My family came by boat to New Zealand in the 1840s and 1880s, courageous, like all settlers, with hopes for a bright future.
My great grandparents and all their whānau loved the natural beauty of Auckland and did all they could to preserve it. My grandmother planted the cherry grove on Ōwairaka/Mt Albert because she was an English romantic. She did not remove indigenous trees to do so because in the early 1900s there were very few trees on the maunga as Māori fortifications had seen indigenous bush burnt off many years before it was farmed by Sadgrove and his family.
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• Mt Albert
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Along with puriri, rimu and pohutakawa planted by my grandfather, the old olives on the northern slopes grew from seeds sent home from Palestine by my father on leave for a week in 1940 prior to four years as a POW in World War II. His friend Bill Hakarama rescued and returned my father's diary before he himself died on Crete and our family owe him so much for that kindness.
My grandfather drove to Wellington in 1917 to ask Prime Minister William Massey to stop the mining of Ōwairaka crater as flying rocks posed a danger to the public and the quarry ruined the beauty of the maunga. He was successful and it has barely been altered since except for a new block of septic tank toilets built recently about 50m from the old ones in a concrete car park which, far from respecting the dignity of the maunga, creates an eyesore at its entrance.
When the Tūpuna Maunga Authority decided to remove "exotic" trees, did it consider their significance to the many Aucklanders, especially the ageing, who exercise their customary right to walk around the maunga each day and absorb its beauty and peace?
It is not just Māori who value the spiritual, cultural and historical dimensions of the maunga. Hundreds of local schoolchildren planted trees on the maunga during the 1950s and 60s and still remember it as a special experience. Listen to the conversations of those who took overseas guests or their elderly whānau and mokopuna to quietly view the lights of Auckland in the days when they were permitted to drive up the cones. They were awe-struck and humbled. I heard those comments growing up in Auckland and was proud of the unique taonga of our wonderful city.
My grandfather was a pro-active chair of the Auckland Harbour Board. He took the entire board to visit Tane Mahuta and encouraged them to envisage how important it was for Auckland to plan and retain areas such as Scenic Drive so that mature kauri were protected from private developers. Many of our forebears were careful guardians of the land for future generations, setting aside public parks that are too often commandeered by vested interests.
So what's next on the agenda? Most of the tracks in the Waitakere Ranges have been closed by Auckland Council until further notice. Does that mean forever? Where is the proof kauri dieback is caused by humans? I've seen plenty of healthy kauri this week, much healthier than the teenagers in Auckland who are now deprived of walking tracks to keep them in physical touch with the land and away from the internet. Again, a decision imposed upon the people who live here by unelected amorphous bodies which are not accountable to anyone, are difficult to contact and whose expansive ideas are presumably paid for by ratepayers.
Why are we paying for helicopters at some ridiculous price per minute; arborists; planters; 13,000 seedlings for Ōwairaka alone; generating noise and offering disrespect to the dignity and peace of the maunga? All that is needed is to remove a few ancient Australian gums that pose a problem on the slopes. Who really cares about the emotional harm this will generate? How is it the Auckland Council can be so draconian towards cutting trees on privately-owned land but can sit on its hands in the public domain?
When my great grandfather on the other side of the family was living with Waikato Māori and a visiting tribe arrived in warrior dress, his response was for the tribe to counter with a peace dance. The tribe's mana was not diminished and the two tribes feasted together that day with no loss of life. But the Tūpuna Maunga Authority appears to ignore any partnership opportunity with the citizens of Auckland. It is carrying out a plan for denuding all 17 maunga. Is it trying to dig up past wrongs? Is the scheme even legal?
We have inherited a flawed world but we can walk forward together, as long as there is dialogue where all parties feel heard. The Tūpuna Maunga Authority's recent ruling over Guy Fawkes has rightly galvanised strong public support but there is an ill-wind blowing which bodes distrust and disharmony for this nation which may become a gale unless people of integrity, including Māori and Pakeha, stand up for what is fair and equable.
• Mary Tallon is an Auckland author and oral historian