Friday, January 27, 2012

Close up of Tui Mine

View from the Tui Mine site, looking out over the town of Te Aroha and the Hauraki Plains
 As part of the research I'm doing for my next mining project I visited the site of the Tui Mine with some friends this week.  As it is the most toxic site in New Zealand and currently being remediated, there is no vehicle access, and many dire warnings about accessing it on foot.  So we didn't know how close we could get until we got there.  The walk up Te Aroha mountain was very steep, through some very beautiful native bush. There were a few birds about, but not many- which is not unusual for the middle of the day.  

Tunakohia  Stream, fed with water from inside the mines
We crossed several sparkling clear streams and rills, but despite the temptations of the beautiful water we tried to avoid contact with it, sharing our water bottles with Tara the dog so she wouldn't drink from the streams.  After heavy rains, or when the mine site is disturbed (as it must be during the remediation work), these streams can be full of toxic heavy metals (lead, cadium, mercury).   

Some rusty old mining rubbish lying around in the bush
 As we got higher up the mountainside and closer to the mine site, we started to hear the roar of heavy machinery and even a muffled explosion. The lower level of the large area of the mine is the tailings dam which is the current focus of remediation work.   I managed to get a peep at it through the trees, but could only see a small section of new tailings dam under construction. It will replace the crumbling old concrete dam left by the mining company when they flitted off leaving 90,000 tonnes of toxic tailings perched precariously on the steep mountainside above the little town of Te Aroha.

Constructing the new tailings dam
Higher and higher we climbed, and eventually came to one of the entrances to the underground mines of Tui. I thought recognised it from an old home video I watched at Te Aroha museum last months where a group of ex-miners revisit their old work place. This meant I could visualise the inside of the mine (dark, wet, dangerous, deep), even though the entrance is decisively blocked (not that I would venture inside a Tui Mine casually anyway).

Entrance to underground mine (top right).  Tunakohoia stream flows right past (see it coming out of the bush just above the dog?)

The mine was abandoned 30 years ago and although the lush bush crowds up the edges of the site, nothing can grow on the cleared ground, so toxic is the earth.  Looking at it, it feels very raw and new, but after thirty years, anywhere else would have overgrown the stream with vegetation.
Mine entrance, with water flowing out with bright orange sediment 

The mine's water runs straight down the blasted cliff face to join the Tunakohoia Stream

Looking down from the mine entrance

I was very excited to be able to be right there, on the mine site, seeing with my own eyes the details and the context.  I was particularly looking at the colours, because that is the decision making I'm immersed in at the moment with my mining project.   I didn't see anything that looked like cinnabar, though the dark red lichen growing on many rocks is a similar colour. 
The only life in the mine clearing are a few kinds of unfamiliiar lichens, presumably the kind that flourish on a diet of heavy metals.
We did find this piece of quartz stained with the same bright orange that flows out of the mine. I don't know exactly what the orange stuff is, but everything I've read about Tui suggests its a highly toxic mineral. 

Tui Quartz

When NORPAC abandoned Tui so abruptly after the market for their dangerous product disappeared, they left a lot behind.  A hundred tonnes or so of ore apparently, and the tailings of course.  But the most visible/accessible stuff these days are all the bits of rusting kit and a few concrete foundations. 

After we walked back down the steep mountainside, we drove to the otherside of Te Aroha town, to the charming historic Domain with its multitude of mineral spas. A luxurious soak in a warm outdoor pool was just what our sore feet and tired legs needed.  When my fingers and toes were pale and wrinkled I finally felt cleansed of any contact with Tui's toxic legacy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A weakness for colour

 I'm doing lots of thinking about what colours to use for the Tui Mine piece I'm designing.  Although I am confident and enthusiastic about wearing and decorating with lots of colour, I think its a weak spot in my artistic practice.

In an attempt to generally improve the use of colour in my art and specifically work out what a palette for Tui Mine I'm trying to get more aware of colour combinations in nature and other people's art.  These fallen gum leaves caught my eye, under a big old tree I was walking past.  The leaves looked much more vibrant there, either the warm evening light or lying on verdant green grass.  By the time I got them home they all seemed much more subdued. But I still like them, and am drawn to the soft crimson as a shade I could try to replicate for the cinnabar of Tui Mine together with the bright greens of the forest, and the ochre and silvers of the bare earth.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Barry Smith's Antarctica

My friend Barry Smith, and his wife Catherine opened an Antarctic exhibition last week in exactly the same gallery  (ArtsPost, Hamilton, NZ) where I held my Antarctic exhibition last August.  Barry is a printmaker and Catherine is a painter and they have both been to Antarctica, most recently in 2006. Barry also spent the summer of 1959-60 working on expeditions down there, which he sometimes writes about on his interesting blog, Pukawaparadise. A couple of years ago, Barry allowed me to share a few of his photos from that period on Bibliophilia here.

Antarctica: Dreams and Discoveries includes five expressionist paintings of icebergs and blizzards on the sea ice by Catherine Smith.  I was particularly enamoured with Barry Smith's seven woodcuts, which reference the events taking place on the ice a century ago as Amundsen and Scott raced to the Pole.  In the photo above Barry is standing next to his print, 18th January 1912, which is very moving for Antarctica history enthusiasts for me, as it suggests we are looking over Scott's shoulder as he arrives at the South Pole and sees the Norwegian flag left by Amundsen who was first to visit, only a month earlier.  All the poignancy of that moment is conveyed in the stark silhouette of the hooded figure and the bleak view in front of him.

My two favourite prints were the simplest.  Cold Way to the Plateau, and embossed woodcut with no ink, no colour, just the relentless white of the paper and snow marked only by light and shadow falling across the texture of the embossing.  Eleven Miles Short is all grey and grim, once again expressing perfectly the tragedy of Scott's expedition. Eleven miles short refers to the distance Scott and his party died from the nearest cache containing the food and fuel they desperately needed.

The story of Scott and Amundsen has been told so many times, in so many ways that you might think it worn threadbare as an explorer's socks at the end of his journey. But Barry's images are not interpretations of well known photographs, nor simply illustrating diaries or histories.  His imagined perspectives are evocative and moving, satisfyingly authoritative and imaginative. I'm sure that even people unfamiliar with the tales of the Heroic Age will be stirred by the stark and simple beauty of Barry Smith's Antarctica.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lucky number 7

Today is the 7th birthday of this blog, Bibliophilia. Each year the quantity of posts is a little less than the previous year, but I'm proud that I've been keeping it going for so long without resorting to (much) repetition or memes or posts made up entirely of links. I like to think that Bibliophilia offers original content-rich consistency, if not reliable frequency.

There's certainly a small but intensely loyal cadre of readers who occasionally tell me how much they like what I do here.  They tend not to comment much, and as I am an infrequent commenter on other people's blogs, its no more than I deserve. One advantage of not being a comment-heavy blog is I don't have much spam or trolling to deal with!

So thank you, loyal readers, those who let me know they are there; and those I don't know... who appear to me only as encouraging statistics.  Feel free to say hello below if you want to. I do like getting comments here.

So what can you expect to see on Bibliphilia in its eighth year? More of the same as I have no radical changes of direction planned in my work, my life or this blog.  I'm steering a steady course at the moment.  The finishing touches are going onto my long-awaited gallery website and I hope to launch that soon, together with a freshen up of Bibliophilia's look. But that's about as much online excitement as I can handle at one time.

As for posts, I've got four major works in progress with deadlines in the first half of the year and so there will be plenty of incremental progress photos, and some conceptual musing. I'll probably share about some exhibitions that I visit, research that is stirring me, places I explore.   The second half of my year is a bit of an open book at this stage, but I suspect there will be a little travelling on the horizon as I've got itchy feet that can't be scratched until I've completed the current work programme.

I originally intended to celebrate Bibliophilia's birthday with a list of links to my favourite posts of the last 7 years. But I haven't gotten round to pulling that together.  So there's something else for you to look forward to. If you've been following for a while, is there a favourite post/topic from the past 7 years that you would nominate?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Tui Mine

This is as close as its possible to drive to Tui Mine these days, and it was far too rainy a day to get out and walk (especially given what I know about the run-off from the mine entrances and tailings).
Te Aroha is a small town under its eponymous  mountain not far from here. Both the town and the mountain have simultaneously fascinated and repelled me for years, and drawn me to write poetry and make art about them. The imposing physical environment, its social history as a spa, and more recent tragic statistics as the highest suicide rate in NZ have each begged a creative response that I have never yet been able to live up to.

Yet, when I recently read about the remediation of the Tui Mine, perched halfway up the mountain overlooking the town, all the ideas I've that have been floating in the back of my mind for decades began to coalesce with my current focus on extractive industries in general and mining in particular.  Tui, and Te Aroha, sit on the other side of the Kaimai mountain range and a few dozen kilometers northwards of Tauranga, where the MV Rena continues breaking up in a dismal oil spill, already the subject of two large scale works in progress in my studio. I am now also developing a new piece to respond to what I have been learning about Tui Mine and its impact on Te Aroha.

The Tui Mine has nearly 150 years history of relatively unsuccessful mining endeavors. Some 80 different primary and secondary minerals are present in the quartz under the Tui claim. However, gold (which is certainly present) has resisted repeated attempts to extract it using each new technological development in the industry between the 1880s and 1930s.  Finally, between 1967-78 a company, NORPAC, was formed to mine zinc, lead and copper from Tui which was sent to Japan for processing.  The ore was so heavy that the trucks leaving the mine looked empty, even as their axels strained under the weight of the load.  Mining stopped, and NORPAC went bankrupt, in 1978 when it was found that the Japanese workers were getting ill from the high mercury content in the Tui metals and the market disappeared.  More than half of the mined ore remained on site, with nowhere to go.  In those days, before the RMA required mining companies to clean up after themselves, NORPAC was able to take only the most cursory swipe at dealing with the toxic ore, tailings, mines and processing sites before literally disappearing from existence.

Now Tui Mine is acknowledged as the most toxic site in New Zealand, and a disaster of monumental scale that could occur with only a small seismic event or even particularly bad storm.  Millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars are being spent to try and stop the surge of heavy metals that fills the streams every time heavy rain or careless visitors disturbs the site. And, more dramatically to prevent the potential of 90,000 tonnes of toxic tailings breaking through the crumbling dam left by NORPAC and sliding down the hillside onto the town below.  The town's water supply was contaminated with heavy metals at up to 150 times safe levels of cadmium and lead from at least 1968-1979 and possibly intermittently since then.

It must be a huge relief to the residents of Te Aroha, and the local iwi with kaitiakitangi over the mountain to know that the Tui Mine debacle is finally being dealt with.  I'm not quite sure yet exactly how my work will interpret these issues and the environment but I know that the red of Cinnabar, the toxic ore that made Japanese workers so sick, will feature.

Some of the toxic ore from Tui Mine, Cinnabar, or Mercury Sulphide. The distinctive red colour stains the water flowing from and past the mine site, and no plant life has grown anywhere near the mine in the 30 years since it closed.