Graeme Atkins

A new documentary, titled “Mate Tipu, Mate Rākau”, has been released by Toi Taiao Whakatairanga. Mate Tipu, Mate Rākau (which translates to Dead Seedlings, Dead Trees) follows Department of Conservation Ranger Graeme Atkins (Ngāti Porou, Rongomaiwahine) as he shares the reality of the rapid devastation that myrtle rust is having on the myrtle whānau in his rohe.

Since he first found myrtle rust in the ngahere in 2018, Graeme has seen the disease, caused by the airborne fungal pathogen Austropuccinia psidii, wreak havoc on local populations of ramarama on the East Cape. He has watched carpets of ramarama seedlings become infected and die, and he reported New Zealand’s first mature full-tree death caused by myrtle rust in 2020.

In a particularly moving segment of this 9-minute documentary, a drone gets sent up to take a video of a full grown, healthy ramarama in what Graeme has identified as the last local section of land that has not yet been impacted by myrtle rust. Through the camera, Graeme sees what he believes to be myrtle rust on the canopy. They use the blade of the drone to chop a small piece of leaf off the plant – sure enough, it is infected with myrtle rust.

“Trying to maintain a positive demeanour gets pretty hard when I’ve seen, when I’ve witnessed, what’s happened here,”

Graeme Atkins

However, he stresses the role that action has in staying positive and finding solutions.  

“[We’re] just trying to keep our communities engaged and all positive about this, trying to find the ways we can – the community can – play a part,” he says. “A load shared is a load halved.”

The documentary was produced and directed by videographer Fiona Apanui-Kupenga (Ngāti Porou) and her team at Te Amokura Productions. It is one of several creative projects commissioned by Toi Taiao Whakatairanga – Cultivating Kaitiakitanga Through Creative Practices, a cross-disciplinary collaborative research project hosted by Creative Arts and Industries at the University of Auckland. The project brings together arts, science and Te Ao Māori to raise awareness of the threats to our ngahere and wider ecological systems posed myrtle rust and kauri dieback.

Toi Taiao Whakatairanga is funded by Mobilising for Action, the social science research theme in the Ngā Rākau Taketake programme. 

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