Category Archives: wanganui

Whanganui Permaculture Weekend: Guest Post by Patrick

Permacutlure weekend:

Enthusiasm, second only to the flu, has been the most highly infectious thing to hit Wanganui recently. It was the annual Permaculture weekend here in Wanganui a couple of weeks ago. Kelly and I hosted a solar oven and rocket stove demonstration near the Whanganui River during the weekend market. We had incredibly positive feedback and drew a surprisingly large crowd of enthusiastic locals as well as visitors during our two hour demo. It was great seeing so much excitement surrounding this straight forward, highly effective technology. Both the solar oven and the rocket stove are wonderful for camping, summer days when you don’t want to heat up the house, emergency preparedness, as well as reducing your energy costs throughout the year.

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We also attended a fruit tree pruning and grafting demonstration conducted by Murray Jones where we learned heaps of useful information about keeping your fruit trees happy, healthy and productive. These things are achieved through attentive, and sometimes aggressive pruning, to insure the removal of all dead wood as well as branches that grow straight up or back into the tree, robbing it of nutrients that could be put into the fruit or productive new growth. Training branches to reinforce the desired shape (a vase in this instance) was also covered.

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Shaping your tree is done so that fruit is easy to reach and to insure that all areas of the tree receive ample sunlight. Additionally there is at least one more advantage, it becomes possible to stand inside the frame of the tree when pruning time comes around in following seasons.

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Murray also gave a brief explanation of why it is advantageous to perform bud thinning. This task is performed when your fruit tree is blossoming, you go through and pick a portion of the blossoms so that your tree will produce fewer fruit of a much higher quality. Also there are times when you will remove a specific blossom or blossoms from a cluster so that the fruit has enough space to fully develop. It was stressed that each fruiting species will have individual needs as to how and when to prune or thin blossoms, the focus of the demo was on apples, plums and pears.

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In addition to the pruning work shop we attended a community seed swap at the Quaker House in Wanganui. This was a really cool event and started off with each person introducing his or herself to the group of attendees and including a bit about their gardening history. As with the previous demos there was a really large and enthusiastic turn out. Experience levels ranged from seasoned veterans to novice level gardeners/farmers. Some of the seeds and plants available included fryer’s hat hot chili peppers, giant pink banana pumpkin, Jack be little pumpkins (whole fruit), zucchini, American Paw Paw, a large variety of corn and beans, sunflower, marigold, and even a Brazilian native tree that produces vibrant red flowers and is best utilized as a windbreak/bird and bee fodder. Everyone at the seed swap was incredibly friendly, enthusiastic and excited to learn or teach given their level of experience.

Next we went to a community screening of Inhabit, a documentary film showcasing North American permacutlurists and their properties. This film was hugely inspiring. There were projects and properties ranging from small urban settings up to a 106 acre organic farm in Wisconsin, all of which were tremendously productive and successful. One of my favorite aspects about the film was the attention given to people care, many of the featured projects were community efforts to rehabilitate polluted or unused urban blocks, as well as one project in California that offered ex-convicts a unique opportunity to transform land and themselves. Also it was really amazing to see the enormous yields of healthy food put forth from the execution of permaculture principles and way of life. It is about more than being less bad, we can be a positive creative force for our planet, that is a really empowering idea and one that resonates truth.

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Lastly we attended a tomato planting workshop hosted by Nelson Lebo. In this workshop we learned about selecting tomato plants, how and when to plant them, strategies for obtaining high yields from early to late season, fast economic ways to train your tomatoes, as well as shaping and feeding your plants. Again the turnout was excellent and full of people eager to learn, and one or two with some useful tips of their own.

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All in all the Wanganui Permaculture weekend was a really amazing, positive experience. So much information was shared about an astounding array of subjects, and some furious note taking will ensure that most of it will be retained, or stored when it will be called upon at a later date. Seeing so much energy put forth to promote such a positive way of life that is Permaculture has been so inspiring, I can’t wait for myself and Kelly to get to work on our own project. We have enjoyed our time at the Ecoshool immensely and will miss all of our new friends and hosts, but fear not Wanganui we shall return.

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Patrick Dorris

No Depression in New Zealand…and no cold, damp homes either.

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

John Maslin recently wrote an editorial for the Chronicle titled: ‘Get real’ on heritage protection. Given the number of heritage buildings in our city and the cost of strengthening them, a realistic approach is certainly in order for progress to be made.

After reading Maslin’s piece I was driving to work and heard that the song, “No Depression in New Zealand” was up for the missing Silver Scroll award from 1981. It seemed an appropriate ‘get real’ anthem:

There is no depression in New Zealand

There are no sheep on our farms

There is no depression in New Zealand

We can all keep perfectly calm

Blam Blam Blam did not win the Silver Scroll, but I am happy to honour the song for the rest of this column as it reminds us to be suspicious of spin doctors and their reluctance to recognize facts.

Not long after Maslin’s editorial we were treated to David Scoullar’s insightful piece on managing decline: Accepting decline best way for cities to plan for future. Scoullar points out examples of “cutting-edge” urban policy overseas and that they are “not on the radar of Wanganui District Council.”

WDC policy appeared on the front page of the Chronicle last month: “No Decline here, Duncan.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Another ‘interesting’ narrative that has come under scrutiny lately has to do with the cost of building homes in New Zealand. A recent 3D investigation on TV3 asked the question, “Are we paying too much to build our homes?”

While the popular narrative points the finger at land prices and council fees, the ‘get real’ answer points to exorbitant prices paid for building materials. From the 3D investigation:

Tony Sewall , head of Ngai Tahu, the biggest developer in the South Island, has sent teams around the world to investigate building materials prices.

“We’d be paying around 30 percent more than in Australia, probably 60 percent more than the United States,” he says. “And the United States’ product is better.”

Quotable Value statistics indicate that identical medium-sized homes built in New Zealand and Australia cost Kiwis $20,000 to $32,000 more than Aussies. This is not because Australia has higher regulatory costs. Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.16.56 am

Cheaper Option: On and off the shelves just like that. 

The programme revealed exclusive arrangements between building materials manufacturers and certain retailers and builders. One example used was wallboard, and how one dominant brand controls 94% of the domestic market. A rival product briefly made an appearance in shops at a much lower price, but then suddenly disappeared. Meanwhile, all parties deny a “special arrangement.”

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

One final issue on the ‘get real’ front for this week. The Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) recently flooded all three local papers with the same article asking for money from philanthropic organisations to support an insulation programme that has been under-funded by the current government. At the same time, we have a local MP who never hesitates to point out how many homes in the District have been insulated under his watch.

To be clear, here is a government agency asking for private donations because The Government has not provided enough funding for a government programme. Meanwhile, a representative of The Government is taking credit for the grand success of the programme.

And there is no depression in New Zealand.

Additionally, it appears that the WRHN has misidentified insulating floors and ceilings as “Healthy Homes.” A famous case recently linked the death of a toddler to the home where she was living that was insulated. As Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford stated, “When you insulate a cold, damp home it is still a cold, damp home.”

But on the other hand, this could all just be hype. After all, there are no cold, damp homes in New Zealand.

Side bar: Want to ‘get real’ about healthy homes in our community? A group has formed to look into the possibility of forming a trust that will address the issue of housing performance while creating jobs for local youth. Please contact me if you are interested.

Weighing Words

The best of Whanganui was on display last weekend. It was the root hairs of the grassroots; the calcium chloride of the salt of the earth; the best of times – the worst of times. Actually, it was just the best of times. But most importantly, it was real people doing real things.

Whanganui Permaculture Weekend is the premier sustainability event in our region. The third edition held last weekend provided fabulous learning experiences for over 300 people at no cost aside from a gold coin donation to cover venue hire for the shared meal and amazing film: Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective. The film was standing room only and many other events attracted 40-plus participants, some of whom traveled from Wellington, Taranaki, Raetehi, the Manawatu and Rangitikei.

The minimum estimated value of the weekend programme is $30,000. It is an event of the community and for the community: a real event for real people. We gave it to everyone for free.

As a keen observer of this city by the awa for the past five years, I reckon our community has less of a need for conferences that charge $1,000 per person and claim to be about sustainability (as we saw late last year), and more of a need for events that provide practical, affordable experiences and solutions.

Expensive talkfests have their place (somewhere), but they don’t and won’t meet our particular community’s needs. Real people taking real action is what meets our real needs. A good Maori friend once told me, “It’s too much hui and not enough do-ee.”

I’ve been in the sustainability game for nearly three decades and have never found a more genuine approach than permaculture. It’s great to see permaculture gaining traction in and around the River City, in addition to other grass roots initiatives. For example, I know of three start-up garden projects that are in the works or just underway. Good luck, friends.

Almost everything I know about community gardens and permaculture can be summed up in one word: kaitiakitanga. It is the weightiest term I have run across in any language worldwide.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “Kaitiakitanga means guardianship, protection, preservation or sheltering. It is a way of managing the environment, based on the traditional Māori world view” (

From my limited perspective, this concept can equally be applied to the TPPA protesters in Whanganui and notably Dr. Chris Cresswell and his recent zen-like car surfing exercise. Chur, bro!

I also think that the success or failure of any garden project relies on having one or more kaitiaki – guardian. In other words, it takes a garden guardian. Sadly, previous community garden projects have failed on this point.

Another weighty word I hold in great regard is ganas – Spanish for desire or inclination. This term played a key role in the 1988 film about a high school maths teacher in a low decile school in East Los Angeles. It is a must see for any teacher or spouse of a teacher.

Ganas and guardianship are the key to success for any gardener, and so it was with great pleasure that I recently visited Sarah O’Neil’s blog: “Sarah the Gardener: Real Gardening in my Real Garden.” Good stuff, Sarah!

Sarah will be sharing her passion for gardening and writing at an event tomorrow as part of the Whanganui Literary Festival. From the brochure:

“Sarah lives on a lifestyle block in the Waikato with her family… Her book, The Good Life: Four Seasons in MY Country Garden, is a funny and inspiring look at the ups and downs of a year in the garden. Join Sarah for High Tea (BYO Gumboots).”

Sounds great, but one question: Do I really have to put on my gumboots again? I’ve been living in the bloomin’ things for months!

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Sidebar: Missed the weekend but want to learn about permaculture? We’re offering books and calendars to Whanganui locals for well below retail prices. Contact us for details.

TPPA: How Predictable!

Editor’s note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Thanks for the great feedback on last week’s column. Despite the vindictive image of Wanganui that was encapsulated in the initial response to Duncan Garner’s visit to our beautiful city, there are indeed many thoughtful, reflective and open-minded residents.

I admit that my conservative views do not suit all readers and I apologize for forcing them upon you week after week. I’m the guy who spent four months working on drainage around his house just before we were hit by a once-in-85-year rain event.

Above all else I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you have been brought up on the metric system instead of imperial measurements, here is a translation: 28.3 grams of prevention is worth 453.6 grams of cure. Doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, eh?

‘Prevention’ has the same type of prefix as ‘proactive’. Even ‘prefix’ has that same…prefix. Any way you slice it, it’s about addressing an issue before it becomes a problem. One great example has been our community’s long and sustained effort to raise awareness about the likely problems that will result if the government signs onto the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

In late 2013 I contacted Chronicle editor, Mark Dawson about writing a piece on the TPPA. He gave the green light and as far as I know it was the first appearance of the secretly negotiated treaty in our local press. Here is what I wrote:


“Fortunately for democracy, some material from the TPPA has been leaked, including a 95-page excerpt published by WikiLeaks in Mid-November. Following that leak, the Herald (14 November, 2013, NZ WikiLeaks Scoop) reported that information in the excerpt includes disputes between New Zealand and US negotiators on issues of internet freedom, industrial innovation, ownership of endemic plants and animals, and, near and dear to my heart, access to affordable medicines.

“From the Herald, ‘A large section reveals the battle between the US pharmaceutical lobby and countries such as New Zealand that want to continue to buy cheaper generic medicines.’

“In order to dissect this sentence we need to know a couple of facts: 1) the utmost duty of a corporation is to return profits to its shareholders; 2) the US – where corporations have used lobbyists to sculpt health care policy – has the most expensive health care system in the world while ranking close to 40th in performance by the World Health Organization; 3) New Zealand health care remains reasonably priced in part due to the ability to bulk buy generic medicines.

“Using the numbers above in a mathematical equation: 1 – 3 = 2. In other words, if pharmaceutical corporations have their way through the TPPA, NZ health care will more closely resemble that of the US.

What this means for Whanganui is that our already strapped health services would become even more so. For example, the funds now available to pay a doctor may have to be shuffled to cover the increased costs of medicines. Along with the dollars vacuumed away, we would lose a valuable human being who lives in our city, owns a home, pays rates, and buys local products. Every dollar associated with that doctor’s salary would be wisked away to New York, San Francisco, or Hartford. We lose, they win.

I reckon it is our democratic duty to do our best to resist corporate influence globally and locally, but we need to do so proactively. Once the deal has been done, it won’t easily be undone.”


Last week the Prime Minister admitted that under the TPPA some medicines would cost the country more. If only he’d read my column two years ago he would have been way ahead of the game!

Without the assistance of a crystal ball I was able to ‘see the future’ because I am a strong believer in research, data, patterns, and evidence-based decision-making. Despite what radicals might think about secret trade deals, climate change, income inequality, and boosting regional economies, I’ll stick to my Ounce-of-Prevention ideology metric system be damned!


Sidebar: March and Rally Today!

1:00 PM. Gather at Silver Ball sculpture at the riverside.

1:15 PM. Rally at Majestic Square.

Groundhog Day in Wanganui…Again

It’s Groundhog Day all over again in Wanganui.

I love living here but it pains me to see repeating patterns that make situations worse because of council’s refusal to accept anything other than the chosen narrative regardless of facts to the contrary. Perception management appears to be at the top of the agenda, yet the refusal to accept factual information or expert opinions from anyone who does not parrot the current narrative actually reinforces the perception that Whanganui is parochial and full of, to quote Chester Borrows, “whingers and grizzlers.”

I do not believe this to be true, but that certainly was the message broadcast to the nation on Thursday, 23rd July.

When I picked up my paper that morning and read the headline, I cringed. I was afraid for what the afternoon would bring. It turned out to be worse than I feared.

The essence of Borrows’ terms were broadcast to the nation by Duncan Garner as he shared with his Radio Live Drive audience the Chronicle’s front page article and councilor Ray Stevens’ suggestion of retaliation.

I was cringing all over again as I listened, so my apologies for not getting the exact quotes. But in a nutshell this is what Duncan said:

“We have been all over the country on our tour of the regions documenting the decline of CBDs and Wanganui is the only place to complain about it. I think Wanganui needs to get over itself.”

As for Stevens and his idea of retaliation, he simply said, “You need to grow up, mate.”

Duncan reminded listeners that two days earlier he had reported a fact: that there were 35 empty shops in Victoria Avenue. He commented that he is a journalist and part of the job includes reporting facts. Any potential “negative” image of our city that this projected was made far worse by the reaction to it.

As Kate Stewart pointed out last Saturday, the response from council staff and some local residents runs the risk of “alienating ourselves from those whose help we need most.”

“Surely we can’t be that immature and naïve.”

I hope not, but history has a stubborn way of repeating itself as we’ve seen most memorably with economist Shamubeel Eaqub, whose expert advice appears to have been rejected by council, and whose name is uttered with scorn and disapproval. Duncan is the new Shamubeel. It’s Groundhog Day all over again.

We all love reading Kate Stewart because she calls it like she sees it: “Relocating from one local site to another is not growth, it’s just movement, despite the positive spin that many have deluded themselves into believing.”

When councilors demand retaliation, it makes it seem like we don’t have the ability to self-reflect. When councilors claim to be “working proactively to sort the situation,” it make it seem like we don’t have dictionaries. After 35 shops (more like 50 as we’ve been told) it’s not being proactive, it’s being reactive. Claiming it’s proactive is simply untrue, and easy for commentators like Duncan Garner or Kim Hill to pick apart in front of a national audience.

The best example of being proactive in Whanganui over the last two years has been the community’s resistance to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Being proactive requires action before something happens, not afterward.

Among Kate Stewart’s observations last weekend were that outsiders tend to experience a backlash while locals who make the same observations are simply ignored. It would appear that snubbing is the preferred method of addressing community members who submit alternative narratives or innovative ideas. But just like overreaction to outsiders’ observations sets us back as a community, so does snubbing.

Although I find it humorous, I also find it incredibly sad. I can just imagine the lengths that council spin doctors (and our local MP) went to in order to paint Duncan Garner’s entire visit to our city with a negative brush, when in fact there was a very positive story about some joker’s warm, dry home in Castlecliff with a $27 power bill. Across the country, the segment was extremely well-received, and a short video posted on Duncan’s website and Facebook Page has the most “Likes” and “Shares” by a wide margin of any other post from his two-week tour of the regions.

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If you are a regular listener to Radio Live Drive you will know that Duncan: 1) welcomes all points of view on his programme; 2) always gives people credit for fronting even if he disagrees with them; 3) has no tolerance for spin; 4) supports the regions; 5) always ends an interview with, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate you coming on the programme.”

For these things alone I reckon he deserves respect.

Peace, Estwing

Slips – Sliding Away

We have been on our land for 10 months – not enough time to stabilise the vulnerable hillsides. Last weekend we had 140 mm of rain fall in 36 hours. From one spot I can see 9 slips – mostly on the neighbours land, but overall a humbling experience.

This is across the valley on the edge of our land.

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This is the large slip on our land.

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This is across the creek in a patch of native bush.

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This minor slip was arrested by two large poplars.

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Up close.

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Humbling.   Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 5.40.28 pm

Across the valley on the neighbours land.

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We have hundreds of trees ready to plant on the slopes to hold the soil. This is the right time of year to be planting.

Anyone is invited to our place on Sunday 5th July 1-5 PM to plant trees on the steep slopes. BBQ and Texas Chili Cookoff to follow.


Peace, Estwing

The Pope and the Flood: Whanganui, 2015

Pope’s Encyclical: “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home.”   With the publication of his encyclical last week, Francis’s status as rock star Pope has been elevated to rock icon Pope. The 183-page document, titled “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home,” will more than likely become remembered as the definitive writing of the 21st Century. I have praised Pope Francis in the pages of the Chronicle before and I will almost certainly praise him again. If there are two things I admire in this world they are courage and positive leadership. The courage and leadership Francis has demonstrated in the past turns out only to be a prelude to that which he demonstrates with this encyclical. Drawing on the best research in economics, science and sociology, Francis identifies the two most pressing issues facing humanity: climate change and income/wealth inequality. For anyone who has followed the research in these areas, the content of the encyclical is no surprise. Even avid Chronicle readers should be well aware that 98% of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is influence by human activity, and that wealth inequality exacerbates social problems and drags down economic growth. While these findings are based on the best data examined by the best researchers, they have proven to be politically unpalatable. The fact that Republican candidates for the American presidency are squirming in their seats in response to the encyclical is a sign of the times. Closer to home, we get the expected responses from National, Labour and the Greens, along with Paul Henry’s patented, “I don’t care.” Let’s pause for a quick reality check: Wellington, Dunedin and our own River City have experience historic flooding – ok, let’s call it Biblical flooding as long as this is a discussion about the Pope – in three separate rain events in the course of one month. Call me Noah ‘cause I’m building an ark.

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Was this flood event unexpected? No. Our community should be aware that Horizon’s Regional Council has halved the timeline for major flood events for the Whanganui River. In other words, what was the 100-year flood is now the 50-year flood, and what was the 200-year flood is now the 100-year flood. In light of this, ratepayers are right to wonder why our District Council has poured millions of dollars into developing the riverfront and moving an art gallery directly into harms way. Claiming it did not see this coming would beggar belief given what Horizon’s has advised along with over 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on the topic of climate change. This would truly be the weakest possible response from our local government body to this crisis. If we wanted a non-response we could tune in to the Paul Henry Show. Floods happen, and data from around the world indicates they are happening more frequently and with more severity. Our ‘Katrina moment’ was never a question of if but of when. The Pope knows this. What amazed me was how gently and gradually it came upon us. There were no gales, thunderstorms or lightening. Quiz Night went on as usual Friday at Stellar and the River Traders Market took place Saturday morning across the street. The devastation came to us literally drop by drop, much in the same way wealth and income inequality has gradually widened over the last 30 years, hitting epic proportions – ok, let’s call them Biblical proportions – in the last seven years. The Pope knows this too.

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At the end of the day, what is significant about Francis’ encyclical is not its content. We already know that climate change and wealth inequality are bad for society and bad for the economy. What is significant is the person who has delivered that message with unprecedented courage and conviction. Would it be blasphemy to say this Pope has some serious huevos? For as long as I have lived in The River City, climate change and income inequality have been non-starter issues. Politically, they are perceived as no-go zones, yet we have seen their impacts on our community on more than a few occasions. Because of our unique location and economy, we suffer their effects to a greater extent than other communities. The longer our Council ignores them the greater our problems will become. The Pope even knows this. More than anything, Francis has issued a challenge of courage and leadership. Who in our community will answer the call of Care of Our Common Home’?