BY DAVE HANSFORD
Some men don camo to denounce the suit – and everything it stands for.
Since 2014, militant fundamentalists of the so-called Islamic State have destroyed more than a dozen cultural sites across Syria and Iraq – priceless heritage like the Syrian site of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, levelled by bulldozer.
Much as Pol Pot did by declaring “Year Zero”, zealots at ISIS seek to erase history; create a blank slate upon which to scribe their own new world order. But there’s a more practical point to this pitiless vandalism: what better way to command the world’s attention than by provoking outrage?
To that end, extremists have ever hacked at the things we love, calculating strikes at the heart of our values and ourselves.
Early on the morning of November 22, helicopters were spinning up to speed at a loading site in Golden Bay, about to spread 1080 across the Cobb Block of Kahurangi National Park. The operation had been endlessly delayed by one of wettest springs in years – a non-toxic pre-feed had been flown on some seven weeks earlier – and so late was this drop now that many of the nesting birds it was supposed to protect were by then raising chicks. Or trying to: rats had been tracking at astronomical densities, fed a bumper diet by a cornucopia of beech mast.
But still earlier that morning, before any roadblocks were up, two men drove into a transition area. One approached the lone security guard, then wrenched the guard’s car keys from his hand and hurled them into a paddock. That same morning, DOC staff making their way up the Cobb Rd had to make a panic stop. Two large matai trees had been chopped down to block the road.
“This act is abhorrent to reasonable, thinking people,” DOC’s Golden Bay operations manager Andrew Lamason told the local newspaper later. “No matter what your views are, it’s disgraceful that these magnificent old trees have been cut down in an act of vandalism.”
Lamason pointed out that, while the saboteurs had a choice of hundreds of smaller, much more common beech trees along the road, they singled out the centuries-old matai – the ancient heritage. Maybe this was calculated to excite the maximum of distress, just as ISIS likes to smash the most priceless of artifacts. Doubtless it will, yet it was a gross and clumsy miscalculation, because it will enrage and alienate more than just conservationists. The anti-1080 lobby is not comprised of violent extremists. In the main, it’s a confederation of moderates who are just as distressed by mindless thuggery as anyone else. And for a movement that still believes it can turn the general public against 1080, they understand that the tree-fellers may as well have hacked directly at any strands of sympathy the public may yet harbour. There was, too, a credibility haemorrhage: even as the two matai lay dying on the Cobb Rd, “Stop the Drop” protest organiser of Kahurangi 1080 Action Group, Trevor Koberstein insisted to the same newspaper that “I care quite deeply about our environment and our back country…”
It’s unfortunate, but about the periphery of society orbits a personality type drawn not so much to a specific cause, but to the hell it offers a reason to raise. In short, some people look for any excuse to behave badly. The history of 1080 opposition in this country is a continuum of peaceful protest, punctuated by acts of violence by such outliers: the gunpoint hijacking of a helicopter by Chris Short in 1995; the bungled kidnap plot of anti-1080 activist and lawyer John Burrett in 2002. A shameful chronology of threats and intimidation against DOC and OSPRI staff, helicopter operators and committed environmentalists, like the beating of Coromandel kiwi advocate Arthur Hinds in 2011.
To the thinking of certain personality types, 1080 grants license to reject probity and unleash instead some pent-up compunction to violence and mayhem. I’ve spent a lot of time at sea, and over the years, I noticed that a certain breed is attracted to life outside territorial jurisdiction, beyond the reach of laws and mores. Out here, such men – for they are always men – can give expression to their inner hell-raiser. For some, life at sea is a chance to abrogate personal responsibility. They can drink too much, fight, binge on porn, swear… in short, they can recant their civilisation, revert to some primal aspiration. In a very real sense, they become 21st Century pirates. I’ve seen knife fights, woken to the news that a crew member had been thrown overboard in the night. Without tight governance, any vessel might descend into anarchy, courtesy of evolution.
Not everyone has the stomach for the sea, but rebels can still put sufficient distance between themselves and the establishment by going bush instead. There’s something about hunting, in particular, that seems to flatter the self-image of a certain redneck, anti-authoritarian set. Maybe it’s the guns. Or the camo, or the machismo of killing your dinner, but, just as the maritime industry, or the anti-1080 movement, must somehow manage the extremists they attract, so must the thinking hunting community. The Cobb is home to one of the few fallow deer herds around Nelson, and was, until 1996, set aside as a Recreational Hunting Area, so some hunters still assume a proprietorial right to it. This was the demand on leaflets left at an information kiosk on the Cobb Ridge (near the scene of November’s rampage) in 2007:
- DESTRUCTION OF THE 1080 POISONERS
- TO THE HUNTERS AND EATERS OF VENISON, TO THOSE WHO APPRECIATE THE ROARING STAGS OF A MISTY APRIL MORNING LIVING AND BREATHING OUR HERITAGE, TO THOSE
- WHO HUNT SAMBA RUSSA, WHITE-TAIL AND FELLOW AND ANTELOPE OF THE MOUNTAINS IT IS TIME TO FIGHT THE REAL FIGHT FOR OUR HERITAGE AND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
- … WORLD-WIDE DIRECT ACTION MEANS THE DESTRUCTION OF ANY TARGETS AT ANY TIME ANYWHERE BY ANY MEANS AVAILABLE TARGETS MAY INCLUDE, ANY DOC STRUCTURES,
- VEHICLES OFFICES OR SENIOR DOC OFFICERS PRIVATE PROPERTY, ANY FIRMS OR CONTRACTORS WHO PROFIT FROM TOXIC 1080 USE HELICOPTER COMPANIES THAT SPREAD THE SHIT TO THOSE WHO CART IT AND LAY IT … IF YOU WANT HUNTING FOR YOUR SONS YOU MUST FIGHT FOR IT, ITS IN YOUR HANDS DO NOT SAY LATER WE DONE NOTHING
- PICK YOUR TARGETS AND PLAN CAREFULLY – BE STRONG IN YOUR CONVICTION OF YOUR BELIEFS.
ANTI-1080 ACTION ALLIANCE AOTEOROA
There is a faction out there that has repeatedly threatened to release predators into wildlife sanctuaries. During the 1990s, in South Westland, ultimatums appeared that white heron – kotuku – would be shot unless 1080 drops were abandoned.
These are not the work of moderates. As it happened, DOC used deer repellent in the latest Cobb Valley 1080 drop, and it says it’s enjoyed a productive relationship with the local Deerstalkers’ Association for years now. These continued threats come instead from rogue individuals sworn to fight any conservation measure they regard as an imposition on their “right to hunt.” As such, they’re a liability to everyone, and Society must consider its response. It would help if ordinary New Zealanders were more prepared to get angry themselves – realise that, conversely, these are threats against their own heritage. Sooner or later, each of us will be pushed to a position anyway, because the Government has declared that the country should be rid of at least stoats, possums and rats by 2050. Nowhere does that manifesto mention deer, but Facebook pages are already scribed with incitements to resistance by individuals that have drawn their own dots – in the shape of a wedge – between pest control and an assault on their lifestyle. They regard Predator-Free as just another authoritarian imposition, and like the “Anti-1080 Action Alliance”, they exhort people to stand up for their heritage – which, ironically, is precisely what Predator-Free 2050 is doing too.
Elsewhere, I’ve described Predator-Free as a grand, unifying vision. That may have been premature and naive, for it could equally become a tussle for the future of our shared backcountry, our biodiversity. It’s for each of us to decide how we want our Nature to look, and to function. Values will collide, passions will rise, and doubtless more threats, more fellings, are in the pipe.
Because, as the rubble of Palmyra testifies, some men just want to watch the world burn.