An American mining company has been accused of reneging on a deal made with Hauraki Maori to end mining on a sacred mountain that is now a massive hole in the ground.
Newmont Gold's integrity was challenged at yesterday's Environment Court hearing to decide whether the company should be allowed to carry out underground exploration mining inside the rim of Waihi's Martha open cast mine.
The history of opposition to mining the mountain, called Pukewa by Ohinemuri's Maori tribe Ngati Hako, was outlined by iwi manager Pauline Clarkin, who said their protests against the desecration dated back to 1878.
Iwi protests were mostly because Pukewa had been a burial ground for ancestors although it was also recognised by kaumatua (elders) as being a source of great energy and power called the crystal mountain.
Ms Clarkin's evidence was that Ngati Hako had agreed not to oppose the Favona underground mine on condition that Newmont closed the Martha Mine. The deal was sealed verbally between the company and elders in a meeting attended by Newmont's international president.
She said Newmont had made a commitment to the people of Ngati Hako to close the mine in 2006 so that Pukewa could "start to heal".
If the two-year exploration project was approved and it led to full-scale underground mining, then the current 2017 date for mining to finish in the Martha pit would extend out to an unknown date in the future.
Ms Clarkin said that in hindsight Ngati Hako should have got something in writing from Newmont instead of relying on what was agreed when kaumatua spoke eyeball to eyeball with the company.
She said that everything had been set for Pukewa to close, until the price of gold went up. "The company did not honour its undertaking - all we have is the company's word."
The lawyer acting for Newmont Gold, Rob Fisher, said the meeting with Ngati Hako had been very significant for the company and a big deal for the president.
However, Mr Fisher said that Newmont's understanding of what was said was that the pit would close but that there would be ongoing exploration.
Ms Clarkin disputed this, saying the company was quite open to the agreement because it was closing the Martha pit anyway.
Mr Fisher said: "We will have to agree to disagree."
Ms Clarkin said relationships were built up by good conversations and trust.
"Ngati Haku's trust with the company has slipped somewhat."