Written by      

Rob Brown

Some 700 years ago, a hunter from the Waitahaiwi took shelter in a cave in Craigmore Valley, South Canterbury, and rendered upon a limestone wall his quarry of the day—three giant moa. Even at that time, moa were well on the way to extinction, a fact that may not have been lost on the hunter, who sought to preserve their image in charcoal, in all likelihood taken from the same fire on which they were roasted.

The charcoal figures are still there today, quiet testimony to a hunter trying to provide for himself and his family, and a gradually fad­ing acknowledgement that humans have always struggled to live within their means in New Zealand.

As we go to press, the mainstream media continue their sabre-rattling cov­erage of government plans to extract conservation land from Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act to make it available for mining. At the same time, the Environment Court has granted re­source consent to the long-contested Mokihinui dam project north of West­port on the West Coast, and 330 ha of conservation estate is likely to be flooded. Both debates split public opin­ion down predictable lines—the value of the environment for utility versus its intrinsic value, a duality which has de­fi ned this country since the first human settlement and vexes Europeans as it has Maori.

It’s tempting to think that we may be sitting on a goldmine. All it takes is a glance over the shoulder at Australia’s mineral wealth—after all, since both countries are just chips off the old Gond­wanan block, why wouldn’t we expect backyard discoveries of gold, uranium, rubies? Recent work by geologists Nick Mortimer and Hamish Campbell from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) has confirmed that there are “geologically credible comparisons” between New Zealand’s mineralisation and that of Australia, particularly in the South Island. And as a society of mineral consumption—in cars, computers and construction for instance—there is a need to mine.

However, the advent of the Milford Track and Te Arawa’s ability to turn boil­ing mud into hard currency proved early in our nascent tourism industry that in­trinsic value is bankable too. This con­cept even extends to the fish in the sea. The New Zealand game-fishing indus­try, spawned in the Bay of Islands in the 1920s, now reels in $65 million a year and provides the equivalent of 151 full-time jobs. But, as you will read in this is­sue, its future is contingent on the health of fish stocks being exploited commer­cially by longline vessels, a recreational fishery worth millions under pressure from industry in much the same way as mining might threaten tourism.

I’d like to dial back time, sit in a cave in South Canterbury and, presuming that my te reo had been equally transformed, have a fireside chat with that Maori hunter, because the questions that rattle in my mind are the same that must have irked him then. How much do you take? And how much do you leave? How do you balance today’s pressing realities with an inscrutable fu­ture? And if you had just one thing to scrawl on a wall to be read by generations after you, what would it be?

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