney’s’ home, surrounded by possum furs, shark jaws, hunting paraphernalia and photos of men riding whales. Sadly the weather would also be against me and though speaking with the operator later on the possibility of swimming with the sharks (hey, I have gone up against Russian mobsters and bikers so how bad can a fish really be?), I was not able to catch up with Pia before leaving Bluff. So if you’re reading this now, Pia, thanks for all the help and for introducing me to a truly remarkable man.

The Wizard of Earth Sea.

The next morning I made sure I began my day with a swim at the Bluff Public Swimming Pool. It had been Haddock’s daughter, Skye, who had initially kicked off the steps to rescue the Bluff pool when the Invercargill Council had first decided that a swimming pool for a port town was a luxury it could do without. Mind you, by that stage, they had already determined that, despite residents paying rates, having a bus was luxury too and so it’s unclear exactly how the children of Bluff were meant to get to the swimming pool in Invercargill, where ‘wiser’ heads had deemed the city pool was suitable for the needs of the children of Bluff.

Oh, well, at least they would not have to pay for the bus fare to get into a pool which, like most pools in New Zealand, now gets by on the grace of gambling machine donations. Not that the pools offer a discount to the lower socio-economic families, from which most poker machines draw their revenue, as they fund the sports programs of upper and middle class families which, in many cases in Invercargill, are on first name basis with the six figure salaried executives who dominate the Invercargill Licensing Trust like a modern day mafia. Want a new rugby stadium? No problems. Want new cycle-ways? No problems. Want to fund the feasibility of setting off a multi-million dollar yacht race, using a port that the port authorities won’t grant permission to use? Still no problem. However, if you want to make sure your kids can get a cheap bus ride or not drown from lack of swimming education, which we all took for granted when growing up, well, then, thats a completely different matter.

A matter which, however, the people of Bluff, starting with Skye Henigan, in a town where nearly more social groups and community networks exist than people, chose not to take as acceptable. The ball would begin with Skye, then aged eleven, raising more than 1,800 public submissions to keep the pool open. This was successful. However, to ensure it remained open, to raise additional funds the people of Bluff then created a calendar of twelve nude fisherman (actually eleven men and one female), which raised nearly $300,000 – not bad for town of less than 2,000 people. When being told this story by Mac, later this morning, while enjoying his coffee and biscuits, a German who had popped in for information had laughed and replied, “I would love to see those bottoms”. To which I replied, “You have obviously never seen a Bluff fisherman behind first-hand”.
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With an appetite built up from swimming (and not bad showers either), I made my way to the Bluff Galley to use their computer and to catch up with Mac and to pick his brain for bit more local information which he would oblige accordingly. But, first, I would try one of Stella’s pies. Mutton bird was off the menu, it being the wrong season but I chose to opt for venison from Stewart Island and was well rewarded. Mind you, had mutton bird been available, I would then had a real dilemma on my hands. Namely, I really like this bird which unkindly has been described as available in soup form like this: “You throw a mutton bird and a stone into water till it boils. Then chuck out the mutton bird and eat the stone.” I had first tried it at Fleurs in Moeraki, a decade earlier, where it was served in format similar to roast chicken, which produces a taste both very rich and very, very salty. However, on that experience it had inspired a fantasy of offsetting it with a Pater Sangiovese, a lovely Italian wine, whose oily nature would trap the grease of the mutton bird, nicely causing it to have a very spicy flavour that would be something special. The second time proved no less enjoyable as when Haddock had fed me up on several of the birds which he first marinated for a year or so and then served with a salad laced heavily with red onions and other such spicy vegetables which offset the grease. This was then washed down with the Captain’s homemade Vodka which is a pretty damn excellent drop but which also would teach me why drinking with a sea captain can be hazardous to your liver.

The problem with this bird, which is almost a de facto alternative currency system to the Rakiura Maori descendants, has nothing to do with what’s in the waters of Bluff but largely lies with the fact that the shearwater sooty migratory cycle takes it every four years to the feeding grounds located off the coast of Japan, where, after Fukashima, an estimated 90% of all avian life has been decimated within 600 miles of the reactors which spit open when Fukashima got hit by 8+ earthquake on March 11, 2011. Subsequent investigation has shown the so-called samples have been limited to only thirty birds, involved only the wing feathers and came from chicks whose parents need not have been anywhere near Fukashima. My own sources have since explained that due to pressure (which I’m proud to say has included my own campaigning on this) the test range has been expanded and improved. I hope so.

(Peter Daley, Australian Whistleblower on the Fukushima Radiation Crises & Survival Thursday, September 19th 2013, Mutton bird radiation warning Posted Fri 30 Sep 2011, ABC, 33% of prized bird species disappears after summer near Fukushima — Those making it back “were in a poor condition,” says New Zealand gov’t researcher April 29 ENE News Muttonbirds affected by Fukushima – New Zealand Herald Apr 30, 2012).

There is little doubt of the love Nga Tahu locals have for the sea and I am struck by the works of senior Nga Tahu carver, Alan Harnett, which again reflect the close, deep love Bluffies have for the sea. Yet I wonder if they truly realize how fragile this ecosystem is. I discuss this issue later, after coffee with Mac, with Joel Ryan whose photographic work also hangs in Mac and Sue’s Gallery. Ryan, who comes from a long line of muttonbirders will echo what so many others have said to me: “Most of the time people are so busy putting food on the table that they don’t fully comprehend how these bigger picture events affect them.”. Yet the reality is that the correlation between food on the table and having a socially and environmentally orientated conscience should not be seen as two things which are mutually exclusive.

The evening is still early so I decide to revisit Stoney who I’m told is now back in Bluff having come from Manapouri and who is keen to chat. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect and am simply going on instinct and the fact that his name has, during my twenty four hours in Bluff, been repeatedly raised, largely by people who seem to think I should go and see this obviously well-respected fellow. What can I say? Who am I to argue with the Hitching Gods? It will be about 5 a.m. before we stop talking. The focus of our conversation would fall on Stoney’s life-work to date, a twenty-seven metre waka that Stoney has based on his view of what the pre-Maori catamarans of the Waitaha people would have been like. I’m a quick convert to this concept of indigenous ships capable of blowing anything the European had to offer in that era. Largely because I also remember the story told, by my seventh form history teacher Gordon Ash, when I was at school. Gordon had spoken on several occasions of giant, double catamarans, based on plank designs that he had once seen in etchings with remnants of these great wakas while visiting a museum in Frankfurt in his youth. Since then, several archaeologists (notably based overseas without national or cultural bias to interfere with their conclusions) have formed the opinion that for the great migration of the Pacific such vessels where used at this time. Regardless, the concept Stoney advocates is a simple enough vessel, which can give youth the chance to “learn about the environment. By helping clean up beaches, learning to fend for themselves, by learning to catch food and learn about themselves. So we produce happy youth who learn that there’s no shame in saying please and thank you.” What a radical concept.

The waka is about 80% complete and has had over 400 volunteers, many of them troubled youths, come and work on it, with the result that schools have commented to Stoney on the changes in some of these individuals. To which Stoney replies, “I did nothing but helped them learn something they were good at and, in doing, so gave them something to like about themselves.” You get the feeling that the project has hit a rut. Largely, for all too human reasons, as Stoney admits, he has, “lost half his battery,” with the passing of his wife and best friend, Megan, from cancer in 2012. In part, because fund raising was Megan’s [area of?] expertise but also because, in grieving for this person who Stoney clearly sees as his soul mate, it has proved hard for his passion to be fired up. Yet to view this ship, which Stoney later shows me the next morning, is to view something majestic. It fills me with frustration to think of how such a noble project so close to completion is sitting in pause mode. I put this to Stoney who is rolling a cigarette. He fixes me with serious look for a moment and says, “I said that to Megan once when she was dying and she replied, ‘The journey, even if it never sail,s has been worth it, just for the many lives it has touched and help transform.”. I am touched by this clever sea wizard and his relationship and determined that I shall get C down to witness this in part because of her love of all things maritime and of the ocean but I also can’t help feeling that she may have a better idea of what my trip is really about if she can meet the likes of Stoney who already is giving my quest its shape and purpose.

We talk of the existence of the Waitiha and of the damage of done by Barry Brailsford, whose book, “Song of Waitaha: The Histories of a Nation”, claimed that the ancestors of a ‘nation of Waitaha’ were the first inhabitants of New Zealand, three groups of people of different races, two of light complexion and one of dark complexion, who had arrived in New Zealand from an unspecified location in the Pacific, 67 generations before the book appeared. The claim in orthodox circles is not widely accepted with ‘real’ historians. Or so we are told in the ever-reliable Wikipedia, which namely cites historian, Michael King, responding to the claim that the Waitiha lived in New Zealand prior to the Maori as nonsense.

King writes, “there was not a skerrick of evidence – linguistic, artifactual, genetic; no datable carbon or pollen remains, nothing – that shows the story had any basis in fact. Which would make Waitaha the first people on earth to live in a country for several millennia and leave no trace of their occupation.” The problem with King’s deduction is that he is wrong. For historians such as Herries Beattie, Roger Duff, all acknowledge that the Waitiha did exist and were deemed older and more ancient colonizers of New Zealand. Further, the book, “An Eye for Country: The Life and Work of Leslie Adkins (Anthony Dreaver)” records in great detail the jealousy and competition which led Adkins to drop the term Waitaha for the more PC term, “early Moa hunter”. Historian, Bruce Palmer, in Adkin’s own words, was then brought in to “control me”. Adkins, in aseparate paper for the Polynesian journal writes;

It is thus only in recent years that the idea of a prior people antedating the misnamed tangata-whenua, or “original inhabitants,” has received due recognition. …The failure of New Zealand tradition to correctly designate the actual earliest immigrants to these isles, naming a later people as such, gives support to the contention (Adkin, Horowhenua, p. 113) that the very earliest inhabitants came to this country in times too remote to come within the scope of the memorized traditional records of the Maori of the Fleet of 1350 A.D. It can be confidently accepted that the material culture of the ancient Waitaha was superior to any other brought to or developed within the New Zealand area. This is shown by the archaeological evidence. Their craftsmanship in the manufacture of artifacts—weapons, tools, and “ornaments”—in stone, wood, and bone, was of the highest order and unsurpassed; in carving, also, their skill exceeded, in conception and technique, even that displayed by the justly famed work of the Fleet tribes”. Zealand/document/Volume_59_1950/Volume_59,_No._1/Supplementary_data_relating_to_the_ancient_Waitaha…,_by_G._Leslie_Adkin,_p_1-34

Further, Stoney was in fact able to show me first hand an example of a Waitaha Adze which is clearly beyond the technological ability of the later migrants whose work we usually see in New Zealand museums. The word, Maori, is itself a misnomer of terms to begin with, in light of the fact that it was derived by Governor Grey to simply lump all the different ethnic groups existing in New Zealand under a one-size-fits-all banner. Likewise, Joel Ryan provides me an example of an aspect of rock art, through a sample he has collected, which, in Timaru, is now closed off to public viewing by Nga Tahu. It shows yet another curious archaeological and technological feat not known to the early Maori settlers. Namely, the art is not simply drawn on the rock, as you might assume, but has, in fact, been given a coat similar to plaster that hardened and then made a surface suitable for painting using a mixture of, presumably, red ochre and shark, or similar, animal fat.

Stoney highlights another primary reason why the history of the Waitaha has only come to light now: the repealing of the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, an Act of Parliastory iment of New Zealand, passed with the goal of replacing traditional native healing with modern medicine and its associated industries, based on profit. The bill would state: “Every person who gathers Maoris around him by practicing on their superstition or credulity… is liable for prosecution.” Apparently, indigenous people could not be left with task of looking after themselves or having individual thought as to how best treat themselves.

Yet the tohunga were the holders of knowledge of most rites, culture and knowledge in general. Thus, the by-product of this act, only lifted by New Zealand Prime Minister, David Lange, in 1990, was literally prohibiting the Waitaha from telling their own history and, in doing so, prohibited to a degree European academics from discovering information which threatened the state- sanctioned view on New Zealand history; a history designed to sanitize and cover up their own misdeeds and criminal actions. In addition to stopping us learning how Waitaha culture, technology and knowledge differed from the later invaders, such as the fore-mentioned cases where the murderers of the Waitaha teachers of lore boasted, “Sweet is the flesh of the teachers of the Waitaha”.

Stoney believes the actual argument of Waitaha role in his secondary to their most important lesson to date: that we can all consider ourselves Waitaha, “One people seeking not ownership of the land but whose goals lie in the idea that we are but guardians.” His belief about the easiest way to overcome the diversion of ethnicity in this country is simple: “All Kiwis should put “Waitaha” on their Maori electoral roll forms next election.” This is a concept which would allow all Kiwis, whatever their ethnic diversity, to celebrate our joint cultural heritage and the lessons they teach us as a collective. Lessons which belong to us all without getting sucked into the false mana of aristocratic or tribal blood-lines based on what amounts simply to a biological lottery

The Captains’ Table.

I spend the next morning catching up with Nolan’s dad. The intention is to take few shots of his study which is a de facto maritime museum, testimony to the Henigan’s long connection the sea, with its picture of the “Captain” by Nigel Gladwin dominating one wall, surrounded by ships in bottles and other ocean-related trophies. Their home on Foyle St is considered a historic building, built in 1877 by Catholic, Jan De Smidt, the proprietor of the Gold Age Hotel. Smidt lived there and raised his many daughters, including Theresa Ward, the wife of future Prime Minister, Joseph Ward, a Protestant, whose marriage to Joseph Ward in 1893 was held in the front room. As we were talking, David’s wife *** pops in from time to time, loaded with plates of kai. First, it’s the pikelets with fresh cream and jam (which I’m always a sucker for) and then, of course, it’s fresh oysters. The Galley in Bluff truly does amazing oysters and, as it is the start of the season, you cannot really complain but there can be nothing better than getting the freshest oysters possible served to you home-cooked.

David carries on with the same point made by Paul Young, that Free Trade is a fool’s game and that we have got nothing out of the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN – Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANew ZealandFTA) signed by New Zealand and Australia in 2009; that it does not cater to the needs of New Zealand manufacturing; that locally this translates to a hundred job losses at the meat works, as boners are laid off and we send whole carcass overseas. David had begun his career aboard the Tug Toia in 1980 and, in that time, he has seen the rise and fall and scuttling of the New Zealand coastal freighters industry, largely at the hands, in his opinion, of Richard Prebble, as the Minister of Transport.

Prebble being one of the neo-liberal Praetorian Guard who flanked Sir Roger Douglas the Economic Minister under the Lange administration, who would derail Labour in a manner it does not seem to have ever fully recovered from. Under Douglas, both Shipping and Rail was privatized and key infrastructure literally cut up for scrap metal. The nation’s life- line was further butchered under National until a buy-back was launched under Clark’s regime. Shipping future also took a positive turn when in 2006, spurred by the New Zealand Shipping Federation’s Roadways to Waterways document, the Ministry of Transport established a sector reference group to look at ways which like rail more freight could be moved by sea. This culminated in 2008 with a scheme called Sea Change: “Sea Change would see shipping companies, port companies, importers and exporters, freight forwarders and all other stakeholders working jointly and taking action severally, to transform the way domestic sea freight helps freight movement in New Zealand.” At its heart, the idea of driving both New Zealand’s economic and environmental needs. Put basically, we would ship more, with a resulting reduced cost to our wallet and the environment. How can you argue against that?

So what happened to this amazing start-up plan which had the full endorsement of the unions, Labour and the Greens? Would National, backed by the trucking lobby, torpedo it? In 2009, the National Party announced that funding for coastal shipping and supporting infrastructure, part of the “Sea Change” plan of the previous Labour government, “would be cut to a substantial degree”

Things remain nautical when I check in to dine at the Foveaux Hotel. This has been taken over by Sherry Sheldon, a former American with a background in music, who bought the hotel in 2013. Though it turns out she can claim the title of captain, from having skippered a tour boat in Florida, USA, which included armed guards “due to the risk of piracy’. However, Sherry’s main bowstring is, in fact, her role as a concert harpist and pianist and as the director of Cornerstone Music Enterprises in Bluff which, aside from performing music, involves publishing music. Unsurprisingly, music is now a big part of the hotel which includes regular recitals by Sherry and visiting musicians, accompanied by Devonshire- style High Teas with lashings of cream and jam on hot, fresh baked scones.

I start my meal with scallops (to stay nautical) and then for my mains opt for the lamb shanks on the recommendation of Sherry. A good call – it arrives and with its pile of mashed potato and rich gravy which all lives up to its reputation being more gastronomy than gourmet. This is food for the fighting man and there is plenty of it. It must be the sea air, for I have no problem devouring it before I move on to dessert. A Banoffee cheese cake which nearly a year later still makes my mouth water as I type this (need I say more?) The dining room, which includes a bar and, of course, a grand piano, is also set up to cater for weddings and functions.

Around the walls of the ‘Captain’s Table’, Sherry jokes, “I’m a sea captain and guests dine at the captain’s table”, but, in fact, it was named in part after the original restaurant, the ‘Captains Retreat’. A series of ink drawing with a 1920 art –deco theme, highly detailed, turn out to be the work of the cook ***. Sherry takes me for a tour of the nine rooms (five rooms with en suites, four rooms with share facilities), which include a continental breakfast as part of the deal and is only two minutes from the Stewart Island Ferry terminal.

I go to bed looking forward to the fact C will manage to make it down for the weekend. I simply cannot wait. Morning arrives and it turns out that Haddock will be back the same day. This turns out to be a mixed blessing, as I was looking forward to some time out with C but at the same time I’m keen to introduce C to Haddock . On the downside, one of my teeth is starting to act up but I chew on clove leaves and that does the trick. C’s bus is on time and I am so pleased to see her. Nolan rocks up and it turns out his two daughters, Skye and Summer, will be joining us. After a quick stop at the supermarket, we make our way back out to Liffey St. It’s not a late night and everyone gets on well but I can tell C is a little disappointed. She is not getting time to spend just with me and I feel guilty about this, as this is how I had lured her down but there is not a lot that can be done and it’s just one of those timing things that the gods like to throw at you. I guess it’s their idea of a little joke, the gods being the gods.

I wake in the morning and my tooth is going out of control, more cloves which helps dull the pain but I don’t feel that well and have a fever and feel as if I’m being poisoned. I don’t let on to C and we go around visiting Stoney. He, in turn, takes us on a tour of his greenhouse full of awesome goodies. He then takes us down to visit the waka and he explains to C its name is Southern Laughter. It’s made up of a kilometer of fiberglass cloth, 10,000 litres of epoxy resin, and 7 cubic meters of the last “legitimate” shipment of kauri out of Northland, – “compliments of Tane Mahuta,” winks Stoney. He is referring to the Maori god whose namesake I plan to visit, when I get to the other end of my journey. I’m not to know yet but both Tane and the Waitaha will play a significant role in this quest, as their symbolism is to lead me on an Indian Jones style epic saga – luckily, I have my hitching hat to play the part Kevin Stoney Bourke Waitaha Waka

We say our farewells but invite Stoney around for dinner (having checked with Haddock first). This turns out to be somewhat of a feast, as Stoney turns up with crayfish, freshwater “yabbies” and Haddock’s mussels and his famous salad. By now my tooth is exploding and I can’t believe the shit luck I’m having that it does this just as my trip begins and on probably the last chance I will get to spend time with C. I’m gutted but make my excuses, explaining the situation and head to bed, feeling rude at leaving strangers together. Haddock finds me some pain-killers which by now I really need. I can hear laughter and that is a good sound. An hour later, Stoney leaves and Haddock and C move next door and talk. My name comes up a few times and I try not to eavesdrop but I do hear C telling Haddock how much she has fallen for me and I’m more than a little blown away. But I am worried as it dawns on me that C is having a hard time coping with the idea I will be on the road for all these months and I worry it may prove too much. She comes to bed soon after and I’m struck as my tooth goes throb, throb, throb – like a ship’s propeller heard under water – and I can feel myself sweating. How odd it is to be in excruciating pain and overjoyed at the same time.

More cloves and pain- killers for breakfast. The day is one of Bluff’s blowy days and every time I open my mouth, it’s like a dentist’s drill minus the pain drugs. C lets it slip that her friend, ”Ghouls’ is not sure about me going on the road – words to the effect of, “You know what journalists are like”. The words sting and it makes me mad. I have only met ‘Ghouls’ once over a cup of coffee and, aside from the fact that every second word is “fuck this”, I doubt she has ever met a journalist or knows one personally in her life. I’m also aware she knows my ex and seems very intent on digging up my past to “protect her friend”. The reality is that she is a South D piece of white trash who, lacking a life of her own, gets off on stirring up trouble in other people lives. I do not want this of my ex and I do not want this of C. Both deserve better – in the former case, to let sleeping dogs lie and in the latter, a chance of building a future before a fishmonger’s wife like ‘Ghouls’ gets her jollies making poison where there is only reason for perfume. I bite my tongue literally as much in pain as in my annoyance at this sort of mischief -making. C wants just once to have some time alone with me, which I understand, and so I suggest we pop into the Foveaux Hotel for glass of wine and to get out of the wind which is not helping either of our moods. The owner, Sherry, comes and joins us. Which on any other occasion would have being swell but C is tired and upset. So, sensing trouble, I get C out of there as quickly as possible. I’m tired and in pain so I make a poor judgment call and ask C why she is being less than her friendly self.

Wrong move – oh, look – we’re having our first fight (how cute). I’m confused and no, I do not want to be here but I seem to be doing a really bad job of calming C down, as I put my foot in my mouth more times than most humans have feet. We head back to the house and I retreat to the reading room on the basis that if I’m not saying anything then I can’t get into trouble. C calms down but it ends up being a miserable farewell and when she leaves I half- expect not to hear from her again. Right now, this big adventure seems a pretty crap idea but, of course, the more I get into it, the more I can’t turn back.

I head to the Southland Hospital the next morning.

Sharks, Ships and Oil.

Hospitals are never fun at the best of times and Southland Hospital, which looks like a terrible seventies sculpture, was no exception. It would take many hours convincing people that I needed emergency care before I was finally seen. The Southland District Health Board’s forecast deficit in 2008 had jumped from $4.7 million to $6.5 million. By the time I got there, the Southern DHB had a debt of $17.8 million from the end of June, 2013. So I am surprised when having finally convinced them that I need attention (I mention the words “poison” and “heart”) that they grudgingly accept that they might have to waste some resources on me. I wait some more. As usual, the seats were like concrete and signs were plastered everywhere, warning you to behave or else. The presence of an unusual number of police wandering through add to the feeling you have wandered into an episode of ‘The Prisoner’.

And the over-all Colditz (albeit a sci-fi version) feel is finished off with the fact that you’re forbidden from using your cell phone in the waiting area, where logically perhaps you might, in time of crisis, be wanting to contact people or entertain yourself with wifi – no luck there either – while you waiteeeeeeeeeeeeeed. The nice security guard, showing the first signs of friendliness and common sense I have encountered, explains that I have to go outside to use my phone. After more waiting, I get hungry and march across to the other side of the hospital to get a coffee. I am served by staff who look like they are preparing for an Ebola outbreak but still somehow manage to get a hair in my beverage. As fate has it, I get back just in time as my name is called and narrowly avoid getting sent to the back of the queue. First, I am seen by a nurse who does not want to give me antibiotics, at which point I explode and tell her to go and find me a doctor before I really lose my cool. I think for moment I may have gone too far but a doctor is brought who thinks my logic is sound, sorts me out with said antibiotics and arranges for me to get an extraction done in Dunedin in two week’s time. Six hours later, I’m free from this ‘prison without borders’ and I have even had a chance to talk to C who turns out to be glad that I will have to come home for a short period before resuming my trip. Secretly, I’m not too upset by this idea either. The plan had been to stay in Invercargill that night but then the phone rang and it was Stoney. “Want to go to Stewart Island?” he growls. “Hell yes!” I reply. “Well, get your arse down to the wharf by three and I’ll take you over.” Armed with antibiotics and pain killers and the news that C didn’t hate my guts, I was feeling myself and ready for the high seas. Well, for the Foveaux Strait at any rate.

I get there on time and stand back, while Kevin and his mate, Friday, and the second mate, Chance (yet another terrier with personality plus), load up the Foveaux freighter, on which Kevin is acting as skipper for this trip. It’s a good day for travel and, while I’m more of a grunt that an able bodied seaman, I’m not concerned about what the crossing will be like. I have done it before, in not so favourable conditions, when waves loom up over the bow and the skipper has to navigate as if he is traveling through a steep hillside (but where the hills keep moving). On such occasions, I find the best thing to do is treat it all as if you’re on a really daring roller coaster and enjoy the sense of free fall which comes when a wave suddenly cuts out from underneath you. Still, there is only so much of this false bravado a landlubber can muster before they start to find the ride a little daunting and not amusing any more. So I’m glad for the calm crossing and take in the view as we move away from the comfort of shore. As we go out, other boats come in. We get to the harbour entrance and Stoney’s demeanor changes as he’s deep in concentration. Friday has turned equally serous – this is clearly the time to remain quiet and watch. Taking my cue from Chance, who has settled into his basket, I make sure I keep out of the way again and focus on the smelter and the passing shore line.

At the Heads, Stirling Point Beacon and the Dog House Lighthouse stand guard, testimony to the risks of the ocean. At Green Hill Cemetery, an anchor cast in cement is a monument to those lost at sea, a reminder of the more than a hundred and twenty-five boats which have perished in Bluff Harbour, Foveaux Strait and the waters around Stewart Island since 1831. This is a total of at least seventy-four people, in 180 years, though the precise toll is thought to be higher, with entire crews not recorded and disappearing without trace along with their vessels. This ever-present danger is, I think, an important aspect of what shapes the Bluff people. When the Kotuku went down in 2006 with fifteen hands on board, it emerged that, of the 2,600 Bluff residents, nearly 2,000 were related to the lost crew. I have always found the Bluff people to be some of the friendliest people in New Zealand, as generalizations go, yet they also possess a deep degree of privacy. They are acutely aware of those who live there and understand what a port town truly means and those who, however welcomed, will always remain to a certain degree outsiders. The elements give bounty and the elements take away with equal disregard. Yet on this day, once we have cleared the Heads, Stoney relaxes and, Friday, satisfied that the boss is happy, deftly rolls a cigarette and the small talk begins. Though I notice that if one of these men takes their eyes off the sea the other unconsciously steps in to take up the sentry. It reminds me of watching soldiers who even when on civvy street can’t help but walk in step with each other.

I say ‘small talk’ but there is little spoken on the journey over which you would call light and fluffy. Topics range from ancient history, the state of government, life after death and it may be said that, in the traditional sense, neither Friday or Stoney are learned scholars. Yet years at sea (and in Stoney’s case the bush too) have made both men observant and curious and, as I have often found to be the case for those who are used to long hours by themselves or are set in a wilderness environment, they are very much in their own way learned men. It’s only a fool who would make the mistake of thinking these men are not deep thinkers. I’m also struck, as we cross over, by their sense of respect for others and their sense of fair play.

I talk on the way of my interest in the shark swimming experience and, if I’m being honest, driven by C’s own great love of these creatures, I am keen to learn more. Stoney looks bemused as he explains that, at the moment, the sharks which people are seeing are the males and, as impressive as they are, he is not so sure he would want to be in the cage when the females turn up. “If they do, you will at least have a lot of brown to fling at them,” he chuckles evilly. He tells the story of how the jockey hired to act as a double in the movie, Jaw,s (to make the real life sharks look bigger) refused to get in the adapted shark cage after a female turned up and destroyed one of the cages before shooting. I thought this was somewhat of a fisherman’s tale (‘the fish was this big’), but later I look this up and find out Stoney has, in fact, not being yanking my chain. In the end, the scenes using live sharks were shot using Australian mammal conservationist, Ron Taylor. This turns out to be a regular feature with Stoney and, after all, he also told me the story of one of his mates riding the back of a whale, which I also thought to be bogus, until he showed me the photo to prove it. Nevertheless, I am forming a deep love for these incredible creatures, moved by the startling fact that in less than a decade we have killed nearly eighty per cent of the population of a species which has been around unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

I find this hard to bear when I consider that to eradicate the alpha predators from any food chain is asking for trouble and wonder how men and women can be so self-destructive. Their motives are all too often driven by their fear and greed and I cannot help thinking, faced with such knowledge, how important ventures like Stoney’s waka are and how frustratingly difficult it is to get such initiatives launched even when the cost required is so marginal compared to the good they can do. It’s funny but, when we think of the sea, we all too often think of it as being empty because of its lack of human population. Yet as I watch a myriad of birds dive into the ocean, fly in the sky, chasing, flirting, hunting and crossing each others’ path, as insects zip across the surface, I simultaneously realize what a busy place it is and how arrogant mankind can be

I look out at the Southern Basin. It is impossible to know how many whales have been murdered from the 1950s to the 1970s. 720,000 blue whales alone were slaughtered by the Soviets. It impossible to guess, when we add other whale species, and then other nations involved in this genocide of another sentient being, or bring it back to its origins, when whale oil powered the human empire, the total which is probably now in the millions. For hundreds of thousands of years, these creatures could pass through the oceans communicating with a precise and complex language which involved sonar, over thousands of miles, communication essential to their well-being and care. Today, Homo sapiens has moved in and, like some pimply teenager with their hat on backwards, their pants pulled over head (but by some remarkable quirk of physics, which will have academics stumped for decades, you can still see their crack cheeks), their ghetto blaster turned on maximum volume, they don’t give a stuff about the neighbours or their right to have quality of life. From the turbines of our boats, the sonar from our radar, we drown the ocean in noise pollution with total disregard for this noble species or recognition of their right to exist. My thoughts again to turn to C and the work she does in raising funds to assist those who turn up to help the whale whenever strandings occur.

Nothing has ever being given to C in a silver- spooned way and yet not only has she brought up to perfect children, she also keeps her house immaculate, can with ease knock up her own furniture or fuse wire, drive a truck or digger and then fix it afterwards (where as I, on the other hand, can crash a car, blow up a toaster, and lose things all over town with spectacular regularity). Yet with all the time it takes to learn such skills and maintain a life worth living, she has managed not only to develop a sense of empathy for another living creature but has also made it her mission to do what she can to help them. She shows me the figures one day and I gasp and then laugh, “C, why is it people like you and me are genius at raising cash for everyone but ourselves?” In the scheme of things, perhaps even what C is doing is really just a drop in the bucket and perhaps we remain still a long way from the shift in consciousness needed to fix so many of the world’s problems (and perhaps we’re running out of time). Yet that is all it takes, all of us doing whatever small thing we can to create a collective result.

It’s still light and will be for another hour or so when we hit the settlement of Oban. Its name is a testimony to the Scottish settlers who settled here. The passengers on the ferry in front of us, a mixture of locals and tourists, have just about disembarked. It’s a soft light which falls on the jetty and the surrounding building leaving long shadows and warm hues, making everything very picturesque. Oban is the principal settlement on Stewart Island, located on Half Moon Bay. It has aircraft connections with Invercargill and a ferry service to Bluff. These along with the main hotel on the island are all owned by the same family who also own the land on which drilling exploration is proposed to take place. Today, the population sits at around four hundred, as the islanders make their income mainly off fishing and tourism drawn by the Rakiura National Park. These incomes will, of course, both be drastically impacted if drilling does go ahead. Few on the island seem to comprehend that any money made from such a venture will not come to the island, bar those who have the land desired by the drillers or through the airline and main hotel, used by workers, which, as stated, will go to the one family who control these assets.

The pub, in turn, also serves as the main focal point of the settlement and, if you hang around long enough, sooner or later everyone on the island you care to speak to will turn up. On this night, I just settle for a quiet walk on the harbour front, as I observe the hotel’s restaurant doing a busy trade and the sun setting on the shore line with its swings and giant chess set. Boats, including some millionaire plaything (complete with helicopter), bob gently on the tide on this “Isle of Tranquility”. At the pub for a quick beer, I catch up with Stoney, who’s been walking Chance, and, while there, I take in the shipping history which dominates the walls. This includes the giant Norwegian whaling ships who made the island their base in the 1920s and 1930s, as they hunted the whales for profit without thought of the future or the whales’ own right to exist.

Today, the next boom may turn out to be oil and, again, the long term consequences seem to be getting sacrificed for short term gains, with little thought for anything beyond direct fiscal profit. In June, 2012, the last time I was on the Island, I arrived just in time to see Greymouth Petroleum emerge with an exploration drill, which oddly arrived on the island before the consent permits had even been signed off. Something Dave Kennedy, of the Green Party who I would end up having dinner with, refused to believe until three days later when the same information appeared in the Southland Times.

This pattern of doing without environmental consent seems to be increasingly coming the norm, as the government again sends signals to off-shore drillers that the exploration will be self-regulated. No doubt, the abolition of collective unions will also make it easier for mining and drilling firms to push their works harder and, in doing so, increase the risk to the safety of the workers and the surrounding environment to the wider cost of New Zealanders themselves. In 2013 and 2014, there appears to have been little clue as to what would happen next in the rush for the black gold, as the drilling project dropped off the news feeds. One reason may have been that Grey Mouth Petroleum (In fact, mostly an Auckland-owned operation) would finds itself in a state of litigation as senior executives ended up in court, resulting in 2014 with the company’s former chief operating officer, John Sturgess, being forced to sell fourteen percent of his shareholdings back to Grey Mouth Petroleum. Mr Sturgess was stood down in February 2011 over disputes which included claims of “multiple breaches of fiduciary duty”, with potential for damages claims totaling $40 million. This follows the National Business Review report in 2012 which claims that Mr Sturgess ‘committed to capital expenditure without board approval, made investments with company resources for personal gain and hired unapproved personnel who had family or personal connections with him.’ Mr Sturgess was accused of ‘repeatedly failing to report appropriately, honestly and accurately to the executive chairman or the board in relation to drilling activities, issues and decisions.’ Okay, so these sound like people you can trust, right?

The court case goes to the heart of the issue. Drilling per se is not a bad thing. Hell, we all use a variety of petroleum-based products in our everyday lives. Yet who we deal with when accessing our natural resources is equally important when making sure we don’t also damage existing assets such as fisheries and tourism which mean actual jobs and not just potential jobs whose existence is doubted skeptically by industry insiders. In the case of Anadarko, in Otago, not once would mainstream media report on two key issues, widely published in offshore media sources. The first issue being Anadarko’s terrible record of mishaps and the fact that it would end up shelling out nearly US $5 billion after US courts ruled that the firm’s interests in oil and uranium had been set up in a deliberate way to avoid culpability. This is on top of the US $4 billion Anadarko had to pay for their role in the Gulf Horizon platform disaster. In New Zealand, Anadarko would use the same model which it is now getting hauled over the coals for using in the USA: setting up a $100,000 limited liability company based in the Cayman Islands using the name of Anadarko New Zealand. This, of course, would cover about five minutes’ worth of pollution from a major oil spill and, as we saw in the Rena accident, these do, in fact, happen while in New Zealand those responsible rarely seem to have to pay the full damages.

In Stewart’s Island’s case, such a spill would destroy the islanders’ ability to exist on the island, while being yet another drain on the wider Southland economy. In 2013, this point was rammed home when Stewart Island dodged a bullet after the Timaru-based, 58-metre ‘Sureste’ ripped open one of its fuel tanks when it got too close to The Neck in Paterson Inlet (where a second exploration drill is proposed) in Foveaux Strait, while trying to shelter from a southerly storm common to this region. Luckily, as the ship was diesel, it did not have the same impact as if the cargo had been oil. Of course, the 127 ships wrecked in this stretch of water are proof of the hazards involved. While the deep sea method envisioned in Otago led one graduate of the Houston Deep Water school for drilling to state, “There is nothing wrong with drilling if done right but I wouldn’t have a bar to do with it- it’s insane”. This is a view endorsed by a fellow petroleum employee who notes of deep sea drilling, “This would not even be legal in the US or Australia.” when talking in reference to the proposed Otago drilling. The largest voice of protest on the island comes from Dr Britt Moore who remains concern as to its impact on tourism and fisheries. This, of course, is not covered in depth in the mainstream media where claims that the drilling will bring in $40 million to the local economy (and access to cheap gas) dominate reports without any attempt to verify these claims.

Dr Britt Moore also runs the French Kiwi Creperie which offers the best gourmet crepes in the Southern Hemisphere and does a pretty mean coffee to boot. This little eatery at “the end of the universe” tends to be more of a meeting point for the island’s more alternative community and is favoured by some of the Island’s more remote denizens when they do dare to come in from the bush. It is while here on my last visit that I bump into an old friend whose on the island in search of ambergris, the much sought after whale excrement from which we make perfume. This is yet another treasure that locals are not too keen to share, as Chris Kemp, the author of the book ‘Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris’, found out after receiving hate mail when he released his book, in 2010, for naming Stewart Island as a spot where it could regularly be found. In 2006, a ten-year-old Dunedin boy found an 860 g lump of ambergris at Purakaunui, and another 370 g lump worth $10,000. With values such as these, it’s easy to understand why emotions run high. We head back to the boat and enjoy a hot cuppa and the heat pouring off the pot belly below. As I snuggle into my sleeping bag, I can hear the water gently slapping against the hull. It is a restful night but at some point I get up and take in the stars which can be seen clearly like nothing I have seen before in this country. It’s an amazing sight and I as head back to bed, I’m struck by the odd things humans consider treasures and the things they take for granted or place little value on.

In the morning, I quickly visit the island’s museum, a small but extensive history of the island’s ties to the muttonbirders, whaling, timber, milling, mining, boat building, in addition to exhibits on early life on the island and an extensive collection of Stewart Island shells and crustaceans. I have time for a quick coffee before heading back to the boat where Stoney and Friday have being prepping her. We still have a bit of time and so we sit back and observe the crew from the Discovery Channel who are on the island to do a piece on the great white sharks which at this point seems to involve an odd-looking diving device and smoke machine and is part of their opening scene for their intended hunt for a giant shark dubbed Colossal. Hearing they are seeking a male shark, Stoney again chuckles, as he reminds me that the males, while scary enough, have little impact on their female counterparts, the big mamas who call the shots and dominate the food chain.

In recent years, the great whites have become a popular tourist attraction and, in doing, so have become a point of contention with the territorial Stewart Island fishermen who say cage divers are attracting great whites by throwing tuna heads into the sea, leading the sharks to associate people with food. Mind you, no one has to date, since the operations begun in 2006, been attacked and, worldwide since 1580, the total recorded deaths attributed to great whites is sixty-nine. This is less than half the number of those who drowned on shipwrecks since records were kept locally. The cage divers, in turn, accuse the fishermen of shooting sharks to scare them away. Speaking with a scientist later in Invercargill (who has been aboard the HMS Wellington, conducting maritime species survey), I learn that he believes that the sharks’ increased presence is, in fact, caused not by the shark diving operations but by the rising number of seals who have bounced back after years of [near?] extermination and in part by the protected status which sharks are now given. This is a move which has helped the shark globally to come back from the point of extinction when in the late 1990s it was thought there were fewer than 3,500 great whites left in the oceans, (making them rarer than tigers). At the top of the food chain, they help control population species including the seals who, of course, local fishermen blame for drops in catch numbers.

The reality is that the threat posed by sharks to man is minimal, even with the thought of big mama hanging out on the periphery, as the less fussy males opt for an easy lunch option. The reality is that the Stewart Islanders simply don’t like their secluded lives being intruded upon from the outside. You have to be there a long time to be considered a genuine local. Anything from the outside is viewed warily unless ‘orders’ comes from the top families on the island and then those who fill the role of employees will go along with the ruling. Even if it means, in the long run, that they end up without neither a tourism industry or a fishing industry. In which case it will, of course, be an outsider’s fault, not theirs. Life on the island is not easy. It takes hard work to keep comfortable and the costs (compared to mainland food and energy costs) to live there are high and so, like the great white, this makes for a territorial environment in which ‘big mama’ will always dictate to the rest how the food chain is to be divided up. Like the great whites, they get so used to being in this position that they find it hard to adapt when the roles change and they switch to simply becoming small fish in someone else’s pond and much larger game.

There is little doubt that oil exists here. Those familiar with Hunt Petroleum will recall that this very same area was a focal point for the Hunt Brothers during their exploration of the Southern Basin in the 1970s. Brian Jackson does an excellent job in his book ;Lost Oil Fields of New Zealand’ of showing that politics, not lack of oil is the only thing which prevented the Hunt Brothers going ahead and, anecdotally speaking to other journalists, there seems to be a clear picture that came from those who worked on the drills that oil was here. Again the fact that Greymouth Petroleum registered itself on the Toronto mineral stock market also indicates signs of the company’s own enthusiasm. Time ultimately, of course, will be the final judge in determining who comes out on top as the dominant apex predators and who gets tossed overboard to be chum. Yet when we review the fate of sealing, whaling and even commercial fishing, the few signs of long-term thinking and the lack of willingness to realize that in treasure hunts of any variety there are inevitably few winners versus the many casualties who loose is not encouraging.

I spend my last day in Invercargill, where I had previously lived for a year, playing catch up with various people there. This included the likes of Jay Sellwood who runs Rock’n Rolla Records. Jay with his shop is something of an institution and Jay plays a significant role in both playing in and promoting the live music scene in Invercargill. It’s a somewhat complicated situation, as Invercargill has an incredibly vibrant underground music scene but, in a town where the majority of the bars are run by the Invercargill Licensing Trust – which has more of an emphasis in selling booze than promoting culture – finding venues to play (which pay) is a fraught task. The solution is that Jay, more often than not, organizes and promotes his own venues.

The outcome is a music scene which breaks into three camps: first, ILT venues which focus on covers and the banal; next, venues likes Players, Tillermans and sometime Louie’s, which cater to the out-of-town musos and third, semi-professional, original bands and pop-up – the kind which Jay organizes – which cater to the underground. The exception being Heavy Metal which, it seems, is one of the few music genres down South which you can put on in the middle of a winter night and still expect a good turnout. This is not my favourite music variety but, in saying that, there are some bloody good Heavy Metal bands based in Invercargill whose musicians’ vocals and instrumentals are at an extremely high level in terms of technical skill.

Like Metal? Not really, but I respect the ability of these guys hugely.

Oddly enough, the police tend to have a higher presence at the non-ILT venues which do offer live music and these venues tend, despite the mishmash of black and metal studs, to be way lower in violence compared to the bar scene on the main street of Invercargill. Here punch-ups on a Friday night are a regular thing, with the security at ILT venues seemingly based on the ‘parking the ambulance at the bottom of the hill’ strategy as opposed to Sun Tsu’s advice: “The best way to win is don’t start a battle”. On the other hand, when you have witnessed, earlier in the afternoon, the two pallets of piss heading to the police bar and discovered how the senior staff at the ILT and the local police station have a famously cozy relationship, it’s tempting to be cynical as to the reason why Invercargill has, at times, a reputation for being the kind of town you could base an episode of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ on. Mind you, most of the truly exciting stuff tends to happen on the impoverished south side where the vast majority of the ILT pokie cash comes from. Dosh then doled out to those who live on the right side of town, spent on jobs for the boys and used for maintaining the status quo and so ensuring stagnation in a city with so much potential.

That the manner in which ILT venues are run might impact on their tourism scene seems not to have dawned on the lads who run the ILT, as they still wear the mandatory cheap suits, bad haircuts, rugby club pin, and nylon ties that are so wide that they are dangerously at risk of being declared escapees from the seventies. A hop, skip and a jump from the playground of Queenstown, a natural stop-off for those heading to or from Stewart Island or the Catlins, minutes away from fantastic swimming beaches, walking trails, based in the hub of the country’s food basket, Invercargill should

be an oasis of incredible cuisine: lobster, venison, chocolate, ice cream, beefs, oyster, seafood.(Which is not to say that Invercargill does not have some very good restaurants.) These features should all be the tickets which lure the tourists away from Queenstown, combined with realistic prices, cheaper accommodation options, live music and a vibrant cultural scene. Yet the ILT marketing insight goes as far as sending one of their retarded monkeys, dressed in obligatory crap suit, armed with sole bucket of oyster to an expo. Which if we’re being honest is basically yet again another excuse for one of the ILT boys to have a night on the piss.

The ILT, in its origin, was an incredibly forward-thinking solution of where to go from the post-WWII six o’clock swill. But it has truly had its time and now, instead, has become one of the iron hands firmly on the leash which holds Southland from moving with the times. It has become part of the culture which hinders Southland from forming a much needed exit strategy for the two looming realities. One: the Tiwai economic runway is rapidly running out of take-off room. Two: there are fewer and fewer Southland workers making a living from farming of any kind – and, every year, more and more Southlanders pack up their SUV and Holdens and make the drive north for jobs in the Christchurch rebuild and further afield to the North Island as part of the death of industry throughout the South Island. It does not need to be this way.

In an age of sound cloud, Facebook, online music sales, online recording and Kim Dotcom, the concept of combining local talent with existing facilities is huge. For example, one building block already in place is the very well-equipped Southern Institute of Technology (provided via the largesse of ILT poker machine revenue), one of the out- of- the- box ideas that Tim, in his heyday, showed was one means by which [ used to show that] Invercargill could be more than just a service town to the almighty dairy cow. It is not hard to see how the SIT, with its own topnotch TV studio and production facilities, could go a step further and make online movies, games, software programing and the zillion other online options that would allow Southland to achieve the kind of the fame not seen since the legendary Wicked Head and the Desperate Men achieved an overseas cult following. Back this up with proper internet infrastructure and you have what people like Oscar- winning animation genius, Ian Taylor, point out is the very road map for a fiscal jackpot, which will be every bit as important to a town’s prosperity – ‘as if they had just struck gold’.

To put simply,if you’re a young IT start up, your options are to set up in Auckland and have to drive to work each day for about four hours there and back, not including traffic jams. You’ll have to live in a house which will cost you a small fortune and likely need another small fortune in burglary equipment if you do not want to get burgled every five minutes. Or you can live in a place like Invercargill where you don’t have to drive to work because you can afford a house in a good suburb large enough to have both your family and growing family [ you and your growing family?] based there. The winters are not that bloody bad and, besides, due to the living costs, you can afford decent heating in light [and lighting?] and you are not spending a small fortune on gas bills each week. You have access to an international airport and if, you truly feel the need for the urban pace, Queenstown and its ski fields are a skip away. Summer offers you surfing, cycling and amazing parks for family putting [outings?] or an afternoon jog. The local beer (as I may have mentioned) is not a bad drop and, one day, someone will eventually figure out to make a decent short black (my only complaint as far as the south café scene goes).

A year earlier, I had discussed this with both mayors, David Cull (Dunedin) and Tim Shadbolt (Invercargill), in the studio interviewing them about how technology can put New Zealand on top. It wasn’t a particularly exciting show but I was pleased when a somewhat hesitant Cull showed an interest in the Chorus Gigatown competition. I was equally pleased when Dunedin got the idea of the importance of IT and social media marketing and made a decent run at the Chorus Gigatown competition. In contrast, Invercargill would not emerge on the leaders’ board even once. I’m sure this was not so much a case of Tim not having liked to have seen this happen. More a case of getting the feel that Tim, who is now a new dad, may have possibly done his time in Invercargill. At least I got the distinct feeling when I ran into him at the Southland Museum on this occasion that he had had his share of Bull Shit and Jelly Beans. He knew which battles to fight and which ones not to. You have to respect this. Shadbolt has always being an astute political animal and, aside from his role in campaigning for SIT and opening Invercargill’s doors to a migrant population, the city has done well out of his ability to get national exposure. Yet in age where technology finally closes the geographic barriers and has the ability to make Mick Jagger’s “arsehole” ( his pet name for Invercargill) a broadcasting online mega-hub, it’s frustrating to see the huge potential of this little city desperately in need of an exit strategy for the time when Tiwai [the Tiwai Point smelter?]will close. And there is very little likelihood this won’t occur some time in this decade. [ expressed double negatively so hard to understand -maybe: And this is likely to happen within a decade.]

Invercargill, with its wide streets, beautiful public spaces and gutsy people, is missing out on a pie it could be eating and deserve. The city has many top-class features to build on, be it the Burt Munro Motorcycle Rally, its access to fantastic produce or scenic locations, such as the Anderson Park Art Gallery. Even things like the atmosphere are to be enjoyed – from catching a game on a rainy winter’s night in your puffer parker, warm dodgy pie in hand, with the thousands of hardy souls who turn up for good, old-fashioned, grass- roots rugby are unique.[There are even things unique to Invercargill to be enjoyed – like the atmosphere when catching a rugby game on a rainy, winter’s night, in your puffer parka, warm, dodgy pie in hand, with the thousands of hardy souls who turn up for good, old-fashioned, grass- roots rugby. ] And to be fair to the ILT, they have, at times, made some good spends with things like their local pool and cycleways which are top-class. But, boys! – it’s time to get your hands off the scones and “move forward” and start making this, as they say in sports bar parlance, a “game of two halves”. It’s not like it’s impossible or that it can’t be done. Because,[ omit this?] in fact, New Zealand has a proud [sad?] history of turning its back on the kind of success which can [could?] put the South on top. We have this absurd notion that all we can be is farmers [we can be nothing but farmers?] and that we have nothing to offer the world of technology and innovation.

It does not take long and [before?] we hit Bluff again. I’m on a time schedule and rush off feeling guilty [because?] I’m not helping them unload but I forgive myself, knowing that I have just left them with about a dozen beer for the lads to find afterwards. I’m sure on a hot day that will go down well. I hitch into town easily enough and make my way to Sparky’s back-packers which is about five minutes from the town centre and which boasts a nice spa bath which my knackered back always appreciates. It’s not the flashiest back-packers but Sparky makes it homely and it’s a step up from the kind of place which treats tourists like cattle. Sparky is a pleasant chap who tends to treat all his guests as his friends, no matter how long their stay and, for my limited time in Invercargill, this will suffice. It’s a Friday night and I make my way to my favorite Invercargill haunt, Louie’s, which is run by Manu *** .

Aside from boasting Emerson’s on tap, having a fantastic wine list and a stunning menu, it’s the staff which always makes Louie’s special to me. There is no attempt made here for the staff to be something they are not and while the front of house always dress smartly they are typical Southlanders, the kind of people who tend to call a spade a spade and have a love for all things black and are not opposed in their own lives to a little heavy metal (always popular in Invercargill) played at very loud levels. His staff are always hospitable, funny and clever – and they know their stuff and then some – whether it’s wine, beers or what’s on the menu. In terms of skill, the same can be said of the engine room (kitchen) staff who take huge pride in what they do and knock out some fairly stunning cuisine. Nothing over the top but good, strong flavours that still allow the main produce, be it meat, fish or vegetarian option, to stand out.

I stick with my seafood theme at this time and go for a starter with smoked fishcakes, served with rocket, tartare [sauce?] and lemon juice and then follow on with the fish of the day which, in this case, is cod, served with white sauce infused with capers, giving it a strong intensity offset by a crisp Lake Chalice Pinot Gris. While I wait to catch up with a contact interested in doing some work for me, I bump into Greg Bowker, a photographer for the New Zealand Herald, who along with a scientist, has been aboard the HMS Wellington sub-Antarctic patrol. The patrol has met with mixed success due to rough seas which saw the ship having to turn back. Largely, as a result, which I don’t say at the time, in that the Australian-built frigates, is a by-product of a ANZUS compromise. [Although I don’t say this at the time, this is largely because Australian-built frigates are a by-product of an ANZUS compromise.] The ship has not been built to full specs and this accounts for its limitations in rough weather. Somewhat short-sighted really, considering their purpose and our claims in this region.

I ring C to tell her what I have been up to and am somewhat taken aback when she gets upset because I have been having dinner with a “random”. I try to explain to her that this is, in fact, part of the book and the meeting is legitimate but this does not go down too well and I put down the phone wondering how am I meant to complete this trip if, at every point, I do something to upset her, even though this book is entirely a story about the kind of people who live in New Zealand. I’m a little annoyed, more at the lack of trust than anything, and I decide out of rebellion to go and have a beer at Tillerman’s, my other favorite independent venue in a town controlled by the Invercargill Licensing Trust. It’s a popular venue, run by local businessman, Tim Smellie. The upstairs bar is set up for live music and most weekends has a pretty [good?] level of performance, as Tim, as much out of philanthropy as business, tends to bring in good bands which he looks after. So word has got out that playing there is a good gig. Downstairs, the Vinyl Bar caters to a slightly older crowd and focus on eighties tunes, while the outside bar, with its pot belly fire, is [also?] a popular venue. It’s a great, little bar and it’s never very hard to strike up a conversation with the friendly people from Invercargill who are drawn to this venue. This night, however, I call it quits early and head back to Sparky’s, knowing I have full day ahead of me.

My day starts with an interview with the Southland Times on the goals of my trip and a photo opportunity. I then head to the Tuatara, another key focal point in Invercargill, which I always enjoy due to its staff, food and great coffee. Otherwise, when I’m in town, I tend to opt for the famous Zookeepers with its distinctive cheetahs on racing bikes and polar beer and elephant sculptures. The coffee is pretty good but the staff tend to be not as friendly as those at the Tuatara. If you’re not a local, they can be a bit distant but the owner, Paul, is always an interesting guy to talk to and they do serve the local drop, Invercargill Brewery, which is a pretty top drop. One which I still get, from time to time, from my own local Dunedin supermarket, even when I’m not down South. This occasion, however, I am meeting up with a friend of my [mine?], Anna ****, who, aside from being a union delegate, helped in 2013 to organize the Great Southern Economic debate when they were talking of closing Tiwai Point.[the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter?] This event drew the ever-smiling Invercargill mayor, Tim Shadbolt, the head [co-leader?] of the Green Party, Metiria Turei, Labour’s Shane Jones, Winston Peters and union delegate, Peter Conway but produced a no-show from the local National MP. More than four hundred people turned out for it and a variety of ideas were discussed. The next day, however, none of the points raised was mentioned by the press, bar a one-sentence disclosure that only a hundred people had turned up and that Tim had suggested that the solution was to sell Tiwai Point to China. In fact, this was a throw-away remark, made with typical Shadbolt humour. His real, main idea was, in fact, the development of secondary industry based on silicon mining, with the concepts for this laid out simply on sheets of A4 paper which had been placed on each seat

My own frustration, as I observed this event, was that each candidate [speaker?] suggested that the solution was ‘ to build more, export more’ but without giving any real explanation of where these magical building and exporting ‘bunnys’ were to come from or who would finance them. In contrast, I would raise the idea, ‘We take a leaf from Kim Dotcom’s book,’ and focus on the IT development of the region, specifically focusing on the Invercargill climate, geography and access to a bloody, big, live wire which could be used to support server farm to be used for an IT  hub.Peters would growl, “Kim Dotcom, a bloody thief! -and that won’t create jobs,” to which I responded, “Yes, it will. People who work in IT buy groceries. They get their hair cut. They fill their cars up with gas.” I went on, “I don’t think you really understand the full picture behind Kim Dotcom’s ideas,” as I tried to explain the genius behind his transparent download system and how it backed independent artists (and why the US industry hate it so much) [ which is why the US industries hate it so much?] and how his notion of buying a secondary server line would greatly enhance the business of? any one involved in e-commerce”. This all fell on deaf ears and Peters growled back, “I have met Kim Dotcom.” which led me to retort, “Good for you. It still doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.”

This then led to a comical situation, reminiscent of the Muppet skit in reverse, where the old men in the VIP box retort on top of each other,[over the top of one another?] “This a great show. It’s an okay show. It’s a boring show. No! It’s a terrible show.” Then, in unison, go, “Boo!” We went from the now scowling Peters, who had been downright hostile to the idea of IT, to Jones and Conway who offered reserved neutrality for my idea, to Metiria who would acknowledge that service industries did create jobs and then to Shadbolt counselling approvingly, “It’s like Galileo. Not everyone gets [picks up on?]good ideas [right away?] because they don’t understand them. The thing is to keep plugging them and keep publicizing them until people finally understand them and come aboard.” Which I have to admit I took some pride in. I would ponder later, when the Green [Party?] published their idea of buying a second line, on whether I had played any role in inspiring that notion. Or it was just a case of the obvious solutions ultimately tending to find their way to the top?

I spend my last day in Invercargill playing catching up with various people in Invercargill where I had previously spent a year living. This includes the likes of Jay Selwood who runs rockn rolla records. Jay and his shop is somewhat a bit of institution and Jay plays a significant role in both playing and promoting the live music scene in Invercargill. It’s a somewhat a complicated situation as Invercargill has an incredibly vibrant underground music scene but in a town where the majority of the bars are run by the Invercargill Licensing Trust, which has more of an emphasis in selling booze than promoting culture, finding venues to play (who pay)  is a fraught task. The solution is Jay more often than not organises and promotes his own venues.

The outcome is a music scene which breaks into three camps. ILT venues which focus on covers and the banal. Venues likes Players, Tillermans and sometime Louies which cater to the out of town muso’s and semi-professional original bands and pop up, such as jay organises, which cater to the underground. The exception being Heavy metals which it seems is one of the few genres down South you can put on in the middle of a winter night and still expect a good turnout. This is not my favourite music variety but in saying that there are some bloody good Heavy metal bands based in Invercargill whose musician’s vocals and instrumental are extremely high level in term of technical skill of arms. Do I like metal not really but I respect the ability of these guys hugely.

Oddly enough the police tend to have a higher presence at the non ILT venues which do offer live music and tend despite the mish mash of back and metal studs to be way lower in violence as opposed to the main street of Invercargill bar scene. Here punch up are on a Friday night are regular thing with the security at ILT venues seemingly based on the parking the ambulance at the bottom of the hill strategy as opposed to Tsun Tsu advice “the best way to win is don’t start a battle”. On the other hand when you witness earlier in the afternoon the two pallets of piss heading to the police bar and discover how the senior staff at the ILT and the local police station have a famously cozy relationship it’s tempting to be cynical as to the reason Invercargill have at times a reputation for being the kind of town you could base an episode of Son of Anarchy on. Mind you most of the truly exciting stuff tends to happen on the impoverished south side where the vast majority of the ILT pokie cash comes from. Dosh then doled out to those who live on the right side of town, spent on jobs for the boys, and maintaining the status quo and insuring stagnation in a city with so much potential.

That the manner in which ILT venues are run might impact on their tourism scene seems not to have dawned on the lads who run the ILT as they still wear the mandatory cheap suits, bad haircuts, rugby club pin, and nylon ties that are so wide that they are dangerously at risk of being declared escapes from the seventies. A hop skip and a jump from the playground of Queenstown, a natural stop off for those heading to or from Stewart islands or the Catlin’s, minutes away from fantastic swimming beaches, walking trails, based in the hub of the country’s food basket Invercargill should be an oasis of incredible cuisine (which is not to say Invercargill does not have some very good restaurants)  lobster, venison, chocolate, ice cream, beefs,  oyster, seafood. These should all be the tickets which lure the tourists away from Queenstown, combined with realistic prices, cheaper accommodation options, live music and vibrant cultural scene. Yet the ILT marketing insight goes as far as sending one of their retarded monkeys, dressed in obligatory crap suit, armed with sole bucket of oyster to an expo. Which if were being honest is basically yet again another excuse for one of the ILT boys to have night on the piss.

The ILT in origins was an incredibly forward thinking solution of where to go from the post WWII 6’Oclock swell. But it has truly had it times and now instead has become one of the iron hands firmly on the leash which holds Southland from moving with the times. It has become part of the culture which hinders Southland from forming a much needed exit strategy for the two looming realities. One Tiwai economic run way is rapidly running out of take-off room. Two there are less and less Southland workers making a living from farming of any kind and every year more and more Southlanders pack up their SUV and Holdens and make the drive North for jobs in Christchurch rebuild and further afield to the North Island as part of the death of Industry throughout the South Island. It does not need to be this way.

In an age of sound cloud, Facebook, online music sales online recording and Kim Dotcom the concept of combing local talent with existing facilities is huge. For example one building block already in place is the very well-equipped South Institute of Technology (provided via the largess of ILT poker machine revenue) one of the out of the box ideas that Tim in his heyday showed was one means Invercargill could be more than service town to the all might dairy cow.  It not hard to see how the SIT with its own top notch TV studio and production facilities could go a step further and make online movies, games, software programing and the zillion other online options that would allow Southland to achieve the kind of the fame not seen since the legendary Wicked Head and the Desperate Men achieved an overseas cult following. Back this up with proper internet infrastructure and you have the means by which the like Oscar  winning animation genius Ian Taylor points out is the very road map  for a fiscal jack pot which will every bit important to a towns prosperity ‘as if they had just struck gold’.

To put simply you’re a young IT start up your options are set up in Auckland and have to drive to work each day for about four hours there and back not including traffic jams. Live in a house which will cost you a small fortune and likely need another small fortune in burglary equipment if you do not want to get burgled every five minutes. Or live in a place like Invercargill where you don’t have to drive to work because you can afford a house in a good suburb large enough to have both your family and growing family based there. The winters are not that bloody bad and besides due to the living costs you can afford decent heating in light you are not spending a small fortune on gas bills each week. You have access to both an International airport and if you truly feel the need for the urban pace Queenstown and it ski field are a skip away. Summer offers you surfing, cycling and amazing parks for family putting or afternoon jog. The local beer (as I may have mentioned) is not a bad drop and one day someone will eventually figure out to make a decent short black (my only complaint as far as the south café scene goes).

A year earlier I had discussed this with both Mayor David Cull and Tim Shadbolt in the studio interviewing them about how technology can put NZ on the top. It wasn’t a particularly exciting show but I was pleased when a somewhat hesitant Cull showed an interest in the Chorus Gigatown competition. I was equally pleased when Dunedin got the idea of the importance of IT and social media marketing and made a decent run at the Chorus Gigatown competition. In contrast Invercargill would not emerge on the leaders board even once. Not so much a case I’m sure that Tim would not have like to have seen this happen. More a case of you get the feel that Tim (who is now a new dad) may have possibly done his time in Invercargill. At least I got the distinct feeling when I ran into him Southland Museum on this occasion that he had his share of Bull Shit and Jelly Beans. He knew which battle to fight and which one not to. You have to respect this Shadbolt has always being an astute political animal and asides from his role in campaigning for SIT and opening Invercargill doors to a migrant population the city has done well out of his ability to get national exposure. Yet in age where technology finally close the geographic barriers and has the ability to make Mick Jagger’s “arsehole” ( his pet name for Invercargill) a broadcasting online mega hub it frustrating to see the huge potential this little city desperately in need of an exit strategy for the time when Tiwai will close. And there is very little likely hood this won’t occur some tine in this decade.

Invercargill with it wide streets, beautiful public spaces and gutsy people are missing out on a pie they could be eating and deserve. The city has many top class features be it the Burt Munroe Motorcycle Ralley, it access to fantastic produce, scenic locations such as Anderson park Art Gallery, to build on. Even things like the atmosphere to be enjoyed from catching a game, on a rainy winter’s night in your puffer parker, warm dodgy pie in hand, with the thousands of hardy souls who turn up for good old fashion grass roots rugby are unique. And to be fair to the ILT they have at time made some good spends with thing like their local pool and cycle ways being top class. But Boys it time to get your hand of the scones and “move forward” and start making this as they say in sports bar parlance a “game of two halves”.  It not like it’s not possible or that it can’t be done. Because in fact NZ has a proud history of turning it back of the kind of success which can put the south on top. We have this absurd notion all we can be is farmers and we have nothing to offer the world of technology and innovation.

Several thousand Poly1 units were sold but the New Zealand market died when each school was given a free Apple II computer and offered more at 25% of the retail price. The DFC was declared insolvent and stopped trading in late 1989 so Progeni was on its own. About a year later, just as the Vice President of the Agricultural Bank of China (1.4 million employees and 40,000 branches) signed a letter of understanding to use Poly2s exclusively for their educational needs, the Bank of New Zealand placed Progeni in receivership.

(abridged from

Death Orcs & the Eternal Sunshine of the Invincible Super Soul. 

The next morning, the Southland Times came out and I had made the front page – which I had mixed feelings about. On one level, I had set out to lure eyes this way and knew they would be watching if what I had been told was true.

Just prior to leaving, I had run a story on the arrival of the Banditos in the South Island and, specifically, Dunedin and Invercargill. No big deal really, except, unlike the associated press, my article included my name and not just the words, “staff reporter”. This made the potential for some unwelcome attention which you don’t really want when you are hitching in the wilderness of New Zealand. And just to make it really fun, I had decide to wear my trademark hat as part of a bet I had wagered to see if I could not lose something for once in my life [manage not to lose something?], my ‘skill’ for misplacing cell phones and other gadgets being semi notorious. Finished off with my hitching Winston Churchill T-Shirt (“We Shall Never Surrender”), I stuck out like swollen dogs’ balls. If I had pissed the gangs off and they wanted to come looking for me, It would be as the ‘cliché’ goes like shooting fucktards in a barrel. I stood no chance. Except, when you are a journo and you are on the front page, it’s a funny, old world. I figured, in a calculated gamble, even if I had pissed off the Banditos, the president would probably weigh it all up and go, ‘Nah, it’s not worth the hassle, boys. Yet if you do see the little bastard on the road side, do give him a good kicking.’

I hate gangs, in no small part due to a former partner I went out with once who, as a young lass, being subjected to a brutal and prolonged rape at the hands of such arseholes. Aside from the physical damage – the potential it will cause her for contracting a variety of cancers and that she now wears false teeth due to having had them smashed out of her face during the assault – there is the long-term psychological damage this has done to her – their a part of her as result of this prolonged torture session that doesn’t think she deserves love that she not a “lady”. I won’t go into that here, other than to say this is a person whose courage, guts and ability to overcome deep trauma I love with every part of my fibre of my being? It is often the nature of those subjected to such deep trauma to transfer their anger on to those they love. It was no different here but I carry not one whiff of resentment towards this particular woman. I have but the smallest inkling of what goes on in someone’s head after such an attack but, darling, if you’re reading this, just know you did good and you are and always will be my super hero.

Some people come out this this and are consumed by the darkness for life. My gal made of tougher stuff.  An amazing person whose courage, resilience and determination to grab the joy in life she deserves is second to none and she wrong – you are “lady”, one with a level of empathy, honour and compassion which she underestimate . And though I may be but a wee chap who lives by his big mouth and not his brawn, there is no way I will ever allow myself to cower and not speak out against the evil that these ‘men’ represent. To do so would be to let this wonderful person down. Gangs are an illness which we, as a collective society, have allowed to exist by our tolerance and even glamorization of this society of violence.

Don’t get me wrong – stupid laws like Michael Laws’ ban on patches don’t stop gangs. Nor are gangs in themselves the real issue. I would even go so far as to say I have known a few gang members as individuals and guess what? – they put their pants on just like you and me. I also know the gangs’ own sense of misgiving about the police is not unjustified and, in part, the gross miscarriage of justice that is our justice system has helped create gangs and certainly steered a large number of young men and young women into a life-style choice which can have tragic consequences. Yet as I sit typing here, I can think of twenty or thirty of my distant associates who are semi proud of their own association with senior gang members or attach some sense of false mana by having this association and I shake my head. While our own police downplay the threat gangs pose, saying gangs only hurt their own. Oddly, since the arrival of the Banditos into South Island, I can think of at least six homicides and an increasing number off home invasions which were gang-related in Dunedin alone and, yes, much of this was to those involved in the drug trade. (Don’t even get me started on the stupidity of drug prohibition and how that helps gang coffers).

I’m pretty sure all of these victims had brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and other family who are not gang-related but, nevertheless, are hurt by our tolerance of this fuck-up, male-dominated culture, where you are not a ‘real man” unless you’re “staunch”. This is notwithstanding the damage done to society when bullshit laws get passed every time a gang member does something stupid. By and large, these laws are never, in fact, used on gangs, under the guise of a coherent, well-thought-out anti-gang strategy but they do chip away just a bit more at our rapidly eroding civil liberties and freedoms of rights.[ rights to freedom?] And, as for the so-called “outlaw” status of these gangs – what a joke! A cozy relationship exists which means those at the top never go to jail while those at the bottom are too thick to work out how this privilege is maintained, as they desperately beg like a pet doggie, wanting a biscuit, for their patches. Their sense of self-worth being so low and their sense of wanting to belong so desperate that they are missing the red flags which lure them into the deep, shark-infested waters.

Because, of course, many of these chaps themselves have being subjected to trauma growing up – which has shaped their adult nature. Adult children of alcoholic parents, the abused, the beaten, those who never received the care and nurturing any child should expect, all flock to the club house and why not? By and large, New Zealand society has become self-absorbed and selfish and, in this environment, it is just all too easy for cracks to appear and for those who don’t quite fit into society to get swallowed up and disappear. For many, the club represents the closest thing to a home they have known and, if the top dog is a cunning, manipulative figure, so much the better. After all, as Stockholm syndrome teaches us, if abuse is prolonged then the hostage will afterwards always seek out further abuse, even when freed. For this is what they have come to know. I suspect at less two New Zealand homicides, Lisa Blakie and Maureen McKinnel, are based on senior gang members obliging the needs of their pals in respectable society for a convenient scape goat. Too bad for those who get to do the time for the crime they did not do.

I will leave it at that, as my first book, State Secrets, adequately covered the role of the Judas goat played by gangs in New Zealand, their social impact and how they are used by the state. The bogey monster which gives police more power and which serves traditionally, the more draconian a society becomes, as another means to keep the poor subjugated and living in fear. Gangs are an insidious cancer and anyone who gives social mana to these parasites is doing themselves and this nation a terrible disservice. So, “Yes, I try,” is the answer given to the question given to the brother of C’s ‘good friend’, “Ghooles”, when I’m asked “if I made a habit of upsetting gangs”. In my varied career, I have upset many gangs, including your stereotypical knuckle-draggers, in addition to such other insidious gangs as the military growing industrialism complex, the intelligence community, her Majesty’s street thugs (the police) and the worst gang of the lot – lawyers representing the white-collar filth who launder the profits of street crime through air-conditioned offices and household banks. The names of which few Kiwis would not recognize. And I thank my grandfather, Major Robinson Cocks and the men with whom he served, for instilling me in the sense of duty and obligation that give me the courage to speak out when something is just not right. Lest We Forget. Besides, how could you really call it a proper adventure unless you’re being chased across the wilderness by orcs. Albeit orcs on motor bikes- ah, yes, ‘Muddle Earth’s’ got it all going on these days.

Death, fittingly, would be my first hitch or, in fact, what the person who picked me up wanted to talk about. To be fair, my company on the front page that day had been a wee boy killed in an accident. We would, in fact, drive past the funeral and see the hundreds of cars that had carried mourners to the funeral. My ride had lost a child in child birth and I guess the funeral had reminded her (not that you ever forget) that you might not have got to hold them in your arms or see the future they should have fold out as they deserved but they are always with you. Boy did I get that. I’m sitting in the office with the sun pouring on the face of Flower – fuck she looks beautiful, excited and full of wonder.

I hold that thought in my head making sure the picture is stuck in the deepest part of my mind. What in my head has only entered milliseconds ago but I know I am about to loose my family “its you me and three” is not going to be. I bite my lip thinking of what it is  like to touch a stomach and feel it rock hard with your child. The selfish part of my brains goes ‘shut up there is bugger all chance it will end up like that and if you open your mouth you will loose it all. Loose everything you have ever wanted and dreamed of. It right here and all you have do is shut your mouth. But I don’t and I ask so she has a growth in her cervix’s. What happens if she does not get removed and we have the baby. The doctor in a dead pan let me know that Flower then risks it becoming cancerous (my gut sinks). And if she remove it what happens to the baby. Again the same dead pan response “she will have to abort the child”. I want scream at her ‘for god sake show some emotion you Bitch’ Yet I know she just doing it as the books says I look at Flower she looking at us in confusion she hearing the words but she does not want to hear them.

I know what I have to do next. I know it going to cost me. Flower will do whatever I want but I’m not going to risk her life and I know that my little wild punk princess, with her Doc Martins and Chopsticks in her hair is still very much the Serbian Irish catholic girl on the inside. If house has to call the shot it going to eat up with guilt. “Okay that’s it we can’t risk it” I say knowing I have shot myself in the soul. I can’t remember what happens next but I know were outside and Flower is quiet except she says it okay we can try again. We both know this is a lie that something has just died and can’t be healed we will never have the pleasure of holding or getting to hear Sam’s/Samantha’s first day at school stories, tell ‘Sam’ bed-time stories. We will not get to laugh at (before grounding for eternity) the dummy who as a teenager has been brought home by the cops after creeping out the back window to go to a party. I kiss her and tell her yes but I know once she has processed it then bathwater will literally have to be chucked out with the baby and I’m the bathwater.

That’s pretty much what’s follows it not that instant but it disintegrates and she no longer my best friend and she no longer trusts me and I end no longer trusting her we fight and the bond we had come apart and can’t be glued together again. I leave and for three years I don’t feel a thing until September 11th 2001 and the twin towers puts it in perspective.

I wake up but I’m still zombified and my hero comes and wakes me up and she doesn’t even know it but then she got scared and lashed out and I got scared and lashed out all got fucked up and yes I tried to mend it but possibly still grieving over Flower and Sam I tried too hard. But I get it and there is no resentment. Super woman never acted in malice she was just to protecting herself doing what she had to do to hold it all the demons in her head and in her heart at bay. And okay maybe Superwoman never made it fully out of hell but only to limbo land. But I did not admire her for miracles I loved her for the nobility of a heart which refused to yield to darkness and that is still pretty impressive. She gave me all her love and made me part of her family at all levels and in doing so filled a deep hole in me so I finally I got to be needed and I got to go home and I got to let go of the ghosts and guilt I was holding on to like a fox terrier with a ball. Resentment? Hell I owe her a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid and my only regret is I did not get to tell her that. I have not seen Flower since I left Nelson but I hear that today she has two naughty girls (the apple never falls far from the tree) and is doing the things she love somewhere in the aptly named Golden Bay so that’s huge weight off my shoulders. I get out of the car and I realise something I have not lost a thing I have being lucky enough to be given the gift of freedom to fear nothing for what I do have simply can’t be taken away.

A Town full of Aroha

Riverton must be one of my all time favorite places in Southland it has a hobbit like quality and atmosphere that screams not just community but belief in itself and it power to influence the world no matter how little you might be. I always feel like I come home a little when I come here and would dearly love to show it off to as many friends as possible. See this is why you never give up this why you should always believe in yourself because when you do great things can happen.


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