My interest in eels started, like most kiwi kids, mucking about in creeks. For my birthday my mum would take my mates and me to the bush (Kiriwhakapapa, Kaituna, Mikimiki) to camp. We would spend the whole time in the river only coming back to camp for food. Up till the wee hours of the morning, searching the black pools for the famous Tuna, often returning soaking wet, cold, covered in mud and babbling, “did you see that big one? It was bigger than your little sister, bro!”
Later on during my student years I worked for the Paku whanau, as a commercial eel fisherman to earn a little extra cash. While getting the wetsuits on in the dark side of the those crisp mornings, Matt Paku would tell my mate Lincoln Paku and I from his nice warm truck, “You boys are the luckiest bastards in the world! Everyone else is going to work and you fellas get to float down the river all morning”. With my feet blue and chattering teeth, it didn’t feel like it at the time, but he was right! We got to explore the waterways all through the Wairarapa valley.
After a year of fishing I left for Europe where I lived, worked and travelled for almost three and a half years.
For the first three years I didn’t miss home once. It wasn’t till the fourth year that I started thinking about home and it was the river and creeks and space that I missed. It was the eeling stories with my friends and family that I remembered. So I found myself working as a potter in France when I was inspired by the idea of making eels in ceramic.
Throughout New Zealand the Wairarapa has been known for its eels. The old people tell stories of the rivers and streams running thick with tuna. However over the last 100 years the eel numbers have been in a steady decline due to drainage of the swamps and waterways and subsequent diminished habitat, the pollution of our rivers and pressure from commercial fishing. This has crippled the population to the point where we will never see the abundance of old. If we as a community (not just Wairarapa, but the whole country) do not have a change of attitude toward our waterways, we will rob our grandchildren of our Aotearoa stories and we will lose the eel like we have so many other species. For me, the eel/tuna represents the rivers I love. This native creature represents the health of our environment and our waterways.
Nō reira kia kaha e ngā tangata pūkenga. Me tiaki hoki tātou i ngā taonga tuku iho me ngā taonga kei waenganui i a tātou - mō tēnei wā, mō ake tonu atu.