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A chat with the chair of the Tairua Environment Society

There’s a vigilant group of environmentalists keen to protect the ecology and beauty of Tairua area and John Drummond is their chair. The Tairua Environment Society has tackled an impressive range of issues from mining to a “sunny dunny” at Te Karo Bay and John has been involved nearly 35 years.


In the 1970s, John trained as a draftsman in Hamilton while working at a concrete factory that made panels for large buildings. His wife, Keryn, worked at a Waikato Hospital laboratory. The couple were childhood sweethearts at the same Hamilton school and have now been together nearly 50 years. They arrived in Tairua after returning from overseas and built a home on Mount Paku. Their children Amber, Klee and Tai grew up there.


A conversation with developer, Ian Hopper, led to a job in his company building the Lakes Golf Course, where John planted trees, dug drains and “drew a few things as well”. “As a child, I wasn’t too interested in the environment, though I was always out in it,” he says. “But after returning from overseas travel, I realised how special New Zealand is, especially Tairua.


“In 1987 there was a meeting at the Tairua Community Hall to set up an environment group. It was called the Coromandel Peninsula East Coast Protection Society, later changed to the Tairua Environment Society (TES). I attended the first meeting and felt enthusiastic, but was busy at the time with our growing family and my self-employment drafting work. A couple of years later, I met Tim Wyn-Harris while doing a job at Te Moata Retreat Centre. He said they needed more young people in the environment group, so a few of us got involved.


“In those days every mountain and every valley were covered with a mining licence, including the whole Coromandel coast and sea, and groups were set up to oppose this. My first position was being a delegate at Coromandel Watchdog meetings. Our most at-risk area was the Puketui Valley at Hikuai. In the early 1990s, we confronted the miners in the courtrooms and in the bush. The community rallied together, week-long hearings were held with local people speaking passionately about mountains, bush and streams. Large protests in the valley occurred and drill rigs were occupied. This happened in every community around the Coromandel in the 1980s and 90s.


“The other big issue in those days was coastal subdivision around Tairua and it’s interesting to look back, after 35 years and see that mining and coastal subdivision are still major issues for our group. There has been no let-up and the latest issue is a new mining application for Whangamatā’s Parakiwai Valley.


“We’ve celebrated some good successes over the years. We do not have a major mine in this part of the Coromandel, but we do have to be vigilant. We may get parts of the Coromandel closed to mining, but there is always someone wanting to apply. Unfortunately our wins are temporary, but our losses are forever. Nonetheless, we celebrate our wins and learn from the losses. Even in a lost case there will be gain.”


The Tairua Environment Society has been involved in a lot of other issues, locally, nationally and internationally.


Te Karo Bay (Sailors Grave) is one example the society has been involved with for many years. John says that as a consequence of a misguided District Plan change, subdivision in Te Karo Bay was permitted to allow urban-sized lots that would match those of Tairua. TES began informing the public, meeting with Thames-Coromandel District Council and the local community board, and after much negotiation was able to support council implementing a District Plan Change that prevented further subdivision as a permitted activity.


Over the past two decades the society has been involved with pest control, firstly with the Whenuakite Kiwi Care Group where it has serviced some of the traplines within the Whenuakite Forest Park. More recently, its members and other members of the community have set up Pest Free Tairua, a group that is having a real success all over Tairua and are extending to the outer boundaries of the town. For both groups the measure of success is the pleasure of more bird song and more kiwi in the bush.


Protecting the ocean is another focus of the society, which lobbies on issues such as overfishing.

“There are many issues and so many things to do,” says John. “If you care, then you can look after whatever is special to you, perhaps your garden. If you want to do more, there are always places to look after and nurture and protect.


“I have also been involved in ‘Preserve New Chum for Everyone’ for about seven years as an application for subdivision has been going through the TCDC District Plan process. I am pleased to say that the people of New Zealand got together and bought the northern headland that is part of that beach - a great and positive thing. Wainuiototo/New Chum Beach is a big focus for me this year.”


TES has been involved in mining applications at Puketui, Kapowai, Waiomu, the Thames Coast, Kopu-Hikuai, Onemana, Waitekauri, Pauanui and Opoutere. The group has also focused on landfills, dotterel surveys, protection of reserves, canal housing at Pauanui, forestry, a sewerage treatment plant, harbour dredging, water quality and walkways. Sawmills, dive wreck sites and a water dam site have also been on its agenda.


Standing up for environmental issues can be a long and expensive campaign. The Tairua Marina is an example of this. “Our allies, the Guardians of Paku Bay took the main role in this campaign and together we spent 15 years and many thousands of hours and dollars to limit the extent of the development proposed. However, it has brought together people to stand up for issues affecting the environment and I believe that, regardless of the outcome, there are usually some good things that happen.


“When I look out from Tairua and see Paku and the sun shining, and the lush trees and our beautiful harbour, I can hope for a great future for our children and feel gratitude on being here, where the environment is so special.”


On a deeper level, John believes there is a connection beyond the visible that may guide us to find solutions to do the right thing for Mother Nature, planet Earth and its people.


Pictured: Tairua Environment Society chair, John Drummond, says the society has celebrated "some good successes" over the years.


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