Morning Story: Native answer to endemic problem


As a teenager I could wake at home during university holidays and tell where I was before the lids opened.

The dawn chorus gave it away.

A unique collective of song-thrush, magpies, sparrow, blackbird and tui heralded the Waipawa dawn. It was both an introduced and endemic soundtrack.

Like many things taken for granted when raised semi-rural, it was a pastoral delight I failed to pay much attention to until it was gone.

My first-year university concrete jungle of a hostel had a dawn chorus not of the bird variety. Most mornings were a mix of stereos blaring from every room and students troubling with the excesses of the previous night.

In Wellington the dawn chorus had a metro theme. Buses, trains and of course the bullying wind.

It terms of endemic sound, bellbirds added the odd note of magic. There were plenty of wood pigeons, but of course the fat kereru sit in perpetual silence.

In Hastings my dawn chorus consists of a faint shuffle of traffic along St Aubyn St and the argumentative introduced Indian mynah.

Lately there's been a new sound, indeed a very welcome one.

The usual dull, suburban morning alarm has been undermined by the majestic tui and silver-eye.

The latter, tauhou, swarm like large feathered olives through our cherry blossom. A thin black circle of eye-liner embellishes the distinct white eye of these happy little numbers.

At each leap they squeal with joy, "breep, breep".

Tauhou exist in many other countries and arrived here by storm.

Legend has it a migrating flock was caught in a tempest and took shelter on these shores in the mid 1800s.

This means they're classified not as endemic, but naturally introduced, hence, native.

But I'm more excited about the less common tui.

One afternoon about three months ago a beautiful black and blue quartet turned up - and never left.

Their haunting morning melody, that was heard on these shores well before human habitation, has a salubrious effect on my home.

They dart to a neighbour's silver birch, then to a gum across the street before crashing into a kowhai for a quick feed.

Between tree stops the pairs jostle for air space like MiGs in a dogfight, often flying just a metre off the ground.

As opposed to native, they're endemic. It means the bird exists only on these Shaky Isles.

This classification system is a handy one in terms of this country's natural heritage.

Last week's ruckus over a Maori land claim near Te Pohue made me wonder if we could classify our own species this way.

Introduced: Those living in this country who were born off-shore.

Native: Those who were born here but whose ancestors were introduced naturally.

Endemic: Those who naturally originated from here.

The species-specific term for the latter, for humans, is of course "indigenous".

This is where applying the classification system to us, becomes problematic.

Like Maori, who arrived from many and various regions of Polynesia, us Pakeha too arrived from many and various regions of Europe.

We both blew over here like the tauhou. By my reckoning, that makes us both native.

The late Michael King claimed the opposite, arguing New Zealand in fact has two indigenous cultures. To him, indigenity didn't hinge on whose wooden boat hit the shore first.

While I hesitate to argue with the great Mr King, I tend to disagree. Surely the tui has right of place over the mynah.

Either way, Te Pohue's endemic well and truly made the natives restless last week.

It was an enlightening day. My newsroom phone and email rang hot with concerns from local natives outraged at the thought of their local domains changing hands.

Hawke's Bay currently has five outstanding land claims.

From this native's point of view, so long as beach, bush, river and reserve remain accessible to all - I say hand it back. All of it.

Like the endemic tui that now call my section home, such redress, from this native's point of view, imparts an immensely greater sense of ownership than the status quo.

I'll never apologise for having Anglo-Irish ancestory. It's who I am. But I find the panicked angst at Te Pohue, and other claim "scares" like it, deeply ironic. Ironic because in this journalism career I've seen that it's in fact us, the natives, the colonial descendants, who are the true masters of gate and padlock.

Given the grand and aggravated past wrong doings these parcels of land should not only be handed back to tangata whenua - but gift wrapped.

Mark Story is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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