Under a pohutukawa tree by Susan Grimsdell
Auckland’s largest pohutukawa tree and perhaps the oldest, as it’s thought to be at least 170 years old, is in Dove Myer Robinson Park. It’s a wonderful sight to see, and I advise anyone reading this to go there and gaze up at it in awe because it’s not going to be there much longer. It lives on the edge of the footprint set aside for the memorial to the people who died in the Erebus air disaster in Antarctica in 1979.
Lack of protection
The roots of pohutukawa trees are vulnerable to vehicles and once construction of the memorial begins, there are going to be streams of heavy vehicles crunching over its roots, taking the tonnes and tonnes of construction materials to the site. The poor old tree will struggle to survive at all, and it’s quite likely it will join the 90% of all other pohutukawa trees that have disappeared since people arrived in Aotearoa.
There used to be regulations to protect amazing trees like this one, but starting in 2009, the National government implemented changes to free up landowners to do what they liked with their land, removing those pesky rules about trees. Over 60% of urban trees are on private land, and after that change to the rules, they had no protection at all. Since then, at least a thousand trees are being cut down every week. Only specific named individual trees are safe from the chainsaw.
Quashing of protest
This magnificent tree is on public land, but that doesn’t give it protection. A group of people, many of them pensioners, have been camping at the site for months, in little pop-up tents, all through the cold wet winter, trying to draw attention to what’s planned for the site and the inevitable damage to the tree. Recently the police went in and removed them. I guess they’re considered a public nuisance. Not to me. I consider them incredibly brave and have nothing but admiration and respect for them.
There are many other suitable sites for the memorial, but those in favour of it being built in Parnell have prevailed. The people protesting are not against the idea of a memorial, even though there is already one at Waikumete Cemetery; they are against putting it in that particular place. Personally, I don’t know any other victims of an air crash who have been given a memorial. They are usually reserved for people who have done something heroic. But if a memorial is called for, surely it can be placed near the airport or somewhere else; anywhere else.
Preserve don’t destroy
At this time of fatal climate change, New Zealand’s answer to reducing our emissions is to concentrate on planting trees, either here or by paying some other country to plant them on our behalf. Considering the probable fate of this wonderful old pohutukawa, surely that’s the ultimate irony.