Towering over the clipped entrance to the museum at Claris on Aotea/Great Barrier Island is the rather wonderful Tiri buoy.
Once the mooring for the piratical DJs aboard the original off-shore Radio Hauraki, this sculpture was refurbished a couple of years back and erected to celebrate half a century since Denis O’Callahan, David Gapes, Derek Lowe and co decided to stick a middle finger up to the monopolistic New Zealand Broadcasting Service.
A buoy out of water seems both odd and impressive, but this behemoth – with its towering simplicity, its long-since abandoned practicality and its silent, implied history of resistance, individuality and occasional disaster – also seems a perfect symbol for its Hauraki Gulf home.
The reason for gazing at the Tiri buoy was a mini-break away from the hubbub of Waiheke – a stay at The Currach Irish pub, where new owner Orla Cumisky is extending the deck at the back to help accommodate what’s expected to be a deluge of domestic tourism this summer.
It meant we could revisit the quiet and beautiful nooks and corners – Kaitoki’s hot springs, the mermaid pools at Sugarloaf, Black Cow gallery at Schooner Bay, the wharfs at Blind Bay and Whangaparapara.
(Yes, it was also the chance to clean up at The Currach’s Melbourne Cup sweepstake – nice one, Twilight Payment – but that’s another story.)
But a few days on the Barrier also provided a perfect alternative perspective on what’s increasingly become a troubled gulf.
Away from the cacophony of Waiheke’s rental accommodation crisis; the developments and the tree-felling; the incessant tug-of-war between tourism and affordable lifestyles; the painful battles to regenerate our dying fish populations; the pandemic-stricken businesses; the rows with ferry companies, with Auckland Transport, with councils; away from the increasing number of pressure groups all targeting the notion of “saving the Hauraki Gulf”, what seemed more important was to focus on the vital relationship between preservation and progress.
On Barrier – with its population still listed from the latest census at just short of 1000 and where a sturdy settler really needs to be able to reattach a storm-flung roof or strip-and-reassemble a generator – progress and preservation can still go hand-in-hand. It’s why they’ve invested in great networks of sealed roads and well-appointed walking tracks. It’s why they can welcome new, innovative business (such as Orla’s extension or Andi Ross’s boutique Island Gin distillery) and not drown out the simplicity of an island life. It’s why they can have a 16-foot sculptural tribute to pirate radio set up alongside a museum otherwise packed with colonial-era wedding dresses and medical equipment.
The problems in the Hauraki Gulf are many. They involve our urban environment, the natural world and the narrow strips where both coalesce. In recent weeks, Waiheke Marine Project hosted a Future Search hui specifically to address these issues, the results of which are released today and will be on show up at the library for the next couple of weeks.
Although the idea of inviting more than 70 representatives from the various groups that live on and around the Hauraki Gulf and who use, enjoy or require its waters is inherently laudable, progress will only come when those groups learn not to talk past each other but listen to what they all hold dear.
When boiled down to their essence, these arguments often become a binary option between progress and preservation. But I’d argue there’s a buoy outside a museum on Aotea/Great Barrier Island that demonstrates they can both cohabit peacefully. • James Belfield