Making Waves: The Documentary

"Sit back, and free your mind", Whanganui area surgeon-turned-environmental activist Dr Athol Steward encouraged an audience of over 40 people, as we sat in anticipatory silence.

An extra row of seats in Confluence's cosy theatre was needed for the sold-out documentary premiere.


Three short films preceded the documentary itself, and they set the scene in a very appropriate way for the topic at hand. A short informative presentation on exactly what constitutes seabed mining clarified the terminology and likened our underwater spaces to an alien planet awaiting exploration in the name of science. Did you know we have sent more people to the moon than to the deepest parts of our ocean? And using very similar technology.

The second film was a thought-provoking minute-and-a-half, in which a Natural History Museum staff member vacuumed a giant hanging model of a blue whale. I'll just leave that there.

And third up before the big debut was a frank and endearing admonishment by two young twin girls to stop making such a mess of our planet for profit. It's sad it has come to children teaching the adults, but just look at Greta Thunberg – and consider yourself told by Sienna and Danielle. Their charm belies the message, which is deadly serious.

Dr Athol Steward hopes to raise $100,000 to assist in the legal battle against seabed mining.
Dr Athol Steward hopes to raise $100,000 to assist in the legal battle against seabed mining.

The documentary itself is a peaceful and careful kind of activism that just sweeps you gently along in its wake. There is no violent struggle or strident call to action – just an implacable reminder from Athol that "a massive open cast mine" in the pristine waters off the Taranaki coast is not okay.

The opening scene depicts a tiny white speck of a boat in an expanse of blue so vivid and deep it almost appears photoshopped. It seems incredible that anyone would choose to willingly submit themselves to the vastness of this ocean and swim several kilometres so far from land and so far above the sea floor.

Athol Steward was not always an environmental activist, he explains in the film. An avid sportsman and competitive athlete, he had always viewed the sea as a playground. The thought of this playground being destroyed was his first wake-up call – and this 61-year-old family man has found a cause he finds so much more satisfying and meaningful than the "self-indulgent" pleasure of the athlete.

The film follows Athol's journey in the water, a journey that is the sequel to his long hike from Raglan to Whanganui in the spring of 2017. His aim is to raise awareness and funds to support the fight against seabed mining, throwing in his lot with the likes of KASM (Kiwis Against Seabed Mining), Reeflife and Greenpeace.

Film makers Melita Farley and Kevin Double hosted the premiere of <i>Making Waves</i> in their theatre at Confluence.
Film makers Melita Farley and Kevin Double hosted the premiere of Making Waves in their theatre at Confluence.

Kevin Double and Melita Farley, of production company Double Farley, produced all but one of the four films and donated the proceeds from the opening night to the campaign. They're motivated by the telling of stories with connections to the people, the land and the area, and were delighted to be able to contribute to this project.


Athol, in turn, is thrilled to have the documentary as a medium to reach a wider audience. For those who are unfamiliar with the preceding court hearings and the campaign so far, the documentary Making Waves is a clear and concise summary of events to date.

The bias is clearly pro-planet, but Athol is not anti-progress or even anti-mining, providing it is done ethically and sustainably. He cites Waipipi as an example of an iron sand mining operation where the site has been completely rehabilitated and is now a housing development.

He invites those who are undecided or even in favour of this proposed mining operation to join the debate. "Let's talk," he says. It is important to start the conversation.

For more information go to Facebook/Making Waves NZ

There will be a second screening of Making Waves at Confluence on June 6.