13th December 2001
In this edition
Upton-on-line notes french reaction to the slaying of Sir Peter
Blake, gives a glimpse of how one young diasporan, Hamish Coop,
thinks about New Zealand from afar and describes the sorry tale of an
aborted submarine expedition of Lake Taupo by the Institute of Geological
& Nuclear Science.
"Un dompteur d’océans .. un palmarès d’exception"[Figaro,
7th December, 2001]
[A tamer of oceans … an exceptional victor]
That Sir Peter Blake’s demise should have created a seismic
shock in France comes as no surprise. The winner of the Jules Verne
Trophy and the moral heir of Cousteau had penetrated to the very core
of the French sailing establishment – in a country that is (rightly)
proud of its nautical traditions. The tributes have been lengthy and
It takes a lot for anything associated with New Zealand even to surface
in the French press. But the bouleversement has seen almost unprecedented
coverage. A page and a half in Le Monde and an astonishing double
page spread in Le Figaro. By extraordinary coincidence, a Figaro
reporter had, only a week before Blake’s death, spent 10 days on board
Seamaster and already filed a feature article. Set against a
page of tributes, it provided a poignant final glimpse of a hero who
transcended national boundaries. Here is an excerpt from Yves Miserey’s
"A blond mustachioed giant with shaggy eyebrows, Peter is
a curious mixture of kindness and reserve. Everyone who has met
him has been struck by his simplicity. Even if he is better acquainted
with the pressure of the big racing events, whatever he launches
into receives his total commitment. Whether at night, or very early
in the morning while everyone else on Seamaster sleeps, he
can often be found in front of his computer filing his daily accounts
that are published on the expedition’s web-site or replying to an
e-mail from the end of the world. He has once again organised a
new adventure superbly. Above all, he has understood the need to
gather round himself a team of friends who get on with one another
Particularly affecting for many New Zealanders will be the verdict
of Bruno Troublé, the chief organiser of the Louis
Vuitton Cup in 1999, whose involvement in America’s Cup competition
spans Blake’s entire career and more. Troublé is well known and
respected in Auckland and expressed perfectly the sense of bewilderment
and shock that seems the common reaction of so many who new Blake personally:
"I was devastated by the news. Notably for his wife Pippa,
who is already fragile, and for his two children. As with Eric Tabarly,
a tragic fate has brought the life of this adventurer full circle.
I am very touched, but I see his disappearance as the conclusion
of a great adventure. Peter Blake has streaked through life as rapidly
"He was a singular man with an incredible charisma. His height,
his stature, moustache and tousled hair impressed. And he cultivated
this Viking look…
"Actually he was shy … he could be really difficult with people
he didn’t know. As for me, for a long period I didn’t trust him
but I was impressed by him. When I finally succeeded in breaking
the ice I discovered that he considered me to be a pal. Peter Blake
was not just a famous sailor but a superb leader of men … he was
[also] as obstinate as a mule."
"Not just the sailing world but the world at large is the
looser. Because, after the Americas Cup, Peter Blake had given himself
a new challenge: making people aware, and in particular children
whom he loved, of the degradation of the planet. He was passionately
fond of adventure and the ocean. Not from the eco-political side,
but from the sailor side furrowing through the oceans and observing
their decay. He was happy to be living such an adventure…"
Only the tributes of the great and the good will ever reach the media.
But you know someone is truly great when the tributes come from people
who have no obvious reason to say anything – and offer them to you simply
because you’re a fellow countryman of the deceased. Upton-on-line knew
that this was no ordinary passing when the man who delivers the newspapers
at his workplace handed over the fateful edition and felt moved to offer
his condolences. No query of recognition was necessary. He knew that
the passing of a national hero such as this would be a personal tragedy
for every New Zealander. And so it is.
From time to time upton-on-line readers, who are spread fairly liberally
around the world, are moved to give vent to their displaced senses of
identity and say something about how they view the land they left and
the people they’ve become. Upton-on-line has decided to publish (with
permission) some of the more interesting viewpoints that come his
way. This week’s offering is from Hamish Coop in London. He has
this to say about the New Zealand landscape:
I identify very strongly with the New Zealand landscape, especially
the South Island where I have spent most of my life. I think the word
that sums it all up for me is - epic.
As you say, there is that feeling of untouched purity which is hard
to find these days. But despite that, it’s so accessible. The Amazonian
rain forest is pure and untouched. But you can't jump in the car and
drive for an hour and get amongst it. Not at least from a major city
with as many web servers and cappuccino vendors per capita as almost
any country you care to mention. Scotland has some great landscapes,
but apart from being damn cold even in July, it's a long way away,
even if you survive the rail trip!
Many many New Zealanders have experienced the landscape at first
hand. Many people have farming relatives. They've walked behind a
mob of ewes after a day’s shearing. Or they've simply been out to
collect firewood. Many have camped out on family holidays. Walking
around Paris or London, how many of these people have pitched a tent
in native bush? The English equivalent is so sanitised as to send
a shiver down the spine!
And then there's that feeling you get driving over the Haast or through
the McKenzie or over the Desert Road. The feeling that we are still
there by invitation. It is fair to say that we haven’t gate crashed
the NZ landscape due to a lack of economic, demographic or engineering
force. Switzerland has done a good job of turning their Alps into
a scaled up toy train set. The Swiss landscape is grand, but is it
New Zealand is an island grouping and it feels like it. It lies in
the roaring forties. It is the dynamic quality of the fast moving
weather that adds some additional drama you don’t find in Europe or
any of the great continents. As I mentioned, I think Terra del Fuego
is perhaps the only place that comes close. But cappuccinos and web
servers are rather thin on the ground down there!
Yes I'm sure its anecdotally possible to find a 5 year old in South
Auckland who hasn't seen the sea and that's very depressing. However,
many New Zealanders and many visitors are changed a little forever
by their experiences of the New Zealand landscape.
We need a way, some 'common ground' to bind us together and I think
the landscape is a good place to start. The feelings I feel cannot
be learned. It takes time and almost a degree of ancestral experience
to develop. But most New Zealanders I know feel it and can talk about
And here’s how he likes to imagine his diasporic existence:
We all live over here in a kind of slightly smug semi-detached consciousness
that isn't quite engaged. We roll in, fresh off the boat, full of
naive gregarious confidence and all set to call a spade a spade and
usually don't hesitate. It has taken me two years to begin to understand
what European sophistication might be all about. The luxury of this
semi-detached existence is due to that small but wonderful knowledge
that is always in the back of our minds - we can go home and no-one
will mind. In fact Mum and Dad will be thrilled! We can go home as
heroes - surviving ANZACs.
I like to think of the Kiwi Emergency Ejection Button. It’s right
there in front of you on the instrument panel. It’s round, red and
has a large, hinged clear plastic safety cover just to make sure your
don’t accidentally nudge it with your elbow while reaching for the
Thermos. Every now and then you encounter some turbulence and carefully
lift up the cover - fingers dancing maniacally over the button the
other hand on the throttles. But the situation soon calms down and
you can lower the safety and heave a sigh of relief. Maybe you never
have to push it; you land safely all according to the flight plan.
But maybe one day you do and luckily you survive the impact of the
explosive ejection bolts. You drowsily come to, drifting down dreaming
of the magnificent Southern Alps expecting to land in leafy Hagley
Park, grass freshly mown. But before you lies a vast suburb - something
like a run down Phoenix Arizona and it looks - not very nice. Bugger.
Hamish grew up on a sheep farm in the Weka Pass, North Canterbury in
the teeth of the howling Nor'wester. He can recall droughts, SMPs, Derek
Quigley and the fantastic drama of the limestone outcrops that are a
signature of the area. He went to primary school at Waikari and then
boarding school (mysteriously anonymous!) in Christchurch before taking
his PhD in engineering at Canterbury University. After working for Deloittes
in Wellington as a consultant, he has been working in the IT field in
London for 2 and half years.
Upton-on-line can’t help remarking on how SMPs, at least in rural New
Zealand, are a sort of carbon dating measure for the mind. Hamish’s
ruminations on the significance of landscape in national identity are
very close to those made by upton-on-line in his last speech to Parliament:
Neither Maori nor European settlers knew how to live with the strange
land they had encountered. The technologies of exploitation they
deployed were very different; the scale of their ecological footprints
very different. But in the innocence – and the ignorance - of their
respective encounters, some 500-600 years apart, they came face
to face with something unique that continues to trouble us all to
Could it be that our shared national identity might, for the first
time in history, be rooted in a crusade to save from annihilation,
not a people or a culture, but a fragment of the biosphere. The
land we live in gnaws away at us, as we gnaw away at it. I know
of no New Zealanders who are indifferent about the landscapes, the
seascapes and skyscapes that dominate our lives.
The way we wrestle with the forces we have unleashed could determine
our national identity. If we let the slide continue we remain just
another colony of itinerant human grazers whose appetites and motivations
have – since the last Ice Age – caused such profound changes to
the planet. But if we turn the tide, we could forge an identity
built on a coming to terms with our land that would be an act of
human imagination without precedent.
Are we big enough to do that – to come to grips with our land as common
adventurers not squabbling settlers? It would be nice to think so. But
the next story isn’t exactly a source of hope…
Blowing it at Taupo
News that a German mini-submersible reached New Zealand only to be
promptly turned round on the wharves without ever being unpacked is
a major blow to the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Science
(GNS), New Zealand science and its wider reputation, Tuwharetoa and
the much vaunted knowledge economy.
A couple of years ago, the same sub managed a path-breaking reconnaissance
of the floor of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest active volcano. There
were all sorts of problems with weather which meant that it didn’t yield
quite so much information as hoped, but it whetted appetites for more.
After all, this is the orifice which has erupted a larger volume of
material than any other volcano on the face of the planet in the last
few millennia. And it sits smack in the middle of one of the most violently
productive volcanic zones in the world in the last 1.6 million years.
It’s Taupo that made the modern day North Island look like it is –
the huge pumice plateaus of the central North Island; the rafts of material
that sweep over the axial ranges to the east (with the incredible podocarp
forests that reach such dizzy heights at Whirinaki where the deep pumice
soils meet the greywacke of the Urewera ranges); the flood plain of
the central and lower Waikato and the Hauraki Plains.
It’s Taupo that gets New Zealand its first mention in literature with
Chinese and Greek references to meteorological conditions around the
time of the AD186 eruption – a 100 cubic kilometre belch that had planetary
impact but was relatively modest in comparison to the Oruanui eruption
of about 23,000 years ago which, at nearer to 1000 cubic kilometres,
managed to deposit deep air fall material on the Chatham Islands.
Getting an accurate fix on the topography of the lake bed, the hot
springs there and the material being deposited gave scientists their
best yet information on aspects of the eruptive sequence – and perhaps
what the future might hold. But all of this was apparently not interesting
enough to persuade Tuwharetoa to find out even more. The tribal authority,
restored to ownership of the lake bed not so very long ago, pulled the
plug after seemingly interminable negotiations. A huge amount of planning
– and, one assumes, no small sum of money - has been burnt on some unknown
altar in the pursuit of some unimaginable principle.
Locating the victors
You’d need a very sensitive, politically correct Geiger counter to
spot the winners in this one. Upton-on-line has no inside knowledge
of what went on or what sort of point Tuwharetoa was trying to make.
But from the outside, its refusal looks like a breathtaking disregard
for the acquisition of knowledge – knowledge that was going to be handed
to it (and the world at large) for nix at public expense. This is all
the more remarkable because Tuwharetoa has, from the very earliest days,
been regarded as one of the most public-spirited and far-sighted iwi.
Taking the opportunities that come your way
All of this was swirling around upton-on-line’s head when he happened
to be waiting for his children’s hair to be cut at an establishment
not far from the Eiffel Tower in the seventh arrondissement.
Just two doors along was a shop called A l’esprit du Sud-Ouest
– a boutique dedicated to the gastronomic and sporting passions of France’s
south western corner, the bit squashed up against the Atlantic end of
the Pyrénées centered on Tarbes. In this remote fastness,
real men play rugby (what they eat, upton-on-line has yet to experience
– that’s one of 2002’s exploratory missions).
But in a very open-minded sort of way, the south-west’s little outpost
in heaven had sportingly decided to market the wares of other rugby
mad cultures. And there, in a prominent place in the front window, was
an All Black jersey and a jersey with the haka on it complete
with diagram of the actions, syllable by syllable.
Who knows what some entrepreneur had to go through – or how - to square
away this piece of cultural salesmanship? But the thing that struck
upton-on-line this: how incredibly fortunate Maori are to have teamed
up with a culture and a game that has international resonance. How many
‘indigenous’ peoples in this world have been successful enough to have
one of their cultural set pieces made an unforgettable part of a world
sport as played by one of its supremely successful teams? From time
to time voices have been raised against it but so far generous and good-humoured
common sense has triumphed over narrow, back-biting isolationism.
It looks as though a similarly large and liberal view has perished
somewhere in the depths of Lake Taupo. And it’s an opportunity lost.
Knowing more about your assets is the best way of looking after them,
cherishing them and – in due course – profiting from them. Sure, you
don’t give them away. But, equally, it’s not every day that taxpayers
want to spend money on the innocuous business of learning more about
them – and putting you on the international research map.
Some moralising before Christmas torpor sets in
Upton-on-line hopes a whole lot of people do some soul-searching over
Christmas before this all degenerates into another round of shoulder-shrugging.
If New Zealand has become such a complicated and culturally fragile
place that we can’t put a tiny submersible into a lake without a dust-up,
no-one’s going to bother with us for very long. There are plenty more
lakes, plenty more volcanic calderas and plenty more people who’d just
love the chance to have researchers help them understand more about
(That’s not just a throw away line: a large glossy book on Volcanoes
and People has just been launched here in Paris together with a
huge outdoor photographic display in the Luxembourg Gardens. There’
s not a single mention of New Zealand – just a couple of red triangles
that obliterate most of the North Island on one corner of a map of the
Clearly, Tuwharetoa needs to decide whether it is still part of the
wider world as it was more than a century ago when it made the magnificent
gift of Tongariro National Park to the nation. That has become a gift
to the world at large as visitors from around the world come to marvel
at the site of these stupendous convulsions. It would be sad indeed
if the descendants of that visionary leadership were, as a new millennium
dawns, turning their backs on the outward looking approach that made
them early trailblazers.
Maori leaders in New Zealand (i.e. politicians on both sides of the
House) need to decide whether this is a good outcome or not, and if
it isn’t, say why. And if the fault lies with GNS the public is entitled
to know what went wrong. Leaving the matter shrouded in mystery won’t
And just before anyone starts to deliver a lecture
about how it’s dangerous to comment when you’re not in full possession
of the facts (and upton-on-line freely acknowledges that he isn’t),
wounded parties should remember that this is how it looks from the outside.
It’s the perceptions that the outside world has, fully informed or not,
that can make or break little countries that people don’t have to visit.
Or lend their gear to, for research projects.
A long way to drop
Finally, at the risk of imperiling the tone and reputation upton-on-line
has painstakingly forged, some vital information for travellers to Australia.
Her Majesty’s Australian Government, amidst all the pressures raised
by being a regional power, a repeller of boat people and a crucible
of sporting greatness, has found time to dwell on some of the wee small
things of life. In short it has developed Toiletmap – an electronic,
web-site-based guide to the Commonwealth of Oz’s ‘toilets’.
Upton-on-line observes wistfully that sticking with the U-form – lavatory
or the relaxed weekend variant, loo – would have been so much
classier: Lavmap or Loomap. But never mind – it’s the
thought that counts. Grateful travellers can now ‘zoom-in’ on any one
of 13,000 places of repose from smart metropolitan addresses to humble
For earnest pre-trip planning (and those of us with children know just
how important this can be), the site to visit is: www.toiletmap.gov.au
The technology is in it’s early stages – there is no real-time monitoring
of occupancy or servicing at this stage. But upton-on-line can see real
potential for integrating this with GPS on board navigational systems
because most emergencies require quicker corrective action that logging-on
time allows for.
In the meantime, upton-on-line can only congratulate the Australians
on a blow for common sense and hygiene. He cautions, however, on its
exportability. Given the penchant of at least some French citizens to
make every métro exit a winning post, he questions what a Parisian
database would look like.
And that’s it for 2001
Upton-on-line wishes all subscribers – diasporan or otherwise –
a joyous Christmas and an engaging and demanding 2002. (You wouldn’t
want it otherwise, would you?)