By John Subritzky
Often in legends, the hero dies for the cause. Big Mac did not die in vain.
Avondale’s macrocarpa may have become a turning point for tree protection in Auckland. In the last year, Avondale has become the epicentre of the tree wars, as developers have sought maximum utilisation of sites. The beautiful native trees at Canal Road with their incredible history of being planted as an abortorium by Walter Burgess, are the ongoing focus of the tree protesters. But it was not those natives that brought people to the table to make undertakings for tree protection. The protest over the felling of Big Mac shone national media attention onto some dodgy looking back room deals done by Auckland Council. As owners of the tree, the Council has no-one else to blame but itself.
The Council’s Senior Heritage Arborist supplied the following view on 31 August 2020: Once it is a notable tree it must be retained, which is the very intent of it being notable, unless there really is no other alternative to its removal. In this instance, there is a viable alternative, being a design, which would accommodate the tree and distance all works from it. The developer would have been aware of this impediment to unrestricted development as part of their due diligence, and I did state in a pre-application meeting that all trees within the site would need to be retained and incorporated into the design.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei noted …this macrocarpa is a notable tree, it is loved by the community, it plays a significant role in the ecosystem and is contributing to reducing our climate impact…There is limited tree protection left in Aotearoa, we would like to trust that the Auckland council, as our Treaty partners will appropriately value the protected trees. Auckland Council should be showing the people of Tāmaki Makaurau that they respect their role as kaitiaki."
The Mana Rākau tree protection group began as the last line of defence for trees. After weeks of protesting to save Big Mac, Juressa Lee wrote: “The only way to potentially save this tree was to stop the project in its tracks and find funds to take them and Council to court, thereby locking things up for a year or more to try and force Ockham-Marutūāhu back to the drawing board. That would cost all parties tens of thousands of dollars and hit the iwi investors hard. It would cost the 78 families and individuals who had already purchased an apartment stress, uncertainty, and money. It would absorb our movement’s resources in a pitched battle over a single, magnificent tree.
“We decided we were not prepared to do that. Our only option was to make sure, if this tree was to die, that it would not die in silence or for nothing. As I contemplated the prospect of this mighty tree being cut it occurred to me that mana survives death. This macrocarpa will not be forgotten. It spent decades as a shelter belt for other trees and its mana will live well beyond death in the thirteen more trees - or stands of trees - it will save with its life.” [Ockham has agreed that that they would work with Mana Rakau and Council to have at least thirteen notable, local trees scheduled in the Whau.]
It was the last stand in the tree by Caleb Azor that really brought focused media attention to Big Mac. By the end Caleb was worn down and exhausted but there are signs that Auckland Council staff and police have also tired of being involved in the ongoing tree war in Avondale and would like also to see solutions instead of conflict.
Significantly, Kāinga Ora recently advertised the position of Urban Ngahere Lead to “Establish the Kāinga Ora pathway towards regenerating the urban ngahere within its property portfolio and around its large-scale projects” This is a huge change to the clear-felled approach of it’s recent large developments. Things are getting better!
Big Mac’s sacrifice has mana as part of the solution and really is a humble hero.