Same shit—different century

Delaware Bay is a magnificent fishing area; steeped in history, with plentiful wild fish species to harvest for recreation and kai. The only problem is boat access, which is under imminent threat from the ludicrous actions of Nelson City Council bureaucrats.

Being the only safe boat launching and retrieval point between Nelson City Port and Okiwi Bay in Marlborough (both over 20km away in either direction by boat) I’ve been fortunate to have used and enjoyed the Wakapuaka Estuary access point over many years, both commercially, recreationally, and most importantly with my whanau.

My great-great-grandfather was Captain John Walker, an early pioneer of maritime routes in the northern South Island and on first name terms with many of New Zealand’s early explorers and surveyors. His cutter, the Supply, regularly dropped off such passengers and cargo around the northern South Island, including Delaware Bay and the Wakapuaka Estuary.

His achievements included being the first European to successfully navigate the treacherous Buller River bar in a sailing ship, when he landed surveyors John & James Rochfort ashore in 1859. The personal effects of Captain Walker are now on permanent display at the Nelson Provincial Museum, something I enjoy every time I visit the museum with my family.

The Walkers first ran afoul of the Nelson bureaucracy when Captain Walker’s brother George won the contract to build a road through the Warwick Saddle between the Matakitaki and Maruia River. When the job was completed in 1864, the Nelson Provincial Government (the forerunner of Nelson City Council) was so impoverished that it reneged on payment for the road, and had to give land at Maruia and an extensive grazing lease in lieu of money. In later years, this land was requisitioned by the New Zealand Government, forcing the Walkers to sell for a lowball price so the land could be allocated to soldiers returning from the first World War.

Perhaps the best family story about Nelson bureaucracy belongs to my colourful great-greatgrandfather, WC Mirfin Senior. Explorer, traveller, engineer, lighthouse supervisor, publican, contractor, divorcee, building inspector, public overseer of works, and farmer, WC Mirfin Snr travelled freely between Australia and New Zealand. He was even present at the 1860 farewell party of explorers Burke and Wills, who died trying to cross the Australian interior between Melbourne and the Gulf of Carpenteria. Exploration was clearly in the blood, as it was with his son WC Mirfin Jnr, who married Sarah Walker, daughter of Captain John Walker.

In 1872, the Nelson Provincial Government hired William Craven Mirfin Snr to supervise the contract of the building of the Nelson Gas Works in Haven Road, and then as manager of the Nelson City Gas and Waterworks. In October 1874 the mayor, without authority of the council, “caused a letter to be sent to Mr Mirfin informing him that his services would not be required”. On December 28, 1874, at the city council meeting, the manager read a letter purporting to be from the Provincial Engineer stating Mr Mirfin had not given correct information. It then transpired that the mayor had written the letter himself. “At this, Mirfin became very excited and heaped opprobrious epithets on the head of the mayor.

It was a most unseemly affair altogether” (The Colonist, December 31, 1874).

The Nelson Evening Mail of January 9, 1875, demanded an apology from Mirfin and received a reply on January 23, where Mirfin regretted the language he had addressed the mayor with, but declined to apologise. Mirfin had lost his job, but perhaps had the last laugh when The Colonist reported on February 6, 1875, “That the manufacture of gas in this city has come to a standstill”.

It’s possible that not much has changed today. I wonder what my ancestors, WC Mirfin Snr and Captain John Walker would have thought about the current boat access debacle involving Nelson City Council at Delaware Bay. Maybe they would have found it amusing that 150 years on, we are still dealing with the same shit in a different century.

Please donate generously to the Delaware Bay Access Group Incorporated Legal Fund – This is your beach, your right, and your fight too. Bank Account Number: 06-0958 0210014-00

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