Review: The Story of the Hauraki Gulf by Raewyn Peart

Author Raewyn Peart.
Michael Bradley

Author Raewyn Peart.

The Story of the Hauraki Gulf

Raewyn Peart

David Bateman, $90

The Story of the Hauraki Gulf by Raewyn Peart.

The Story of the Hauraki Gulf by Raewyn Peart.

News that the sixties were swinging bypassed the Hauraki Plains. Growing up there, a sixties teenager far from the bright lights (Thames, that was; Auckland was another country) was a particular kind of hell, leavened only by music from pirate ship Radio Hauraki and proximity to the Hauraki Gulf.

Beach and boating days, surfing and camping holidays, birdlife, pohutukawa and glorious water views – the gulf was a resource which, even mired in self-absorption, we realised was special.

But if the gulf's 1.4 million hectares appeared pristine 50 years ago – and they were not – they are far less so now. This cumbersome and heavy (and thus difficult to read) tome from environmentalist Raewyn Peart is a clarion call.

Peart, policy director of the Environmental Defence Society, works to protect and manage New Zealand's landscape, coast and marine environments. Mostly, the gulf people tell its story here, but in her epilogue she sounds the warning underlying this volume: "We, in turn have shaped the Hauraki Gulf. But this has not always been in a positive way. Our impact has been progressive and unrelenting. Today, the gulf is in worse health than it has ever been before."

No one factor is to blame and scientists have identified multiple solutions: establishing marine reserves, less destructive fishing methods, retaining sediment on land and reducing nitrogen leaching from Hauraki Plains farms, restoring sea-floor communities. "But most importantly, we need to give the Hauraki Gulf the space to rejuvenate itself," Peart says.

This is a beautiful book: quality paper, superb photography – more than 300 images – attractive layout. The author interviewed more than 60 people involved with the gulf, from those working on restoration to commercial fishermen, local iwi and politicians, scientists, residents of some of its more than 50 islands. Many tell their stories, sometimes in the first person, in blue panels separated from the main text. All are interesting, some are engrossing, most are too long. Tighter editing would have enhanced the storytelling.

Peart divides her text into seven sections, from early settlement to new beginnings, with sections such as developing the shores, commercial harvest and scientific understanding in between. The writing is clear, the science explained in layman's language.

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The emphasis is heavily environmental, from choice of interviewees to the islands and settlements discussed. Establishment of Auckland's sewage disposal is extensively discussed, for instance, but the city features little otherwise.

Fishing and watersports receive detailed attention, yet there are surprising choices: minimal attention to the Firth of Thames, little to the Coromandel Peninsula and to the polluting Hauraki Plains.

Nonetheless, this is a special book and a valuable resource. It's also a call to arms to save a precious and endangered part of New Zealand before it is too late.

 - Stuff

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