Dave grew up in Waipoua forest, one of twelve kids in a two-room house. Like most of their neighbours, they lived off kai moana and gathering seaweed to sell. “It was a hard life but a good life.”
At fifteen, Davey started working in forestry with his father. His father climbed kauri trees to collect their gum. Davey specialised in seed collection; he could gather 8-10 pounds in a season.
The kauri seedling was killed by Phythophthora agathidicida, a micro-organism causing kauri dieback. Chantal is a research technician at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research. Landcare receives kauri seedlings from Scion and inoculates them with phytophthora. If the seedling dies, its roots are tested to confirm that the phytopthora infection caused its death.
Landcare’s five-year experiment is aimed at establishing whether particular families of kauri can live longer once infected with dieback, or even survive the disease.
Ian has been working on kauri dieback “since before we knew what it was”. In 2011, Ian began testing whether phosphite, a chemical used in horticulture, could help kauri seedlings survive dieback infection. The results of those tests were encouraging. Now Ian’s treating full-grown kauri in the forest, as part of his work at Plant and Food Research.
First he measures the tree’s girth (important to calculate the dose) and checks for lesions around its base, canopy health, and moss accumulation on the trunk (a bad sign, as it indicates bark isn’t growing). Finally, he drills into the trunk at regular intervals and then inserts syringes filled with phosphite.
Ian says it’s an emotional experience: “The first time I had to inject a kauri tree, I paused for a very long time before I actually pushed the drill into it, because it just felt wrong... just because of the reverence we feel for kauri”. But the drilling doesn’t ‘hurt’ the tree – kauri resin quickly plugs the holes.
He describes the treatment as being like ‘chemotherapy for plants’ – injecting a chemical in order to to kill something that’s harming the tree. “Even better it stimulates the tree to mobilise its own defences and repel the pathogen”.
Dan Roberts is upfront about it: he doesn’t like the Waitākere Ranges being closed. He grew up in Laingholm, so as a kid, exploring the bush, mangroves and mud was his ‘normal’. He says he understands the reasons for the closure, but “the Waitaks are my home, so I feel kind of shut out of my home”.
Dan has turned that frustration into something positive. He’s started volunteering with Ark in the Park, clearing and resetting pest traps. He grins and says he’s also got his Dad involved: a couple of months later his Dad has his own trap line out here and is “loving it”.
Kelly and Daniel Nathan lead a project called Te Reo Ngaro o te Rākau (the hidden voices of trees), which melds Mātauranga Māori (Māori scientific observation) with arts, music, education and acoustic technology. Both believe there’s a hidden language that exists inside the trees, and are recording these ultrasonic frequencies from te wāhi ngaro (the undiscovered world), to bring them out of the ultrasonic spectrum and into human hearing range.
Rangatahi (young people) will help record these sounds and rhythms to make music from them. Kelly hopes rangatahi will be encouraged to re-connect with the forest:
“we’re searching, we’re discovering, and we want to do this with our young people beside us, doing this with us.”
Although they’re recording all native trees, they’re curious to listen to kauri that are healthy and also kauri with dieback, to see whether the trees’ internal rhythms signal whether they’re sick.
Kelly also plays a pūtōrino made of kauri to match the trees’ frequencies. The instrument’s carved sides tell the story of Hine Raukatauri, an elemental spirit of the forest: the pūtōrino is said to amplify her voice. When Kelly plays it, it sounds tremulous and ethereal breathy as a flute yet earthier. He stops to eplain: “That’s the voice of Hine Raukatauri, calling people back to the forest”.