Films mark unhappy campers' fight against development

Blue Bay was deserted, nothing different there. It would have been deserted on most cold, wet July days when it had been a camping ground - for 60 years.

Blue Bay, at Opoutama on Mahia Peninsula, has been transformed into a "coastal resort" with 44 sections, with narrow sealed roads, edged by plantings and sculptures that are illuminated at night.

Campers who used Blue Bay were back at Opoutama at the weekend for the premiere of three documentaries on the camping ground, which was closed permanently in February 2005.

The crowd laughed and cheered as they watched footage of their families camping and playing years ago, projected on to a screen at Ruawharo Marae, and they jeered and booed at footage of the development.

Confrontational protests were now over, said Joan Ropiha, who was at the forefront of the protests that failed to stop the development.

They ended with a whakapohane, when Ms Ropiha, Ngaromoana Raureti and two other woman bared their buttocks at the subdivision and, presumably at the developer, Craig Nisbett, whom they had opposed since his plans were revealed.

"It [Mahia] has been marketed as a place to make money," Ms Ropiha said. They had a different message: "Don't come here and spoil our home. Come here and enjoy it with us."

The group, headed by Ms Ropiha and Ms Raureti, are bitter that the land was sold into private hands. It was held by Landcorp, and subject to a Treaty of Waitangi claim, before the Government sold it to leaseholder and camp operator Graham Nash, who later sold it to developers.

"It [subdivision] is there and we can't change that fact now," Ms Ropiha said. "But we can make people feel better about their part." Before the premiere of The Last Resort, a documentary in which she, other locals and campers feature, Ms Ropiha said she hoped it showed "why we did this, why we did not give up".

Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones had been filming interviews for their next documentary for about six months before they heard about the sale and impending closure of the camping ground at Blue Bay.

The people are the campers at Blue Bay, where Mr Wright spent the first week of February 2005 filming. The camp then closed, but he came back often to film the occupation.

The 120 people at Ruawharo Marae cheered through Buy Bye Bi Culture, a short documentary by Mark Sweeney on the last days of camping at Blue Bay, and followed closely the short film of John Hovell. Then came the main feature, The Last Resort. The 120 people packed into the marae cheered each other as they made their big-screen debut. Almost anyone pro-development was booed.

There were hints of the tension the jobs offered by the development had generated. "The money's not worth it, bro'," someone yelled as contractors felled the pine trees.

The film-makers wanted to make people think, "hopefully make people act", said Miss King-Jones. Mr Wright said it was about "not just taking things as they appear to be".

The Last Resort will feature in the International Film Festival now touring New Zealand and in this year's Wairoa Maori Film Festival.

- HAWKE'S BAY TODAY

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