Friday, March 26, 2010
'DEEP SOUTH AOTEAROA/RETURN TO AUSTRALIA' JEFF PHILLIPS
THE MAGNETIC ANOMALY EXPERIENCE
A DECADE ‘DOWN UNDER’
MILFORD SOUND ROAD
THE BEAUTY OF FIORDLAND
THE ‘CHEMICAL CONNECTION’ CONTINUES
THE FAULTY PRODUCT TAPE-LOOP SYNDROME
GREETINGS FROM RAKIURA’
NOT QUITE THE LOW POINT OF THE NZ TOURISM MENTALITY
TRYING TO GO ON-LINE
TRANSPORT AND PESTICIDES
THE RETIRED MINISTER WHO TRIED TO SELL SHIT
HOPE FOR NEW ZEALAND’S TOURISM INDUSTRY
ESCAPE FROM THE ‘DEEP SOUTH’ MENTALITY ANOMALY
BACK TO THE DREAM-TIME
Greetings from Byron Bay NSW on the sunny east coast of Australia. The past few weeks since my last update have been flat-out and full-on in many ways. To begin with, for the past year or so our international travel seems to have become synchronized with solstices and equinoxes; when we returned to Australia from the U.K. in 2008 it was right on the austral vernal equinox; when we left Australia on the edge of the legendary radio-active dust storm in 2009, and arrived in New Zealand, that was also right on the austral vernal equinox; and two days ago we returned to Australia, once again right on the austral autumnal equinox. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but it does give us a sense of somehow being cosmically in tune with local spatio-temporal rhythms, kind of like heliocosmic chrono-tidal fluctuations. It also makes for somewhat stressful travel experiences; and not only do we arrive in different time zones, we arrive in a different season. Not coincidentally, I think that all life on this planet is currently arriving in a different season of a vast galactic ‘year’…not in 2012…just about…NOW!
THE MAGNETIC ANOMALY EXPERIENCE
We love New Zealand but after six months there, the last three of which were on the South Island, Liesbet and I both felt a profound sense of relief to be back in Australia. Part of it I’m sure was psychological, relating to our “Aotealypse Now” experiences in the deep south of the South Island, which I’ll elaborate on later; but most of it was actually physical and somatic…a lessening of a cumulative stress we’d been feeling for quite some time. The underlying reasons for this feeling are probably very complex, but not unrelated to the geo-physical stress generated in the Earth all along fault-lines and tectonic plate junctures across the planet, the disruptions/distortions in local magnetic fields due to this stress, and their exacerbations due to energetic changes happening throughout the entire solar system and beyond. In other words, what we were feeling may be being felt by and/or affecting people living on or close to fault-lines all over the world, in this case, the ‘Pacific rim.’ In case you weren’t aware, New Zealand is actually bisected by a major fault-line, straddling the transverse subduction zone between the Pacific and Indian/Australian tectonic plates. Even Kiwis as a whole don’t know of the existence of what’s called the “Stokes Magnetic Anomaly”, a cartographic region that basically follows the fault line along the South Island, but veers off to the west in the north and out to sea to the east through Wanaka and Cromwell. Within this region the Earth’s magnetic field is distorted because of proximity to the fault line, and any readings taken using a magnetic compass must be adjusted accordingly.
Since Christmas we’d been planning to go to Chile in the latter part of March, but it didn’t seem to be coming together as we’d hoped, then all of a sudden we get news of the 8.2 quake and tsunami that devastated Conception and left millions of people without electricity. I don’t have a lot of up to date information, but I read that the Chilean media was forbidden to show dead people and that the actual death toll was significantly higher than the government let on. I did get an email from my friend in Pucon, a few hours to the south and inland from Conception. She related that they felt the quake and after-shocks there, but that damage was minimal and that everything had returned pretty much to normal. This was as of last week, three weeks after the quake. The Patagonia region and extreme south were probably unaffected geologically, but the vast majority of travel to those regions originates from Santiago. Chile, which I refer to as ‘the Imax version of New Zealand”, is on the opposite side of the Pacific plate, and right on the currently exploding ‘ring of fire.’
At any rate, it seemed like our guardian angels had kept us out of Chile for the time being, and brought us back to our beloved ‘land of Aus’, which is coincidentally some of the oldest and most geographically stable land on the Earth’s surface. Maybe we had to come back to carry on the ‘good fight’ here, against pesticides, fluoridation, ionising radiation, ecocide, scientific illiteracy in the public mind, the increasing levels of mental dysfunction that are passing for ‘normal’, and last but not least, a subset of the latter which I’ll refer to as “fundamentalist capitalism.”
With respect to the global geo-catastrophe scenario, however, the important thing to be aware of is that what happened in Chile could VERY EASILY happen in New Zealand. Plus, when I saw the looters making off with refrigerators and microwaves in Chile, because there weren’t enough police to keep “law and order” amidst the chaos, I asked my friends in New Zealand if they thought the same thing would happen here. Much to my surprise, they said ‘yees’: that if a major disaster struck, people would be out in the streets looting and pillaging. In “safe, clean and green” New Zealand? These were friends who’d lived in New Zealand their entire lives.
A DECADE ‘DOWN UNDER’
In mid-February we celebrated my “decade ‘down under’” and my tenth year of travelling in New Zealand, not by discrete ovine intimacy, getting “on the piss”, having “fush and chups”, polishing our ‘EFTPOS’ cards, or watching ‘footy’, but by reflecting on how I’ve seen New Zealand change in this time. I make no claim to being an expert Aotearologist, but I think I do have a unique and moderately comprehensive perspective on the ‘state of the nation’ from constantly being on the move all over the country, returning every year or so, often to the same special and familiar places, and from hitch-hiking, which puts us in touch with a broad cross-section of real people.
The post-“Lord of the Rings” New Zealand of today is a radically different place from what seemed like the laid-back and largely pastoral national park I first visited in 2000; what has changed more than anything is the basic vibe, the “background radiation” that you feel from the land and people. And it’s not a good thing, either; I’ve actually been quite amazed at the rapidity with which socio-cultural and economic/ecological malaise has grown. It’s kind of like Golum has crept into the national psyche. Some may beg to differ, but if there’s anyone who has travelled so extensively in New Zealand over the past ten years and who really does love her like I do, I’d like to hear what they have to say. More on all this later. At some point I really want to make the time to write a much more in-depth article, perhaps even a book, about my “decade ‘down under’.
My last report was I believe from Te Anau, where we’d returned from a four day wilderness trek onto Mt.Titiroa in Fiordland, and were preparing to leave again to travel down the road to Milford Sound.
MILFORD SOUND ROAD
We got a ride out of Te Anau with a cool British guy named Lloyd who had spent several years as a soldier in Iraq and authored a book called The Mind of War under the pen-name of Syd Gould. He dropped us at the Fiordland National Park Lodge, where he was working as a chef. It was pretty late in the day, and when the manager there revealed himself to be a complete ass (apparently such a chronic jerk that the whole place was shutting down…and so ironic that people like this are increasingly to be found in the ‘hospitality’ industry…read on!) and wouldn’t let us set up our tent on their property, even though we offered to pay and there was plenty of space…this was the middle of nowhere…we just hitched back a few kms to Henry Creek, where there’s a nice DOC campground right on the shores of the lake, with a trillion-pebbled beach and nice Fiordland vistas.
The next day was beautiful, and was actually the tenth anniversary of the day that I first arrived in New Zealand. Seemingly in honor of this, we got a ride pretty quickly with a very nice gentleman named Gerrard, who lives on Reunion, a volcanic island and French territory near Mauritius, to the east of Madagascar. The first thing he did was to explain almost apologetically that he was going to be going very slow, as he liked to stop and take a lot of pictures! Obviously we were delighted to have such a ride, as normally we miss lots of cool photos because we don’t like asking people to stop very often; he was doing it just like we would were we driving…stopping every couple hundred meters or so to take pictures!
The road to Milford Sound has to be one of the most awesome roads in the world in terms of the spectacularity of the landscape; several hours and dozens of photos later we arrived at Milford Sound, weary from dozens of entries and exits to and from Gerrard’s van, but happy to be there. We camped out at the Milford Sound Lodge, which does have a campground area, but all the sites are crammed right on top of each other, with no more than 2-3 meters between tents. This is a problem with campgrounds and caravan parks in general, trying to cram too many sites into small areas, which can be nothing more than a matter of greed. The effect is that the places seem more like stock-yards than camping facilities.
My biggest objection by far to being crammed in right next to someone else is the problem of acoustics. The vast majority of people who are in tents don’t seem to have any idea whatsoever that other people can hear every word they say, every cough, every guffaw, every moan and groan. They talk at the volume they usually require to be heard over the ubiquitous television which they might even have if they were in a caravan. Unlike the walls of houses or even of caravans, tents provide almost zero acoustic insulation.
This is a chronic and on-going issue at the majority of caravan parks where we’ve found ourselves; we usually try to find a site as far away from anyone else as possible. But then, there’s this strange effect where, no matter how far away you are, sometimes people come in and want to set up right next to us, even though there’s plenty of other sites much further away. I’ve even asked people to go please go somewhere else, and/or relocated our tent to another site just to maintain a degree of acoustic buffering.
In Wanaka we’d already moved tent once to get away from people who insisted on coming too close when there were plenty of other sites; then the next day I was sitting on our picnic table playing guitar when all of a sudden I hear “crash!” and I look up to see this big inbred-looking homer sapien-type person literally throwing his pack down on the ground, about 2 meters from me. THEN, he comes over and starts telling me that my guitar is beautiful and that I play beautiful music…this scared me, as I’d been facing away from the main area, and he’d obviously been sitting there watching me for who knows how long…AND that he could tell that I was “just like him” because he “doesn’t like people.” Which is why we had our tent as far as possible from all the others. Now, this dude looked and acted like he might be on or had been on medication; and I was quite f*cked off by all this. Then he kept saying that we should just shake hands and be, you know, FRIENDS. Obviously in honor of the fact that neither of us likes people, right? I said, “Dude, what are you doing…there’s plenty of room all over this area where you can go and not be right on top of us.” But he had to stay THERE, as that was a spot he had camped on before…no matter that we were already there. I never said another word to him, although he kept talking to me. I just took down our tent and moved it all to another site about 30 meters away, on the other side of a big shrubbery which offered a degree of protection. Then, to be on the safe side, I went and had a word with the owner of the caravan park, who was a very nice person who also owned a lavender farm. He said he’d note who the guy was and keep an eye out. A day or so later I had formulated my response to “psycho” as I thought of him. ”Bro, actually I LOVE people…it’s ASS-HOLES that I don’t like.” But by then he was gone, maybe even back to Amerika™ where he was from, where I’m sure he’ll blend right in with the Robamic fundamentalist “Yes, we can”-ners.
At the Milford Sound Lodge, however, there was nowhere else to go in the area, and we wanted to do a cruise on the sound first thing the next morning, so we had to camp there. All was ok until around 3am when we were blasted awake by a barrage of some of the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard…it sounded like a bull-frog crossed with a machine gun. After probably 30 minutes of hoping for it to stop, I was disturbed enough by it to go out of the tent and pick up a handful of gravel and toss it over onto the snorer’s tent. Believe it or not, this didn’t even phase him. I even did it again, and still no luck. By now I was looking at a good-sized log that was laying there, but prudence over-ruled my insomniacal agitation so I lay back down. “Put in some ear-plugs”, you might say, which is of course what some people might do. But we were depending on our alarm-clock to wake us up at 5 a.m. to get ready for the cruise, and with decent ear-plugs I may not have heard it; moreover, my reasoning is why the f*ck should WE have to suffer simply because the owners of the camping facility are so greedy that they had to cram in many more sites than should have ever been there? There was plenty of room where other sites could have been, but instead it was taken up by a parking lot and giant gravel sites for caravans. The result was that we never made it back to sleep after being blasted awake; at least we didn’t have to worry about hearing the alarm clock!
We were weary, but the day was awesome. After boarding the cruise boat, which was very much like a herd of cattle loading onto a transport vehicle…I even “moo-ed” a few times!...we entered the sound and the truly spectacular beauty of the nearly vertical cliff faces came into view, rising almost 1000 meters above the ocean surface.
Regardless of the spectacularity, however, you never forget that you’re on a tour; the waters and air-space of Milford Sound teem with tourist-related activities, year round we are told. Robert, our “guide” on this cruise, shared some interesting statistics with us, for example, that over 90 boat cruises take place every day, along with about 250 plane flights and probably almost as many helicopter tours. This makes the airport at Milford Sound the busiest in all of New Zealand, busier even than Auckland’s international airport! I believe Robert also said that during peak season, around 6000 people per day visit Milford Sound. Even if you make the conservative estimate that each tourist is probably going to spend at least $100 there (but probably much more!), that’s well over a half a million $ per day coming into one tiny tourist village alone! Well done, ‘Lord of the Rings’!!!
After the cruise we hitched towards The Divide, where the Milford trail-head for the Routeburn track begins. A cool guy called “Dr. Wil” gave us a ride in his delivery truck. He was an interesting person who had a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and had spent a year working on vaccines for the U.S. Army in the states. I asked him if his vaccines were designed to heal or kill people and his response was, “You never know with the Army.” I started asking him about the 1080 thing; I noted that his responses sounded almost like what you’d expect to hear from a DOC employee, only to learn that in fact he had been a DOC hut warden for a year! But I think I did get him thinking about some of the issues involved with New Zealand’s seemingly insane determination to nuke vast areas of both islands with a ‘super-toxin’ that’s banned in almost every other country because of its threat to human health. Some of the DOC propaganda talks about how New Zealand “doesn’t have any larger mammals that would be affected.” Wait a minute…aren’t sheep mammals? Cows, too? Dogs? We’re talking mammals that they supposedly DON’T want to exterminate. And, most interestingly, does DOC not recognize that they themselves, like all other people, are mammals, too? Or maybe this is actually the point…the whole 1080 thing IS about self-extermination. Maybe the possum-noia and consequent ecocide raging all over Aotearoa are really a thinly-disguised means of collective suicide? The final result of a decades-long “socio-psychological experiment” in halogen toxicity run by the Tavistock Institute in one of its distant colonial laboratories? Maybe this is what former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former CIA director George Tenet were discussing at that Queenstown café the time I saw them on NZ television news in 2002 I think it was.
THE BEAUTY OF FIORDLAND
Wil dropped us at The Divide, and we immediately began our ascent up to Key Summit, a very beautiful alpine region where three different tracks/valleys can be accessed (Routeburn, Greenstone, and Caples). At the summit, several small tarns glistened in the summer sun and precipitous peaks rose in the distance all around us. Camping is not allowed in this area, so we carried on for another kilometre or two along a visible but not maintained track following the ridge to the north, and found a fantastic place to pitch our tent, sheltered from the southerly wind but with a view all around. As the sun set, beautiful clouds of mist began to flow up from the valleys below, and soon we found ourselves immersed within gently blowing clouds into which the surrounding mountains disappeared, leaving us alone cooking dinner in a very peaceful silence. Our night there, and our nights at Sugarloaf, on the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn track, were the quietest and most peaceful nights we had on the South island, as on these evenings we were at least a few kms away from anyone else…very precious moments in which you can actually feel what nature is supposed to be like, without disruption from human acoustic pollution.
The next morning we walked a little further to the north along the ridge, spotting more and larger tarns in the distance; the track, which seemed to parallel the Greenstone track in the valley below, seemed to continue over the most distant ridges. We still don’t know what track this was, if it even has a name. Then we returned down from Key Summit, along the end of the Routeburn track, back to Milford Sound road, and got a ride with Roger from Switzerland, who was cool enough to drop us at Gunns Camp, on the road to the Hollyford track, where we camped out by the river.
Named for Davy Gunns, kind of like the “Daniel Boone of New Zealand”, the camp is basically a caravan park with a small shop and museum housing authentic artefacts that Davy used. He must have been a helluva frontiersman judging from the range of tools there. The weirdest thing was something that resembled a huge bolt-cutter, with handles almost a meter long, that was for ‘de-horning’ cattle! Don’t leave home without it!
Camping at Gunns was pretty good, as it is a low-key environment as opposed to a multi-star luxury-adventure “eco-“ tourism circus facility. In the kitchen here I saw a tourism brochure for the recently-upgraded Hump Ridge track along the southern coast of the south island. I look at this stuff just to see what the latest scams are, and sure enough, a brand new one was there. It’s called “heli-lifting” where, get this, a chopper is hovering around around to carry your back-pack from one hut to another. I know that’s what I seek in a wilderness experience! In fact, if we were going to all that trouble, I’d probably just climb onto the chopper myself and save the time and effort of walking! Later on, I was inspired to come up with “heli-wiping”, which is when a chopper follows you everywhere you go on your tramp and someone drops down to wipe your ass for you after each and every crap! I’m even starting to think that helicopters should be banned from the south island; after all, if it weren’t for un- or marginally -scrupulous chopper pilots working for the Golum-dollar, heli-lifting, heli-hunting (this is where you find, shoot, and retrieve your ‘trophy’ all by chopper…how sportsmanlike and manly is this?), heli-wiping, and aerial 1080 drops would be impossible. And Milford Sound would be a quieter place. After one of our most sand-fly intensive evenings, the next day we hitched a short ride to the trail head to Lake Marian with a nice German couple, Richard and Petra.
THE “CHEMICAL CONNECTION” CONTINUES…
The “chemistry coincidence” pattern was maintaining itself, too. After having met Rob Plumbe (former agricultural chemist) at Akaroa, Tim Pullen (computer specialist for NSW DEC, who manages Lord Howe Island), Roy Taylor (director, nuclear magnetic resonance centre at Newcastle University in the U.K.) in Te Anau, and Dr. Wil (biochemist, military vaccine scientist) on the Milford Sound road, we met Petra, who is a Feldenkrais (“awareness through movement”) instructor, but Richard is…guess what…an analytical chemist with his own lab, who specializes in testing foods for pesticide residues! I whipped out the video camera and got him talking about what he does. He hadn’t heard of 1080, and wasn’t familiar with fluorine as a toxin per se, BUT he did make some interesting points, verifying something that I’d always believed to be the case: if you’re testing a sample for the presence of something, you can only ask very specific ‘questions’ and therefore get only very specific ‘answers.’ In other words, you can’t just run a sample through a gas chromatography column or subject it to mass-spectroscopic analysis and then get a read-out that tells everything that’s there. Quite to the contrary, you have to specifically ‘ask’ if one certain thing is there, and at what level of concentration; then your ‘answer’ will tell you basically ‘yes’ or ‘no’ concerning its presence, and if it’s present at the specified level of concentration OR HIGHER…but NOT LOWER. The substance you’re looking for could easily be there, and at dangerous levels, only at lower concentrations than the technology can recognize.
And this is precisely one of the major issues concerning the whole class of synthetic chemicals known as “endocrine disruptors”: their concentrations of activity or “threshold of effect” is at least a thousand times lower than the levels for which most toxic chemicals are tested for. In other words, the amount of 1080, for example, that it takes to produce the “endocrine disrupting” effect of causing infertility in males, may be present in soil and water (and agricultural products) all over New Zealand, but remains undetected because the testing methodology or technology is not looking at that sensitive of a level. More on all this later…and the endocrine disruptor thing isn’t just a New Zealand issue, it’s totally global.
Richard and Petra dropped us at the trailhead to Lake Marian, which is a beautiful “hanging lake” that we could see from Key Summit. It’s only a couple hour walk, but fairly steep and over plenty of rocks and roots. At this time, Fiordland in general had been experiencing a “drought”; but a “Fiordland drought” doesn’t mean that it hadn’t rained at all in recent weeks, only that the area hadn’t had it’s usual torrential downpours. Pleasantly for us, a nice little rain had fallen the night before but now the sun shone, so the air was clean and fresh, the forest was glistening with drops of water, and all the plants were joyfully photosynthesising and basking in renewed moisture. This forest has your classic Fiordland huge beech trees, and carpets of “wizard moss” covering everything. See, this place was “Middle Earth” for millennia before Tolkien was even conceived!
Lake Marian is awesome, and a lot bigger than we thought. Because of the rain the night before, dozens of water-falls gushed off the cliffs in every direction. The wind never completely subsided, to provide us with the “mirror-image” reflections that make such lovely photos, but it did calm down a bit here and there. We spent a couple hours there before we hiked back down and then out to the main Milford Sound road to make our way back to Manapouri, hopefully before dark. The wind was whipping and a little rain was in the air as we prepared to hitch, typical late-summer weather for there. We put on warmer water-proof gear, as there was no telling how long we’d be there…there seemed to be hardly any traffic. But after only a few minutes, a nice German guy, Sebastian, stopped. He wasn’t going very far, only to a campground about 20 kms away, but we were going to go with him anyway; I somehow thought to hold up our “Manapouri” sign as the next car came past. Surprisingly, they stopped, a nice British couple who were going to Te Anau, only 20 kms from Manapouri; luckily, then, with one more ride just at dark from an American couple living in Viet Nam, we were back “home” to the wonderful caravan park run by Joelle Nicholson and her son Aaron, where we’d based ourselves for the previous two weeks. We’d been more “at home” there than anywhere else in New Zealand, except of course for our hugely wonderful weeks on Great Barrier island.
After a couple days of resting up, we were ready to head down to Rakiura, or Stewart Island as the “pakeha” calls it (“pakeha” is the Maori name for the white man, it means “white pig”)…the “deep south” of New Zealand. Because we had only limited time before we were leaving New Zealand, and also because we wanted to give ourselves at least a week back on Great Barrier before we left, instead of hitching to Invercargill we took a shuttle to make sure we were there in time for the boat later in the day.
We were out at the road by 7:15 am like they told us, but the shuttle was nowhere to be seen. We phoned and found out that it was just running a little late, which was good, because Mother Nature was giving us a magnificent show of early-morning rainbows and assorted other atmospheric splendours over the Fiordland mountains beyond Lake Manapouri. And as we headed south, for the next hour we could look back and see the entire eastern ridge of Mt. Titiroa, that we couldn’t see at all from Manapouri. It’s HUGE…it looks like there’s actually three different ridges coming off the summit, and possibly even a fourth one to the west. We haven’t been able to track down any information about the spiritual significance of Mt. Titiroa to the Waitaha or Maori; “titi” is their name for the mutton bird; and “roa” means “long.”
But this magic mountain continues to beckon to us, to return on our next visit to Aotearoa and spend at least a dry or two exploring the quartzite ridges, with their dunes of white crystals and freaky wind-sculpted boulders. Interestingly, it was around the time we returned to Manapouri from Mt. Titiroa that we began to feel “weird”, as if there it was we began to pick up on or be affected by the disrupted magnetic fields of the Stokes magnetic anomaly and the south island fault line. This would actually make sense, as quartz and its related minerals are powerful transducers of vibration; and even though we didn’t make it to the top of Titiroa, we nonetheless ascended onto the base of the ridge…who knows how big of a chunk of quartzite the top of that mountain is actually made of. It could be kind of like a giant energy receiver/transponder for the entire south island, or maybe even for the whole planet, being a gigantic crystalline structure located right on the fault line. It could be a place from where the “pulse of the planet” might be felt. And if it’s the “pulse of the planet” we came to feel there, we’d all better be on the look-out, big-time!!!
After we got to Invercargill we had a couple hours before the shuttle to Bluff, where the boat across Foveaux Strait leaves. This gave us a chance to deal with another on-going issue, not directly related to but running in parallel with, our varied and often inharmonious encounters with the tourism industry: hard-drive failure.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m the first to admit that the kinds of things people in our “world” get to worry about…in some cases, stuff like “my daughter is tying up the phone line” to “the electricity is turned off at the caravan park for a few hours” (after all, what’s ‘camping out’ without your toaster, television, or microwave?)…in our case, “artillery-level snoring woke us up at 3 a.m.” or “I just had my third hard-drive failure in less than a year”…these things aren’t as bad as the Brazilian tourists who got nuked by pesticide sprayed from a helicopter in New Zealand…and not nearly as bad as, for example, “our village got fire-bombed by American fighter planes” or “our housing development got bull-dozed by Israeli soldiers” or “the rice we’ve been growing for thousands of years has just been patented by Monsanto and now we have to pay them royalties or go to jail…”
The stuff we get to worry about isn’t usually of life-or-death significance (but sometimes you’d think it was, from how people act!)…but we worry about it all just the same. After all, if you ran out of things to worry about, you might come down with aphobophobia, the fear of having nothing to be afraid of!
So, with this acknowledgement of and concession to the relative insignificance of these day-to-day concerns, allow me to share with you the failing hard-drive tape-loop experience. You’d think that with the tireless ingenuity of computer designers…imagine, for example, the number of person-hours that goes into developing ‘upgrades to be downloaded’ every year?...they’d have a sort of “electronic Viagra™” that you’d boot up when your hard-drive was flopping…but no, it’s way more complex than that…
THE ‘FAULTY PRODUCT TAPE-LOOP’ SYNDROME [if you’re not a ‘computer person’ you might want to skip this section…but if you are, you might identify with what I’m talking about…]
You might own an external hard-drive yourself. We know a film-maker in Hobart who owns fourteen one-terabyte drives…one for each film project he’s working on. Peta-byte is the next level, being a thousand tera-bytes, but I haven’t seen these yet! I’ve had one ever since I got my first (and still, only) computer in 2005, mainly to provide sufficient storage space for digitized video. I still have the 500 gig LaCie that I bought then, and it still works perfectly. It went everywhere I went, in my back-pack, until I got a bigger one in 2008.
I upgraded to a 1 Terabyte LaCie, to provide more space, as Liesbet and I were embarking on the film-making thing. I left the 500 gig in storage, and brought the 1-T with me as I’d always done. But this one started making strange noises and sounded as if it was trying to die after about a month. I continued to use it in Europe, and it worked, but in January of 2009, just about on the very day that we launched into full-stop video editing for our first film Cryo 2008, it started showing a little box that said something like, “WARNING! I’M ABOUT TO DIE. Back up everything on another drive.” Luckily, we were close to Hobart where I’d bought it, and with the assistance of the shop manager Neil (who knew me all too well from previous debacles, for example, the time when the mac-repair-person decided to “wipe” my hard-drive, assuring me that absolutely nothing would change or be lost, yet the actual result was that I lost about 30% of my programs and all of the organization of my iTunes music. This was when I came up with a new word, “techniatrogenic”, meaning “when you take something to get fixed and it comes back with problems it didn’t have before it was ‘fixed.’”) I was able to get a duplicate drive the next day (avoiding the necessity of their having to ship the drive to LaCie in Sydney to verify that indeed it had shat itself THEN giving me the replacement drive weeks later), and we continued with our film-making with no technical problems. Importantly, I now realized the importance of having TWO drives, one as a back-up of the other, so I also bought a 1-T Western Digital.
At this time I was still ok with LaCie. But, when we got to Great Barrier island in October, that drive had been sitting there on the table literally for several weeks, working perfectly, when all of a sudden one day, it just wouldn’t come on. It was “dead as a rat”, as the Kiwis like to say…just out of the blue, with no warning. Nothing had happened to it in any way, it just “died in its sleep.”
NOW I was pissed off. This was the SECOND LaCie to crap itself in not much more than six months, whereas the first one from 2005 still worked fine. I suspected, or rather, I was certain, that since 2005, LaCie had received the “phone call from China” offering to produce their product for a fraction of what it presently cost them. Yes, I know someone who received such a call. But most business-persons being what they are…greed-mongers at heart with dollar-signs flashing in their eyes, slurping from the troughs of Mammon and worshiping in the Molochian temples we know as “banks”…cannot resist the opportunity to increase their profit-margin so fantastically…hence, the global decline in product quality that we all are acutely aware of.
Sure, you might say, “Jeff, maybe you shouldn’t carry around the hard-drives in your back-pack.” Nay, however, this is not the problem; the first LaCie that still works underwent several years of travel in my pack, without any problems; the other two experienced identical treatment (which includes extremely careful packing, placement, and shock-absorption…see, I WANT the drives to keep working properly!) only for a few months each, not years. And the two that died did so from a stationary frame of reference; none of them had ever been dropped or even so much as banged or knocked over, on or off. In other words, it was obviously a manufacturing defect. This was verified by the manufacturer in both instances.
Now, with this second LaCie failure in a few months, I wanted out of the product loop: I didn’t want yet another bogus piece of crap that might work for a few weeks before fecalization took place. I HATE having to waste so much of my time and energy on dealing with this kind of thing, not to mention the fact that with this second failure, I temporarily lost around 90 gigs of music that, luckily, I still had backed-up on the original LaCie…but it was in a different country! I’ve got better things to do than make expensive long-distance phone calls to people who are generally clueless, explaining the same thing over and over again, packing up the faulty crap, making trips to the post, hoping it makes its way to the right person, then waiting for them to decide if it’s their fault or not.
This time, Neil tried to be of assistance. I told him I’d had it with LaCie, so we made an arrangement with the head office in Sydney that I’d just send it directly to them to save time. As soon as they looked at it, they’d give Neil permission to refund the $470 I paid for it, which I could then use to get another brand of drive. It seemed to be going smoothly until Neil forgot to notify their bank, which was in Australia. This was right before Christmas. Then, to further complicate matters, the financial service there never got my bank details from Neil, and decided to post a check to me back in New Zealand! As of a month later, no check had come. Finally, about a month ago, I got the check…six months after the hard-drive had failed!
Wait…there’s more! I know this is probably tedious and boring, but I’m trying to make a point about the deterioration of what we call “civilization” and the fractal multiplication of bullshit that can happen. When this second LaCie died, I decided to escape the loop and try to find another, higher-quality, “trustworthy” brand of drive that would be dependable, thus freeing me of all this bullshit, even if it meant spending more money. The Western Digital was working fine, but I made a few phone calls and came up with a new plan.
I was going to spend over $500 for a super-dooper ultra-dependable custom-assembled module…a Seagate Barracuda 7200 in a Pleiades case! Whoa…was I going to be laughing or what? And remember, this was ANOTHER $500 I had to spend, as it was to be months before that LaCie refund check would arrive.
So, I pay them and they post it to me on Great Barrier (for the record, just receiving parcels there can be an adventure unto itself!) It’s a big heavy shiny aluminium thing with tiny little feet and lots of heavy-duty cables. I plug it up and voila! It sounds really noisy and makes a great deal of vibration, more than any LaCie ever did, and way more than the essentially silent Western Digitals. Then I start copying everything over from the WD, and it seems not to be very fast. According to the specs, it’s supposed to be faster than the 5400 rpm WD, but I can clearly see that it’s significantly slower. So here I am with a brand new piece of gear, custom assembled for me by EXPERTS, that’s noisier, slower, and way more expensive than the ‘inferior’ one I already have. Not a good start.
My friend in Tasmania shipped the original LaCie to me so that I could access that 90 gigs of music, and we got it all organized and squared away. Around this same time Liesbet got a new laptop and digital camera (thanks Griet!), so now we were both churning our gigabytes of digital photos regularly. These need to be backed up, as there’s no negatives to fall back on. We finally felt like we had a degree of digital security, as between us we had over 3 terabytes of storage distributed over five pieces of apparatus. I put the LaCie 500 back in storage, and off we went to the south island.
This was the peak of summer, and we were doing so much outdoor stuff that I hardly ever turned the Pleiades on at all for weeks. But later on, in Manapouri, when we finally were able to work on our second film a little more, we tried running Final Cut from the Pleiades and it kept freezing, so badly that we couldn’t even use it. This was really the first time we’d actually used this new drive at all. So imagine how f*cked off I was now! VERY!!! The thing would freeze up and then I’d have to manually shut down everything while it was connected…not what you want to be doing to sensitive equipment with a “life” of its own! After doing this a couple times, it wouldn’t even come back on for hours. I went to ring the people who’d sold it to me but it was late on a Friday arvo and they were gone. It’s a good thing, too, because the phone might have melted from what I was going to say!
The next day it actually came on again, but there’s no way it could be trusted. So now, here was the THIRD drive that had failed on me in less than a year, and the one that I paid by far the most for had performed the absolute worst!!! So there you go!
Now we’re back to the day we’re in Invercargill, our only chance to get any kind of “technology” before we returned north to Queenstown or Christchurch. I decided to just get another Western Digital like the one I’ve already got…the least expensive and therefore the most dependable! No models were available that had Fire-wire, so we got one of the new smaller kinds, an A-Data 500 about the size of a pack of cigarettes. This was mainly to allow us immediately and safely to back up our film project and digital photos. The Pleiades was still working, but who knows for how long. I had hoped to take it back to the place in Auckland in person, as by now I didn’t trust the drive or the company that sold it to me, so we kept it with us. On Stewart Island we completed all the backing up and saw that the A-Data seemed to work fine, although more slowly. Yet, our “southern adventure” was only beginning…
‘GREETINGS FROM RAKIURA’
We arrived on Stewart Island in great spirits, with revitalized technologies we deemed dependable, ready for some true wilderness experience, and somehow convinced that ‘good things were going to happen for us there.’
I’m not sure where we got that from, but the actuality was ironically perpendicular. I won’t bore you with all the details, and I won’t name many names, but I will share our “Rakiura adventure” with you, as it is an adventure into reality that everyone should have at least once while travelling in New Zealand.
This was my third visit there, and the second time Liesbet and I’d gone together. This was to be our longest stay, as both times before I/we only had two or three days there; this was to allow us plenty of time to do some kind of extended wilderness trek. You need lots of time there, as pretty much anywhere you’d want to go takes several days.
To get almost anywhere on Stewart Island, to most of the trail-heads or to any of the more remote areas, you need a boat. We were excited because our friends who we stayed with before operate a water-taxi service, and we were sure they’d be of assistance in helping us get where we needed to go.
To make a long story short, such was not to be the case. The whole vibe seemed to be wrong from the beginning. I’d noticed the same thing both times before, that Stewart island, or rather the people there, are in general unfriendly to the point of being ill. And this isn’t just me talking…a lot of other people say the same thing. Some say it’s the isolation, others say in-breeding, maybe it’s chemical toxicity from massive pesticide use, as almost the entire island is national park land administered by the “possum nukers”, the ever-popular DOC; whatever the reasons, however, it is noticeable. And it’s not ALL the people, just a kind of overall feeling or effect, an atmosphere of…I can’t think of a word for it but maybe one will come to me….how about, “latent hostility.”
Here’s a few paragraphs that I actually wrote while we were there, where I tried to begin the current document:
“We’ve been here on Stewart Island, the ‘land of the glowing skies’ for a few days, and although we haven’t witnessed any auroral displays or other unusual atmospheric optical effects, our experience here has proved to be very enlightening.
I’ve found an analogy in the movie Apocalypse Now, in which a special forces operative goes on a secret journey into the ‘heart of darkness’, in this case, the enclaves of Vietnam-war-torn Cambodia…his mission: to ‘terminate…with extreme prejudice’ a military commander, General Kurtz, who’s run amuck and has become a cult leader presiding over a legion of devotees. The overall atmosphere is not only one of anticipated aggression from sources unseen, but more significantly, of humanity gone completely insane.
Since we left Manapouri and came here, it’s been kind of like our own version of Apocalypse Now: as we continue to venture deeper and deeper into the southern extremities of New Zealand, we seem to be penetrating what is indeed a ‘heart of darkness’, not of guerrilla warfare and secret assassination missions, but another form of warfare, more insidious and difficult to recognize: a two-fold war consisting not only of humanity’s exploitation of nature as well as of his fellow man, but also that of the mind of humanity turning on itself…”
What might have inspired such analogies, you might ask? Again, it’s more of an overall impression, whose accuracy is informed by concrete experience. Why is the human mind turning on itself?
“…Because it’s the very nature of what we call ‘civilization’: a true war being conducted against every habitat, every niche, every living thing, a genuine jihad, or ‘holy war’, a crusade against life as we know it, in the name of money, in the spirit of capitalism run amuck.”
Before I share a couple of the ‘concrete experiences’ which enabled our impressions, a tid-bit of information from Fiordland will help to set the stage. This is a perfect example not only of the extent to which “fundamentalist capitalism” has spread, but also that this is considered “normal” or even to be the pinnacle of “success.”
As you know, for a large part of the time…six months out of twelve in 2009, for example…Liesbet and I are extremely well taken care of by our wonderful friends, who not only make us possible in general but who specifically provide us with really nice places of our own to stay in and get stuff done. This is one of the highest honors we could have and to our friends who do this for us, we are eternally grateful and do everything we can to be of service to them.
For the rest of the time, we are “on the road” and are more often than not interfacing with the ‘tourism industry’ at various levels. Out of both a sense of humour, but also a sense of sharing useful information with people who might like to know, I came up with the “investigative tourism” thing, in which we report on experiences we have and places we go in the context of ‘tourism.’ We consider ourselves to be ‘travellers’, not ‘tourists’…the difference is that ‘tourists’ aren’t really a part of the local landscape…they tend to stand out by having over-size caravans and too much money. We, on the other hand, tend to blend in and we keep things as simple as possible. Occasionally we might do a ‘tourist’ thing, like the Milford Sound cruise…or the fateful Aquarush “eco-tour” in Shark Bay last year [my formal complaint with the government of Western Australia is on-going at this time]; but ‘tourists’ per se don’t hitch-hike or give away dvd’s of films they made!
We try to share our ‘tourism industry’ experiences with people, not only for entertainment value but also because some of the people in my e-group might want to travel where we are some day. And with Lonely Planet getting bought out by the BBC, who knows what the quality of their “product” might soon be like. I’m not sure which is worse, having your product made in China or taken over by the BBC. For all I know now, China might even own the BBC!!!
NOT QUITE THE LOW POINT OF THE NZ TOURISM MENTALITY…
So, just to point out the extremes that the tourism industry has sunk to in New Zealand, and the influence that ‘fundamentalist capitalism’ has attained, check this out. On the shuttle from Manapouri to Invercargill we started talking to an interesting guy who was a retired farmer. He was a nice guy and all, and it was cool when we guessed his age at 60 but it turns out he’s 80! He spoke in defense of 1080…”It works!” We’ve heard that before. And he’s right, there’s no question about that: it kills any and all vertebrates and invertebrates that come into contact with it. But the most interesting thing he shared concerned an ‘eco-tour’ he’d just done out of Manapouri. I’d heard of this “eco” tour before, as I know a girl I know used to work for him. Lance something or other. What they do is take people on a boat across Lake Manapouri, transport them across Wilmot Pass a few kms, then put them onto another boat that goes out across Doubtful Sound into the ocean a little, then brings them all back to Manapouri. I asked what this adventure had cost, and he said it was $2000 for six days, and well worth it. But then I asked how many people went, and he said 12. So, in other words, the tour operator took in $24,000 for six days of work. Isn’t that a little, um, over-board? Anyone who was anything less than as greedy as possible would certainly charge less per person in proportion to how many people went; a few more people aren’t going to make massive changes in fuel or food consumption. They all get to hear the “narration” at the same time. So this, we thought, was the ultimate pinnacle of the tourism mentality in New Zealand…of course, it has to have the key word “eco” in there to do it…to make this much money in this short of a time only by taking people on a boat ride. I bet they even had to sleep on the same sheets all six nights. I know if I was paying $2000 for six days, I’d at least want CLEAN SHEETS EVERY NIGHT!!! But wait…it’s the “eco” version, remember…they have to CONSERVE ENERGY by not washing the sheets every night. Did Lance ever consider being “ecological” by NOT conducting “eco” tours at all? We thought this represented the pinnacle and/or nadir of the New Zealand tourism mentality. We were wrong. Read on…
OK, here are the ‘concrete experiences’ from Stewart Island that informed our impression of the basic vibe there.
TRYING TO GO ON-LINE
First, there was the ‘trying to go on-line’ thing. In a place billing itself as a major tourism destination, you’d think this would be a fairly straight-forward thing to do. We are all too aware of what it actually costs a caravan park or business to provide even broad-band internet for its clients…next to nothing. Broad-band internet, even on Stewart Island, would cost less than providing water or electricity to your clients; pretty much all clients would use water and electricity, fewer would use the internet even if it were free. Yet how often do you see “free internet” anywhere you might stay? No way, it’s one of the ways that the tourism industry applies the money vacuum…a guaranteed way of boosting their profits with a minimum of investment. They probably even talk about it at tourism business conferences. That, and doing away with rubbish bins in kitchens. This is another trend we’ve witnessed across New Zealand.
We are of course prepared to pay a reasonable fee for going on-line, but we know what “reasonable fees”…and what they aren’t. In Australia or New Zealand, in a city, you can easily find internet centers that will charge you maybe $3 per hour, which is good. More than likely, the average will be around $5 or maybe $6 per hour; this is high, but not out of the ordinary. Then, when you get further out from a city, the prices go up and up…and in direct proportion, the service goes down and down. It’s not an exaggeration to report that, in every case we’ve experienced, the higher the price, the slower the connection. And this has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with greed.
Businesses operating out of Bumfuck of course know they might have a very slow connection; so why not charge a reduced rate that reflects the fact that you might sit there for five minutes before you can even log in to Gmail? No, it’s exactly the opposite…and the unwitting ‘tourist’ gets shafted going both ways. Nouveau tourists might not realize what’s going on. “Oh, this is New Zealand…it’s supposed to be like ‘going back in time.’ “ But hey, if you’re that far back, there wouldn’t even be any internet!
On Stewart Island it was far worse and more complex than just this. We learned that there were three places where we might be able to go on-line: the pub/hotel, the internet café, and the back-packer. All we wanted to do was check our emails, not do any down- and/or up-loading, etc.
We go into the pub and there’s the two computers, maybe 10 or so years old. They’ve got the coin slot thing, which is always a problem. I put in the coin…I think the rate was supposed to be $8 per hour. The computer totally failed to come on, and wouldn’t even work at all, so the chick gave us our coin back. It seemed like it had been weeks or months since anyone tried to use it. One down, two to go.
So then we go to the actual “internet café”…it says so on the sign outside. You know, just so there’s no confusion, where you might think it was just a regular café that happened to have a computer off in the corner. No, this was an actual INTERNET café! She had two computers off in the corner, but one had an “out of order” sign on it. I sit down at the one that works, and read the tiny hand-written note taped to the front of the monitor. It informed us that if we didn’t buy a beverage there, then the rate was…get this…$20 per hour…BUT…if we BOUGHT A BEVERAGE…the rate was…get this…a completely reasonable $10 per hour. Right! What a load of crap! Plus, at that rate, I knew from previous experience that the download rate would be in terms of thousandths of a kilobyte per second! The owner, a blondish American woman with a very blonde voice, was there; I explained that I don’t support businesses of that nature as she smiled vacantly at us. I later learned why…she already owned a 1.8 million dollar house there, and out-bid someone we know on another one. Just for fun, I reckon. Her mind obviously is mostly up the crack of her bank account! OK, two down, one to go.
The only option left, other than going door-to-door asking people if we might use their computer, was the back-packer, the one I’d stayed at when I first went there in 2005, and outside of which I had glimpsed the aurora australis!
Here, again, the ancient computers with the coin slot thing. I put in the $2 coin for 15 minutes, and it seemed to work fine. But after about 5 minutes, and in the middle of a lengthy email I was composing, it just cut off. So I had to go track down the owner. She was nice enough in the beginning. I explained to her all that we’d just gone through, and that I’d stayed there before; she gave me my coin back and turned the thing on for 15 minutes for me, for free. Very nice of her.
Finally we had been able to go on-line. Liesbet’s computer next to me seemed to be working ok. But when my time ran out, and I needed to keep going for a little while longer, I again put the coin in and again it worked for a few minutes then died. SO…I had to go find the lady again and go through the whole thing again. This time she was not friendly at all, and emphasized to me that she had given me 15 minutes for free. I thanked her, but reminded her that I had tried to pay and that wasn’t the issue…I just wanted to go on-line for as long as I needed to without the thing cutting out. But there was clearly the vibe that I was the one to blame for wanting something to work like it was supposed to.
This time I got everything done, and what a relief it was. In order to go on-line for less than thirty minutes, we had to walk about 3 kms, visit three businesses, interact with 3 marginally helpful at best, or clueless at worst, business operators. At least our hour of combined internet only cost us $6 in money…but about two hours of time!
Ah…the charm of rustic Stewart island. And, again, the kinds of things people in our society get to worry about!
TRANSPORT AND PESTICIDES
Here’s where we thought we were set when we got to Stewart Island. Our friends who we stayed with last time (and with whom we inadvertently ended up staying this time as well, many thanks to them!) operate one of the only water-taxis there. When we were there last time, Robert let us ride with him on a trip up the river to drop off some hikers so they could walk over to Mason’s Bay. For a fee, he would drop people wherever they wanted to go, and we figured this would be the case now. Not so…
When we first got there we asked him how much he’d charge us to drop us at the Mason’s Bay trailhead. We didn’t expect any discounts, as “work is work” and fuel costs money. But he told us that he didn’t go there any more, not only because those kinds of trips didn’t make him enough money, but mainly because he wanted always to be available for people going to Ulva Island. This is a five minute boat ride, and the place almost every visitor to Stewart Island would go, even if they didn’t go anywhere else.
But, he made clear, that he had ‘agreements’ with the other water-taxi operators, to send people to them for other trips. So, we figured that we’d just line up a drop-off with the other guy. Simple enough. Not a problem, as the cost to us would be the same.
But then, a couple things came up that got us thinking about a lot of stuff. First, after a day or so, Robert tells us that he might in fact be going to the Mason’s Bay trail-head after all, as a party of four people might want him to take them. At first, I was happy, because he said that if he went, he could take us for no extra charge; but, the uncertainties were that he might NOT be going, and that we’d have to make a pick-up arrangement with the other guy. Remember, the ‘getting picked up’ part is very critical; if they don’t show, there you are!
Then, I started thinking about it, and it didn’t really make sense. Why would he have told us originally that he specifically didn’t go anywhere any more except to Ulva Island, and he refused to take Liesbet and me, even paying him the full price he would usually charge; then all of a sudden tell us that in fact he might be going to take a party of four people? Four passengers might be twice as much money as two, but it seemed a bit strange. In two days, “I don’t go there at all any more” became “I might be going there in a couple days.” Is this the mentality of someone you would entrust to remember to come and pick you up in a remote wilderness area several days later? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure about “the other guy” either. There was something about this whole place that was kind of making me ask a lot of questions.
We had gone to the DOC visitor centre to get information on the tracks; and I wanted to get information on pesticide use there. In total honesty, the people at the DOC office, in particular Jan West, were by far the nicest and most helpful people we met on Stewart Island. There, too, we were able to watch two very interesting docos, “The Dolphins of Shadowland” and “Ghosts of Gondwanaland”, about a type of bat unique to New Zealand.
When I looked at the information sheets for pesticide deployment on the island, one thing immediately jumped out at me: the only major area where pesticides were being put out was precisely where we were thinking of going, the southern end of Mason’s Bay. Here there are several small creeks or rivers coming out onto the beach, and this is where our drinking water was to have come from. There is one hut near where the track comes out onto the beach, with a water supply, but it’s rainwater and was apparently critically low; our trek would have taken us two days to the south, and thus totally dependent on those creeks for water: creeks that could easily be contaminated with 1080, brodifacoum or cyanide, all of which were being used there.
By now, the weirdness about getting there…and back…was being overshadowed by the even greater weirdness of having to drink water that could easily be contaminated with pesticides that are known to be carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting. Yees, this was ‘clean and green’ New Zealand.
THE RETIRED MINISTER WHO TRIED TO SELL SHIT
This has to be one of the funniest, yet also most disheartening, episodes in all of our travels in New Zealand. It’s deeply symbolic not only of the mentality of tourism and business people in New Zealand, but of the entire world-view of what I refer to as “fundamentalist capitalism”, a belief-system that is not similar to a religion, as I’ve been saying for a while, but actually IS a religion: how could a way of relating to nature and other people based on the quantification, exchange, and accumulation of a totally virtual and abstract thing like money…that in reality is as close to “nothing” as “something” can be…how can a global “economic” system based on, literally, the belief, that money actually means anything, be anything other than a religion in its truest sense…a very dark religion not only devoid of any of the redeeming qualities that most officially-acknowledged religions have at least a few of…but that also facilitates, even sanctifies, the lowest and most debasing and destructive forms of inter-relationships between people and the natural world.
In light of this, it was with extreme amazement and amusement that I pondered the story shared with us by Fred…partially his real name but not totally…as we walked on the beach there one day. Fred is a friend of friends, and invited us to join him for a walk at a place called The Neck, where most people aren’t allowed to go, possibly because an ancient Maori burial cave is located there.
I already knew that Fred was a retired Lutheran minister. I never asked why he left the “cloth”, as it were, if, in fact, that’s how it happened. We also knew that now he’s a seafood broker and makes a lot of money.
Anyway, we’re walking on the beach and Fred’s sharing various stories with us. He told us that traditionally, no one ever actually lived on Rakiura. He never speculated as to why…maybe it was a burial ground? He also thought to share with us that Stewart Island has a really high suicide rate, and that their favourite way of doing themselves in is a gun to the head. This is stuff that prospective tourists definitely need to know, but I haven’t seen it in any brochures yet. Most importantly, I remember taking note when he related that he had had the idea of taking kiwi shit…from the bird, not the people…off the beaches on Stewart Island, embedding it in pieces of amber, and selling it as a tourist gimmick. Good on DOC for declining to give him permission, but he was serious about doing it. And who knows, maybe they’ll change their minds, what with the global “recession” and all. Apparently, in some peoples’ minds, the belief in a “recession” is justification to do just about anything to make money.
The implications and symbolic nature of this didn’t really hit me until days later, but think about it: how funny that someone who is a retired minister had sought to sell shit…and was turned down? The preacher who couldn’t sell shit!!! But not because he didn’t try! There’s all kinds of food for thought here relating to bureaucracies, religion, capitalism, not to mention ‘shit’ being an improper metaphor for stuff we don’t like. In reality, shit is a natural by-product of our alimentary cycle, a fertile nutrient for plants, plus, flies love it! It’s probably even got extractable nutritional value for people, if you went to enough trouble to get it…all those corn kernels still have plenty of viable cellulose, right, for roughage, you know? The Austrian artist Hundertwasser even wrote an entire chapter for his encyclopaedic volume on the importance of having a positive relationship with your feces!
Fred’s thwarted plan to sell shit encased in amber to me ranks up there with the contraption constructed by a Belgian “artist” (?) who used hundreds of thousands of euros of grant money to build a ‘shit machine’ called “Cloaca” into which they would dump a meal from a local restaurant, then hours or days later, a substance resembling shit would ooze out of the other end, as the ultimate gestures of the true spirit of capitalism: the desire to sell shit to others, shit being symbolic in this mentality of the nadir of value, the ultimate extreme of worthlessness. Obviously an indication of improper toilet training as laying the foundation for the capitalistic character.
Ironically and interestingly, fortunes were made and wars fought and won over shit, and I’m not kidding. See, there’s this island off the coast of what is now northern Chile that has a huge population of bats. Their shit, or guano, is extremely high in nitrates, which were an essential ingredient of explosives in the years before the advent of the modern petro-chemical industry. England didn’t have much mineral wealth in those days, so control of the bat shit exports from this island were of immense strategic significance to the Crown. But this is another story altogether…
After the wrongness of the vibe of Stewart island started to sink in, and our various encounters with “mentalities” there unfolded…going on-line, the boat transport and pesticide thing, and the minister who wanted to sell shit…the analogy of Apocalypse Now suddenly popped into my mind.
It really was as if, the further south we went, the weirder the people and mentalities seemed to be. With a sense of relief, we abandoned any plans to do a wilderness excursion there, and fairly hastily left the island, returning north and quite happy to be gone. Little did we know that the weirdness was not yet over!
HOPE FOR NEW ZEALAND’S TOURISM INDUSTRY
Earlier I made a reference to Golum, the sneaky scummy little creature in ‘Lord of the Rings’…you know, the one who always said “My precious…” I reckoned that some Golum has crept into the national psyche of New Zealand…maybe beginning with the “gold fever” induced by the after-math of “Lord of the Rings.” Or maybe he’s been there a lot longer, waiting for his chance to “get the ring.”
When I reflect on the large number of negative encounters we’ve had with the tourism industry in New Zealand, and the fact that the root of the problem seems to be greed, the comparison with Golum seems more and more appropriate. The owners of a lot of tourism enterprises do their best to create the impression that they are your friend, that they “welcome” you with open arms. From their brochures and web-sites you’d think that heaven itself was second-rate compared to their establishments! After you’re there, however, and seeing what it’s really like…and how much it all costs…it becomes painfully clear that they were greeting you with open “cash drawers” and that it was all a pretense, their true goal being to “get the ring” of your money.
I’m going to use the guy’s real name in relating the following incident, because I have since learned that what happened to us there was not a unique incident, but that this person has already alienated hosts of visitors and pissed off almost every other business owner in his town. Here’s what happened.
We hitched north out of Invercargill and got a ride with a cool bloke named Chris who dropped us at the Crown Ranges turnoff which is the back way between Queenstown and Wanaka. Then another cool guy named Hamish went the “extra mile” and took us all the way to Lake Hawea, where we camped out by the lake. This was very nice, as it was another low-key environment with plenty of space and not many people.
The next day, which was brilliant, we got a ride with Trev, a cool person from Wanaka on his way to Haast to go on a fishing trip. The road between Lake Hawea and Haast is awesome, as it goes up and over the Haast Pass and is truly “old school New Zealand”, as there is very little human stuff to be seen at all along this road, especially after you pass Makarora.
Trev opened the sun-roof on his four-wheel drive so we could film out the top…very spectacular. Finally we arrived in Haast, and he dropped us at the Haast Lodge, which was the only place where you could set up a tent without going another 15 kms out to the beach. We unloaded our gear and Trev was on his way.
We hadn’t talked to anyone there yet, but it looked ok…we were right by the tent sites and even though it was a small area, there was plenty of room for us. We just wanted to camp out for the night and then head up the coast to Hokitika the next day.
Get ready for THE worst ‘tourism encounter’ in our history of travel in New Zealand. We go into the office and ring the little bell. Shortly this person comes out. We are pretty sensitive to people’s vibrations, and this guy was weird. He kind of marched out, with a smirk on his face, as if we’d interrupted a glue-sniffing session or something; his whole demeanor was not only unfriendly, but actually nasty. The overall impression he created was that of a low-level Nazi officer whose duty was to process incoming prisoners. In fact, this is exactly what it seemed like. We weren’t even ‘tourists’ to him, we were some kind of product to be processed.
Without even looking at us or making any kind of contact at all, he starts reeling off, in strict military fashion, what the rates were, this and that, speaking as he walked around behind his desk.
Liesbet and I were looking at each other without saying anything. Then he gets to the part where he says that, in addition to the $32 for the piece of grass for the night, there’s an additional charge of fifty cents for a seven-minute shower. I didn’t ask if the water was hot or not. Who knows, hot water could have been a lot more. With this kind of mentality, anything is possible.
Back in Arrowtown a few weeks earlier, we actually got our money back and split from the caravan park there, as they were charging us not only $34 for a piece of grass, PLUS $1 for a shower, hot, I presume; we couldn’t even locate our tiny site amidst all the other tents and caravans surrounding it. The site we paid $34 for was almost completely invisible. Could YOU have spent a night there?
As Liesbet and I stood there looking at each other, and taking in what “Dick” was saying, the shadow of Arrowtown began to cast itself over the situation. Only this time, it seemed like we were stuck, with no other options. It was late in the day, there were no other caravan parks, it was too far to walk to the beach or river bed with all our gear, and there were certainly no taxis in Haast, and probably no nice little churches where we could “camp out with God.”
We were both clearly and severely irritated by this person, who also had kind of a shaved-head neo-Nazi look as well, although neither of us had said a word. Reluctantly, we were going to proceed with staying there, as there seemed to be no other options. Then “Dick” asked our name and I replied “Smith.” What difference did it make what our names were? We were going to camp on a piece of grass outside next to the road. Then he asked what our vehicle registration was, and I said, “T.H.U.M.B.”, obviously making a joke relating to the fact that we were hitch-hiking. “Dick” really didn’t like this, and at this point demanded to see our i.d. or passports.
Now this is when I started to get actually quite angry, although I said nothing. Mine was outside, so Liesbet got hers out. I started asking the guy why he needed to see a passport, as not once in all our stays in caravan parks in New Zealand had anyone ever asked to see it. Guess what his response was: “In case something gets stolen, or in case you get killed.”
Wow! What “hospitality”! He was saying he needed our passport numbers in case WE stole something, on case WE got killed there! This was unfolding in a matter of seconds. I took Liesbet’s passport and kind of stuck it right in his face, saying, “So, will this work?” Then, he gets all indignant, as if we’d suddenly done something totally discourteous, and says “I’m not happy. I’m not happy with this.” I started to ask him when the last time he was happy had been, and what provided that feeling for him. Pulling the wings off a butterfly perhaps?
Before we could say anything…I’m not sure what we would have said anyway…he tells us that we can’t stay there! WHEW! For a minute I was worried that we WERE going to have to stay there! There’s no way I wanted that person to have our passport numbers or even to know our names. Truly, what business is it of his, for people wishing to camp on a piece of grass?
So, we go out and start picking up our gear. I think to take out my video camera and I go and film the front of the place, giving a little narration about what just happened. After I go to pick up my pack, out comes “Dick” with his camera, trying to take a picture of me. What he gets is a great tele-photo shot of my middle finger!
We were a little spooked, as Haast is a tiny place and it’s really in the middle of nowhere. For all we knew, “Dick” had a whole posse of equally-rabid mates who he was texting, telling them to come and hassle us while we were hitching. We continued to hitch for an hour or so, but there was almost no traffic. So finally, to make sure we were safe and sound for the night, we got a nice room at the back-packer, which wasn’t too far away.
The next morning was rainy, and after a few hours of not getting a ride, we were able to catch the Newman’s bus to Franz Josef, which was about two hours south of Hokitika. What a relief to get out of Haast. The residual vibration of something like that stays with you for quite a while.
We finally felt like the bad energy was over when we started talking with George, the bus-driver. He was very cool and very aware of the ‘reality’ of New Zealand, including the 1080 issue. I even filmed him telling us about how he’d seen New Zealand change in recent years. His basic impression verified what I had seen. He related that New Zealand used to be a true “old school” country where most people were very community minded, courteous, and not eaten up with greed. “But now,” he said, “it’s ‘dog eat dog.’ “ I couldn’t have said it better myself.
More interestingly, when we explained what happened to us in Haast, he already knew about this guy. When I told George the story, he made a gesture with his arm as if he were firing a rifle. To me, this said two things: “Dick” has guns, and/or he should be shot.
Later on, our friends in Hokitika verified that Haast can be a weird place, and actually kind of has a reputation for being like that. And in Wellington, our friends put us in touch with their friends who live in Haast, and get this: THEY know “Dick” very well…his real name is Greg. And he’s already pissed off almost every other business owner in Haast, and is “giving Haast a bad name.” So, what happened with us there was not a one-of-a-kind experience; what kind of business could function in such a small town being operated by someone like that? Why don’t the other people there shut him down and run him out of town? Maybe “investigative tourism” reps from Lonely Planet need to pay him a visit!
The most ironic part of all is this: Greg’s last name is Hope. I reckon his middle name must be “Golum.”
ESCAPE FROM THE ‘DEEP SOUTH’ MENTALITY ANOMALY
As we rode the bus up the west coast the main thing we noticed were dozens of “anti-1080” signs posted all along the highway. Southland and Westland are the areas of highest deployment of this ‘super-toxin’ in all of New Zealand. The land and water there must be saturated with this stuff and it’s unknown residues. Is it merely a coincidence that the weirdest and most extreme negative personalities and attitudes we encountered in New Zealand happened to be in the exact same areas where the largest amounts of 1080 are used?
As I write this now, on the 27th of March, a “Poison-Free New Zealand” festival is under-way in Wellington. I’ve tried to do as much as I can over the last few months to be a true “Rachel-Carson-of-today” by learning as much as I can about the nature of the global pesticide scenario and sharing this information with as many people as possible. I even got in touch with Dr. Theo Colborn, author of Our Stolen Future, the first book to describe the negative health effects of “endocrine disrupting” chemicals; she sent me her two dvd’s which I’m sharing with people. In New Zealand, the anti-1080 and anti-fluoride activists have joined forces against a common “enemy”, fluorine being the second most toxic of all the non-radioactive elements, after mercury, and known to be a ‘systemic poison’ capable of inducing a vast range of negative health effects, perhaps most significantly for the powers-that-be, functioning as a ‘convenient light lobotomy’ by chemical means for populations ingesting it in their drinking water.
New Zealand has the highest per capita rate of pesticide use in the world. It’s a tiny country currently deploying around 90% of all the 1080 manufactured in the world annually, a substance that is banned in almost every other country because of its threat to human health. New Zealand’s cancer rates are soaring, and male fertility rates are declining, both of which are directly attributable to pesticide toxicity. Alternatives exist to the mass-ecocide currently underway; Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, and Clyde Graf, co-producer of the documentary Poisoning Paradise, both arrived at the same common-sense conclusion: what kind of sense does it make to poison everything in the process of trying to eradicate a few target species?
As is the case with almost all the problems humanity is facing now, people are choosing to do these destructive things, and people can choose to STOP doing them. The question is, will we? Time is short, as global toxicity levels are increasing exponentially. Indeed, it’s not the dubious ‘global warming’ scenario we need to worry about; climate change is a given on this planet, and its dynamics are infinitely more complex than anything Al Gore could relate. The greatest threat from human activity lies in the quantity and potency of the wide spectrum of poisonous substances we are creating and releasing into the global biosphere. For all we know, the point of no return may already have been reached; sufficient concentrations of carcinogenic and mutagenic substances may already exist in order to preclude the long-term survival of homo sapiens, or even of life as we currently know her. The battle currently under way in New Zealand is highly symbolic of the entire planet, and we wish the Kiwis well in their struggle to free themselves from unnecessary chemical burden. KIA KAHA!!!
We made it to Hokitika thanks to a nice ride from Brent, a hunter and member of the Deer Stalkers Association, who was returning to Greymouth after a trip to Jackson’s Bay. He was very familiar with the 1080 scenario and had seen the Graf brothers’ film. He shared some very interesting information with us. Most interesting was his revelation that a lot of the film footage that DOC uses to show people the defoliation being done by possums is actually decades old. He also related an incident in which someone he knows had been hired to help with a DOC film project where they were going to shoot footage of trees that had been destroyed by deer. The problem was that the trees had actually been destroyed by cattle, so they had to go around and pick up all the cow shit before filming, so that the deer could be demonized, thereby ‘manufacturing consent’ for whatever DOC wished to do with the deer.
We visited my long-time friends Stan and Vicki in Hokitika, and Stan let me make a few stone pendants in his greenstone-carving shop. The next day we caught a ride with them down to Castle Hill village, where historian and metaphysical researcher Barry Brailsford had agreed to let us camp on his property and to film an interview with him the next day.
The next morning began with an awesome and extended rainbow, or aniwaniwa, as the Maori call it. The interview with Barry went well, and he told a couple of interesting stories, relating as well his encounter with the current owner of the Castle Hill station, just below the main rock out-croppings there. Apparently this woman inherited a massive amount of wealth upon the sudden death of her husband, and after buying the station, proceeded to bull-doze a road up the western slope of one of the most sacred parts of Castle Hill, having received no permission from anyone to do so. Barry created public awareness about this, but the article got shit-canned and the journalist quit the paper before it could get out into the open. I think the situation is stable now, but the council is haggling with Brailsford over the little cabin they want to build on their property there.
From Castle Hill we got a legendary ride from Tony and Annette who went out of their way to drop us right at my friend’s place in Kaiapoi. We stayed with my great old friend Jack at Pines Beach for a few days while I did a massive two-day recording session with music wizard Ian McAllister in Christchurch, right in the middle of being sick for the first time in years! I didn’t feel all that great, but it didn’t affect my ability to create music. Ian’s the top music person I know and I truly love working with him! This time I was able to record not only on a real Yamaha grand piano, but also on a real 1950’s Hammond B3 organ and a real drum kit. In all my years of recording, I’ve never been able to use all these instruments together before. Very exciting.
Also in Christchurch we were able to drop by and have a chat with Philip Kennedy, the architect who facilitated my biggest art project ever, an 8.5 meter high-tech space mural done in 2002. Since then he found a better location for it, so we dropped by the school where it’s now permanently installed, and had a chat with some of the students. I told them that the painting could be viewed as an alternative form of music notation, and asked them to send me a copy if they ever performed any music based on it!
Hitching to Picton was a trip, as it was a sunny summer Sunday afternoon and we were standing right where the four-lane begins, and where everyone “floors it”! Plus, there was some kind of weird vehicular festival going on, as dozens of freaked out cars, trucks and buses passed us, all blowing horns and yelling…vehicles that looked like they were designed for a three-ring circus.
A very interesting Russian fisherman named Anton gave us a ride to Kaikoura. He didn’t want to be on camera, but he shared a vast amount of cool stuff about life in Russia. A nice Canadian named Julie took us to Blenheim, and we flagged down the Atomic Shuttle to get to Picton after a couple of clueless young girls appeared to swerve at us while we were standing there hitch-hiking.
Next morning we take the boat to Wellington, and go and visit Kate and Tony and their wonderful five hound dogs in Upper Hutt. There we caught up on some rest and shared our “Aotea-lypse Now” stories from the deep south. Kate is the author of Scenic Dream or Silent Nightmare, a quasi-autobiographical novel about her experience being poisoned by 1080.
After two nice days there, we took the bus all the way to Auckland, which took about ten hours. Once again, we could have hitched, but we had a boat to Great Barrier island early the next morning, and we wanted to be there on time. The bus ride was ok, as we sat on the upper level of a double-decker, and had nice views of the countryside. The hours were well spent, just sitting there, listening to music and reading, or just sitting there thinking about things. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done that kind of thing.
John and Peggy-anne greeted us in Takapuna, and early the next morning took us to the boat for Great Barrier island, where we spent our last week in New Zealand for this visit.
We were SO happy to be back we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We went swimming every day, Liesbet going several times on some days! But the island hadn’t had any significant rain-fall, really, since the huge rain that fell just a couple days before we left in December; little ponds were dried up and all the trees were sagging. Sadly, almost nothing remained of the little garden we’d worked so hard to create and nurtured so diligently throughout our months there last spring. Two dried sun-flowers towered over the dry soil, and some of the silver-beets had made it. While we were there we watered everything profusely, knowing that once we left, the plants there would be experiencing only intermittent watering unless rain were to fall.
Liesbet and I both agree whole-heartedly that Great Barrier is by far one of, if not THE best place to live in New Zealand, not only because it’s relatively remote, not densely populated, and free of reticulated electricity and artificial electro-magnetic fields, but also because the people there have almost entirely prevented 1080 from being deployed, and because it’s a place where you can still feel the vibes of nature as she really is, healthy and undisrupted.
But another Golum-driven problem is rearing its head on Great Barrier island, as well as in other parts of New Zealand. The Key administration wants to open up DOC line to gold-mining, one of the dirtiest and most environmentally devastating forms of mining that exist. We saw some of the mines on the south island. Let’s hope that Di Simpson, the charismatic leader of the Cool People of Aotea coalition, and others like her across the country, can thwart this most recent attack on the health of New Zealand.
Our week there went by unbelievably quickly, and all of a sudden, we had to leave. I had contacted Auckland researcher Dr. Robert Mann about the possibility of doing an interview with him concerning the pesticide scenario in New Zealand; he wasn’t able to meet with us but put us onto Chris and Christine King who were nice enough to let us spend our last night in New Zealand with them, before our flight to Sydney.
They are a lovely couple who’ve travelled extensively in all kinds of remote and exotic parts of the world. Chris is the proverbial “mad scientist” and may in fact be New Zealand’s maddest! He teaches math at the uni in Auckland, but is also well-versed in biochemistry. In addition, he has written extensive fractal art programs using difficult and eclectic programming languages I’ve never heard of, plays and owns a wide variety of unusual musical instruments from around the world, and has heaps of original music not to mentions videos and films that you can check out at his web-site, which is www.dhushara.com
Chris and Christine are some of the coolest and nicest people we’ve met in New Zealand…they may even be, yees, “cryo”!!! We look forward to returning up Aotearoa-way to spend more time with them, other new friends we’ve made, and dear old friends…to all of whom we extend a huge THANK YOU for making possible our best-ever visit to New Zealand.
BACK TO THE DREAM-TIME
Our flight to Sydney went very well, with none of the usual things we stress over being dramas; the end result, however, was one hellacious day that seemed to go on and on. After we got checked though immigration…by who seemed like the nicest person ever to do this for us…we had to wait a long time for my tent to show up out of the baggage claim area. Then, at Central, the ticket machine stole Liesbet’s card, so we had to find an employee to open it up; then, we had an interminable 3-hour bus ride to Newcastle, putting us there at around 1:30 a.m. THEN we had to wait another 45 minutes before we could get a cab, which then cost us $50 to take us over to the caravan park at Stockton beach, an ok place where we’ve stayed a couple times before, and where we were a safe distance from Sydney, only right next to the largest coal-loading facility in eastern Australia!
We were SO relieved…mentally, physically, and spiritually…to be back in Australia that we could just sit there, doing nothing, basking in the radically different vibe here, noticing how much bird life there is and how nice the golden sun feels.
Three days ago we hitched out of Raymond Terrace, a tiny town to the north of Stockton where there’s a good spot to get onto the main highway north. The bus took us there, a spot we’d hitched from twice before.
We hadn’t even been standing there for five minutes when a car pulls over. I couldn’t believe it…he was going all the way to Brisbane, and would pass within a few kms of Byron Bay, the destination on our sign! We had a great conversation. At one point I asked him if he realized there were at least 7786 species of fly in Australia. He reckoned that he’d killed every one of them! Tony Harrison is now a legend, delivering us to Byron in not much more than 6 and a half hours, significantly faster than most people would drive it! Thanks, Tony!
Byron Bay is a beautiful area, but I’ve never been much of a fan of the trendy international back-packer scene in the town itself. Walking down the main street two days ago I came up with a new word, “excrepulent”, which kind of describes the vibe I felt. But there are some nice people, and hey, Led Zeppelin is playing here next week! I could probably go around pretending to be Robert Plant; I’m sure I could get away with it, as in Sydney two years ago in a pub this guy was certain that I was Davey Johnstone, Elton John’s guitarist, even though I don’t have an English accent. This was with me assuring him that I wasn’t Davey Johnstone! In reality, I’d much rather be me!
I’ve been able to sit at the table here in the dining area of this nice caravan park for the past three days in relative peace and quiet, and write this 30-plus page document, which I’ve been trying to get done for weeks. It’s a long one…but it covers a lot of ground. Who else would take the time to write several pages about hard-drive failures, acoustic etiquette, and the Golums of the New Zealand tourism industry? Just doing our jobs as investigative tourism journalists and free-lance intelligence agents working for Mother Nature!
Our basic plan is to visit all of the most powerful places in Australia that we know of over the next few months, beginning with Wollumbin (Mt. Warning), then over to Uluru (Ayers Rock), then up to Darwin, where Liesbet and I met in 2007; continuing down the west coast to the immensely powerful Pilbara area and awesome Karijini National Park; down to the Pemberton area south-east of Perth, the “Tasmania of Western Australia”; over to the Flinders Ranges; and finally, back to Tasmania and to our beloved Flinders Island.
We’ve just finished our second film “The Chronicles of Balarnia” about our weeks on Flinders Island last year, and soon we’ll be getting this into circulation. The film is dedicated to Rachel Carson and is at the next level of film-making from Cryo 2008.
We will also be continuing our on-going explorations with whales and dolphins here, possibly interviewing researchers around the country, and hopefully encountering cetaceans in the wild ourselves. We’ve got the Aquarush issue to follow up on out in WA, and who knows, maybe we’ll even get in touch with Australia’s ever-popular Minister of the Environment Peter ‘do the’ Garrett.
We are very excited to be back in Australia during this “sacred moment in time.” We hope you all are having a fantastic time wherever you are. Stay tuned…who knows what’s on the horizon?
BYRON BAY NSW
MARCH 27 2010