My Granddad grew up in Te Aroha near Tui Mine and spent a lot of time on the slopes of Mt Te Aroha and in its bush. But mining on the western slopes of the mountain ruined a large swathe of the land and toxic tailings were left behind which polluted the river and turned a large patch of bush into a desert – it is a scar on the face of my Granddad’s mountain which looks over his grave. As I write this I can hear him reciting this poem:
When the Riroriro Sang
Where were you when Grey Warbler sang
Up behind Bald Spur where we used to hang
on the rata vines,
under the great trees
and hear from the dark green valleys
Sad and sweet and clear
And we heard when the hills rang
Again and again
A hundred echoing whistles from the speeding trains,
bound for Taneatua
Blow, blow, blow, blow, blow
And the Riroriro sang
as it did one hundred years ago.
It trilled clear when the tramlines and the water chutes
cut through the bush
And the thousand great roots bled
as man showed his disdain for their bleeding
And the Riroriro sang,
Unheeded and mourning and pleading.
And it sang when men tore the guts out of the hill
from the old Tui mine.
Dammed up there still
they lie poisoned and dead
Ready to spill when the earth starts to shake
And the Riroriro calls for the rain
…and the dam starts to break.
Will you care when the dam starts its slide?
And the river no longer the giver of life
its water the colour of liver,
writhes with the throes of the eels and the fish
and the Riroriro echoes shrill through the rain
Our own death wish
~George McMahon (1922-1998), October 1983