Written by: Teepa Wawatai
6 Jul 2015

Kei te whenua te waiu mo nga whakatipuranga kei te piki ake.
The land will provide sustenance for future generations

Over Easter I went walkabout in the Australian outback for a couple of weeks. It gave me a different perspective on two fundamental resources, water and land.


My wife and I spent time in the Northern Territory and South Australia, which is actually the driest state in Australia. It’s not until you drive over, walk across, or fly over this vast and unforgiving landscape that this harsh reality bites you deep and hard. Water is extremely precious there and when you wander in the desert you become acutely aware of your need. In some places it hasn’t rained for more than 3 years. There’s nothing but dust for miles and endless miles. For a simple act like brushing your teeth, barely a quarter of a cup of water is used and every drop is measured. I would easily use twenty times that amount of water to do the same task back here in NZ. But when a resource is rare, as it is with water in the Australian outback – it is treasured like diamonds and opals. It is a highly valued commodity which demands a reverential attitude towards its use because in the outback it ultimately determines life or death.

Compare that picture to here in NZ where water is plentiful. When a resource is abundant we tend to be careless and wasteful with it. But times and attitudes are changing as we awaken to the need to value our water resource more highly and better manage its use for the future. It is a looming issue for us; specifically water use and availability, quality and ownership. That’s why Waiapu koka huhua (The Waiapu Restoration Project) is a one hundred year collaborative endeavour. We are also working with GDC to develop with Ngati Porou hapu a joint management plan for the Waiapu Catchment. It is a major development that will have a long-term impact on sustainable development in our rohe in order to sustain our people and future generations.


Travelling across the outback of Australia gives you some appreciation of how big the country is. It is massive. We flew over the southern reaches of Anna Creek, the largest farm in Australia. In fact it’s the largest farm in the world. At 6 million acres it’s bigger than many countries like, for example, Israel. But it’s tough farming in desert conditions comprising scrub, sand dunes and savannah. It normally carries a mere 16,000 head of cattle but in 2008, suffering under the “drought of the century”, the herd was reduced to 2000. That’s 3,000 acres for each animal. Anna Creek is up for sale with greatest interest coming from Asia. Australians are expressing the same concerns heard here in NZ about the sale of land to overseas interests. Land and the resources within it will always stir great passion in people and remains the principal reason why men go to war.

Ngati Porou have a lot of land as compared to other iwi but the challenge remains to utilise it in a way that will sustain our people and enhance all of the values – economic, social, environmental and cultural, that contribute to overall wellbeing. Not far from the opal mining town of Coober Pedy we turned onto the outback road that goes to a very remote town called Oodnadatta (Population: About 300). I wanted to see something special along this track – the fence.

We eventually came to it; stretched out across the horizon as far as the eye could see. My parents were farmers, so were their parents; we were brought up on farms. My maternal grandfather, Taihaaro Pepere, was a gun fencer and so was my father and when I was a boy I loved going fencing with him. So I just had to see this fence for myself and for my father and grandfather. I can’t explain it any other way but this is no ordinary fence. This is the dog fence and it is the longest fence in the world. 

It is five and a half thousand kilometres long and stretches across more than half of
Australia. It was built to keep out marauding dingoes from coming south and attacking sheep on the southern pastoral spreads. But more than anything that fence represents man’s sheer determination to control his environment. We have to show the same determination in preserving, enhancing and utilising our land and water, including everything in it and everything on it, for present and future generations.

Teepa Waiwatai
Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou


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