Should the Mangatarere River be dammed?

Dam Free Mangatarere Valley Meeting

The Mangatarere Stream, in the foothills of the Tararua Range,  is one of five sites across the Wairarapa under consideration to be dammed to irrigate circa 40,000 hectares of land in the Wairarapa plain. The plan is being sold as having both pecuniary and environmental advantages but at this stage there are serious questions yet to be answered on its financial viability, who will pay for it (theoretically farmers but highly likely to include ratepayers), effects of loss of water flow in rivers, and the impact of fertiliser runoff from intensive dairy farming into waterways. This meeting at the Carterton Events Centre 24 February 2015 offers a valuable insight into the Wairarapa Water Use Project (WWUP) which includes  the involvement of many Wairarapa organisations with an interest in the project but excludes residents of the Mangatarere Valley who may lose their homes and who have organised the Dam Free Mangatarere Valley Trust. (A video of the meeting is also available here.


Mike Bennett – Mike and Jenny Bennett have lived in the Mangatarere Valley for 25 years. If the Mangatarere dam goes ahead their home will be taken under the Public Works Act and their property flooded.

Michael Bassett-Foss – Project Director for the Wairarapa Water Use Project (WWUP), an investigation of the viability of establishing one or more schemes to provide water for irrigation and other uses in Wairarapa. WWUP is sponsored by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Peter Fraser – economist with Ropere Consulting, specializing in micro-economics analysis.

Dr Mike Joy – senior lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Science at Massey University. He researches and teaches freshwater ecology, especially freshwater fish ecology and distribution, ecological modelling bioassessment and environmental science.

Michael Woodcock

Good Evening, my name is Michael Woodcock. I’m the chairperson for Dam Free Mangaterere Society. It is us who have invited you here this evening. Welcome, it’s great to see such a good turnout. I was thinking call a meeting and they will come so thank you for arriving.

I have some apologies tonight from regional councillors Sue Kedgely and Chris Laidlaw and MPs Marama Fox and Alaistar Scott. Also from Don Farmer from the Times Age. I’d like to acknowledge Carterton’s Mayor here this evening along with some councillors and appreciate you coming.

As many of you know, there is a proposal currently being sponsored by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Ministry for Primary Industries under the umbrella of Wairarapa Water Use Project to create an irrigation scheme capable of irrigating up to an additional 32,000 hectares of land in this region.

In order to do that, it is proposed to dam up to five sites to store and distribute the water from. Basically an arc swinging up and around the valley from the Mangatarere up to Te Mara  across to Tividale and around and down to White Rock.

Map of proposed storage lakes of Wairarapa Water Use Project
Map of five sites now considered for storage lakes. Click on map to enlarge

As mentioned, one of those sites, possibly a front runner, is the Mangatarere Stream. Our group has been established with the sole aim of trying to stop any dam for any purpose on the stream. The purpose for tonight is to inform, to make sure the debate is far more public, and to continue to build a momentum towards a decision which means a dam on the Mangatarere will not go ahead.

We want to ensure the social and environmental impacts of such a plan are fully understood. As a group we believe that as the wider community becomes aware of the social and environmental impact, but also the economic cost of such a scheme – that the likelihood that those costs will either directly or indirectly fall on rate payers – will mean the scheme’s viability will be questioned and ultimately abandoned.

We challenge terms like “harvesting water” and the other created delusion of “safeguarding the river with minimum flows”, spin which is meant to give us the sense of the river being looked after, that water in flood and winter high flows are a waste, and the cycle of ebb and flow for millennia is a fault in nature and that a dam will fix it.

We do not accept that the Public Works Act should be used to take the properties of home owners in the valley, nor should it be used to ensure that the piping system that will be required to transport the water to end users can be forced on to the properties of others. Using the Public Works Act effectively says that the loss of one group of people is outweighed by the gain of those who take.

Mangatarere’s true value lies in its ability to not only sustain itself but also the multitude of indigenous and introduced life within and around it. The free flowing stream or river sustains humans not just because our bodies need the water but equally so our souls.

So if you came tonight thinking an evening with four Michaels was the launch of a new boy band, I’m sorry to disappoint. We have four speakers this evening. Let me welcome and introduce them in the order in which they will be speaking. First will be Mike Bennett. Mike and his partner Jenny have lived in the valley for 25 years. Their house will be under water at the top end of the lake if the dam is built. Mike and Jenny, by sheer necessity, have become extremely knowledgeable on all matters to do with irrigation schemes and the facts of the Wairarapa proposal to date.

Michael Bassett Foss is the Project Manager for the Wairarapa Water Use Project team. Peter Fraser is an Economist specializing in micro-economics analysis. His ability to crunch the numbers has been influential with similar proposals such as the Ruataniwha and Waimea schemes.

Dr Mike Joy is a Senior Lecturer in ecology and environmental science at Massy University, a fresh water scientist of standing and a champion for new Zealand waterways.

Tonights format. Very shortly we will hear from our four speakers. Each speaker will have 15 minutes to present. I will give us all a two minute break midway for a stretch or a chat. Then we will resume with the two remaining speakers.

Once Mike Joy has presented I will open up the floor for any questions you may have to any of the speakers and I am comfortable with a short debate between the speakers if the question or answer warrants it.

I also want to acknowledge the Mangaterere Restoration Society and the work they are doing. They accepted our offer to put up a display tonight but they have asked me to make it clear that as an incorporated society they are neutral on the matter of a dam on the Mangatarere. If you are interested in joining DFM, there are joining forms on the table over there and if you are able to contribute a gold coin donation towards tonight’s cost that would be much appreciated.

Just before we begin, I realize that there are different views here tonight about the pros and cons of irrigation, and pros and cons of a dam on the Mangatarere if it was to go ahead. I do ask you to treat each speaker with respect, that we get to hear them through what they want to present tonight and at question time treat each person with the courtesy we would expect of ourselves. So I invite Mike Bennett to start.

Mike Bennett

Hello all, I’m Mike Bennett and thank you for coming. What a fantastic turnout. Good to see you here. I’m just going to start with a quick overview of life in the valley, and the residents and their point of view. Now, I just need to stress that like every community there is a complete range of views across the whole spectrum, those for and those against, even in our own small community, and I acknowledge that.

There is one thing that is common to all and that is that we are all under the gun for this and it has been going on for a very long time with a long time to go. With that, I will start and then I will also move on to a vision of what the dam will do to the river as it passes Carterton.

We need to take a serious look at the way this irrigation project is proposing to treat our water resources which are a shared community resource. Like many people, I am appalled at seeing changes that have happened just over my lifetime to New Zealand’s waterways. The time that I have spent walking in rivers and exploring, there has been a serious lack of debate and discussion around how this irrigation scheme has been structured, hence tonight’s meeting, and the decisions that have been made about this scheme.

Within our local community, there has been a decision made that irrigating the bulk of the valley is a good idea. There has been a decision made that daming some of our rivers and siphoning off much of the water for irrigation is just the way to do it. There has been a decision made that using mechanisms like the Public Works Act to forceably take the land and resources required to do this is also a good idea.

How were these decisions arrived at? Were you included in that decision making? I want to do a very quick straw poll. Everyone here who feels that they have been part of that process, or involved in the making of these decisions, pop your hands up (few, if any, hands go up).

So looking at life in the valley as it is, Mangatarere residents have been walloped with the fact that their own community is prepared to take their property, force them to leave. The reason for this is that some people see this as a cheap option to benefit themselves.

They don’t want to use up any of their own precious land to build water storage. They are prepared to take someone else’s. For the two and a half years since we were informed of the plan to take our homes, we have been trying to get some representation on the project. This has been denied and we are banned from observing any meetings or attending any meetings.

At the same time, White Water New Zealand, Federated Farmers, Irrigation New Zealand, Fish & Game and so forth get to speak on our behalf at these groups but we have no voice there.

The residents have been given a single community meeting run by a hired community facilitator – that’s over two and a half years so far. This was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen, where people were made to raise their hand to speak, just like at primary school. It is like living through the Christchurch earthquake, only very slowly, day in, day out. Like Christchurch, when the shaking finally stops our homes may be gone.

We’ve been encouraged to contact WWUP staff who are just paid employees with no mandate if we have any questions at all. From them we get one of two things in general. We either get ignored or answers that are copy and pastes from the website media releases.

We’ve never been approached or spoken too by any of the principles or decision makers – those that are planning to take our properties because that’s deemed a good idea. That is apart from a single visit from [Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair] Fran Wilde to our own back in 2013. A couple of things were discussed but that meeting has produced nothing tangible since. I could go on but I will leave the residents there for now and move on to the valley and river.

The Opuha dam during this summer's drought
The Opuha dam during this summer’s drought

So the right hand photo is of the Opuha Dam very recently in South Canterbury. Very similar sort of irrigation scheme. And it should gives us indication of what the valley will look like. So I don’t think it will be that suitable for boating or recreation as is being suggested to us.

According to WWUP it is a place and a river that can be sacrificed in the name of producing more money. According to WWUP it is a water resource that is going to waste. I’ve seen in media releases and other sources, the irrigation project being promoted to the wider community as providing new roads, recreation, fishing and so on.

These benefits, as such, have nothing to do with irrigation. They are a community bribe to sweeten the deal. The providing of these dubious benefits will also require the taking of land.

So what is the Mangatarere? This is a view of the upper Mangatarere, the valley itself we are talking about. So its sizeable and a well established community. I’ve marked in with red arrows the existing homes and residences. I’ve also marked the extent of the reservoir which actually covers eight of those residences.

It is a river in two parts. The upper section is mostly regrown native bush. It was farmed 30 or 40 years ago and since then it has been left to regrow except for a single farm that’s still in the valley. And even that farm is quite well riparian planted and the river is reasonably well protected.

So there is very little [human] impact with what is living there now and the residents over the years have done a lot of work over the decades to help restore the health of the valley. This section of the river is documented in the Regional Council’s report as being of pristine water quality, even now. And the voluntary water quality testing work that I have helped with seems to confirm that at this stage.

It is also the main spawning route for the Ruamahanga River brown trout fishery. And we have both resident and migratory introduced and native species that require fast flowing clean water. Daming the mouth of this valley is going to destroy that.

The second part of the Mangatarere is the lower part. As it leaves the gorge, moves out on to the plains, most of the river moves through farmland. And it is also an important part of the Carterton sewage scheme as it moves on down past Carterton.

So for these reasons alone it needs as much flow as possible to be maintained. And I have to acknowledge the Mangatarere Restoration Society for the great work that they are doing in the lower part of the Mangatarere.

At the three bridges where water has been monitored for quite a few years the river is currently classed in the worst 25 percent of all new Zealand rivers for nitrogen, and dissolved reactive phosphorous, and it is in the lower 50 percent for bacteria eccoli. That’s approximately 10 kilometres from where it leaves the gorge and it’s pristine, to where it’s in New Zealand’s worst 50 percent.

This is just a brief overview of the project itself. Some of the key points: The area where it is to be irrigated, according to the documents I’ve read is 44 to 57 thousand hectares. That seems to change quite a bit as time goes by. Not quite sure how that is going to end out.

The scheme is for five dams. The reports that have been produced by consultants and the reports that have been signed off by the Leadership Group and those in charge are for five dams, even if there are only a couple being talked about at the moment.

So, the Wairarapa fault. In 1855 this fault ruptured, moved 18 metres further horizontally and displaced five metres vertically. It ruptured the surface for 150 kilometres. There are also other faults maped in the area as well. Durig the Eketahuna earthquake a few months ago the ground of the underlying rock vibrated, certainly at our place, for a while, then there was a single large lurch sideways and then back.

So if you can extrapolate from that and think of a five and a half kilometres long pond with 30 million tons of water in it, sloshing against a wet earth dam which has just experienced a period of vibration and liquefaction, this 30 million tons of water will be sitting only 10 kilometres from Carterton and 160 vertical metres above it.

We are going to have a quick look at the dam site itself. This view is looking downstream. The dam wall will be 60 metre high. To fill the dam, the blue line is the natural flow of the dam. I’ve picked a fairly average flow for the river. This is 2008. The orange line is the irrigation take and that is from WWUP’s demand model. The yellow line is what is left to flow down the river through the dam. The yellow line for most of it represents 160 litres a second. .16 cubic metres a second.

And the photo at the bottom was taken right at the measuring gauge when the river was flowing at 160 cubic metres a second. So that is the residual flow out of the dam which it will be for much of the year. The orange line represents 55 percent of the total volume of water from that watershed being siphoned off to irrigation.

The yellow line is what is left in the river. When the dam is full, during late winter when there is heavy rainfall it may go over the top. That’s where the yellow line extends up and matches the natural flows.

How is this water going to get distributed? Well according to the WWUP reports the maximum speed they are aiming for in the pipes is 1.8 metres per second. The demand modelling shows a maximum need for 619,000 cubic metres of water a day.

The maths is very simple. For an ideal pipe the maximum speed with no friction you come up with 2.25 metre diamond pipe. Add a bit to allow for friction and so forth and a three metre pipe is reasonable. That’s what is depicted in this large circle, to give you a sense of scale.

Now you might be able to see by Jenny’s knees a small red circle. If we apply the same formula to a 160 litres a second, that is about what size pipe we would be talking about. So that pipe will move something like seven cubic metres a second.

So how is this going to be moved? How is it going to be spread over the plains, either by pipes, canals or water races, but they will all have to be something like this size. And where will they go? I’ve got four of the five dams on here with the intended irrigated areas marked. The water is going to have to be moved from the start of those arrows where the dams are, to those irrigated areas using canals, pipes races of those sorts of sizes, so property is that going to be going over?

Are you being involved in this planning? Are you aware of this? Are you having any input into it? And will the Public Works Act possibly be used with you to put some of this infrastructure in place as well.

So I am just going to leave you with a couple of slides with some reasons why we think the dam should be stopped. And as you can see from the graph, I have a particular dislike of these claims of these irrigation schemes improving river flows.

Okay, if I’ve got 30 more seconds, I will just pop back to that graph because there was one thing I missed. The improved river flows occur where the yellow line is above the blue line. And I’ve tried to [point to] those with the three red arrows – just a few days of the year. Thank you for your time. Thank you for listening.

Michael Bassett Foss

Good evening everybody. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak tonight. I understand that some of you have some concerns and questions, so I’m here tonight to listen to those concerns, to provide information, and where possible to answer the questions.

But also to try and get some direction on where we can resolve issues and concerns, and there were certainly some concerns in that last presentation. I do have one more apology and that’s from Bob Francis who is Chair of the Wairarapa Water Use Project Governance Group. He had a prior commitment and couldn’t make it tonight.

So I will briefly go over some of the background, the reasons for the project, where we are up to in the investigations, and I will also introduce some new information which has recently come to hand. I will answer questions but if we run out of time, we are always open to be contacted later and to answer them at some later point.

So just before I get into the presentation proper, I would like to update you with recently updated information. We’ve heard the concerns about minimum flows for Mangatarere. These concerns are based on information produced by the project in preliminary investigations some 18 months ago.

These investigations modelled the minimum flow at the base of the dam at 162 litres per second. This minimum flow that was assumed has been replaced by an allowance now of 304 litres per second. This is based on new criteria used in the region’s natural resources plan that was released late last year.

That means we have allowed for a release of stored water that would ensure minimum residual flow left in the stream would be 304 litres per second. This is greater than what naturally occurs in summer flows.

So there are two photos here. One was taken last Friday, the low flow which was 122 litres per second and the picture on the right was taken at 3.30pm this afternoon after last night’s rain, with the river running at 296 litres per second, just slightly under what is currently being modelled in the current set of investigations.

I understand why there were concerns about the initial criteria that were used. I just want to emphasis that the investigations do evolve. They start broad and that many times they are refined as new information comes to hand.

And we are looking for opportunities to improve the environment through this. We’ve got written information on these new flows, and some of those graphs that Mike put up and they address some other concerns as well. You are welcome to take those afterwards.

I’ll come back to environmental issues later. So what is the purpose of the project? There are two key reasons. Firstly economic which is to support the long term local and regional growth in productivity. Secondly, environmental. We will take opportunities to maintain and improve the environment.

Our vision is a multi-purpose water scheme for the Wairarapa to collect and store water and to distribute it for a variety of economic and community uses and this will be done in a way that promotes sustainable management of land and water and creates regional prosperity.

The idea of storing water from spring and winter flows for use in dry periods isn’t new to the Wairarapa. Studies have been pursued since the late 1990s and these were ramped up by the Wairarapa Irrigation Trust from 2007 to 2009.

Options have been identified by the communities and studies were done by experts. Greater Wellington Council became involved in 2009-2010 and they took the time to drive the project. They wanted things done thoroughly. They wanted to understand what the options were and come to quick decisions about what was viable and what wasn’t.

These projects can run into decades if they aren’t resourced properly so the aim was to do it once and do it properly. Importantly, with Greater Wellington Regional Council’s mandate to manage lands and water, the wider concept of water storage and distribution has both challenges and opportunities in that regard, so it fits well within Greater Wellington Regional Council’s mandate.

In a clean sheet approach the project came up with 243 sites which have been, through phases, reduced down to five preferred options which we have got at the moment. The Mangatarere option was first identified in 2012.

What has been identified are the five schemes. They store water obviously in winter and spring for a range of uses during the summer months. For each of these options we are looking at viability from the financial perspective, demand for water from farmers, environmental impacts and opportunities, cultural effects and opportunities, social effects and opportunities, certainly technical and engineering related studies, and water hydrology issues.

These are complex projects. The first purpose as I have mentioned is to start at a very broad level through preliminary phases and these become more refined through subsequent phases. We are currently in a pre-feasibility phase and then in future phases they will be specific to individual schemes.

They are based on these broad sets of assumptions that have gradually developed and evolved as the project matures and increase in detail. And I will just stipulate here that the Resource Management Act requires that we undertake a robust assessment of all options available.

So where are we at? We are about half way or five years into a roughly ten year process and there are copies of the timeline available over there as well. We are still investigating five options with three reserve options. The intention is not to build five sites and no decision has been made in that regard.

There are no front runners and there are no decisions being made about which schemes will progress. The aim of the next few months of work is to bring together investigations, certainly over the last 12 months, but as well as over the last four years into a framework where we can assess the relative viability of each of the schemes.

This decision making process for selecting options in large scale infrastructure projects is well documented. We’ll use a multi criteria approach that considers each of the main criteria – financial, environmental, cultural and social. And some of these have sub-criterias such as acquatic ecology, and recreation opportunities and threats.

The schemes are graded across these criteria by relevant experts and knowledgeable people and information brought together for final decision making. The process is required to be thorough and we are certainly taking our time to do that.

The economic and broader social gains out of projects like this Wairarapa project are well-documented. What we don’t know are the environmental boundaries and whether the project can comply with them.

The world for water storage schemes and for farmers changed in 2011 with the government’s release of the national policy statement for fresh water management. It empowered regional councils to express the aspirations and values of communities as limits for water quality and water quantity by collaborative processes.

In our region, the community-lead catchment committee called the Whaitua Committee is going through this very process, and its recommendations will be developed in mid-2016 and inserted into the region’s natural resource plan or regional plan as it was is known.

It is not until this point that the project will know what environmental standards it will need to meet. Additionally, the project needs the underlying science developed so it can answer these questions about water storage and whether they fit in the wider catchment management regime.

And Greater Wellington Regional Council is right at this moment developing these models with assistance from experts around the country. So to sumarise, it’s not until we have the environmental standards set and the science developed that the project and the community decide whether the project progresses.

Additionally, I’ll mention to that farmers need to know what those environmental standards are so that they can assess whether they want to make farming changes, and the on-farm costs required to meet those standards. And likewise, any scheme will need to understand what those farm restraints and costs are so it can build economic viability models.

The project is taking a very considered approach and it is working with the community through our Stakeholder Advisory Group which was formed in December 2011. It has 19 member organisations from iwi, environmental, farming, business, local government, health and  recreation and it has an independent Chair, provided early input into the project studies that were required.

And it receives and provides feedback on reports, inputs and issues and guidance. It is up to representatives from those respective groups to take information back to their groups and provide information back to the project.

In relation to landowners, we understand that it is difficult for land and home owners living in the proposed sites. They can’t plan ahead for large and small aspirations they have with regard to their properties and the project has every sympathy for their position. It is the same imposed by other large scale infrastructure projects around the country.

We have a different and prioritised relationship with affected land owners. We have direct contact, written material and discussions with all landowners and possible down footprint areas. We’ve phoned all of them, we have met with more than 70 percent of them. We are open to meeting with people at any time and have tried to make that clear.

We are happy to discuss concerns. We need to hear those. We talk to everyone of them about their different wants, their needs, and their circumstances.

For that reason, the discussions need to be individual, and where they require or ask for in groups, that’s what we have done. The project aim is to communicate, as we advance, and importantly stick to our time line so that we can provide certainty to landowners.

In relation to land acquisition, this is some years away if the projects that far, the schemes. Options are available. They include commercial negotiations, the use of the public works act, or a combination of that framework.

And these discussions will be had with landowners if schemes progress to that point, and any compensation will be based on fair value, certainly, and in addition a compensation package.

Projects like this are about whole catchments, not just the storage regional reservoir, and it does have two aims as I have alluded to – economic and environmental. And it is just getting the balance of this right in the catchment for everybody, and everybody’s benefit. And there has been other great work that has been done in the catchment already.

The previous speaker talked about that. The Mangatarere Wheel of Water Project was also about balancing economic, environmental, recreational values and interests. This was a government funded national pilot in the Mangaterere catchment.

This was driven by the community, involved residents, farmers, councillors, environmental groups, Fish & Game, and Mangatarere Restoration Society were local co-ordinators of this project.

Also in relation to the Mangatarere catchment and the environment, some members of the stake holder advisory group have presented to the group and these include Fish & Game, Federated Farmers, Sustainable Wairarapa, Grow Wellington, and in the Fish & Game presentation.

They alerted the group to the importance of the Mangatarere to trout spawning which certainly spurred some good conversation in that meeting and on the back of that, the project has pursued discussions with Fish & Game on how to back those concerns up with science, and the project team was keen to partner with Fish & Game to progress that science.

The scope of work to progress the science was subsequently developed by Fish & Game with input from the Cawthron Institute and from the project. The project offered to pay for this work. Fish & Game decided to proceed funded on their own basis. This is a good example of how to progress the science and to actually truly understand the impacts and challenges in the environment.

So if you want to stay in touch with the project, please visit the website. All our reports are put up there that aren’t commercially or personally sensitive in nature. Sign up and receive the newsletter. Or just make contact with the team if you have got questions because the project is changing all the time.

I invite you also to follow the Ruamanhanga Whaitua Committee as it goes through its journey to understand community values and where those limits might be set in relation to managing land and water quality and quantity.

In conclusion, the project would certainly provides a significant economic boost to the region, and has the potential also to benefit the environment. We recognise there are challenges around land ownership, environmental issues, social issues, more intensive land use and so on.

The time is needed to investigate this once and to investigate it thoroughly. Some people want a scheme built tomorrow. But there are short cuts to doing this sort of thing. We are happy to sit down and talk with you at any time as I have suggested and investigations are evolving and they are complex. The discussions that we need to have with the community are complex as well, so thank you again for the opportunity.

Peter Fraser

Kia ora tatou. I first want to have a little bit of a korero explanation. The last time I gave a presentation like this I was accused by Federated Farmers of coming in the wrong car. So I am going to be honest, I hitched a ride with Mike (Joy) tonight from the Hutt Valley so if anyone wants to know how I got here, I got a ride with Mike and it is a Massey car.

Secondly, I just want to say, I come from Wellington, I don’t come from this area. I don’t have a view of the dam, the river or anything like that from a local perspective. I’m not a local so I am not trying to come here and tell you what you should or should not do.

What I am here to do is basically apply some of the skills that I have developed through first looking at the Ruataniwha scheme in the Hawkes Bay which is a big scheme and then the Waimea Community scheme which is just outside of Richmond and is a small dam that is proposed to go into the Lee Valley.

So having looked at two of them, I was asked to have a look at a third one which is this one, which is why I am here tonight. I also want to assure you that I am not one of those consultants on a bandwagon, so I am not being paid. So I am not here to come up with an answer that somebody has already purchased. I just want to be pretty clear about that.

I want you to walk away tonight with three things. Because I have found out from teaching that any more than that is really hard to remember, so I am going to go with three.

First thing, the economics of dam building in New Zealand is tough. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m saying it’s tough. So my first take home point for you is that it is very hard to get the economics of water storage to work in New Zealand.

My second point is, and this is a stark contrast to what is happening at Ruataniwha, and what has happened in the Waimea Community Scheme, it’s what I call “off ramps”. When you have an [inaudible] you often have things like milestones where at certain points in time certain things happen.

And you check that they have happened and that means your project is on track. This is a perfectly sensible thing to have. What I am saying, though, is the reason you have off ramps is because you need to have some markers beforehand to let you know when you are going off track. At that point you can stop.

And that is the single biggest issue in my view with Ruataniwha at the moment. Because they have spent reputedly up to $20 million producing reports and having meetings and doing whatever they do and they have built precisely nothing.

A third point. Now if you think that I have gone from a big picture, to a slightly smaller picture, and I am now coming down to Carterton level. Not having a lot of data out, but having looked at two schemes before and looking at what we have got so far, I’ve got to be honest, it’s not looking good.

I’ve got one slide that will go very quickly through each of those points but I am quite happy to answer questions later. So please excuse me if I fly through some of this stuff but I am happy to stay afterwards and answer any questions.

Okay, first one. It’s hard work. You’ve got a challenge building a dam in New Zealand and it goes like this. Firstly, building anything in New Zealand is bloody expensive. Try to build a house, it’s really expensive. Try to build a dam, it’s really expensive. The cost of the dam leads to the price of the water which is what farmers can pay.

And what they will tell you is their costs are too high in New Zealand and it is no good and prices need to be lower. So there is a natural limit to what farmers can realistically pay for water and still have a viable farm. And that is determined by the third fact which is what they are actually growing.

Now in this case the assumption is there will be a large scale land use change to irrigated dairy. Now, I’m not saying everything is going to be irrigated dairy but there will be a large scale land use change to irrigated dairy.

So those are the three things you must do – the cost of the dam, the price of the water, and the value of the crop you are going to put the water on. Those are the three things you have got to correlate. It becomes really hard.

The first reason is, unlike some of the runner river schemes in the South Island, you can’t build half a dam. It’s like one of my dairy farmers in Morrinsville said, you can’t have a cow that’s half pregnant. It either is or it isn’t.

Now if you have got to build a dam it means from day one you have put all your capital cost up front. So it’s not like you can stage it. It’s not like a housing development where you have stage one of 50 houses, then sell those off the plans and that gets you to stage two and so on and so forth.

You build the whole lot in one hit. So all your money is upfront. The second thing is, dams are a bit like ships, and they run what they call the square cube rule.

Now for those of you who aren’t so mathematically inclined, Mitre 10 sorted this out by saying “big is good”. Basically there’s scale of economics.

Let me illustrate that really simply. There’s the Lee Valley dam over there. There is 13.4 million cubic metres in it and the Richmond Regional Council says it will cost $75 million to build. So remember that 13.4 million cubic metres and $75 million.

Hawkes Bay are telling me that their Ruataniwha Dam, well that has different amounts of water depending on the different day of the week, but according to the website it’s got 96 million cubic metres.

But the cost of building the dam is only $150 million. So it is twice the cost but you get something like seven times the water. So this is the sort of issue that you get.

It’s not a linear relationship. It’s not like get half the dam the water is half the price. It doesn’t work like that because most of the costs are in the initial site work to build the thing and all your costs are up front.

The third thing which in the North Island they seem to have ignored completely and the South Island they didn’t get, is what we call the public sector discount rate.

Now this is something that for an ex-treasury analyst like me I get excited about this. I’m guessing no one in the room gets vaguely excited about it but I get really excited about it because basically for you as tax payers, this is the test that we have to make sure central government doesn’t spend money on stupid things.

And the way that we test that is to say that the project must earn at least an eight percent return. If it doesn’t earn an eight percent return, then we don’t build it or we don’t invest in it.

Now the reason that’s relevant is that if this project doesn’t get an eight percent return, it is going to be really hard to justify investment from Crown Irrigation [Investments].

Now I’m not from Crown Irrigation so I can’t talk on their behalf, but you have Treasury guidelines that says eight percent of the discount rate for water infrastructure including dam and irrigation purposes. It’s not exactly a confusing document and it’s not unclear.

So you either kind of meet it, or you kind of don’t. So these are the three key reasons why dam building is tough in New Zealand Off ramps – I want you to look at the picture first. I’m a big fan of picture says a thousand words.

I’m not anti-dam. I’m not anti construction. I’m not anti development. I own a concrete mixture. I like pouring concrete. My wife doesn’t like me pouring concrete, she gets angry with that. So I have quite a lot of sympathy with people who want to build dams because I kind of like that idea.

I find the engineering quite interesting but I am not here as an engineer, I’m here as an economist. And one of the things that we have looked at is what we call optionality.

So go along the main road and check how you are going with your milestones but also along the road, you have got to have, before you start, not after you start, some points to say if this happens we turn off at the off ramp, and you need to have those upfront.

One of the key governance messages and key governance control, because if you don’t have those upfront then you will find it very difficult to get them introduced later, because the pressure to build the thing and justify the milestones becomes almost impossible.

So let’s have a look at the lessons from the [inaudible] dam, the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Mangawhai Sewerage Scheme, and the Ruataniwha Dam. All of those were controversial schemes, all of those were built with fierce public opposition, often local public option, and every single one of them apart from Ruataniwha which is looking like it is turning into zombie status, actually got built.

Now we can say in retrospect they should never have been built. But if you go back and look at the information that was available at the time, the information at the time was available that they shouldn’t have been built. But it was ignored because there were no off ramps.

So you need to have up front off ramps in addition to your milestones. The price of water to farmers is pretty important because this is what they found in Lee Valley.

What they found was if they built the dam, it produced water that was twice as expensive as the most expensive water on the Irrigation New Zealand website and no farmer could actually afford it. So if no one could afford it, no one would buy it.

If no one bought it, there was no land use change, and if there was no land use change, there was no economic development. So what you have there is what economists call a “stranded asset” and what normal folks just call a white elephant.

So water price to farmers, if you haven’t got a customer, you don’t have a company, you don’t have a product. You have then got to be able to pay the capital costs.

The farmers in the audience will know that capital doesn’t come for free. And in this case it doesn’t either, so if your scheme can’t pay its capital costs, it’s not a viable scheme.

And then finally, there is the issue about the public sector discount rate. And notice how I have split the servicing of the capital cost from the public sector discount rate.

Look, I’m quite happy that if you have a scheme that passes the public sector discount rate at eight percent. You may be able to fund it at six percent, seven percent. I don’t have a problem with that.

But the scheme itself needs to be able to meet the public sector discount rate. What you eventually fund it for is a secondary story.

Okay, now I want to come down to Carterton. To be honest, this is where economists get into what we call the creative industries which is a flash word for saying we just make stuff up.

And I’ll be quite honest, I am just making it up but I’ll explain where I got it from. Now, the first thing I’ve done, I’ve said let’s assume the water price is 25 cents a cubic metre. Now the reason I’ve picked that is twofold.

That’s pretty much the top of what Irrigation New Zealand say that water schemes are coming on [at in] New Zealand and we’ve got a scheme just up the road at Ruataniwha which is supplying water at 25 cents and very few people want to buy it.

So I think 25 cents is a reasonable sort of a stab. Now my guess is most farmers will actually want a price south of that. So it means if we have, in terms of adding risk to this, the risk is the price going down, the risk is not the price going up.

So if you are paying 25 cents on a scheme on a 30 million cubic metre dam, that comes out to $7.5 million. Let’s take five cents of that or $1.5 million and let’s say we can run the entire dam, because once it’s built someone has to [inaudible].

Let’s say they can do that for $1.5 million. I don’t know if they can. If it costs more than $1.5 million it looks worse, if it costs less than $1.5 million it looks good. But I just assume $1.5 million. So that means there is 20 cents available for servicing debt costs.

Whether that be debt or equity or some hybrid, I don’t care. It’s money. And it costs you something. So it means you have got $6 million. How much money can you service? Well, that’s pretty easy. Put it into a discount rate, you can pay eight percent.

You’ve got to be able to build this entire project for less than $75 million. If you can get it for 7.2 which is the cost of capital they had for Richmond District Council, its $83 million, get it at six percent it’s $100 million.

Now remember what I said at the beginning about the cost of dams. The Richmond Dam down in Lee Valley, 13.4 million cubic metre dam, $75 million to build. Now the proposal here, I understand, also has a distribution scheme, so the distribution scheme needs to be put on top of whatever the dam build cost is.

If you are a farmer that’s been given the hard word to sign up, there is a bit of a conversation there you need to think about. Now we then went and said for a farmer – and I’ve got to acknowledge my colleague Barry Riddler who did the modelling on this.

This is a question I gave to Barry. I said, imagine a farmer using Ruataniwha water, paying 25 cents a cubic metre, sprays that water on his or her paddocks, grows grass with it, gets a cow, and milks the cow.

What’s the cost of that feed because what I want to be able to do is compare it with for example going down and buying palm kernel, making silage, or off site grazing – look farmers have other options of what they can do there.

So he did the maths for the numbers and the short take home story was that in terms of the Ruataniwha water it came up at about 70 cents a kilogram dry matter. Now I don’t know the price of palm kernel at the moment but I don’t think it’s around 70 cents a kilo dry matter.

Here’s the story, we did the Ruataniwha based on the assumption of 869 mm of water every single year. So that affected our response rate to water that come from irrigation. You get around 970 odd millimitres around here so your response rate to irrigation water is going to be less than they got at Ruataniwha so your real cost is going to be even [inaudible].

So what you are looking at is the price of the water turning into very expensive feed. It probably says it is not viable. If it is not economic for dairy, given dairy is the major user of water, what are you going to do with water. It’s a white elephant story. Thanks for listening, and happy to answer questions later.

Mike Joy

That’s going to be a tough act to follow. I’ve never seen Peter in action and am very impressed. I’m just going to talk mostly about the environmental stuff and my experience around the Ruataniwha Scheme and generally intensification of New Zealand [farming].

I wanted to do this myth busting approach. We’ve heard some of these things tonight and I going to [inaudible] reality.

“Dams will improve water quality.” I don’t know that anyone has said that tonight but others have.

“Water quality in the country or region is stable and improving.” Fran Wilde has said that. I want to talk about that.

“We need dams to mitigate climate change.” That’s the latest thing. Everyone’s talking about how the droughts are coming and we are getting more of them and we need dams to mitigate.

“Dams are good for the local regional economy.” We’ve heard that tonight.

“Irrigation is the answer.” We’ve heard that tonight.

“It’s unrealistic to want to have pristine waterways.” That is the latest kind of dig at people like me.

We will go through these: “Dams will improve water quality.” I would need hours, my students have to do a year long course to understand a lot of this stuff so I’m going to skim through.

To pay for a dam, we have already from Peter, it’s expensive, so you have to intensify, you have to convert land use from less intensive to a more intensive.

That inevitably will lead to a whole lot of other things. Intensification will mean intense nutrients and I will talk about the pathways, but inevitably if you have more cows you have more pollution of nitrogen, unless you put them in sheds or on pads.

You inevitably end up with more in the rivers, you end up with [inaudible] or algael growth or plants. It’s like putting fertiliser on your lawn, you put more stuff in and the faster the grass grows.

That is a problem. The excess nutrients can be toxic but don’t be trapped into this one. What happens long before nutrient levels in water become toxic to life is you get algael growth which leads to oxygen depletion.

Plants photosynthesis algae plants. They pump out oxygen during the day, and they suck it up at night. You get a situation like the Manawatu River and places where you get really high levels of nutrients, you get lots of sunlight, you get lots of algael growth, you start getting massive fluctuations in oxygen levels from 30 percent dissolved oxygen in the early morning to 160 percent supersaturated in the afternoon.

And a healthy river will flatline, just like the oxygen we use is relatively constant and we are fine with that. It’s when it starts to fluctuate that we start to have big problems.

That’s the consequence of too much nutrients in the river. That kills the fish, that kills the life in the river. [inaudible] contamination is a side issue that we are going to have to face in this country.

Again I don’t have time to go through it all but we started off with a heap of superphosphate from Nauru that had really high levels of cadmium and we now have really high levels of cadmium in our soils in New Zealand to the point where in the latest Ministry Primary Industries-Ministry of Health study on total weekly intake, our children in this country after 17 years of age exceed the European union standard for cadmium intake.

This is an issue for the future, it doesn’t hurt dairy farming because it doesn’t go in the milk. It builds up in the liver and kidneys, otherwise we would have been kicked out of [overseas] markets ages ago. It builds up in livers and kidneys.

They are not allowed to be sold for human consumption. It ends up in pet food actually, mostly, but that’s a whole other story you can ask me about later on. It’s an issue for the future in that you can’t, if you want to grow food, you can grow trees or you can grow milk, but if you want to eat what grows on that land then it is going to take up that cadium and we are already at the point of exceeding that European standard, we have a more slack WHO one so we are not breaking those laws.

What happens with dams is we have reduced flushing. They make it sound like it is good to have a constant flow in the river. It is not good. The river has evolved. The life has evolved. What makes our rivers and our fish different from everywhere else in the world is that they have evolved to very unstable flows.

We don’t have steady set seasons like they do in continents and all that kind of thing.  Everything is our rivers has adjusted, the shape of our rivers, the animals in them, everything about them, the movement of sediment, is adapted to this variability in flow.

So altering that variability is not good for rivers, despite what some say. It also has a downstream effect on coastal closure of river mouths and things like that, when you change sediment movement through rivers there is loss of interstitial space.

Interstitial spaces are the gaps between the rocks and the boulders where our native fish lie. We’ve done lots of work tagging native fish. They live down in those spaces. If you think of it, the best way I can describe it is like an apartment building.

You have a five story high apartment building. When the fine sediment builds up, because it can’t get transported because the flows have changed, the sediment builds up until it comes up to the surface and you can just see rocks and a substrata of fine sediment.

Then it’s like the apartment building has been destroyed and you can only go on the roof from there on. And that is part of the reason why we have 74 percent of our native fish on the threatened species list.

As far as I can find, we have the highest proportion of threatened native fresh water fish of any country in the world and that is due to a whole lot of things including that.

But all around the intensification idea, what we are doing on the land, how that affects it, we have all these impacts here on fish migration. Obviously the main effect of putting a big dam in there is that fish can’t get up or down past it.

There are ways around it but they tend to be just a bit of a have, fish passes and that kind of thing. The reality is that they become mortality points, they become places where fish get predated. All sorts of issues with just that physical barrier.

But it is not simply just the physical barrier. So with a natural fluctuating flow, when we do get algael buildup and we get those problems with oxygen fluctuations, and the fish have no oxygen, and you can’t go fishing because it is full of all that slimy stuff, you have a flood comes down and it shifts it all. You can reset and start again.

If you start regulating the flow then you lose that ability to flush those things out. Then you have even more algael build up. You get all the growth that comes with it. You get to the point where it is so high the stock can’t drink out of it anymore and you also get the heavy metal stuff happening in the water supply.

Just quickly, the pathways. We have got the dairy cows here, we’ve got, the main issue and I want to make it clear that everyone understands this, is it’s the urine patches, it’s the cow pee in a very small area.

That concentrated nitrogen can’t get taken up by the plant. It sits down in the soil layer somewhere. Either immediately or the next rainfall or some over time, it makes its way through the arrows here showing the pathway for the nutrients.

On average, a dairy farm [puts down] around 30 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year, maybe 10 or 15 on a beef and maybe two to five on a sheep farm, so this is the difference between them. From this to this you are looking at maybe ten times more nitrogen making its way than beef.

All these things run into the waterway, overland flow, through the ground, eventually making its way into our lakes and rivers. Under our present legislation, and it is not like it will change soon, the only thing that requires consent is what comes out of the pipes, from the waste water treatment plants or dairy shed discharge. [This] is the only thing we control.

That simply is why we have the issue with fresh water that we have now and this is where I come to this thing about the quality [of New Zealand water being] stable or improving in New Zealand. According to the Ministry for the Environment it is stable and improving, according to Fran Wilde it is stable or improving.

Here’s New Zealand, this is using the insects. This is a really developed totally scientific robust way of measuring because [you don’t miss] the fluctuations you get when you measure things in snapshots. These things are continuous because the animals have to live in there.

Here’s the scale so anything that is red or orange is either moderate or severe pollution. This is our New Zealand. This is clean green New Zealand. Look at all the lowland areas, all the pretty much intensively farmed areas of New Zealand, moderately or severely polluted.

This is NIWA’s work, not mine. This is nitrates. The same pattern there. The same places, everything orange or red is past that trigger point. That is the point where the nitrogen has built up to the level where the algae will grow to become nuisance, where it starts to affect all that [inaudible].

Stable or improving – the last ten years we have data from about 900 sites around new Zealand. There’s the pasture sites, there’s the native sites. This is how many sites exceed the ANZAC limit there, about 40 percent back in the 1990s up to about 60 or 70 percent exceed that level now and it keeps on going up.

Native forests [catchment] keep on cruising along there, native catchments cruising along there, not changing over time. Pathogens. This is the pathogens from crap getting into the river, whether it’s from a town [sewage] or from cows or livestock, or deer or possums or whatever.

Here’s the Ministry of Health limit. Again, oranges and reds are the places that exceed that, where it is unsafe to swim. The modelling shows clearly that 62 percent of the length of all the rivers of New Zealand exceed that Ministry of Health guideline for swimming.

Again, clean green New Zealand, 62 percent of the length of all our rivers. Here’s the summary that is on the Ministry of the Environment website of the last ten years with the trends, the regional councils are getting into this same game as well.

What they are saying here is that the grey bits are stable, the green bits are improving, the reds are deteriorating. So you would look at that graph and go yep, they are pretty bang on, aren’t they. They are saying stable or improving mostly. There’s only one bit flaw in that.

By taking only, I don’t have time to explain statistical significance, but some of you will know this. It’s a bit like when you are polling for an election, if you reduce the number of people you poll, your confidence in it becomes a lot less. In the same way our statisticasl analysis would say, no, it’s not significant. It’s not significant because you reduce the numbers.

They went from 21 years down to ten years, so the number of data points shrunk so much that, as you can see, most of them are grey, they are not significant. That does not mean stable. They could be going up or down, and they are, it’s just that they don’t meet that criteria.

What it actually should say is that we don’t know. We can only look at the red and green to see if it is more or less. And most of the sites, when you look at the important things, the bacteria and the nitrates, aren’t getting better. They are getting worse.

So it is rubbish, and if you hear them say I went to the Ministry of the Environment, they admitted that this is wrong, that they had told us in 2013 that it was stable and improving, put it on their website.

They admitted they got it wrong. I said “are you going to tell New Zealand,” no. Are you going to change it on your website, “Oh we are going to in a month or so when we change over to our new webpage.” So they have taken the word stable out now, and they have got something like “not significant.” But they never told you they have been lying to you for two years.

And I couldn’t believe that they would have the gall to do that but I am not arguing with the scientists at the Ministry of the Environment. I am arguing with the comms person because they do’t have scientists. They have replaced them all with comms people.

And those are the ones I have to deal with. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. So why do they tell us it’s good when it’s not? Well, because they might have vested interests in it and because they have this thing called the export double agenda where they are telling us we have to double our agricultural exports.

How can you do that when you are already breaching the limits at all those sites around the country? You saw that nitrate thing, they are already breaching it. Michael talked about the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water, how we [have a] fresh start for fresh water.

What they have done is they have gone from that guideline level which is the ANZAC guideline, been around since 2000, agreed between Australia and New Zealand, that’s what ANZAC stands for, the level is just over .5 of a milligram per litre of water, that’s the limit.

The limit for the Ruataniwha scheme is .8 so it is about here somewhere. Under our new scheme, anything up to 1 scores an A. So the whole country scores an A.

Our new limit is 690, so if you put it into road talk, we have gone from a 50 kph limit to a 690 kilometre limit and they are saying that is going to improve road safety.

What they have done is, obviously they couldn’t expand farming and still have those limits, so let’s just extend the limit. And when they did that, all of New Zealand pretty much comes out as an A for pathogen and for nitrogen. Guess what gets a B or C under our new scheme, the Yangtze River in China, the Mississippi River in the United States scores a B or C under our new system, and the Thames still doesn’t meet our bottom line of 690.

That is our new National Policy Statement for Fresh Water that is going to make it better for things in this country.

I’m running out of time. “We need dams for climate change mitigation.” All you have to do is look all around, you put a dam in, you have two or three more cows as you had before because you have got to have that many to pay for the dam, the drought comes along, you haven’t got better, you haven’t mitigated it, you have made it three times worse than what it was before. How’s that mitigating it? It’s the opposite.

“They are good for the economy.” I don’t want to get into that, but I want to talk quickly about externalities. It’s easy to talk about the economics but what about the externalities. What about the cost for the public to clean up those rivers? So I did some sums on how much it would cost.

I was at a meeting down in Canterbury and the really neat farmer who won the supreme Balance Farm Environment Award on his farm, he leeches 48 kilograms per hectare year of nitrogen, we know that if you add one kilogram of nitrogen to water, it will make 88.5 thousand litres of water exceed the drinking water standard in New Zealand.

And we know how much it cost to clean it up, to get it back to drinking water standard, so for his farm alone it cost $2 million to clean up that water to get it back to drinking standard. For the whole the country $2.4 billion a year.

That’s an externality that is being placed on all of us that is not being paid by the industry. A better example to show you would be Lake Rotorua where the cost to get the nitrogen out of the lake is about $240 thousand a ton to get it out.

Go to the farm, and don’t put a ton of nitrogen on and it is  $6600 worth of loss of revenue on that farm not to put it on. So it is 37 times cheaper to not do it, than it is to do it.

And I really don’t believe in community collaboration. I’ve seen and been involved in it. I’m not saying it wouldn’t ever work but in my experience is it doesn’t work. The industry has all the money, they have all the lawyers, the all of everything. the public is rushing around, they have to get their kids to school blah blah blah.

They have got their whole lives to live and they get worn down by the process, and if the government believes community collaboration is the answer, then why did they sack the Canterbury Regional Council.  If that is not the opposite of community collaboration, then I don’t know what is.

I don’t believe we should have pristine waterways, we want healthy functioning waterways. I never said we wanted to have pristine, it’s just a way to have a crack at us.

The idea that we can’t feed the world without irrigation is a scam, because the reality is we are not feeding the world as it is at the moment because of the way we do it.

You have to match your land use to the land and the climate that is available. The solution is small scale, on farm water retention schemes, Doug Avery’s approach, he’s shown the way.

The reality is just think about the future, think about the planet, about how many people are on it. We can’t keep doing animal based agriculture. More than 50 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from animal based agriculture. Animals are going have to come out of our diet and they are going to have to come out of it quickly.

And my last message and it’s probably what Peter has covered already, but we should be farming for profit, not for extra volume, which is pretty much what we are doing at the moment. So thanks very much.

Questions followed

Question: The second Michael [Bassett Foss]. You talked about a robust review of all potential options and you talked about extraction or harvesting, you’ve talked about delivery of water, you’ve talked about storage points. Have you done a robust analysis of having end users store water on their own properties instead of storing it for them?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss : Yes, we have indeed. There are a couple of reports on our website which you can peruse. Peter spoke around scale being important to reduce the cost of stored water. We have two examples with the Lee Valley and Ruataniwha scheme. The cost of water [using] small scale storage is three or four times more expensive than larger storage.

But having said that, the project considers there’s a place for it, and it is likely to be used in combination with community storage if community storage goes through. Typically in the South Island, on-farm storage is used to supplement existing takes from rivers. For example, they can take water from the river at the moment but when the low flow drops they can’t take any more so they need an emergency supply of ten days or three weeks or whatever it is. So they are not having to provide water on farm to totally irrigate the farm, but as a back up.

Also down south, when schemes evolved many years ago there were a lot of water dyke schemes with canals that just ran past the farms and if they didn’t take the water and put it on their farms, then it was lost. So by introducing a little bit of on farm storage they could capture some of that to extend to some irrigated area and provide water when the low flows came on. So certainly there is a use for it. But yes, we are certainly considering small scale storage as well, and it will stay on the radar for sure.

Question:  Do you have any off ramps?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: Yeah, we do indeed and I enjoyed Peter’s presentation on off ramps. Certainly financial viability is front and foremost in our minds. All of the points Peter raised I commend him for because they are front and foremost in our mind. In 15 minutes or so peter couldn’t cover all areas and there are large gaps which [inaudible] as well.

We are still in the early stages of the project and I can assure you that the project is meeting those financial hurdles. And they are published on the Irrigation New Zealand website for distribution of water in other parts of the country. We are coming up to another off ramp point over the next three months. We will put together the latest lot of the investigations and we will take another look at that.

The current phase at work was staged so that if there were any fatal flaws, including financial flaws that were discovered, then project schemes options would have been dropped at any of those points. Certainly is the short answer.

Question: Environmental ones?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: The environmental ones. We don’t know at this moment what those environmental standards will be for the scheme to meet.

There are eight members of the Whaitua Committee around this room which will play a large part in setting those standards. As they become apparent over the next year as our investigations unfold as well, and as the science and modelling evolves we will be able to assess where we stack up to those standards.

Question: At the moment the public owns the waterways. They are managed by the Wellington Regional Council. I was wondering what the ownership model was going to be under the dam scheme?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: The scheme doesn’t propose to own the water. It is considering storing it for a while and then letting it loose for users. The second point is the commercial model hasn’t been decided upon. It is far too early in the process.

There are a number of options from farmer based co-ops that are widely used in the South Island to mutual structured entities like Ruataniwha. So all of those are on the table and until we progress a bit further to understand how the project will evolve we will consider that in due course.

Question: I’m sure my question is going to sound very naïve but I would like Michael [Joy] to speak. You are a professor, is that correct? It’s just that we are all conditioned to put our faith in people who are qualified and he seems very good at what he does and with all the money that is being spent on the investigations that your organisation [inaudible], who are the qualified scientists giving your [advice], I don’t see why they could be so different.

Answer from Mike Joy: Peter made it clear and I didn’t, I’m not paid to be here. I had to pay for the car. It’s Massy’s car but I had to pay for it out of my slush fund as well, so if any of you think that Massy paid for me to be here, I can assure you that many of my collegues at Massey probably aren’t excited that I am here.

I’m an indepedent scientist. I’m quite a rare animal because, we had the same problem with the Ruataniwha scheme, the scientists that work for the council, and I asked this question at a public meeting over there. How does anyone expect that the council scientists are going to speak up against a scheme that their council is putting forward? I don’t want anyone to answer that. I just don’t think they should be put in a position of having to answer that.

So I think that is really important. Any issue where you are not sure about who’s speaking with a forked tongue is to think about where’s their income coming from.

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: I agree entirely. We need experts on this. I’m not an hydrologist or an expert in science and so I’m not here to answer those questions, suffice to say the project team does have a range of consultants.

We’re quite early in the stage of investigations and it hires consultants on an as needs basis, and all sorts of experts in relation to the science and modelling.

Greater Wellington Regional Council does have some employees but they also use a large range of experts and without speaking on behalf of the team, I know that they are undertaking a large scale process involving a wide range of experts to bring all of that knowledge to the table so that they can assess the current state and intra\states the Ruamanhanga so please be rest assured that it is a serious topic and we take it seriously.

Question: Kia ora Mike Joy. just on the last topic. You didn’t get much time to talk about it and I think I know what you are talking about there but I am just going to ask if you can explain that a little bit more. The one in terms of farmer profit, not volume.

Answer form Mike Joy: I haven’t got my slide here tonight but there is some work that some collegues have been doing, farm agriculture business people looking at the intensity of farming.

The model that I use is a farm that is currently running 620 cows and you look at the profit, the return on capital, you get rid of 100 cows and increase the profit, get rid of another 100 cows and you still increase the profit. You actually get back on that farm to 390 cows on a farm that is running 620 to get back to that profit because all of your costs come back down.

And many of my collegues who are experts in this field, more so than me because I’m looking at the environmental effects of this, because in that model when you go from 620 cows back to 390 cows then the pollution didn’t just drop by a half, it dropped by way more than a half because the increased pollution is exponential as you ramp up the system.

All of the drivers that the farmers have are pushing them to increase production because of capital gain, because of the banks, because of the fertiliser companies, because everybody is pushing them to maximise the size of their farming, especially if they have debt on that farm.

So some rationalisation around those marginal cows to farm for profit would be far less cows and therefore far less pollution without farmers losing money.

Answer from Peter Fraser: I’d just like to add a couple of points. I would like to pick up on Mike’s point, what we call “the marginal cow”.

For those of you who have sat through economic lessons at varsity or where I’ve taught them, what micro-economics is worried about is what we call “the last one.” I’ll give you a rugby analogy. We don’t care what the average score in an All Blacks game is. What we care is that at Ellis Park who does the last drop kick. so it is the last one that is important. I will give you a little bit of the maths behind this first. Where you profit maximise, you have got to match the last dollar earned with the last dollar spent.

Now for the dairy farmers out there, if you use Farmax or one of those programmes, that doesn’t do that. What it does is effectively look at total cost and total revenue. Now for those of you who remember fifth form or sixth form maths, if you take the first derivative, first derivative of total cost is marginal cost, first derivative of total revenue is marginal revenue.

I’ve lost you so I will give you another example. Air New Zealand has bought a very sexy airplane called the Dreamliner and they sit exactly 302 passengers. And for dairy farmers in the audience, they even paint them black and white so there is something you have got to like about them.

What I say to dairy farmers who generally don’t have a great amount of time to talk about a first derivative, and fifth form was quite a long time ago, is I say to them “okay, we’ve got the aeroplane, we’ve sold 290 tickets, how do we make a profit?,” They say “that’s simple sunshine, you sell more tickets.” “Okay how many do you sell?” and they say “that’s easy, Peter it’s 12.” Why do you do that? “Because you fill the airplane. “What’s the maths behind that?” “I don’t know but I think you are going to tell me.” “Okay, I’ll tell you.” “Because the cost of flying the extra 12  people, if they are just carrying a grab on bag, is actually nothing when the plane is almost full.So the extra cost or the marginal cost of carrying those people is in highly scientific terms bugger all.”

Now if you compare that to your marginal revenue, let’s say those marketing people have sold those last 12 on Grab A Seat at $29.95 each. You’ve made 29.95 times 12. You are doing pretty well. Everyone has got that so far.

Now I want to add one more ticket and we sell 13 tickets and all 303 people turn up, I ask the farmers what do you do? And they say “well that’s easy, you tell the last one to bugger off.” I say “no, this is a service business and we have done our Kiwi Host, you can’t do that.”

Here’s the problem.My mates in the airforce tell me that every single time they fly an airplane it costs  half a million bucks so for you to go and get that extra person your marginal revenue is $29.95, your marginal cost is half a million dollars.

And farmers say “that is great but I don’t run an airline. I start at 4am in the morning with [inaudible]. how is that important to me?” And the answer to their question is “because take away the airplanes, use the word farm, take away the word seats and put in the word cows, and I’ve described your farm or your neighbour’s farm, and more than likely both, because most farms in new Zealand are systemically overstocked.”

Effectively you have the equivilant of the 303, 304 or 305 cow on your farm. The problem is when they are walking past you at 4am in the morning they all look the same. This is where your modelling of your farms is really important because what you actually find is if you drop your production you will find where the tipping point is in your particular farm.

And what we have found in modelling farm after farm including the Lincoln University dairy farm is exactly the same story. So what do you do? Do you get rid of the marginal cows – that lowers your cost structure. You then go and feed the cows you have got with the cheap tucker which is called grass, you then go and increase your per cow production.

So you have two things going on here. You have got an increase in revenue and you have got a decrease in cost and the profitability goes up. What most people get confused with is are the words production, turnover, profitability. they all get mixed around.

So what most people think is, if I produce more, I will earn more, but not if you have a tipping point because it is the same as saying if instead of selling 300 tickets we will sell 400 tickets we must make more money.

Question: Peter, have you looked at the Greater Wellington Regional Council proposal?

Answer from Peter Fraser:The short answer is no. I’ve looked at it fairly quickly, and the extent of the analysis I did you saw up there. But what I basically did is what I call a helicopter view.

I basically said how much water is in the dam because that will tell me how much product I have got to sell. I then went and said how much can I sell it for and times one by the other and that gives me a gross revenue figure.

And then I said if that gross revenue figure had to service an amount of capital to build something, how much capital could I service? And then I basically said how much does the dam cost? And you notice the way I started off was with what a farmer can pay.

Does this make sense, rather than assuming it all works, so therefore if all this stuff happens you get net economic gains of $2 million every single year in return. This is the same problem that NZIR had and this is not a criticism of my collegues at NZIER because they did the model for Lee Valley.

They basically assumed that the farmers would pay for water. And on that basis they had a project that was hugely beneficial for the region. It’s almost like saying you can open a taxi company and you can get petrol at about a dollar a litre versus 20 a litre.

At a dollar a litre it is actually pretty good, especially with what you are paying at the pump at the moment. That is a good business to be in. One thing that I got taught pretty early by some pretty canny  investors is everything is a good investment if you buy it at the right price and everything is a dog if you don’t.

So what I was doing was like my AA check, was this a dog or a lemon. And it is a question of water in the dam, how much can I charge, how much can I service, do those maths.

Question: Where would those off ramps be?

Answer from Peter Fraser: First thing I would do now is, you should be able to get an estimate of how much will this project cost, because there seems to be two key components of it. There is the building of the dam and the building of the distribution network.

Given that we have had dams to the north, dams to the south, a lot of stuff going into the South Island it should be pretty easy to put together. This is not a quantity surveying type price but an indicative price of if you were to build an earth dam of 62 metres by some sort of distance, what is that cost, and if you are put in a distrubition network of 16.5 thousand hectares how much will that cost.

Then you can say that will come up to a figure X. And then you basically say how much water is in there, how much do we have to sell the water for, to pay for the dam. Notice that all I have done is almost like a cashflow type of analysis. If we were to add in Mike’s story about $6000 here and $200,0000 zillion over there and arrows going somewhere else, that becomes a lot more complicated.

That’s not to say that’s not a reason to do it. I think you can get a simple answer quite quickly so that’s the first off ramp, what is the dam going to cost versus what farmers can realistically pay. Once you have an answer to that, that then goes into an economic analysis to say look, will you actually get affordable economic  land use change of 23 percent dairy to 40 percent dairy.

Will you get that, because if farmers can’t pay, they won’t. That would be my first one. My second one would be, and I think two is probably be enough, and this is the one where I have belted the Ruataniwha Scheme because to be honest they have paid enough money to actually know this and to know better.

Devi Lockwood - travelling poet/cyclist - One Year, One Bike
Devi Lockwood – travelling poet/cyclist – One Year, One Bike

Question: Hi I’m a poet and touring cyclist from the States and I’m just passing through so this is not my context, not my place, but I’m collecting stories around the world from different people – “tell me about the water, and climate change.

And I just want to say that I have had opportunity to be in and out of different protests starting with the people’s climate movement on September 21th in New York City, attended the Fergusson protests in the United States and talked to some anti-fracking activitist in Taranaki.

All of the issues are similar and if production with this goes forward and it’s not something you guys want collectively, that you have the power to stop that, [to be] strong and act together.

My heart is beating so fast right now because it is terrifying but being a person from the outside I have the least to lose in saying that [inaudible] so have the courage, use this opportunity to make connections. We are all in this room together and always be critical.

Question: Kia ora. This is a question for the second Mike [Bassett Foss]. Where are you going to get the extra flow in a drought? Where’s the water coming from. I come from the bottom of the Mangatarere we are Ngati kahukura. Our people have been here for generations. We are already seeing the effects, when the tests are right, I have the results at home.

We are hurting over this. They have already killed our Mangatarere. My tipuna used to walk up there. You know there is wahi tapu and things through there. Please respect our cultural values. So the question is how are you going to keep the flow at 304 litres a second. Kia ora.

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: Kia ora and I really appreciate that question. The information that you have is based on assumptions done 18 months ago. Please take one of these reports because it does talk about the inflows and the outflows and the modelling including how it is kept at 304 litres per second and flushing flows

I am happy to have another conversation after this, and I think the aspirations of the project don’t differ too differently from the other presenters here so we need to do work to make sure we can achieve that.

Question: Why are none of the affected land owners in any of the committees?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: I answered that as part of the presentation. With landowners we have a much more direct and intimate relationship. We talk one-on-one with them and in that we have spoken with a range of landowners with differing needs and circumstances so in that regard their relationship is prioritised [inaudible] organisation which is the stake holders advisory group that you refer to.

Answer from Mike Bennett: Thank you, I will make this as brief as I can. Two and a half years since receiving a letter, all form letters, mail merge letters, mostly with information of the website. One meeting for the Mangatarere residents which was very strictly controlled, and one visit at Fran Wilde’s instigation to our own home for a half hour discussion around the kitchen table in early 2013.

Question: I would just like to thank the organisers for organising this meeting and to you Michael Bennett. I would just like to say that it doesn’t matter how much compensation you get, for two and a half years you have been living with a sword above your head. It must be awful, so I really feel for you for that and I hope that that can be something that can be resolved and that this process can be repeated in other places.

The key question that I would like to just pose is about the crux of this matter. It’s not about whether we are going to build a dam, it’s not about how much water we need. It’s about what we do on our land and Mike Joy has touched on this. The pigeon I want to throw into the cats, if you like, is  it possible that we could do activities that would actually support our native resources. Can we use land in a way that is both profitable but also bolsters ecological values and improves the amount of water and hopefully the quality of our water as well.

And I think it is something that we all need to recognise as a community. I don’t know if I have answered my own question but I like to think that it is possible and I would like to do what I can to contribute to that and if you are interested, to try and work with you guys. So kia kaha, thank you.

Answer from Mike Joy: If I can just quickly say that yeah, there are much better ways, dairy is not one of them. If it is, then it has to be much more diverse. We have to get away from mono-culturalism, mono herbs, there’s flaxes, there’s a whole lot of things that we could do that work with nature, rather than against nature.

The way we are going at the moment, we are bringing in palm kernel, we are the biggest importers of palm kernel in the world. The way we are going with nitrogen fertiliser, which I hope you all realise the problem here is the nitrogen, nitrogen fertiliser comes from fossil fuels, a third of it from [inaudible] the rest from Middle East.

We are totally dependent now on bringing nitrogen in here that’s made from fossil fuels. Just the ultimate unsustainable way of farming. We have got to move away from that. I think you are bang on and I would like to work with you.

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: I would just like to concur with some of the concerns around land use change which has occurred in the past, and for those places around the country that have had access to water access to cheap water without boundaries imposed by the national policy statement for freshwater management, there has been large scale change toward dairying.

Our assumptions that were provided in our scheme isn’t for those large scale rampant dairy conversions firstly. And secondly, I applaud the opportunity to try and promote better practice farming systems around the country and there is a really good body of knowledge that is being built up both here in the Wairarapa and around the country, for example, reduced stocking rates and just recently the project has had confirmed additional funding to do work in this area and it will be beneficial work, whether the project proceeds or not.

And it is to set a number of case studies around some good practice farming systems, and perhaps low intensity cow operations may be one. But importantly, alternative land uses that try and find production that is better for our environment will be part of that and there are discussions with Plant & Food Research and the Foundations for Arable Research to ensure we assess alternative land uses and they be made aware to farmers. So I just want to clarify that in terms of the project we are very aware of that and trying to deal with that as well.

Question: I just want to say thank you very much for informing and educating us all tonight. The questions are to Peter and Mike. Do you have footage of you guys speaking passionately about what you know obviously really well. And how do we get that to our young people. Because to me probably everyone in the room is convinced that it is not a good idea, we just need to convince the rest of the country.

Answer from Mike Joy: My stuff is on Youtube and I will come to your school or whatever, no problems.

Answer from Peter Fraser: I don’t have anything but I am more than happy to, same as Mike. If you send me an invite if I can make it I will come along. If you want a video I am quite happy to do that.

Answer from Michael Woodcock: We have some websites, one of them is Stop The Dam on Facebook. If we upload stuff we will let people know through that or sign up and join the organisation if you wish.

Question: I am a Mangatarere [inaudible] property owner. I wrote to Fran Wilde requesting some reponses to questions in march last year. I got them in September, two days prior to the general election. I felt personally that the situation was being managed for politics, not for objective information flow so I am a little bit disappointed in the tenor of some of the remarks here because they haven’t been matched by the reality of what I have experienced and the responses I had. [inaudible].

Having said that, what I would like to say is what is the discount rate and does Mangaterere meet the eight percent for the anticipated rate of return and if it is starting to make any money what is the anticipated rate of offering on the land which is to be acquired. Two questions, eight percent and price paid for land.

Answer from Michael Bassett Fox: Those road diversions that Peter spoke to, the first two that he would put in place have been considered by the project. Firstly is the water affordable from the command areas to the farmers, and as I said earlier, they do match other schemes that are existing around the country.

And secondly, in term of the rates of return, that has been assessed as well, and will be assessed again at the next review point which is in three, four months time. Question: Was it eight percent?

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: Yes, the eight percent was reached, absolutely. And in the second point in relation to land purchases, we don’t know which scheme if any is going to progress, so at this early stage we have placed our assessment on some broad scale market values plus compensation, but again they have been very broad scale because we are unsure about which schemes and the inundation levels.

Question: My question is to the second Michael [Bassett Foss] again. Thanks to the Mangatarere Valley residents for letting us know this is happening. I live on the Mangatarere and have heard nothing. My worry now is distribution and when will the affected land owners that will be in the distribution part of this scheme be notified, or is this the landscape plan again from the regional council and hidden until someone really stands up and gets going like these residents have.

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: We applaud opportunites like this to get in front of the communities. We are applaud this event. We are distraught that there are people out there who haven’t heard about the project. We have tried really hard to get as much information out there, specifically to those land owners that might be impacted by the distribution area.

At the moment we don’t know which command area is going to go forward, and we don’t know where the pipes are going to run. What we do know is that we create a scenario that we can base some broad based costings on but those will change again. So it is very difficult for a project like ours where there is so much uncertainty to approach literally hundreds of land owners and try and keep them informed.

But it will be a priority when that becomes a whole lot more clearer, command areas are selected, and the distribution networks can become a whole lot clearer. The other thing about distribution networks is we can vary them, particularly landowners. If there are certain issues then we can go round potentially.

Question: I’ve just an observation to make. My understanding was that the Mangatarere Restoration Society was an initiative that came out of concerns of the regional council about the state of the Mangatarere Stream, about the health of that river. I am really interested to see that the same council is actually driving this initiative around the water scheme because it seems in conflict to me. I don’t understand that.

I would also like to know why those figures that Mike Joy shared with us around the cost of cleaning up after some farming activities, why the environmental cost would not be entering the economic equation that is being sold to us in terms of the value of the water.

Answer from Michael Bassett Foss: I can’t comment about the Mangatarere Restoration Society and origins or its aspirations. There might be other people who are able to talk about that. There has been a lot of science done on the Mangatarere and as a regional council we are mindfully aware of the current state of that and the total catchment as well.

But as I have said during my presentation, we don’t know what environmental standards are going to be met by this scheme and the Whaitua process will make that a whole lot clearer. And also we need the science to catch up to understand the impacts of any scheme that may go ahead in any of the command areas.

So until we have those set which will evolve over the next 18 months then we will have a much clearer idea and can make a decision on whether [inaudible].

Answer from Mike Joy: If I can say something about the externalities. It’s a reality that it is a big conversation that this country has to have about what we are doing with farming in this country. Because farming is not paying for its externalities, not by a very, very long shot. I only talked about one thing and that is nitrogen.

In relation to what Michael just said, if you look at the Ruataniwha as the example, communities don’t set levels. If everybody in the world decided that we all agree that the limit of CO2 in the atmosphere was going to be 500pbm that would all be good. Climate change will happen, two or three degrees will happen and we will be history, whether or not we agree on the level.

In the same way, you can’t get a bunch of people who agree on what is a safe level of nitrogen. The river decides. When the nitrogen gets past a certain point algae grows, whether we agree to it or not. We don’t have the opportunity to set the level, nature sets the level and we have to work with that and that was the clear understanding of the Board of Inquiry into the Ruataniwha which came up with .8 of a milligram of nitrogen per litre which is already exceeded in the Mangatarere. Same with the Ruataniwha.

How can you say when you have got a system that is already exceeding that, that somehow you are going to intensify land use and make it better. They just do not fit together.

Question: I’m a bit of a earthquake phobe and I heard what you said Mike [Bennett] about the fault lines and I’m well aware of the fault lines and that there are even more. I am just wondering where does the risk fit in to the plan. And does Carterton Council have a risk plan when all that water pours down the valley.

Answer from Michael Woodhouse: We’ll leave that as a question that needs to be answered in another forum. So firstly, thank you very much for coming. I hope you have appreciated it. I’ve certainly appreciated you as an audience. I think you have been extremely respectful and patient.

We have had four great speakers. I do have to acknowledge, firstly Mike Bennent doesn’t have a choice to come for free, but I do want to acknowledge the other three who have given them time willingly to be engaged in the process tonight. And I suppose as a Carterton resident, even the issues around the super city, politics is alive and well, we are becoming, maybe we have always been, a political people, and we are interested in what is happening in our communities.

And tonight’s meeting is a good example of that so thank you very much for wanting to be engaged and contributing to wherever we end as a society. So thanks for coming, it’s been a great night, and we will probably hold others.

I can tell you Dam Free Mangatarere is not going away until such time as we have heard there is no dam on the Mangatarere. When that happens we will wind up and probably give any money we do have, which you can tell we haven’t got much at all, we will probably give it to someone like the Mangatarere Restroration Society. So there’s a promise in advance.

Note: You visit the official Wairarapa Water Use Project website here –

Debate between candidates for Green Party Male Co-Leader

St Marks Church Hall, Carterton

Tuesday 14 April

The Wairarapa branch of the Green Party was planning to hold its AGM on Tuesday 14 April but by chance three of the candidates for the position of Male Leader of the Green Party – Gareth Hughes, James Shaw and Kevin Hague – were able to attend the meeting which turned into an informal debate followed by questions. All three candidates were very impressive. I recorded the debate using a basic digital recorder. The sound is mostly pretty good with the recording starting about two minutes into Gareth’s introduction in which he began by recognising the huge contribution Russel Norman had made to the party in the time he was male co-leader. He was followed by James Shaw and then Kevin Hague with questions following. The sound quality is a bit iffy in places but mostly pretty good.

Nominations close this Friday 16 April, with delegates from each of the Green Party’s branches casting a vote using the preferential system ie 1 to 5 (assuming there are five candidates) after being instructed by their branch members at the party’s AGM in May. The Carterton debate produced a lot of interesting ideas relating to each candidates vision of the party and the future for New Zealand. It should be an interesting debate for anyone interested in New Zealand’s future and the part the Green Party can play in it. Click on the link below to listen to the recording:

male co-leader candidates

Brazil Maori Music Fusion

Brazil Maori Fusion Music

King Street Live 1 April 2015

Reviewed by David Famularo

Alda Rezende (Brazil, based in Wellington, vocals), Matiu Te Huki (Aotearoa, vocals, guitar and traditional Maori instruments), Caito Marcondes (direct from Brazil, percussion), Kristoff Silva (direct from Brazil, guitar)

Unfortunately, the performance started early and I arrived late for this event, but nevertheless the quality of the music was such that it deserves a review. Opportunities to hear quality Brazilian music live in New Zealand and especially Masterton are rare, even more so when some of the musicians have come directly from Brazil.

I’m a lover of Brazilian music but recognise that often I am enjoying music that is half a century old. My knowledge of current trends in popular Brazilian music is practically zero (although I do have a Lambada CD from the early 1990s). And being such a vast country there are bound to be numerous strands of authentic Brazilian music that I am not even aware of.

The fact is my own taste and knowledge is mostly via Bossa Nova which while a definable sound is also a spirit and a flow, a church that accepts a rich variety of influences, from indigenous to jazz and on this night Maori. It’s a sensibility as much as a distinctive sound, that combines Brazilian sensuousness and rhythm with a certain intellectual awareness.

The question surrounding this performance would be how comfortably Te Huki’s strong Maori flavour would mesh with that of his Brazilian co-musicians. Sometimes in “world music” the path to hell is paved with good intentions, producing interesting experiments but music that is too contrived to genuinely work.

In the end, there was never any awkwardness about this performance, whether the song was The Girl from Ipanema in Te Reo or one of Te Huki’s own compositions. The foundation of the night was Te Huki’s ongoing creative relationship with Alda Rezende which has been going on for some time, I understand.

The two Brazilian musicians were brought over by Rezende, hence this sublime match up. One would never have guessed that the five had only played as a group for a few days and a few performances.

The music flowed beautifully, with a clarity of sound that allowed every instrument to be heard clearly while their sounds weaved beautifully in and out of each other. The rhythms were lovely and the feeling rich and almost spiritual – something Te Huki in particular brings to every performance he gives.

Over the period of a few songs it slowly became obvious just how good Marcondes and Silva are. Lovely acoustic guitar from Silva that in the best Bossa spirit was disciplined at the same time as relaxed and improvisational. Rezende’s voice has a deep resonance that reminds me of Sarah Vaughan in her later years, and has the same sensuous and mature character.

Before the last number Te Huki spoke of how humbled he was to play with the Brazilian musicians and while numbers were small, how he appreciated the audience being part of this development stage of the project. The last number was a Te Huki original I have heard before and previously been deeply impressed with. It never fails to send shivers down my spine.

Talking to Marcondes afterwards, despite his down-to-earth manner, I slowly discovered just how impressive his background is. As well releasing a number of his own albums, Marcondes has written scores for a number of Brazilian films.

Whether this combination ever plays in New Zealand again is hard to be sure of, due to the costs involved. However, Marchondes told me they were keen to get Te Huki over to Brazil, while Rezende said that appearances at a music festival like Womad might be the best option because of the financial certainty that would offer.

NB I can’t provide you with a video of the night but you can see a video of Caito Marcondes recently performing on Brazilian television here.

Kim Ritchie – King Street Live

Kim Ritchie King Street Live

February 2015

David Famularo

I’m accustomed to going to performances that pique my interest without knowing much about the band or artist. Kim Ritchie’s resume alone made her sound like someone I should see, particularly as my interest in country music grows. Grammy Award nominated, hits for the Dixie Chicks etc, my imagination flashed to visions of upbeat country pop melodies sung with a bit of verve.

I’m also used to having my expectations disappointed but usually find some elements of any performance to enjoy – sadly these were all too rare in this case. Which sounds a bit harsh, and possibly is on re-listening to the performance on my recording of the night (which I use for reviewing purposes only).

Ritchie has a nice voice, which has a slightly stronger country tinge when heard in playback, but the dourness of her song writing and performance played much stronger on the night. Generally speaking I would describe the landscape of the music as fairly monotonous with the occasional small peak of extra energy.

I know Ritchie has had great success with her song writing, but I found them lacking in much sophistication in compositions. Cole Porter she is not. I suppose I shouldn’t compare her to Cole Porter but the thing with a song writer like Porter was that he made cleverly constructed songs seem very simple.

Like everything else good in the world, a good song has a “surface structure” which is what everyone sees/hears, and a “deep structure” which most listeners are affected by but consciously unaware of. The lyrics of the song carry not only meaning and melody but also rhythm, all of which are anchored to this deeper structure.

Hence a singer like Frank Sinatra or Marvin Gaye, or soloist like Peter Green drop their notes in at the most unlikeliest of places but which actually connect with the deeper rhythm etc of the song. If you want to test this theory, try humming the melody to a guitar solo or vocal you love and then go back and play it and see how close you were. You may find you have actually dumbed down the song to a simplified approximation of the melody.

Anyway, getting back to Ritchie, I found her songs musically quite basic in their design, following pretty standard chord arrangements with melodies that rarely captured the imagination. She accompanied herself on the guitar with mostly perfunctory strumming of the chords, so there was not great joy to be had in the interplay of her vocals and guitar.

The primary focus of her music appears to be the lyrics but I didn’t find these particularly easy to get into. They seemed to be mostly maudlin musings on relationships and friendships. A line like “you can always count on me, like a river to the sea” commits two of the most serious sins of song writing – using obvious rhyming words, and vacuous cliques.

From her expansive dialogues between songs one could pick up that Ritchie has takes a workmanlike approach to songwriting. This is not a bad thing in itself. The famous song writing inhabitants of the Brill Building in New York treated it as a nine-to-five job and still managed to produce a huge number of memorable songs. But in this case, it felt more like Ritchie’s songs don’t come from a notably rich experience of life. In fact, it felt like Ritchie might have been lead quite a cloistered one.

A very pleasant person, of course, with plenty of in between song patter, even this only seemed to confirm my suspicion that she is not particularly perceptive of life and people. In introducing one of her songs, Ritchie described her experience of her first meeting the bass player she now collaborates with, not like anyone from Ohio she had ever met, with rings, tattoos, who “kind of scared me a little bit” till Ritchie found out he was gentle voiced collector of Bakelite. A great story – if it was 1962.

I couldn’t quite comprehend how Ritchie was so intimidated by his appearance as he sounded like one of many thousands of people you will find in any city in the world these days. In fact, it’s getting hard to find someone who DOESN’T have a tattoo, these days. He sounded like he would be right at home in Cuba Street, Wellington and surely even Ohio isn’t that much behind the times?

A bit of nitpicking on my part for sure, but I have so say my strongest response of the evening was a feeling of irritation which even artists in other reviews I have written about have not managed to engender. A work colleague who also by chance attended, was less damning, making the comment that Ritchie didn’t seem to have had a happy life.

She found also her “a bit folky” for her taste, which I thought was quite a good summation of Ritchie’s style, despite her “country” tag. Surprisingly for a country music writer, I picked up almost no country music flavours from her performance.

She came across more as an alt singer songwriter. There seems to be a real genre of morose singer songwriters and bands out there these days that are considered the inheritors of the mantle of the serious rock/folk music tradition of the 1960s and early 1970s, an umbilical chord that was in all reality cut by Punk/Hip Hop/House etc.

There’s heaps of this kind of music in the free CDs of “Best of 2014” that came with Uncut and Mojo magazines, for example.

But to me most of the artists are imitative in their personal style and their punts at originality become quite apparent as dead ends after a few listenings. In this, the music is a mirroring what is happening in the visual arts. The achievements of earlier generations of hugely talented musicians/artists have created dead zone in their wake in which the current crop are really struggling to match up to.



Clareville Country Music Festival 2015

Saturday Night Show, Carterton, 10th January 2015

Sue Dyson, Dennis Marsh, Legal Tender, Gerry Lee, The Johnnys, True Touch/Gerry Lee

 David Famularo

Legal Tender
Legal Tender

In many ways it was going to be a challenge trumping the line up at 2014’s Clareville Country Music Festival which was a cornucopia of country music styles and artists. It also had a different set of personalities choosing the main acts. The end result in 2015 was a less cluttered programme, but also one that was likely to appeal to a more conservative and older audience.

As a musical genre, “country” is a big stage that invites an exceedingly wide range of musicians to play on it. This is particularly the case in New Zealand which has only a small number of musicians and listeners primarily focused on country music.

Mention country music to most New Zealanders and you will immediately be greeted with stereotypes and the somewhat tiresome “yeah ha” but they don’t realise that they have been listening to country music all their lives, albeit not always through the most obvious channels. Listen closely to a greatest hits CD of Dean Martin, an Italian American, and you will notice that about half the tunes are actually country, to give just one example – “Little Old Wine Drinker Me”.

So for a significant part of the older audience (at lease) of any country music festival in New Zealand, country and pop music are almost synonymous. Catering to this older audience’s taste in country at the same time as presenting a programme that connects with current country music trends is undoubtedly a challenge, especially as the pop music charts as they once existed, and which was where genre crossovers occurred, is essentially moribund.

The Saturday night line up reflects this dilemma in the range of acts presented. While it would be impossible to satisfy everybody, what is noticeably missing in 2015 are younger contemporary country music artists of the likes of Dan and Hannah Cosgrove, and Abby Christodoulou.

Sue Dyson who now lives in Masterton, who I catch when I arrive around 7.30pm, who is the only artists on the night who does have this flavour, albeit with a connection to the past as expressed through her last song Walking After Midnight, “by one of my favourite artists Patsy Cline.”

Denis Marsh - Clareville Country Music Festival
Dennis Marsh

Then it’s the turn of Dennis Marsh who arrives in his typical showbiz style just as the sun goes down, on the back of a quad bike, stepping off and straight into song. Marsh is the inheritor of a long tradition of Maori crooners who have found the country songbook a comfortable place to hitch their horse (sorry about the trite country cliché – ha ha).

As Marsh said in an interview for the festival programme, when asked if Maori country musicians bring something unique to the field of country music. “Yes – and Eddie Low explains it really well. ‘When Maori do country, the Maori sound often dominates the country sound. There are different tones and vibrato – we don’t necessarily sound all that country but it’s a unique sound New Zealand warms to.”

Marsh is unusual in that whereas other similar artists like John Rowles and Howard Morrison were recognised and appreciated early in their careers, Marsh has come from the opposite direction, almost accidently establishing his career, and becoming more popular the older he has gotten.

It’s a genre that isn’t really my cup of tea although it undoubtedly appeals to the motor home set, the tail end of The Great Generation. Marsh has a fine voice and warm personality but the showbiz razzmatazz, which undoubtedly works in the cabaret setting of a workingman’s club full of Marsh fans, involving audience participation and one extremely long joke in particular that won’t make any sense to anyone who doesn’t remember the television series Bonanza and appreciate outdated racial stereotyping, means barely more than half his set is dedicated to us listening to Marsh simply singing some songs.

Next up is Legal Tender from the Kapiti Coast, an act that can be anything from a duo to a full band, on this occasion incorporating its two core members, Ian Campbell (guitar/vocals) and Moira Howard (bass/vocals) and someone called Carol Anne on accordion and keyboards.

There is a sharpness and intensity to their performance, and a sense of joy in performing. I would categorise them as New Zealand contemporary folk music. New Zealand, of course having the problem of not having a centuries old folk tradition to draw on has made the evolution of our own folk traditions a somewhat awkward affair with an artist like Phil Garland eking a folk tradition out of, not quite thin air, but the scarce 19th century resources of the likes miners, stage coach companies, and hotel keepers.

Contemporary miners feature in Legal Tender’s own song about the Pike River disaster, followed by a languid version of Fleetwood Mac’s “For You” from their hugely successful mid Seventies “Rumours” album. While sadly played to death, the hidden secret of Rumours is how country flavoured it is, despite Fleetwood Mac being originally a blues band. They end the set with a drummer and on an upbeat note, with Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road.

Next it’s the turn of Gerry Lee, who by sheer coincidence has almost the same name as one of his biggest influences, Gerry Lee Lewis. 1950s rock and roll is the foundation of this set as Lee pounds his way using hands, feet and bum, through Lewis, Elvis and Hank William’s well-covered Jambalaya.

When he ventures outside the 1950s for Is This The Way To Amarillo, one of a sleigh of early 1970s songs about jealous lovers down Tex Mex way, it’s nice to hear the song live for the first time. Eagles and Keith Urban numbers add an extra freshness.

Lee’s chief failings are an exceedingly dull outfit that reminds me of what a Wellington public servant wears for brunch on weekends, and that he uses recorded tracks to back his electric piano.

A short interlude with the Kapiti duo Double Blend (I think) while The Johnny’s set up (they had a bit of drama getting to the event from Nelson, it appears) sees me taking time out for a burger and fries from one of the semi-circle of food and drink kiosks still operating.

I have to say at this point that like last year, there is an excellent atmosphere and environment for the festival, very relaxed and safe, in a lovely rural environment on another beautiful evening.

The Johnnys - Clareville Country Music Festival
The Johnnys

Back in front of the stage for The Johnnys first song, the roles of the three band members are defined pretty quickly, Suzi Fray (vocals, guitar, ukulele, melodica) is the extrovert crowd pleaser, Jo Taylor (on bass, harmonica and vocals) the hip cool, gothic one, while keeping an aloof distance from proceedings is Liala Gianstefani (drums).

Johnny Cash recorded 1374 songs, 1000 of them his own, Suzi tells us, so band’s repertoire certainly isn’t limited. The trio not only picks some of the ripest fruit from the Cash tree, but fortunately for them and us , Johnny Cash also recorded some classic country songs better known to me through other artist’s interpretations.

One of these is Jackson, more usually associated with the brief but golden run of hits by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Another, Ghost Riders in the Sky, evokes the gothic spirit that’s always been an integral part of country music.

When you think about, Johnny Cash was quite the country Goth – the man in black – infatuated with songs about death, damnation and redemption. Of all the country music stars, who would be more suitable for an alternative post punk all girl group?

The Johnnys whirl through a mostly high octane run of hits – Daddy Sang Bass/Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Boy Named Sue, Folsom Prison Blues – liberally sprinkled with congenial patter from Suzi in between numbers.

The set winds down (or should be that winds up) with Cocaine Blues and Ring of Fire, written by June Carter, and Cash’s biggest hit. They finish with I Walk The Line, given a downbeat reggae flavoured beat.

Officially the end of the night’s entertainment, most of the audience are quick to pack up their deck chairs and head to (their motor) home. But Gerry lee and the True Touch band who have been backing many of the acts, return to the stage for an impromptu man that brings out the best in both Lee and the band, proving my earlier appoint about the need for live backing for Lee’s earlier performance.

They run through extended jams on some classic rock and roll including Johnny B Goode, Whole Lot of Shaking Going On, and finally Route 66 which morphs into Ray Charles’ What’d I Say.

It’s a reminder that traditional rock and roll, despite being over 50 years old, well past having any cultural relevance, and managing to survive the great rock and roll nostalgic revival of the 1970s (even Grease), still packs a huge punch when played well by a live band.

So what, in summary, can one say about this year’s Clareville Country Music Festival and its main acts? It’s a festival that many more people would enjoy if they gave it a go, even if it isn’t the type of music they listen to. They would most likely find it a lot more familiar and comfortable than they were expecting.

The festival is also a chance to discover that while country music is more associated with listening to the lyrics of life’s emotional ups and downs, it’s also equally a dance music. It’s also a chance to hear bands you are not likely to otherwise get to see in the Wairarapa, revealing fresh talent which has the opportunity to play in the best environment possible for both them and the audience.

The organisers have to play to the tastes of those they know will most likely attend, but if the festival is to build any sort of serious reputation, it will need to go beyond the motor home crowd pleasers and find a balance between entertainment and artistic endeavour. I suspect most who are presently coming will come back whoever the acts are, so the festival has the luxury of experimenting.

I don’t know what the Sunday performance of Celtic pub performers The Shenanigans was like, and variety is great, but when you start including bands in your programme whose links to country music are particularly tenuous, you run the risk of losing your credibility. On the other hand, I’m really glad they didn’t invite The Topp Twins to play.

The Clareville Country Music Festival has the potential to be more than a country music club get-together on a grand scale. Hopefully it will find the visionaries who will take to where it could easily be. Whoever they have next year, I recommend more people interested in music step outside the box to discover the Festival.

The Elvis TCB Band with John Rowles

Elvis TCB Band & John Rowles

Opera House, Wellington November 2014

David Famularo

It was hearing Radio New Zealand music reviewer Nick Bollinger interviewing guitarist James Burton that piqued my interest in this concert. I was already familiar with Burton’s music without actually knowing this – most notably 1950s rockabilly hit Suzie Q. It was Burton’s groundbreaking playing that made the song, when Burton was barely 15.

He has played with a wealth of artists since, most notably Elvis Presley from 1969 to 1977, and along with Ronnie Tutt (drums), Glen D. Hardin (piano) and Norbert ‘Put’ Putnam (bass) who also played in Elvis’ Taking Care of Business (TCB) band, was going to perform in Wellington, backing John Rowles on his and Elvis’ hits (In the end, I don’t think Putnam performed at this concert but I haven’t been able to confirm this).

I have to admit to not being a great fan of Rowles’ music, although I fully acknowledge his talents as a singer. So to some degree I went to the concert as an uncommitted observer, unlike most of those who milled about the foyer of the Opera House pre-concert (although I did meet up with a old blues playing friend during the interval there for the same reason as me, so there must have been a few James Burton fans in attendance).

It’s hard to discern who was there to see and hear John Rowles and who was there for the Elvis connection. There was just the one tall gentleman dressed in a rockabilly style – slicked back hair, wearing a jacket with a giant Elvis image on the back. I admire such people for their commitment, and courage in presenting it to a world which has a tendency to ridicule too easily. But for the most part the audience is of the age where they are likely to have fallen in love with Elvis and Rowles some time in the 1960s.

Elvis and Rowles do a share a lot in common – in particular a love of pomp and showmanship, and powerful soulful voices. A lot of their aura was also based around their sexual mystic. While Elvis died young enough not to have to confront the issues that come with being an ageing sex symbol, unfortunately for Rowles, as he is quite honest enough to admit, this gets harder to conjure up with every concert (at one point someone in the audience shouts “Take it all off! – Are you serious? You might be disappointed.”)

The audience is quite anarchic at some points during the concert, somehow managing to be both fawning and mocking, almost at the same time. Rowles laps up the former in a somewhat gauche manner, especially when dealing with star struck 60 year-olds, and mostly ignores the later. In some ways, Rowles’s once huge popularity acts as a millstone around his neck, now that he has permanently moved back to New Zealand.

Unlike another Maori crooner, Denis Marsh, who never made it big on the world stage but how has a strong and stable following when he regularly tours New Zealand’s “workingmens’ clubs. Could Rowles, for instance, earn a living doing these sorts of tours? Probably not, partly out of pride and also because he doesn’t have the common touch (although I have just noticed on his website that Rowles is available for “Weddings, Birthdays, Fund Raisers, Private Parties, Grand Openings and Funerals” – I think he would be great for these).

Rowles belongs to an era when separation between star and audience was essential to maintain their aura. Living in a country with a population of four million it’s very easy to become over-exposed and devalued. But strip all this away, and you still have a fine singer. He just needs his own Rick Rubin (famous for revitalising the twilight career of Johnny Cash amongst others) to work their magic and Rowles could conceivable yet have another hit, or at least put out a critically respected album.

So anyway, I’m sitting next to a man in a large cowboy hat – the only cowboy hat in attendance – and he is telling me over the sound of popera being played through the soundsystem (incongruously given the genre of the concert), that he plays in a country/rockabilly band. We agree that mainstream Country & Western music from the 1950s and 1960s is preferable to alt country.

And then the lights dim, and Also Sprach Zarathustra, made famous by the film 2001, and traditionally the opening for Elvis’ live performances starts up and the band kicks off with CC Rider, Rowles entering stage right to introduce its members and immediately mellow the mood with Welcome to My World.

The energy and music steps up a notch again with a fine version of Little Sister, written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, with Presley’s version reaching No 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Burton’s guitar and Tutt’s drums lift the rhythm up to another level without losing the essentially laid back flavour of the song. Rowles’ vocals work well on the song as well.

Incidentally, it is interesting to read on the Internet that Elvis had a remarkably wide range, described variously as tenor, baritone and bass. It is when Rowles covers songs sung by Elvis in the lower registers that the two match up most perfectly.

Then it’s back to Rowles’s own hits with If I Only Had Time and Hush Not a Word to Mary. Worth mentioning at this point are the skills of the two female backing vocalists whose names I didn’t catch.

Next up is You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, a 1965 hit by The Righteous Brothers. Elvis began performing the song in concert in 1970, with pianist Hardin’s new arrangement showcasing Presley’s ability to further emphasize the R&B and soul aspects of the song, according to Wikipedia, that is.

The song was released on Presley’s 1970 album That’s the Way It Is and reprised for his 1972 live album Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden. It’s a little gem that I’ve never associated with Elvis and along the way a few such songs are dropped into the mix. It’s the first of three songs from Elvis’s late 1960s/early 1970s period that Rowles perfectly captures the spirit off.

But inevitably there’s going to be some 1950s Rock & Roll which actually wasn’t Elvis’ strongest suite although he sold it best. Heartbreak Hotel leads on to Hound Dog, and later That’s Alright Mama. Unfortunately we have to put up with How Great Thou Art, one of the dullest songs of all time.

In his patter Rowles has the lines down pat but unfortunately for him, his audience has a tendency to miss the cues, for example, there’s a great big awkward space when he says “Thank you for joining us”, leaving me with the task of conjuring up some applause. In between numbers, Rowles’s humour sometimes saves him, and sometimes digs a hole that Rowles barely manages to escape from with dignity.

I’ve already said I’m not a fan of Rowles’s own hits, but his self-penned The Girl in White, which I’d never heard before, is actually very sophisticated and appealing. It brings out the best in Rowles’s voice, reminding you that he just needs the right material to be able to produce a sound that very few others can match.

Burton’s guitar throughout is understated. He’s content for the most part to support Rowles with the occasional short solo, as is also the case for Hardin and Tutt. Essentially he’s a country rock guitarist – as Burton acknowledged in the Bollinger review, the music he played when he first started out “was called ‘hillbilly’ then.”

Hardin’s keyboard work is a bit lost in the mix, as often happens with keyboards. I know no one plays acoustic piano on stage any more but I believe that the best and only true way to play Honky Tonk/Rock & Roll piano is on a miced up acoustic. Electric pianos are but a pale approximation in comparison.

Likewise, while Tutt’s drumming is supremely professional and soulful, his drums are just too close to audibly perfect (ironically) thanks to modern technology. Rock & Roll needs an edge in its sound which requires a basic beat up drum kit. Then we are on to Cheryl Moana Marie – nuff said! But a good example of the genre I call “Maori Country”.

This is followed by Johnny B Good by the brilliant Chuck Berry. An interesting fact about Berry’s music is that it is totally black blues when played by him and totally white country when played by Jerry Lee Lewis, which fits in with my theory that all musical genres are essentially cultural in character.

Then it’s fast forward to 1968 and In The Ghetto by Mac (Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me) Davis. Once again the sophistication of the song’s structure is perfectly complemented by Rowles’s rich baritone, supported by lovely rolling guitar from Burton, and sensitive drumming from Tutt. Probably as good a version of this song as you are ever going to get in New Zealand in 2014.

Hardin gives the piano on Please Release Me an upbeat honky tonk feel which is far superior to the original lethargic version, followed by Love Me Tender and Tania, both of which are songs that make me think about things like how hard the seats in the Opera House are.

The music lights up again with Suspicious Minds which works for exactly the same reasons as You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, and In the Ghetto, especially as once again it shows another side to Burton’s guitar.

And then, surprise, there is no encore. I think the first time I’ve ever witnessed that happening (or not happening).

I can’t say I am too sad about that though. I tend to think encores are over-rated and often see concerts end well past the best point for endings thanks to a drawn out encore. I’m going to hang around to check out the band members in the foyer afterwards as they are going to be signing CDs, posters and so forth.

But I decide to flag it. The truth is, meeting musicians after a performance is almost always a disappointment. They’ve already shared their muse on the stage. They become mere mortals again, once the show is over.


Woman’s Hockey International – New Zealand (Black Sticks) versus United States

Saturday 25 October 2014 Clareville Hockey Complex Carterton

David Famularo

black sticks 2

Many years ago I interviewed the painter Philip Trusttum about an exhibition he was showing in Wellington, the theme of his abstracts being the game of tennis. Being early in my journey into the visual arts, I thought it was unusual to choose a sport, this seeming out of the ordinary as a subject for the visual arts. (These days I realise anything in the world can be a subject for the visual arts, as it is all about what the artist sees and how they  interpret a subject that interests them within the context of their own art practice.) I asked Trusttum why he did paintings about tennis. He more or less told me it was because he enjoyed playing the game. He wasn’t trying to sound profound – just stating the fact. Trusttum remains one of few New Zealand artist with a significant reputation to choose sport as his theme.

For a while now I’ve been noticing just how aesthetically interesting modern sport, has become. For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese seemed to create a palette for the entire event that I can best describe as a pastel version of that country’s traditional tastes in colours like red, blues, greens and turquoise. Contemporary sport carries huge cultural significance as well as being filled with drama but it has been left almost exclusively to sports photography to capture this. Occasionally it transcends its basic purpose of being a tool for reporting events to become a work of art, a very good New Zealand example being the photographs of Peter Bush.

Two things have stopped me following much sport over the past 25 years. One has been my focus and life going in other directions, and also the fact that almost all major sporting events are now rarely accessible for free on TV. Apart from the occasional club rugby or soccer game, I haven’t watched any live sport in years, in part (especially when it comes to rugby), because of the way it is so closely associated with alcoholic intoxication which never brings out the best qualities in spectators. This international was the first I had attended since the 1977 Lions Rugby Football team visited to New Zealand. Since then, many sports have changed dramatically, not the least being hockey which until Saturday, I still envisaged as slightly naff and unexciting.

Needless to say, my mind was blown! In its pace and intensity this game reminded me of the handball, and indoor volley ball I had enjoyed watching during the Olympics. And most significantly, it was totally cool as a visual spectacle, from the artificial turf, to the outfits, and especially the athletic beauty of the player’s bodies. I could completely understand how competitors at the original Olympics in Greece inspired artists to capture their physical beauty in sculpture.

Black Sticks 1

There’s a heavy sense of tension as the players warm up. This builds to a crescendo as the two teams line up for their respective national anthems, sung very nicely by Ryan Cole. Well, that’s the name I think I heard through the loud speakers, followed by “Are You Ready for a Good Time”, pumping out as they get ready for hit off. This particular match is being played in four 15 minute segments with very short first and third quarter breaks and a slightly longer half time one. It’s clear this series is designed to give both teams the opportunity to prepare for upcoming tournaments.

The hockey played over next hour is extremely fast, cool, sharp and quite dangerous. At one point the ball flies just millimetres past one player’s face, which makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be sensible for the players to be wearing some sort of protective headgear. The players are all extremely mentally focused and one can see why sports people playing at test level often say that matches seem to go by in seconds.

While playing, these players will be on a different mental level to everyday consciousness. Ironically, despite its long history which I assume has seen format and rules retained, hockey seems to be ideally suited as a modern sports spectacle. One thing that hasn’t changed at hockey matches is the relative pleasantness of hockey supporters, creating a really relaxed and non-threatening environment. A few of the “hockey mums” throw out pieces of advice to the players that would be more suited to give to ten year-olds. I equate this with members of the audience at rock concerts yelling out requests to the band, with the expectation they are going to stop mid-number and say, “Oh wait, someone wants us to play this other song.”

I’m slightly surprised at how positive and congratulatory the spectators, and especially the players are, when they manage to achieve a penalty in front of the other team’s goal. I tend to think that should be saved for actually scoring. It’s not often the penalty is translated into a point in this game at least. I’m quite surprised anyone scores a goal at all, given how crowded the field seems to be when either team gets close to their opposition’s net.

On the day, New Zealand has vastly more opportunities and shots at goal than the US but doesn’t seem to be able close the deal. It seems split second timing is needed, as is illustrated when New Zealand finally does score in the third quarter, the ball being across the line before I’ve even registered a chance is on. New Zealand manages to retain the lead till the end, still slightly dominant but never assured of a win until the final whistle.

As this is a training series for both teams, there is a penalty shootout anyway, New Zealand winning that 3-2. I’m surprised that the shooters miss any at all, given that they have such a dominant advantage in being allowed to dribble around the goalie to get their shot in. There’s not much glamour in it for the two goalies who don’t seem to even have been given a team uniform to wear.

The game over, the Americans take much longer to “unwind.” While the New Zealanders just hang out midfield, the Americans do a long series of yoga stretches and then form a huddle that seems to go on forever. I could imagine the Black Sticks already dancing at the Huia Music Festival in Masterton both teams are planning to go to afterwards, while the American players are still in their huddle. All in all, an absolutely awesome event.


The Mallard Duck – at crisis point?

“For 24-years my dogs and I have spent every day in the wetland – exercising, checking predator traps, planting (over 15,000 trees), creating wetlands, enhancing wetlands, predator control, and so on, and we have never found any species of waterfowl that was dying from ingesting lead shot, but we have found large numbers of mallards suffering from the steel shot syndrome – still alive, but with broken wings, broken legs, large amounts of steel shot under the skin and in the breast meat.” – Neil Hayes

The Mallard duck population in New Zealand appears to be at crisis point, especially in the North Island, as number plummet. Similar issues apply to other game birds in the Wairarapa and elsewhere.  Well-known Wairarapa conservationist and hunter Neil Hayes believes Mallards are on the verge of extinction in the North Island

He sees the issues surrounding the plight of the Mallard duck as being part of a bigger problem that ranges from the replacement of lead shot with steel in guns to the structure of Fish & Game. The following article “DOES THE NZ FISH & GAME COUNCIL HAVE A FUTURE?” was written by Hayes to stimulate debate. Wairarapa re-Views neither supports or argues the opinions in this article. But it does recognise that there are important issues involved that it would be useful for more people to be aware of.





In this brief article, and in association with hundreds of dedicated game bird hunters, we point out the numerous counter-productive blunders made by the NZ Fish & Game Council since inception and ask serious questions as to whether the current structure of the NZ Fish & Game Council can survive with its continual major errors of judgement. We detail these management errors and the reasons why we see little future for the NZ Fish & Game Council and its regional councils.


The NZ Fish & Game Council structure was founded in 1987 in unison with Dept of Conservation. The Council replaced the NZ Acclimatisation Societies which had been in existence since 1861. And the Dept of Conservation replaced the highly respected New Zealand Wildlife Service – founded in 1947 as the Wildlife Branch.

At their peak there were 28 Acclimatisation Societies and many were involved in introducing and establishing – mallard, black swan, pheasant, partridge, chukor and Canada geese; together with the introduction of other bird species that did not establish.

A number of societies had their own game farms, with the Southland Society playing a major role in establishing the mallard – by breeding large numbers in captivity. Sadly, by 2014 the Southland Fish & Game Council, with full support of the national Council, appears likely to be responsible for eliminating the mallard and at the same time destroying waterfowl hunting in New Zealand – more on this shortly.


I became involved with the Wellington Acclimatisation Society way back in the mid 1960s when the Society had its head office and a Society branch in Wellington. The branch was the very active Southern Branch, which held regular sporting clay shoots, trout fishing expeditions, released pheasant during the season and held monthly meetings where a guest speaker was invariably invited.

In the late 1960’s some members of the branch established their own pheasant breeding and release syndicate at Pauatahanui and several thousand pheasants were released over a six year period. Returns to the gun were excellent, as was breeding in the wild – thanks to predator control and feed hoppers. This syndicate was so successful that, after initially being declined, permission to shoot hen pheasants was granted. The syndicate constructed a large incubator room, a large brooder room, two hardening-off aviaries and a 10,000 sq foot aviary that was full of lots of ground cover and numerous feed hoppers – where the youngsters learnt how to feed from hoppers and to become wild birds.

I was a member of this syndicate and most members of it eventually became Wellington Acclimatisation Society Councillors’, including myself. I was on the council for 15 years, and during the 1970s and 80s many positive activities took place in Acclimatisation Societies; game fairs, wetland purchases, wetland creation, wetland planting and management, erection of grey teal nest boxes, the protection of wetlands, predator control programmes, game bird breeding programmes, and much more. These were the days when it was an honour to be an Acclimatisation Society Councillor.

Along with over 2000 dedicated waterfowl hunters, all syndicate members supported the waterfowl diary scheme devised and operated by Tom Caithness of the NZ Wildlife Service. The diary scheme successfully solicited intrinsic information on waterfowl from all over the country and from each diary returned, Tom was able to determine important waterfowl management data, such as:

1. Waterfowl population trends in each district – mallard, parries, shoveler, grey duck, grey teal, Canada geese, black swan, pukeko, and more.

2. Size & fluctuation of waterfowl populations.

3. Number of birds harvested and numbers seen.

4. Hunting & wetland conditions.

5. Equipment used by hunters – shotguns and ammunition used and the number of shots fired.

6. General overview of the season – habitat, water levels, and much more.

In 1987, for reasons known only to itself, management of the NZ Fish & Game Council showed no interest in adopting Tom’s inexpensive diary scheme – the outcome being that today NZ Fish & Game Councils’ collectively know little about our waterfowl or about how to best manage them for the benefit of licensed members.

Many acclimatisation societies also operated their own game farms and trout hatcheries and these were the key to establishing both rainbow and brown trout, as well as establishing all game birds that exist here today.

As already mentioned, the Southland Acclimatisation Society was by far the major contributor towards establishing mallard in New Zealand, with the North Canterbury and Wellington Societies being major contributors to expanding the numbers of Canada geese.

Much has now been degraded in waterfowl management since the acclimatisation societies were eliminated – to the extent that there appears to be little future for waterfowl hunting in New Zealand.

The NZ Fish & Game Council had the potential to become a world leader in gamebird management, but with incredibly poor management skills at all levels it is seen by the majority of licensed game bird hunters as having been a dismal failure.

However, some of this can be attributed to our own apathy, because over recent years the majority of Fish & Game councillors have been elected by default – by the almost total lack of nominations for positions resulting in few elections being needed over the last five years.

Whilst there are some well qualified Fish & Game staff in regional offices, they have little influence over council decisions. There may also be no long-term future for trout fishing – and its lucrative income from tourism and licence sales – as in early 2014 it was reported that the unrelenting bombardment of NZ bush with 1080 poison is not only killing millions of endemic birds it may also be indirectly killing large numbers of trout; after trout have eaten invertebrates poisoned by 1080! The NZ Fresh Water Anglers Association has already warned its members not to eat trout in 1080 associated areas and trout ingestation of 1080 poisoned invertebrates is currently on the agenda for assessment instigated by Freshwater Anglers while having been previously ignored by Fish & Game Council (1080 was originally developed as an insecticide).


Under the Conservation Act 1987 the NZ Fish & Game Council together with twelve Regional Fish & Game Councils were established to manage sports fishing and game bird resources in New Zealand – on behalf of anglers and hunters. The role of the NZ Fish & Game Council is to nationally represent the interests of anglers and hunters and to co-ordinate this management through the twelve regional councils.

The role of the twelve regional councils is to manage, enhance and maintain sports fishing and game bird hunting. Twelve members of regional councils are elected every three years by licence holders and each Council elects one representative to the NZ Council Fish & Game Council.

Fish & Game Councils are mandated to manage fresh water sports fish – including introduced trout, salmon and some coarse fish, such as perch and tench – and game birds; including, introduced bird species such as mallard, Canada goose, black swan, upland game, native species such as pukeko, and endemic species, such as, NZ Paradise shelduck, NZ Grey duck and NZ Shoveler.

All this sounded very promising in 1987, but 27 years down the track the vast majority of game bird hunters believe that the Fish & Game Council structure and its management of trout and game birds has been an unmitigated disaster.

So bad that the Southland Fish & Game Council was declared “PUBLIC ENEMY #1” in the Southland Times, and during a two month period over 40 letters were published in the Southland Times that were highly critical of the Southland Fish & Game Council! Here are the main reasons for this:

1. The number of mallards in the North Island is now so low that the species could easily disappear. There are a number of accumulative reasons for this:

(a) A ban on lead shot in 12 gauge (soon to be expanded to all gauges) has resulted in a massive increase in birds not recovered – because 80% of hunters use steel shot because it is cheap, but this is known to increase the numbers of birds not recovered, from 7% with lead to over 50% with steel. The Fish & Game Council never had any mandate to ban the use of lead shot, with the latest fiasco of banning it in all gauges being ‘inspired’ by just one person – yet steel shot has made a major contribution to the demise of the mallard.

What also appears to have now occurred is that in the North Island there is an approximate 80% to 20%i imbalance of male to female mallards – all reminiscent of a species in decline. Of very

(b) Hunting seasons were expanded from 4 weeks to 3 months.

(c) Limit bags were increased to ludicrous numbers.

(d) The limit on decoy numbers was eliminated.

(e) Restrictions on pond feeding were eliminated.

(f) The use of electronic decoys was allowed.

(g) The restriction on magazine capacity on semi-auto and pump action shotguns was eliminated.

(h) The use of electronic duck calls was allowed.

(i) A massive reduction in the cropping of peas, wheat & barley occurred; although today there is lots of cropping now taking place in the North Island.

(j) Waterfowl refuges have also almost totally disappeared, but even at the large reserve at Pauatahanui north of Wellington that hosted over 8000 mallards during the duck season until 2006 is now almost totally devoid of waterfowl at any time during the year.

(k) Diazinon, 1080 and other chemicals used all over the country are known to kill fresh water invertebrates – and possibly trout and waterfowl.

All these points have been totally ignored by the NZ Fish & Game Council and by all regional Fish & Game councils and their staff, and they now plan to further destroy the sport by banning the use of lead in all gauges – yet only 8% of hunters use 20 gauge and 1% use smaller gauges!

2. The Canada goose is the world’s most prized game bird, but under the NZ Fish Game Council management it has become a “PEST” and can now be killed and slaughtered at any time. Nowhere else in the world has such a wildlife management disaster occurred.Of course, a glaring farce exists during the slaughter of geese from helicopter gunships – the Fish & Game hunters all use lead shot over water: okay for them, but not for licence holders! And, with Fish & Game support identical Dept of Conservation helicopter massacres have taken place on black swan – all of which is very clearly “Wildlife Management by Default.”

3. Fish & Game management of the endemic NZ Paradise Shelduck also leaves much to be desired, with continual massacres occurring all over the country and no consideration being given to the fact that a female does not breed until her third season and that an established pair have a long lasting monogamous relationship – all of this needing meaningful management.

4. Whilst the NZ Fish & Game Council has successfully enlightened the farming community and district/regional councils about the need to clean up our rivers, the $2 million (plus) of licence holders money has been spent at the expensive of waterfowl and wetlands, to the extent that game bird licence sales have dropped over the last ten years. Licence sales will get far worse now that there are few ducks to shoot in the North Island and a total ban on lead shot could easily result in the liquidation of the Fish & Game structure. A vast sum of our money was also spent on employing Sir Geoffrey Palmer on matters pertaining to the Resource Management Act.

5. Fish & Game’s mallard research commenced in 2013 and is already in disaster mode, with the nominated coordinator throwing in the towel within three months. the only outcome so far from a $300,000 budget has determined that predators kill mallards, eat ducklings and eat eggs! All quite ludicrous when there is already ample evidence regarding why mallards are disappearing and why other species such as grey teal, scaup and shoveler are doing well. The massive drop in mallard numbers in the North Island – in all areas except Northland – will inevitably result in a continual drop in game bird licence sales, with the outcome being that North Island Fish & Game Councils will find it increasingly difficult to be financially viable. For the 2014 game bird hunting season I and four associates – all of us having held game bird hunting licences for an average of 50 years – did not purchase game bird hunting licences. The ever increasing licence fee, coupled with a very low bag limit will also have a very adverse effect on licence sales and this will have a serious and lasting impact on the Game Bird Habitat Fund.

What the instigators of the anti-lead shot scenario do not appreciate is that neither the NZ Fish & Game Council nor any of the 12 regional councils have ever had a mandate to ban the use of lead shot, and besides ensuring a drop in licence sales, Fish & Game’s blind obsession with banning lead shot will ensure that few young people will be taking up the sport and elder states people will be giving it up.

In addition, I and many of my game bird game bird hunting associates have read numerous copies of the NZ Fish & Game Council meeting minutes – all of which have been a depressing annotation of an organisation lacking any direction or guidance as to where it is going, with most meetings dedicated to who is suing whom on the Council; together with well documented suggestions as to how to destroy our sport.

We have yet to see any constructive plans for the future of our sport and in spite of the Countryside Alliance in the UK publishing research findings on lead in the environment – showing that over 20 commonly eaten vegetables contain significant traces of lead, with potatoes the highest, with none of this lead being attributed to lead shot – the Fish & Game Council has pursued its blind ambition to ban the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting – and destroy our sport for ever.

Lead is a natural element and no one has been known to die through eating too many potatoes. Likewise, no wild waterfowl species has ever been known to die from ingesting lead shot. In an effort to prove that waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot,  ‘psuedo scientists’ in the USA poured huge quantities of lead shot down the throats of captive waterfowl to show that lead shot killed them – check this out by doing a Google on “DOSING DUCKS WITH LEAD SHOT”. Some, but not all died and no research in New Zealand has ever proven that any wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot – including mallards, grey teal, grey duck, shoveler, scaup and swans!

In the words of eminent scientist; John Reid: “There are issues concerning the way science and scientists are perceived by the public and by themselves?” Why is it assumed that science always gets it right, that only industry is capable of wrecking the environment? There are issues about the unholy alliance between environmental scientists on the government payroll and environmental activists and lobby groups acting politically. There are issues about the way in which scientists continue to produce those environmental “threats” which have proven so useful in maintaining projects’ funding.”

And in the words of another honest scientist “It may be that 1-2% of wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot”. In other words – Make the ‘science’ fit a pre-determined outcome!

Independent research into lead shot and waterfowl (with no pre-determined outcome) was carried out in the Waikato during the 2001 and 2002 hunting seasons when 219 mallards were shot and autopsied. 6% of the birds had small amounts of lead in their gizzards, but all were in prime condition and were showing none of the claimed signs of poisoning – which are purported to be; weight loss, deterioration of condition of body and feathers; together with a slow 3-4 week death period.

In the latest utterly insane announcement NZ Fish & Game Council proposes to ‘grand-parent’ all shotguns in gauges smaller than 12 gauge – 16, 20, 28, & 410 calibre. They also plan to record serial numbers and data base this against ownership. Of course, such a move by Fish &Game and their staff would be illegal, unless they have a firearm dealers licence.

Here are a few of the comments I’ve had to tolerate from Fish & Game staff during my efforts to show the incompetence of the NZ Fish & Game Council’s and its lack of management skills in recognising the plight of the mallard. Comments have also been received from the same staff in regard to my two articles published in the NZ Guns & Hunting magazines -“The Mallard Demise: and “The Steel Shot Fiasco”.

“He’s only trying to save his business.” Not true – I am trying to save waterfowl hunting! But it is true that NZ Fish & Game is well down the track towards destroying game bird hunting and, in turn, much of the NZ shooting sports industry – with many long term licence holders already giving up the sport. No consideration has been given towards the astronomical price of so called “non-toxic” ammunition in 410, 28 gauge 20 gauge and 16 gauge cartridges, with shotgun and ammunition sales diminishing by the day.

 “He needs to stick to breeding rare birds.” Nonsense – I have in fact reared over 2000 ducks in captivity  including, mallard, brown teal, grey teal, grey duck, scaup and shoveler.

 “His qualifications don’t stack up.” More nonsense – this must have come from a fool with a degree or from a fool without one.

 “He’s promoting breeding mallards in captivity.” True – because this activity may well save the mallard from extinction in New Zealand and I’ve reared close to 100 during the 2013 & 2014 seasons.

 “He claims we are idiots.” I never wrote or said this.

These incredibly naïve comments come from people who are mandated to represent the interests of Fish & Game licence holders. Such comments are totally counter-productive and display a total lack of understanding of the problems being generated by them as part of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

Tom Caithness pointed out in his lead shot research summary that  New Zealand wetlands are totally different to any other country. He also mentioned that he could not determine whether any bird he examined had died of lead poisoning.

 In addition the NZ Fish & Game Council has ensured that a ban has been placed on the use of steel shot in numerous pine forests in the central North Island – because of the associated fire risk, with steel hitting steel, as well as the damage it causes to chainsaws and circular saws. There are many important wetlands in these forests.

 On top of this and because of NZ Fish & Game’s dirty river campaign (over $2 million of licence holders’ money was spent) it now seems that farming groups are banding together to prevent duck hunters and trout fishermen entering their properties.


Here are some essential expectations that currently show no indication of being important to the NZ Fish & Game Council or its regional offices:

 Establishing a clearly defined job specification for the CEO/Manager.

 Establishing a clearly defined role and functions of  NZ Fish & Game Chairman, with some of the most important functions being – as decision maker – ensuring that the Council is complying with its statutory responsibilities and ensuring that staff are not heading in a direction that is counter-productive to the Council’s management plan.

 Establishing clearly defined roles for the Public Relations staff, complete with comprehensive job specifications.

 Establishing a clearly defined publicity/promotional plan.

 Establishing guidelines for the role that elected Councillors have to fulfil.

 Establishing clearly defining job specifications for all staff at the national


 Establishing clearly defined roles of the regional NZ Fish & Game Councillors, in an effort to ensure that they have a lucid appreciation of what is expected of them and to ensure that they never have a negative influence in areas of wildlife management of which they have no expertise (the same philosophy must also apply at regional council level).

 Active participation in promoting the creation, restoration, enhancement and management of wetlands; for the benefit of the country and for all who use wetlands, particularly the waterfowl – and ensuring that funding is always available for such activities.

 Actively promoting the importance and value of wetlands.

 The production of wetland management plans – where required.

 Ensuring that there is a sufficient annual crop of waterfowl for hunters to harvest.

 Playing a key role in promoting and implementing predator control.

 Ensuring that there is a greater awareness of the need for predator control – and about the essential species to target.

 Establishing a meaningful relationship with the farming community.

 Establishing educational programmes covering: firearms safety, the value of wetlands to waterfowl, the value of associated wetland vegetation and what to plant – including shrubs, trees, predator control techniques, and so on; for the benefit of all wetland birds.

 Encouraging licence holders – in a positive and supportive manner – to participate in Council affairs, with the aim of ensuring that those elected are the best people available.

 Ensuring that all Fish & Game staff see their work as a major public relations exercise, as some are known to adopt a Gestapo-like attitude in many situations – particularly when checking hunting licenses.

 NZ Fish & Game needs to divorce itself from the political control that both the Dept of Conservation and the Minister of Conservation have over it.

 Above all a far more professional and dedicated approach towards waterfowl and wetlands management is needed, together with far more respect for licence holders, together with a realisation that all employed in NZ Fish & Game Council work – are the employees of licence holders.


This brief article attempts to outline some of the numerous failings of the NZ Fish & Game Council in respect of its management of the sport of game bird hunting and its management of trout fishing – and has determined that:

 The future of the NZ Fish & Game Council and its regional structure appears to be doomed – and that it maybe too late for the Council to save itself from extinction.

 Over its 27-year history the NZ Fish & Game Council and most regional councils have collectively been an almost total abject failure in all areas of their fiduciary duties and their public profile ranks far lower than that of the acclimatisation societies – in spite of employing full time PR “experts”.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to listen to the informed opinion of licence holders and has ensured its own demise.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to promote the elimination of waterfowl predators.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to promote the sport of game bird hunting – in fact is openly discourages participation.

 Knowing the mallard as well as I do it is a species that with assistance will bounce back – but such assistance is unlikely to be forthcoming at the hands of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

 There is an urgent need to ensure that NZ Fish & Game Councillors are better informed on wildlife management issues.

 A number of Fish & Game staff need to be aware of their responsibilities to licence holders and they need to eliminate their Gestapo-like attitude towards the very people that keep them employed – and to further their education in all matters pertaining to wildlife management.

 As employers of all Fish & Game staff, licence holders are the stake holders and the intrinsic key to the future of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

 A major restructuring of the NZ Fish & Game Council is essential if it is to survive.

 It has never been proven that wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot – or potatoes – and the NZ Fish & Game Council has made a serious error of judgement with its move to expand its ban on lead shot.

 A massive reduction is the sale of game bird hunting licenses is expected and unless drastic action is immediately taken game bird hunting will eventually fail to exist.

 The proposal to ‘grand-parent’ sub calibre shotguns will surely go down in history as the most ludicrous wildlife management proposal ever.


For readers who don’t know; here are the main predators of our waterfowl – feral cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, harrier hawk, rats, hedgehogs and p-ukeko

Taumata Lagooon – An Example of Declining Mallard Numbers in the Wairarapa

This outstanding oxbow was once a key Wairarapa mallard flocking site and from February each year well over 5,000 mallards would arrive. But between 2000 & 2005 the numbers arriving gradually decreased and accelerated at an alarming rate after the ban on lead shot – and the advent of steel shot – to today’s level where no more than 100–150 mallards arrive, but there are large numbers of shoveler & grey teal.

In 2008 Wellington Fish & Game were invited to an Environmental Hearing – called to stop adjacent irrigation draining the lagoon – but they declined to attend.The lagoon seasons’ mallard tally has gone from 500-600 to less than 100. Such is the counter-productive success of the NZ Fish & Game Council. The lack of mallards at Taumata Lagoon is almost identical to all wetlands in the North Island, except perhaps for the fact that my Labrador has, since 2006, comfortably trebled his score for steel shot wounded birds after opening weekend.

For 24-years my dogs and I have spent every day in the wetland – exercising, checking predator traps, planting (over 15,000 trees), creating wetlands, enhancing wetlands, predator control, and so on, and we have never found any species of waterfowl that was dying from ingesting lead shot, but we have found large numbers of mallards suffering from the steel shot syndrome – still alive, but with broken wings, broken legs, large amounts of steel shot under the skin and in the breast meat.

Whilst there was a period when cropping in the Wairarapa diminished, it is now back in full swing, with lots of barley, wheat and maize being grown – but there are no mallards on the stubble!

Predator control of the area commenced in 1990, targeting; cats, mustelids, hedgehogs, rats and possums – and by April 2014 over 5000 predators had been eliminated, including the largest ferret ever eliminated in New Zealand. This monstor was eliminated by a Timms Trap. Nothing ever survives a Timms Trap but this ferret still managed to move five metres.

Since 2002 95% of the predator control at Taumata Lagoon has been carried out by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and today a number of regional councils’ are providing similar invaluable support with predator control programmes.

Of significant interest is that whilst there are now few mallards at Taumata Lagoon other bird species, such as grey teal, shoveler, dabchick, black swan, kereru, tui, bellbird, fantail and more pork are thriving. Grey teal now outnumber mallards by 500 to 1.

Over a four decade period we have also witnessed the impact of the harrier hawk on all bird species, their eggs and their progeny, because in 1986, at the instigation of the Acclimatisation Societies, the harrier gained very questionable protection. However, under a 2012 amendment to the Wildlife Act, harriers can be legally culled if native and/or endemic species are being protected.



1. Research carried out by the UK’s COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE “THE CASE FOR LEAD” Covering lead shot and lead in the environment. 2013

2. “THE STEEL SHOT FIASCO” NZ Guns & Hunting

Harry Ricketts – Wairarapa Word

August 2014 – Taragon Café Carterton

If you are new to poetry or just the occasional visitor to the art form (like me), Harry Ricketts is probably as accessible and pleasant a portal as any poet you are likely to meet. The afternoon starts off though with a short Open Mic session with local poets reciting one poem each. These seem to get better with each poem, even though the poets were placed in no particular order. I don’t know any of them personally, or their work, so can’t really comment other than to say their poems illustrate how varied is the art of poetry, and how many imaginative uses the various forms of poetry can be applied to.

This point is underlined further when Ricketts takes to the floor. To begin with, he kicks his shoes off to read in his socks, a habit he finds comfortable when delivering university lectures as well. He starts off by pointing out how he likes to begin by choosing a poem that puts him at ease. In this case it is one Ricketts composed when his daughter was young, and looks ahead to when she is a teenager, even though he admits that poets generally eschew writing poems about family, let alone reading them in public. It quickly becomes obvious that Ricketts doesn’t follow the rule book as he moves on to a limerick which he tells his listeners are generally frowned upon by the poetry fraternity but which he admires.

Humour is often present in one form or another throughout the reading, whether good natured or sardonic. His “ode to failure”, he says, is a direct response to the cult of success which was prevalent around ten years ago. Among the many positive traits of failure, the poem points out, are “that there are so many ways to fail,” and “so much more to savour.”

His eulogy for “Noddy”, remembering an Oxford friend from years ago, is an apology for believing there will “always time to catch till there wasn’t any more.” Nowhere is Ricketts’ engagement with the world through poetry more overt than in his poem on the pleasures of watching cricket at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. He read the same poem as his submission on the proposed motorway extension that would have seen traffic pass within metres of the Basin if it had been given the go ahead.

Ricketts has “always enjoyed poems that tell stories” and one of these is about “Aunty Bees Quality Preloved Books – Bought, Sold and Exchanged”, and specifically a book he bought there that had originally been given to Anne Faulkner for Third Prize in Attendance at her school’s prize giving in 1953. Ricketts conjectures all sorts of reasons for why Anne would receive such a lacklustre award.

Ricketts continues to engage, entertain and surprise his audience to the very end. His appropriation of the Creed from the Catholic Mass I rewritten to express the philosophy of a person of shallow and upwardly mobile character.

And lastly, a riposte to Phillip Larkin’s This Be the Verse which famously starts with the line “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” – Ricketts countering that while that may be so, everyone’s had a lifetime since to sort things out, so this should be used as an excuse for being a prat now.

Here’s a good interview with Ricketts in the Wairarapa Times Age just prior to the event –

Kuia: Kiri Riwai Couch

Kuia: Kiri Riwai Couch Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History reviewed at Wairarapa re-Views

Kuia: Kiri Riwai Couch Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History reviewed at Wairarapa re-Views

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History

June 2014

While Kiri Riwai Couch was pleased to have the above photograph as the one to be used to promote Kuia, I found it a bit off-putting. Hence not viewing the exhibition till just a week before it closed.

Not that it is a bad image, especially within the context of the others it hangs beside. But the expression and the moko lead me to expect it would be a bit shallow and overly staunch, and maybe a bit try hard in trying to link 21st kuia with traditional Maori culture.

In fact that particular portrait turned out to be the odd woman out. The vast majority of the images are much softer and uncontentious in their flavour (not that I’m afraid of challenging exhibitions, just ones that are a bit predictable).

Couch has done what all good portrait photographers do and let the sitter’s visage speak for itself. Her subjects are relaxed and in a natural frame of mind. She has wisely chosen a simple approach, excluding any extra extraneous background that might distract from the faces and shooting in black and white.

The secret of this type of portraiture is capturing as much detail of the face as possible. This alone is all you need to give you all the information you need. The relationship of the photographer to the sitter is incredibly important. This can be built in seconds or over years, as in this case. Obviously Couch’s close rapport with her subjects works to her advantage. Having met a small number of these women momentarily, I can see Couch has certainly captured their best qualities.

Couch has brought out the natural dignity of the women. The text beside the portraits fills in the back stories but in a way, it’s all there in the photographs anyway. Clearly these are giving women, who the accompanying text reveals, have made important contributions to their communities through Te Reo, kohanga reo, education, their churches and in other ways.

Being Maori is important to them, but there is no attempt to set them apart from the modern world they live in, and turn them into living relics as used to be the case. Their whakapapa is expressed through the curves of their faces and the pendants some wear.


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