On the mountainsides of the Polynesian island of Mangareva, there is a cemetery with too many headstones for babies. The women that troop up through the tropical heat to lay their flowers and wreaths are all too likely to carry the tell-tale scar of a thyroidectomy on their throat.
Ena Manuireva left when he was 6 months old. Mother’s intuition, he calls it. “Mums just have that sense of the danger coming.”
Ena Manuireva was born in 1967 on the 8 kilometre long island, in the southeast corner of the archipelagos of French Polynesia. Or as proponents of indigenous sovereignty prefer - French-occupied Polynesia.
A year before he was born, the French government detonated a plutonium fission bomb on the atoll of Mururoa, some 400 km northwest of Mangareva. Ena says his mother recalled seeing the blast from afar. “The people weren’t told when, so she was still at work. She saw the mushroom.”
The winds brought the fallout down to Mangareva. “The effects hit the island pretty quickly,” Ena said. “It was so callous of the French to not give any damn about the people’s lives. They didn’t care whatsoever.”
Being given short shrift in the school history curriculum and New Zealand’s relationship with France not being particularly topical have allowed the event to recede in our memories, Mr Ball said.
“It’s dropped out of a lot of people’s consciousness.”
However, understanding how the bombing put us on the map in terms of relationships with global superpowers is an important lesson for today’s world.
“The Rainbow Warrior and our wider relationship with our allies and enemies is important to understand as we geolocate ourselves and look ahead into the growing climate of hostility between America and China particularly.”
Journalist and AUT professor David Robie saw the attack as provoking an emotional reaction in Kiwis.
“Most New Zealanders saw it on very personal terms,” he said. “A friendly country carrying out a dastardly attack in our largest port on a peaceful environmental ship - it was outrageous.”
David Robie had specific reason to see it personally - prior to the attack, he had spent ten weeks onboard the Rainbow Warrior, documenting its odyssey from the Marshall Islands down to New Zealand. He literally wrote the book on the subject.
Nowadays, the spot where the Rainbow Warrior sank lies unremarked, kept from the public by a layer of electrified fencing. Nearby is a humble mosaic dedicated to it. It is down in the industrial end of town, seen daily by nobody but forklift operators and the occasional jogger casting a sidelong glance as they troop by.