“Nature needs time for growing and sleeping. Wilderness areas where nature can develop in its own calm way. Where only humans who walk, go”. Sir Edmund Hillary
New Zealand is a beautiful and largely unspoilt country. Roughly one-third of it is still forested, three-quarters of that with indigenous species in protected areas. The lakes are clear, the soil fertile, wild plants provide food and medicine—but the flourishing of nature has as much to do with the activism of a small number of people back in the 1970s and 80s as it does with the natural bounty of the land. This film is about ten New Zealanders who are part of that story of working with, and fighting for, nature.
Forty years ago the knowledge of traditional herbal medicine had almost died in New Zealand but a small group of Maori practitioners brought it back to life and now there is a growing demand for it. We see Rita Tupe, a Tuhoe healer, out in the forest collecting plants to make medicines. Before and after picking she and her companions give thanks to Papatuanuku, the Earth, our living mother, by chanting and smearing earth onto the trees for healing. “Mauri is the life force—everything has a mauri but it is the way we conduct ourselves that is important. If people are disconnected or not working as one they can’t heal the land or ourselves.” Isla Burgess, renowned herbalist, agrees. “We can’t be well when we destroy what nourishes us”. We see her picking an enormous dandelion and describing its value in the leaves full of minerals and a bitter substance that improves digestion. Each of us has a special plant that will keep us in health, one with a character similar to our own. Isla drinks nettle tea, laughing that she and the plant are both “prickly round the edges”.
Craig Potton, environmentalist and photographer, and Alan Mark, botanist, were both part of national campaigns back in the 70s and 80s. Craig gave up surfing at weekends, as a teenager, to protest against logging of unexplored forest. It took 17 years of protest to get the forests protected but he and a handful of others persisted. “Almost all social change occurs with only a very few individuals” he observes. In 1963 Alan was part of a campaign to prevent the raising of Lake Manapouri by 24 metres to serve a new aluminium smelter and power station. It became a prominent cause in the 1972 elections and the protestors won: plans for industrial development were dropped and the shores of the lake were not drowned, or the local city surrounded by dykes to protect it from water raised higher than the land it was built on.
Gerry Findlay is a professional bird caller, Charles Royal a Maori chef foraging pickel-pickel for his restaurant, and Makere Ruka a Maori woman planning a community that will keep the old ways alive, living at one with nature. Hugh Wilson is a white-bearded tree farmer who took over a gorse-infested farm in a sheep-grazing area and let the scrub regenerate back into woodland. He has pithy things to say about the motor car and obesity and we see him wheeling down the coast-line on his bike observing “We are bunglers, if we step back and let Nature restore things she will — even now when we have pushed eco-systems to the edge.”
Jim O’Gorman is an organic farmer, transforming land that had been degraded by chemical farming and now grows 3 crops a year, leaving the soil healthier at the end of the season than at the beginning. He uses a chipping hoe for weeding so that the roots of weeds stay in the soil and give it structure. “Weeds do not take water from your crop or rob it of nutrients”: that is a myth he says, “They feed at different levels”.
Kay Baxter was a mother with young children in the year of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. She went into a farming store to buy seeds and learnt that the only seeds grown in New Zealand were onions. All the rest came from Holland, which was then under a nuclear blanket. NZ had given away ownership of its seeds back in the Seventies and she determined to start a campaign to get the seeds back and establish food security. Without money or places to stay she and a small band walked from North Island to South Island, zigzagging from coast to coast, passing through all the old gardens, and talking to people about the need to get the seeds back. Now she grows indigenous vegetables in her garden and saves the seeds. “We need to get back into co-evolution between seeds, environment and people. Our bodies are intimately connected with food plants and the land of our ancestors.”
This is a powerful and positive film about activism and the quality of life that comes from living in tune with the natural world. All those featured in it share a sanity born of living close to nature and a confidence that when humans wake up to what is possible they can take the land forwards and not backwards, in an environmental sense.
Earth Whisperers/Papatuanuku is a WickCandle Film directed by Kathleen Gallagher
The film was premiered in the UK at New Zealand House in September 2009.
To organise a screening contact:
Lee Harris Consulting Ltd
+64 3 332 7853
Copies can be ordered through the website.
Review by Isabel Carlisle
Business: 020 7609 3734