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The scars of Tui Mine

Written By: - Date published: 11:56 pm, March 15th, 2010 - 15 comments
Categories: Conservation, culture, Mining - Tags:

Paul McMahon

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
The Riroriro
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
from Waihou
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

15 comments on “The scars of Tui Mine”

  1. Bored 1

    Lyrically tragic. I love the embedded future warning “and the dam starts to break”. Its one of those things miners dont tell you about, theres plenty of damns containing lethal soups near old West Coast mines, one broke years back and killed off a section of the Inangahua.

    I got pissed off with the attempted cerebral ramblings of apologists of mining yesterday. What your grandfathers wonderful poetry does is evoke emotion that has experience and reality as its basis. When you can, as he did see, smell and touch this reality its pretty hard for idiots to deny it. That mind you wont stop them justifying more ecological carnage. Thanks be for people like your grandfather.

  2. Akldnut 2

    This is a most poignant poem, my father was telling me about the batteries and how they killed all of the tuna and fishlife in the Kauranga for decades and how some were actually deformed with tumors growing out of their sides and heads.

  3. r0b 3

    Thanks for that Paul.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    I want to encourage as many people as I possibly can to write and speak about these experiences and this reality – mining destroys our environment and it’s not “just snails,” it’s also fish and water, trees and soil.

    As Bored said, “When you can, as [Paul’s Granddad] did see, smell and touch this reality its pretty hard for idiots to deny it..”

  5. Margaret 5

    Just a wee note (very lovely post) Paul’s last name is spelt incorrectly at the top of the post. Cheers

  6. tc 6

    Nice post and a reminder to all that there’s no quick buck or quick fix for mining’s consequences.

  7. tc 7

    Also reminds me of having a beer in a lovely old pub in Waihi years back listening to some aged locals detail how savaged the Martha Mine has left the area…..apparently it’s going to be filled with water to prevent the tunnells under the region from collapsing like they have recently…..nice eh !

  8. Heaton 10

    I recall the Tui Mine many years ago and there was always a worry about heavy rains coming and the polluted water spilling from the tailing pond.
    If im correct they may of had leaks in the pond which fed into the stream at times. Others may recall this better.
    Yes Pauls posts are good and Google map describes it very well. Look at that unsightly mess in Waihi.
    If they fill the open cast mine in Waihi it will take a lot of water and be extremly deep if they dont fill it in.
    I like Outofbed’s post as well which sums Brownlee up well.
    Mines always leave huge mess and never get fully covered back in.
    And consider the nature and wildlife being destroyed. The present ministers diont care a rats.

  9. UPDATE: When my Dad was a boy his Dad (my Granddad) introduced him to water from a spring that was piped in for the public in Te Aroha Domain. Granddad was delighted Dad could drink from the same spring he did when he was his age. Dad loved Te Aroha & Lemon real bottled mineral water – it was much nicer than what was even by then fake tasting Lemon & Paeroa. Some years later both the spring and the drink were stopped due to high heavy metal content resulting from leaching from Tui Mine.

    Mining threatens not only our heritage but also our future and will help ensure that rural communities have to drink water as disgusting as Auckland’s.

  10. Great post, Paul (I wouldn’t expect anything less 😉 )

    I grew up in Te Aroha as well (later than your grandfather of course) and the destruction wreaked by the Tui Mine was simply a part of our landscape. Sadly it meant that we couldn’t drink the amazing water that those before us had enjoyed so much… I still look at L&P with a sense of resentment 😉

    It was an area of the bush we loved to explore that we couldn’t spend extensive time around… but as curious teenagers we did… that area is a huge scar on the side of a beautiful mountain.

  11. Rowan 13

    I’m glad we have mostly positive comments, it seems a lot of the newspaper articles are written by the city slickers who have little attachment to the land. I spent some time in India talking to widows of gold miners. There was 300 million tons of gold exported out of their mine, now the widows are left with nothing. Not even clean water. The water is so polluted that it destroys even the sewage systems, let alone being completely unsafe to drink. Did it help the local economy? No, just a rich mining company and some british buyers. 300 million tons of gold and the widows of the miners are living there 30 years later in the slums with the waste left behind. I’m not a big fan of mining. The land here belongs to New Zealand, a few people at the top of the ladder shouldn’t get to make that call for us.

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