Bellamy down-under

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If David Bellamy could have his own way, his new television series on New Zealand natural history would be titled Raiders of the Last Ark. But Stephen Spielberg won’t let him, so he’s had to settle for Moa’s Ark. The Hollywood sci-fi movie producer has apparently threatened to sue Bellamy if he adapts the title of his box office smash, so instead just the last chapter of his book will carry it.

Either way, the theme of the TV series (and the book which accompanies it—Bellamy’s 35th) is that New Zealand is the earth’s last ark, floating along for thousands of years with its rare and beautiful plants, birds and animals still intact, then along come the raiders who wreak havoc on the land in just a few hundred years.

The moral of the story is that New Zealanders are uniquely placed to save what’s left of this “last bit of real estate”.

The famous British botanist is on a four-month visit to New Zealand this summer mainly to help the New Zealand Natural Heritage Foundation get off the ground. Most of his time will be spent filming four 50-minute television programmes, which are to be screened in 1990, and teaching at Massey University where the foundation is based.

The foundation’s mission, developed jointly by Bellamy and Massey’s Professor Brian Springett, is to conduct a major public assessment of New Zealand’s natural heritage, to celebrate it and to work out ways of using and protecting it. With its main thrust in 1990, the foundation will produce TV programmes, publish two books (the other is on New Zealand ecology), develop a New Zealand heritage package for tourism and educational materials for schools and create an extramural university course on New Zealand’s natural heritage.

For England’s Botanic Man (the name of Bellamy’s first top-rating TV show) the chance to champion the cause for conservation in New Zealand is “pure pleasure”. He makes no secret of his love for New Zealand, a country he has visited almost 30 times in 20 years.

The 6ft 2in former deckchair attendant, sewer inspector and painter of white lines on roads is just as well known in New Zealand as he is in his homeland for his dynamic and flamboyant television presentation style and his public protests on conservation issues. Arrested in Tasmania in 1983 during a demonstration opposing the Gordon River dam project, his most memorable New Zealand experience, he says, was a run-in with angry residents of the Minginui Forest area.

At first the local Maori timber workers regarded him as a greenie whose media campaign to stop logging was adding to the threat of unemployment for them. “A couple of big fellas on motorbikes got me in a bush-hut, rather roughly forced me down on a bench and to my amazement pulled out a crate of beer, put a bottle in my hand and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ At first it was frightening but I was then able to explain that by saving the forest they could preserve their own heritage and employment for their children from tourism.” Later, on the local marae, Bellamy was accorded an official welcome as a friend and given a carved staff as a token of gratitude for the message he brought the people.

He says his message to the Minginui people is the same one he’ll be advocating in Moa’s Ark. “New Zealand’s strange and unique flora and fauna are heading for extinction unless you can get your conservation act together. Considering your tiny population, if New Zealand can’t get conservation working, no one can.” The key, he believes, is to integrate conservation values into the educational syllabus of schools from primary right through to 6niversity level.

“You have a truly amazing country with many world firsts to its credit… the world’s biggest moss, Dawsonia superba; the world’s smallest moss, Ephemeropsis; the world’s biggest buttercup, Ranunculus lyalli; the world’s biggest thallose liverwort, Monoclea; and the world’s biggest leafy liverwort. And you have many unique and seriously endangered species of bird and animal.”

Bellamy believes tourism holds one of the keys to our future. “The thing that annoys me that you get about 0.02 per cent of all the tourists in the world and yet your tourism industry brought in almost half as much as agriculture last year. Your poor farmers are dying of drought, so what they should do is put the land back into trees and quadruple the number of tourists coming here. You should take advantage of your Government’s stand on the nuclear issue and tell the world that your country is the cleanest and your food is the purest.”

Moa’s Ark deals with many aspects of Maori land claims and fishing rights. It also traces the history of the Treaty of Waitangi. But Bellamy the publicist will not disclose details. “You’ll just have to wait until 1990 and see when the series goes to air.” However, the forever-talking font of quotable quotes does let one relevant Bellamy-ism slip. “As far as the Treaty of Waitangi is concerned it doesn’t matter who owns the resources or has sovereignty over them, it’s how you use your resources that ma­tters most.”

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