By John Subritzky
The Canal Rd trees looked doomed as we watched events unfold live on the AM Show on Wednesday morning, 16 September. The felling contractors had arrived with a digger. 10 Police exited a van (including one cop from the holding cell!) and marched across the road to form a line between many of the protesters and the trees. This is it! We thought. Those remaining magnificent and rare natives will be woodchips and mulch by tonight.
It was Day 71 since Treeworx had first arrived on site and felled about half of the trees. We had totally underestimated the grit and determination of the protestors. Not only were there ten people up in the trees but well over 100 others had answered the call and turned up from 4.30am for a peaceful protest after a tip off that felling the trees was imminent.
People sat down blocking the path of the digger from its transporter to the site. One group of protesters blocked Police from getting on to the property, while another sat on the truck and digger. Shortly after, local filmmaker Ken Sparks attached himself onto the digger with a steel pipe lock.
By 9:36 am, contractors decided to cancel the day’s work.
"Our goal was to stop contractors and give Mayor Goff the time to start an urgent discussion with the property owners to acquire the land," he says. "We put the call out, people came, and people power saved these irreplaceable trees," said protester Steve Abel.
Mayor Phil Goff says that felling significant trees is happening all over Auckland and says that only changes to the RMA will save them. In an eerily similar incident to Canal Rd, reported in local paper Hibiscus Matters, a group of twenty trees 100 years old, including natives, were felled by a property developer on the last vacant site at Millwater, Orewa. They, too, had been planted by the previous owner Vera Bartlett’s father and grandfather. Despite the objections of over fifty neighbours, the trees came down.
Vera, 85, says the trees were planted by her brother Ken, their father Frank and grandparents and some are very old. Both Frank and Ken were keen amateur botanists and “loved everything related to trees” Vera says.
She is sad that the trees – and the house built in 1890 – are gone, but says she accepted this would happen. “That’s the way life is,” she says.