One of the events I really wanted to take part in last year was a festival called “A Day at the Beach”. It was the idea of a couple of young West Coasters, Louis Brown and Guy Ryan. Louis would walk 350km (to represent 350 ppm Carbon in the atmosphere) down the beach from Karamea to Franz Josef, and Guy would make a film about the project. As it turned out, the Government’s parliamentary programme and other commitments meant I never was able to get to the right place at the right time. The project was a massive success. Other walkers joined Louis along the way and in every centre schoolkids and community organisations joined to plant trees and clean up rubbish from beaches. Then the evenings saw concerts and political discussions at local venues. 16 events over 24 days.
So I jumped at the chance to join Lois, Guy and others in Hokitika last Friday for a celebration a year on. The evening started with the annual Hokitika Whitebait Relay. Teams of four have to put on swanni (called a lamby on the Coast actually) and gumboots and sprint 100m over and through conservation-themed obstacles and piece by piece bring back equipment and whitebait fritter ingredients which are then cooked up by the fourth team member. Judging is a mysterious process combining both speed and taste. Some ethical dilemmas for me: as a vegetarian I don’t catch, cook or eat whitebait, but I decided that it would be an acceptable compromise to run the first leg, which only involved bringing back a whitebait net (minus the net in fact). Damien O’Connor ran the second leg, Mike Copeland (local QE2 Trust rep) subbed the third leg for Chris Auchinvole, who was late arriving, and a local whitebaiting identity anchored and cooked. We won (from about 8 teams) and Damien and I will take turns showcasing the magnificent trophy in our offices.
But then the event proper began with a West Coast singer, Roseanna Gamlen-Greene, entertaining the crowd with a combination of her great original songs and well-judged covers. She has a fantastic voice and performed really well. As she performed Louis mentioned to me that she had attended a workshop he had run on converting ideas into action, and had now set up a group that was busy cleaning up Christchurch rivers. Oh, and by the way, she’s a high school student.
Next up the MPs had to perform, answering a couple of questions about waste and community engagement as a panel, but challenged by Louis to be very solutions-focused, rather than scoring political points. In the break Guy started talking with me about some of what had been discussed and gave me a copy of his film “Carving the Future”, which I highly recommend. It profiles the work of four young New Zealanders – Te Rawhitiroa Bosch, Erana Walker, Jinty MacTavish and Louis - inspired to lead solutions-based approaches to environmental issues in their communities. It just won the platinum award for best short film at the Colorado Film Festival, and has several other awards to its credit already. The common umbrella for this work was the Regeneration Project, a link for young people from Enviroschools into further training and action.
Finally we saw three short films made by West Coast secondary students, winners of a film competition that Louis and Guy had run for school students with a theme of “what we love about the West Coast”. After showing the films the students were asked to come down to the stage to collect their prizes, get lost of applause and praise. The winning film, “Beach”, was especially good. Louis and Guy’s new vehicle, the Te Waipounamu Foundation, is going to be touring these films in West Coast schools, along with Guy’s ‘Day at the Beach” film, which we finished the evening with. It’s very cool.
I’ve gone into all this detail because throughout the evening I was repeatedly blown away by the awesome attitude of these young people. Rather than being immobilised by the size of the threats we face or thinking that somebody else could or should do something about those threats, all of these young people seem to ask themselves the basic question “How can I do something about this problem?” They have a positive, solutions-focused approach, and they believe that what they personally do can make a difference. Back when I was their age, I would have been stopped by fear of failure or of being ridiculed by others. If these young people felt that way, they have certainly got over it. Their ethos seems to be “have a go”, and it’s absolutely infectious.
And very last thing for the evening we heard that Te Waipounamu Foundation and a North Island-based organisation called Sustainable Coastlines (more inspirational young people) have joined forces to organise a national project called “Love Your Coast”, involving beach clean-ups and care right around New Zealand in December. It’s a big project, but I have no doubt that it will work out. When she retired from Parliament Jeanette was asked if she thought we can meet the challenges of climate change. her response was something like “my head says no, but my heart believes we can”. Spending time with this crew of young people is a huge boost for my heart.