Fanny Price would support #SaveOurKauri

I know, I’m a tremendous nerd, but in the discussion around the Parutoa Rd kauri and whether we prize anything over pure monetary value, I’ve found myself reflecting on this passage from Mansfield Park:

Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—

“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, ch 6

It seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that anyone who would fell an ancient tree for the sake of showy modern developments has their priorities in the wrong order.

Save our kauri!

I spent some of my teen years living in Titirangi. There’s an odd contradiction at play in that part of Auckland: a stark ideological divide between the hippies and greenies who head to the market every last-Sunday for some amethyst jewellery and cumin-speckled gouda, and the extreme individualistic righties who love the high property values and claim to love the lifestyle, but never got their heads around the fact that their lifestyle rests on their community and environment.

We used to tell jokes about calling the local rangers if you heard a chainsaw in the wee hours of the morning – not the police, because the police don’t investigate tree murders. There were dark urban legends about subdividing scumbags who’d find subtle ways to poison the trees when they were denied consent to chop down hundred-year-old natives in order to expand their master bedroom or investment portfolio.

You saw their fingerprints everywhere. The house next to ours was a monolithic slab at the end of a short, hazardous driveway. Its only aesthetic, as far as anyone could tell, was “fit as much house as possible on the flattest part of the section.” It was an utter eyesore, with no outdoor area, not even a scrap of lawn. It’s stood forever in my mind as the perfect illustration of that rightwing faction of Titirangi: why even bother living out west in the bush if you can’t actually live in the bush, if you’re stuck inside with the aircon on 100% of the time you’re at home? If you don’t even have space for a barbecue?

There was even – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – an “independent” “business-friendly” local body ticket, Go Waitakere, who turned out to be a bunch of pro-development anti-environmental protection ACToids and were tossed out on their ears in the next election – because they’re in the minority.

That’s the conflict which has resulted in a mass community protest this morning against the felling of a 500-year-old kauri, and a 300-year-old rimu, to make way for a new house and its deck. There are only 200 kauri of this age left in New Zealand – and this one in particular hasn’t been affected by kauri dieback, which is threatening the whole species.

It’s the classic case of community vs private interests. Even someone with the smallest level of appreciation for our natural environment has to be awed by the idea of a living organism which has seen generations of humans come and go. The more of a filthy commo hippie you are, the more you find yourself thinking, how can any individual human possibly own something like that? Much less have the power to destroy it? How do you not think, “this is a treasure, and it deserves to be protected”?

But that’s the attitude of our present government and many other people. Short-term profit is king, environmental interests are just nice-to-haves. Even serious, practical considerations – like the fact that much of the value of land in Titirangi is based on it being bushy and lush, or the strain placed on local infrastructure by aggressive development – are ignored.

That’s what’s behind all the talk of RMA “red tape” and “bureaucracy gone mad”. It’s the catch-cry of people who believe, right to their core, that their individual benefit is the only thing that matters in the world, and damn the consequences for anyone else. That’s how we ended up with the leaky homes crisis – but unlike leaky homes, you can’t just “fix” the death of a centuries-old stand of trees.

Today, I may live in Wellington, but I’m standing in solidarity with the good folk of Titirangi who understand that some things are more important than making a developer a quick buck. You can follow the campaign at the hashtag #SaveOurKauri.

ETA: The kauri have won a temporary reprieve.