The Mahurangi Magazine

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Preface

Dr Ronald H Locker 1994
Philip Kilmore oil on linen, Mahurangi

Dr Ronald H Locker: ‘In truth, the real excuse for this book is that it is a labour of love, a kind of payback for all the pleasure the river has given me.’ oil on linen Philip Kilmore Mahurangi

Since this is not the first history of the Mahurangi River, some excuse for its writing seems called for. Tribute is also due to those who have gone before.

The first history of the district was the work of the late Terence Otway, son of a former postmaster of Warkworth. It was only natural that, as a history student at Auckland University, he should choose the place where he had grown up as subject for his master’s thesis. A History of Warkworth (1950) was, like most theses, destined for a file, but fortunately a copy came to the Warkworth Museum. It was not entirely wasted, since some of its material reappeared in the later history by Keys (who had been a major oral source for Otway.)

Credit for the first published account belongs to H Jack Keys, former teacher in Warkworth, and later editor of the Rodney Times. His contributions to the life of the district have been so substantial and diverse, that he was honoured with the Queen’s Medal in 1988. Mahurangi: The Story of Warkworth, New Zealand was written to mark the centenary of the town in 1954. It remains the comprehensive chronicle of Warkworth, a useful source on the early history of the river but now out of print.

The late Harold Mabbett, a former headmaster of both Warkworth and Wellsford district high schools, had roots in the district, and was commissioned to write a centennial history of Rodney County. The result was The Rock and the Sky: The Story of Rodney County (1977). Set within much wider boundaries, it puts the river into context with its hinterland.

Considerable space is devoted to the river and its town, then the hub of the county. Mabbett went to extraordinary lengths to collect family histories of the area, and in that field his work is unlikely ever to be challenged. Mabbett’s other notable history, The Great North Road: Auckland–Whangarei Section (1981) has proved the richest source of information on the connection of Warkworth to Auckland by road, subject of a chapter here.

About three years after this book began, a new history of the area appeared. Warkworth Roundabout, by Harry Bioletti (1991), is an oral history of the Mahurangi district, a valuable collection of reminiscences of old inhabitants. It was followed by a smaller, successor volume, Tales of Mahurangi (1993). The author was also a teacher for many years, at Mahurangi College. He is an experienced historian, well-qualified to write local history. He has been prominent in local affairs, and a long-term chairman of the Friends of the Mahurangi. I am particularly indebted to him for discovery of the Hodgskin letters from HMS Buffalo. Harry has also written an update of The Rock and the Sky, titled Rodney Coast to Coast, taking the history of Rodney County on from 1977 to its reorganisation in 1989. He has also written an account of the American ‘occupation’ of Warkworth during the last war, titled The Yanks Are Coming (1989).

This book is deeply indebted to its predecessors, on which it has drawn heavily, but it does not attempt to duplicate their strengths. As research has progressed a great many sources have come to light that were not available to these earlier authors, allowing the filling of gaps and correction of errors. The focus of this history is on the river, although it by no means ignores its town or surrounding districts. It gives much attention to earlier history; in fact it begins some millions of years before its predecessors. I admit to a severe thinning out after the last war. It makes no systematic attempt to record local body affairs. On family history it has been highly selective, a necessary limitation which may disappoint some, but save others from boredom. Families have been presented largely on an entrepreneurial basis, resulting in a kind of industrial history. In attempting to present a portrait of the river from earliest times, I have used as far as possible the actual words of the diverse procession of visitors, who recorded what they observed from practical, professional or aesthetic motivations.

I have added some impressions of my own: a view of Mahurangi through the eyes of one who has had a lifetime love affair with the place. I have been accused of seeing it through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood. There is a grain of truth in this, but my judgement of its worth has remained unshaken by the years, and by travel around the world. It will always be my special place. In truth, the real excuse for this book is that it is a labour of love, a kind of payback for all the pleasure the river has given me. The writing of it has proved to be an extension of that pleasure. It is the crystallisation of a longtime hazy idea, made possible by time available in retirement.

A fondness for walking and boating, has taken my wife and me into many odd corners of the place, often in trespass, and always finding something new of scenic, historic or scientific interest. Many lacerations have been sustained in ‘new routes’ through thickets of scrub or gorse, or through oyster-laced mud. We can claim a better than average acquaintance with its ridges and valleys, its bays and tidal creeks. In short, we have been over the ground. The signs of the incorrigible scientist also show through in this account. For this I do not apologise, but hope that this bias may encourage others to read the landscapes and shorelines with more seeing eyes; to make new discoveries on familiar ground.

The would-be historian is constantly aware that opportunities have slipped through the fingers. Often old people who would have had great stories to tell have died just before one heard of them, or before one could get to them. Some have died since I talked to them. They were not, on the whole, a generation that wrote much down and their tales tend to die with them, or to be passed on imperfectly to descendants. However one soon generates an ever-lengthening chain of survivors whom ‘you must see’. Such conversations have been a most rewarding part of the experience. We have met and talked with many wonderful people. I am grateful to those who have shared their memories so willingly.

Some members of a later generation, with a keener sense of history, have gone to the trouble of writing their own family histories. A surprising number of these, often well-researched accounts of important families, can be found in the archives of the Warkworth Museum. This rich resource is listed elsewhere.

There are several particular resources which I must acknowledge with gratitude. The files and photographic collection of the Warkworth Museum and the patience of its curator Nick Davies in opening them, have been invaluable. I am especially indebted to archivist, Mrs Verna Mossong of Glenfield. When Civic Trust Auckland took over Scott Homestead in 1973, she began collecting information on families for a booklet. This did not eventuate, but she kindly offered me her file. I expected something slender, but received a voluminous pile. This file was my launching pad and proved a treasure trove. Ms Margaret Stevenson of the Wainui Historical Society has produced much useful material from her files. Mr Stan Gittos of Warkworth, whose hobby of collecting old local photographs, has produced a superb collection, now lodged in the Warkworth Museum. The library of the Auckland Institute and Museum and the remarkable New Zealand collection of the University of the Waikato Library have both served me well. Without the help of Mr Graeme Murdoch and Mr David Simmons my attempts to write the Māori history of Mahurangi would have fallen far short of acceptability.

Jack Keys alerted me to the existence of the Harry Moore news-clipping file. Former town clerk and Warkworth’s first librarian, Moore assiduously clipped Rodney items from newspapers of the day (1864–85), and pasted them into a leather-bound ledger. The book has passed down the family. Its present members have kindly made it available for copying. Harry’s ghostly hand has been of enormous value to me in bringing together in print, local material that would otherwise have had to be tediously retrieved from microfilms of the whole papers. Many pearls of great price are embedded in the minutiae of this Victorian journalism. These clippings have been supplemented by the microfilm copy of the New Zealand Herald at the University of Waikato, particularly in writing of the escape of the Māori prisoners from Kawau.

Writing local history is both frustrating and exciting. It takes several years before scraps embedded in the memory begin to form patterns, before bells begin to ring in the mind at the mention of a name or place. Local events begin to make sense against the broader history of the times. (As a student of New Zealand history in general, I have tried to put local events into the national context). Events are seen in quite different perspective as more facts emerge. The number of occasions on which gap-filling surmise proves to be well astray is chastening. Often one must choose between accepting the uncertainty of oral tradition, and having no story at all (or wasting a colourful tale). There is always the thrill of unexpected discoveries: old documents keep surfacing, relevant paragraphs turn up in unlikely books, new persons turn up with new stories. Nothing is ever cut-and-dried. In this open-ended business, it is hard to decide where to stop. My word processor has proved an invaluable tool for keeping abreast of this continuous modification. Yet I am aware that this history will go to press with as many imperfections as its predecessors, and that by then, if time allows, there will be things I would wish to change.


Publisher’s note One of the many beauties of online publishing, in addition to it being considerably less costly, particularly to the climate, is that further subediting is possible, including the opportunity to use macrons on those Māori vowels requiring them. An enormous online utility, of course, is the ability to link.

Cartoon, Parliamentary Heights the Summit at Last

Parliamentary Pits: The 24-year battle that culminated in 1893 with women gaining the right to vote was feted as the ‘parliamentary heights’ and ‘perfect political equality’, yet it would be 45 years before a woman parliamentarian, Catherine Stewart, gained office in a general election—that which began the second term of the First Labour Government. It took the balance of the first 100 years for females to make up 21% of parliamentarians in Aotearoa, and after 173 years, women occupy still only 38% of the seats. Meanwhile, it is tempting imagine that the caricature of the clean-shaven enabling male parliamentarian is a likeness of Dr James Wallis, who twice introduced bills for the enfranchisement of women, and once for annual parliaments. image New Zealand Graphic 1894

The sixth of the Chartist’s six-point plan is sublimely simple.

To counter parliamentary corruption and bought elections, simply hold far more frequent elections, so that, with the many times more votersif, of course, rather than call for ‘A vote for every man…’, the Chartists had called for a vote for every person, they would have been talking twice the number of new voters:

…no purse could buy a constituency … since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

In the 178 yearsPeople’s Charter of 1838 since Chartist’s proclaimed their six-point plan, its sixth—annual elections—is the only measure not currently implemented by a sovereign state. At least one of the inaugural ‘thirteen United States of America’, Connecticut, prior to 1818, had its representatives on an even shorter leash—six months. However, it is easy to imagine how the logistics of the pre-telegraph—much less, pre-internet—era would have subsequently worked against a six-month term working its way through to the House of Representatives.

It must be said, a two-year term didn’t pre-empt the emergence, in the New World, of bought-and-paid-for politics—the likes of which the Chartists believed their one-year term would see an end to, along with the seven-year parliaments then prevailing in the United Kingdom. But the every-other election for the House of Representatives—the midterm—cannot be considered a full election, given that neither president, nor even a third of the senators, can be changed—reflected in the 20.5 percentage point lower midterm turnoutbetween the last two elections. Nor are the means of buying elections in 1883 comparable with today’s. In the Chartists’ time, individual voters needed to be bought, and with pocket and rotten boroughs boosting as few as Old Sarum, with its two representatives, two houses, and only seven voters, the logistics were a doddle.

Sixth point of Peoples Charter

One-Man-One-Vote Just Beginning: Chartists feared that even with universal suffrage—they were not quite there with actual universal enfranchisement; with women voting—the powerful would continue to buy democracy, unless elections were held annually. image Brighton Vestry

Today, the masses are bought by a few powerful individuals such as Rupert Murdoch, controlling the narrative on a global scale, and by $2 billion-plus election campaigns. It would be naïve to imagine that, if they were held annually, big business would just give up on buying elections—clearly that will take more direct methods, to outlaw the brazen, two-century-old-plus practice. But there are, nevertheless, powerful reasons for considering one-year electoral cycles, beginning with the last item of the People’s Charter:

…members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents…

In counting there is strength

Keeping them Honest: It is hard to imagine a less gamed system than the electoral college coupled with labyrinthinely gerrymandered electoral districts. At least in the United States, however, the people get a nominal vote for their head of government, even if in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016 the loser—in this year’s egregious example, by 2.9 million votes—got to be president. There is now an urgent, global, existential need for trust to be created, through radical reform. chart Pew Research Center

Discounting the neutered midtermswhen only the composition of the House of Representatives can change, but not the Senate, much less the presidency, casting a vote once every three, four or five years is an exasperatingly indirect means of participating in the process of government. One-year terms, aside from being a signal reform, signalling the end of bought-and-paid-for politics, should herald more direct and meaningful means of participation. For example, a robust, binding referendum process that begins with commissions of inquiry examining evidence-based policy options, and culminates in preference voting on the resultant, expertly drafted legislation—somewhat like the process that led to the adoption of the mixed-member proportional electoral systemknown in New Zealand as MMP. This would prevent issues, such as the retirement age, becoming political footballs. Held concurrently with annual, concurrent elections, the cost would be less than New Zealand’s current twice-three-yearly election cycle, plus by-elections, plus separate referendums.

With stringent limits on electoral spending—including consigning election hoardings to the dumpster of history—and online voting, one-year terms could be far less costly the current three-, four- or five-year extravaganzas, and, critically, not just in terms of election costs. Election campaigns are currently massively disruptive of government, but if representatives were expected to put in a full working yearin Aotearoa, 48 weeks, and be judged primarily on that year’s work like other mortals, parliaments, potentially, could become considerably more productive—not to mention more effective, including if at least some of that work was on legislation less laughably unconstitutional.

In the blatant unfairness of the pre-universal-suffrage-for-men, and pre-women’s-suffrage, eras, it was surely nigh on impossible for the Chartists and suffragettes, respectively, to imagine a world in which declining voter turnout threatened the very foundation of democracy. In November 1932, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party gained power after receiving 26.7% support of registered voters. In November this year, Donald Trump and the Republican Party has gained power with about the same, minority level of support. The strain it has already come under, with just the early effects of anthropogenic global warming, should be more than sufficient warning that, as currently practiced, democracy is not fit for service. Bought-and-paid-for representative democracy has proved to be incapable of curtailing fossil fuel consumption or even to begin preparing for what, well within this century, will rapidly become a increasingly unliveable climate. It should be deeply concerning to those who cherish freedom that autocratic China, to date, is beginning to meaningfully tackle fossil fuel use, but nominally democratic United States is not.

Smith & Wesson Russian-model revolver

Humanity Feeling Lucky: By all outward appearances—the utter absence of meaningful climate action—humanity is feeling exceptionally lucky, but the existential odds of a survivable climate at the end of this century might, at best, be little better than there being a round in one of the six chambers of this Russian-model Smith & Wesson .44 revolver. Meantime, the United States manufactured or imported 6.8 million handguns in 2012 alone. image Arundel Militaria

At the end of 2016, there are two interrelated existential questions neither of which can be answered except in hindsight. The first is largely scientific, but almost regardless of whether the currently woefully inadequate level of resourcespossibly little more than 0.04% of government spending in the United States, for example devoted to its study is rectified, because carbon dioxide has not been emitted nearly so quickly in all of paleoclimate history, just how quickly, and to what extent, regions of the planet become unliveable, including through inundation, is unknowable. The second unanswerable question is, to what extent will the Trump term of office contribute to what might already be out-of-control warming, by pouring further fossil fuel on the fire.

In his quest to make Germany great again, Hitler directly ordered or otherwise precipitated the deaths of 70–85 million people. A report commissioned by the United Nationsfrom Development Assistant Research Associates; DARA estimates that climate and carbon could be causing six million deaths per year by 2030, and may already be causing more than five million per year—more than half of these, it has to be said, caused by indoor smoke. But this climate attrition could be eclipsed if, as the scientists and economists of Earth League warn, the 1 in 10 risk of exceeding 6° by 2100 is realised. Even under enormous peer pressure and the effects of even more vodka, only a tiny percentage are prepared to literally play Russian roulette, with a six-shooter. Increase the number of chambers of the revolver to 10, and, despite the 6.6-recurring-percentage-point-better odds, it would take just as much peer pressure and vodka, or another, fully loaded, gun to the head, to force an other-than-desperately-suicidal soul to play.

Annual Parliaments Bill 1881

Once Were Five-Years: The unenacted annual-parliaments bill of Aberdeenshire-born member of Parliament and ‘persistent’ women’s suffrage advocate, and onetime Riverhead farmer, Dr James Wallis. During his two-term stint in Parliament, New Zealand’s terms were reduced from five to three years. image New Zealand Legal Information Institute

An eight-year Trump presidency of the world’s greatest economy could precipitate billions of deaths. If catastrophic climate feedbacks kick in, if they haven’t already, it will only in hindsight that it will be known when those tipping points occurred. Given the enormous inertia in global climate—the heat capacity of the Earth’s oceans is a thousandfold that of its skinny atmosphere—even immediate, radical decarbonisation might not prove sufficient to save survivable temperatures, and it is already too late for the world’s ice sheets. But what can’t be turned around by the United States, could be by much smaller democracies, playing to their strengths, including by being quicker on the uptake. Aotearoa, historically, has led the world on positive change, such as representation for Māori, in 1867, and 26 years later for Māori and Pākehā women. Conversely, the country can also move quickly to implement negative change:

New Zealand, however, went further and faster than any other country in its restructuring programme; both “out-thatchering Thatcher” in its embrace of market neoliberalism and significantly revamping its governance structures.

Three phases of the Pnyx

Spartan Golden Age: Far from ancient Athens being an egalitarian democracy, the right to cast suffrāgia (declension guessed) on the Pnyx, in any of its three phases, was enjoyed by only about 5% of the population—similar to the percentage enfranchised in the United Kingdom at the time of the Chartists. drawing John Travlos

Similarly to what occurred on a grand scale in the United States, many New Zealanders have been left behind by neoliberalism, something that Gareth Morgan is attempting to address via his Opportunities Party. Rapid reform of the political system is needed and, in Aotearoa is possible, to enable it to work for the interests of the children who will bear the brunt of an increasingly hostile climate, rather than in the interests of big oil. So long as big business can buy and pay for elections, little will change, regardless of whether Labour or National leads the next government. One may splash the greenwash around more liberally, but neither will significantly challenge the status quo for fear of impacting ‘the economy’.

As beautifully summarised by writer Tom Givón, democracy in the Golden Age was:

…spotty at best. The initial 100 years of Athenian democracy (505–403 BC) excluded 95 percent of the populace (slaves, women, non-natives, the poor), seesawing wildly between democracy, oligarchy and demagoguery.

Two millennia later, the Parliament that the Chartists sought to reform was recently represented by possibly less than 7% of the adult populationthe pre-1832 Reform Act electorate was 500,000 of a total population of 14 million, and this was progress, given the dictatorial proclivities of recent monarchssuch as Charles I, from 1629 to 1640. Excepting for its lapse regarding women’s suffrage, the People’s Charter, in 1838, uniquely brought together the essential reforms needed to complete the United Kingdom’s transition to a fully representative democracy. The Chartists would have doubly wept for those of their number killed, incarcerated or transported, were they to have foreseen that, within two centuries, the people would be giving up on democracy. The evidence is that the closer young people are to their enfranchisement birthday when they first get the opportunity to vote, the more of them develop a lifetime commitment to voting. Three years is a long time in the life of a 16-year-old, and four years is an eternity. Aside from keeping politicians honest, annual parliaments would be pivotal to reversing the slide in turnout.

Annual elections, lowering the age of suffrage to 16, and voting in schools, would soon see Aotearoa bucking the worldwide declining-voter-turnout trend and building a firm foundation from which to take world-leading, meaningful climate action.

There was no golden age of democracy, but there could be, and must be, now.

Cartoon, Parliamentary Heights the Summit at Last

Parliamentary Pits: The 24-year battle that culminated in 1893 with women gaining the right to vote was feted as the ‘parliamentary heights’ and ‘perfect political equality’, yet it would be 45 years before a woman parliamentarian, Catherine Stewart, gained office in a general election—that which began the second term of the First Labour Government. It took the balance of the first 100 years for females to make up 21% of parliamentarians in Aotearoa, and after 173 years, women occupy still only 38% of the seats. Meanwhile, it is tempting imagine that the caricature of the clean-shaven enabling male parliamentarian is a likeness of Dr James Wallis, who twice introduced bills for the enfranchisement of women, and once for annual parliaments. image New Zealand Graphic 1894

The sixth of the Chartist’s six-point plan is sublimely simple.

To counter parliamentary corruption and bought elections, simply hold far more frequent elections, so that, with the many times more votersif, of course, rather than call for ‘A vote for every man…’, the Chartists had called for a vote for every person, they would have been talking twice the number of new voters:

…no purse could buy a constituency … since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

In the 178 yearsPeople’s Charter of 1838 since Chartist’s proclaimed their six-point plan, its sixth—annual elections—is the only measure not currently implemented by a sovereign state. At least one of the inaugural ‘thirteen United States of America’, Connecticut, prior to 1818, had its representatives on an even shorter leash—six months. However, it is easy to imagine how the logistics of the pre-telegraph—much less, pre-internet—era would have subsequently worked against a six-month term working its way through to the House of Representatives.

It must be said, a two-year term didn’t pre-empt the emergence, in the New World, of bought-and-paid-for politics—the likes of which the Chartists believed their one-year term would see an end to, along with the seven-year parliaments then prevailing in the United Kingdom. But the every-other election for the House of Representatives—the midterm—cannot be considered a full election, given that neither president, nor even a third of the senators, can be changed—reflected in the 20.5 percentage point lower midterm turnoutbetween the last two elections. Nor are the means of buying elections in 1883 comparable with today’s. In the Chartists’ time, individual voters needed to be bought, and with pocket and rotten boroughs boosting as few as Old Sarum, with its two representatives, two houses, and only seven voters, the logistics were a doddle.

Sixth point of Peoples Charter

One-Man-One-Vote Just Beginning: Chartists feared that even with universal suffrage—they were not quite there with actual universal enfranchisement; with women voting—the powerful would continue to buy democracy, unless elections were held annually. image Brighton Vestry

Today, the masses are bought by a few powerful individuals such as Rupert Murdoch, controlling the narrative on a global scale, and by $2 billion-plus election campaigns. It would be naïve to imagine that, if they were held annually, big business would just give up on buying elections—clearly that will take more direct methods, to outlaw the brazen, two-century-old-plus practice. But there are, nevertheless, powerful reasons for considering one-year electoral cycles, beginning with the last item of the People’s Charter:

…members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents…

In counting there is strength

Keeping them Honest: It is hard to imagine a less gamed system than the electoral college coupled with labyrinthinely gerrymandered electoral districts. At least in the United States, however, the people get a nominal vote for their head of government, even if in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016 the loser—in this year’s egregious example, by 2.9 million votes—got to be president. There is now an urgent, global, existential need for trust to be created, through radical reform. chart Pew Research Center

Discounting the neutered midtermswhen only the composition of the House of Representatives can change, but not the Senate, much less the presidency, casting a vote once every three, four or five years is an exasperatingly indirect means of participating in the process of government. One-year terms, aside from being a signal reform, signalling the end of bought-and-paid-for politics, should herald more direct and meaningful means of participation. For example, a robust, binding referendum process that begins with commissions of inquiry examining evidence-based policy options, and culminates in preference voting on the resultant, expertly drafted legislation—somewhat like the process that led to the adoption of the mixed-member proportional electoral systemknown in New Zealand as MMP. This would prevent issues, such as the retirement age, becoming political footballs. Held concurrently with annual, concurrent elections, the cost would be less than New Zealand’s current twice-three-yearly election cycle, plus by-elections, plus separate referendums.

With stringent limits on electoral spending—including consigning election hoardings to the dumpster of history—and online voting, one-year terms could be far less costly the current three-, four- or five-year extravaganzas, and, critically, not just in terms of election costs. Election campaigns are currently massively disruptive of government, but if representatives were expected to put in a full working yearin Aotearoa, 48 weeks, and be judged primarily on that year’s work like other mortals, parliaments, potentially, could become considerably more productive—not to mention more effective, including if at least some of that work was on legislation less laughably unconstitutional.

In the blatant unfairness of the pre-universal-suffrage-for-men, and pre-women’s-suffrage, eras, it was surely nigh on impossible for the Chartists and suffragettes, respectively, to imagine a world in which declining voter turnout threatened the very foundation of democracy. In November 1932, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party gained power after receiving 26.7% support of registered voters. In November this year, Donald Trump and the Republican Party has gained power with about the same, minority level of support. The strain it has already come under, with just the early effects of anthropogenic global warming, should be more than sufficient warning that, as currently practiced, democracy is not fit for service. Bought-and-paid-for representative democracy has proved to be incapable of curtailing fossil fuel consumption or even to begin preparing for what, well within this century, will rapidly become a increasingly unliveable climate. It should be deeply concerning to those who cherish freedom that autocratic China, to date, is beginning to meaningfully tackle fossil fuel use, but nominally democratic United States is not.

Smith & Wesson Russian-model revolver

Humanity Feeling Lucky: By all outward appearances—the utter absence of meaningful climate action—humanity is feeling exceptionally lucky, but the existential odds of a survivable climate at the end of this century might, at best, be little better than there being a round in one of the six chambers of this Russian-model Smith & Wesson .44 revolver. Meantime, the United States manufactured or imported 6.8 million handguns in 2012 alone. image Arundel Militaria

At the end of 2016, there are two interrelated existential questions neither of which can be answered except in hindsight. The first is largely scientific, but almost regardless of whether the currently woefully inadequate level of resourcespossibly little more than 0.04% of government spending in the United States, for example devoted to its study is rectified, because carbon dioxide has not been emitted nearly so quickly in all of paleoclimate history, just how quickly, and to what extent, regions of the planet become unliveable, including through inundation, is unknowable. The second unanswerable question is, to what extent will the Trump term of office contribute to what might already be out-of-control warming, by pouring further fossil fuel on the fire.

In his quest to make Germany great again, Hitler directly ordered or otherwise precipitated the deaths of 70–85 million people. A report commissioned by the United Nationsfrom Development Assistant Research Associates; DARA estimates that climate and carbon could be causing six million deaths per year by 2030, and may already be causing more than five million per year—more than half of these, it has to be said, caused by indoor smoke. But this climate attrition could be eclipsed if, as the scientists and economists of Earth League warn, the 1 in 10 risk of exceeding 6° by 2100 is realised. Even under enormous peer pressure and the effects of even more vodka, only a tiny percentage are prepared to literally play Russian roulette, with a six-shooter. Increase the number of chambers of the revolver to 10, and, despite the 6.6-recurring-percentage-point-better odds, it would take just as much peer pressure and vodka, or another, fully loaded, gun to the head, to force an other-than-desperately-suicidal soul to play.

Annual Parliaments Bill 1881

Once Were Five-Years: The unenacted annual-parliaments bill of Aberdeenshire-born member of Parliament and ‘persistent’ women’s suffrage advocate, and onetime Riverhead farmer, Dr James Wallis. During his two-term stint in Parliament, New Zealand’s terms were reduced from five to three years. image New Zealand Legal Information Institute

An eight-year Trump presidency of the world’s greatest economy could precipitate billions of deaths. If catastrophic climate feedbacks kick in, if they haven’t already, it will only in hindsight that it will be known when those tipping points occurred. Given the enormous inertia in global climate—the heat capacity of the Earth’s oceans is a thousandfold that of its skinny atmosphere—even immediate, radical decarbonisation might not prove sufficient to save survivable temperatures, and it is already too late for the world’s ice sheets. But what can’t be turned around by the United States, could be by much smaller democracies, playing to their strengths, including by being quicker on the uptake. Aotearoa, historically, has led the world on positive change, such as representation for Māori, in 1867, and 26 years later for Māori and Pākehā women. Conversely, the country can also move quickly to implement negative change:

New Zealand, however, went further and faster than any other country in its restructuring programme; both “out-thatchering Thatcher” in its embrace of market neoliberalism and significantly revamping its governance structures.

Three phases of the Pnyx

Spartan Golden Age: Far from ancient Athens being an egalitarian democracy, the right to cast suffrāgia (declension guessed) on the Pnyx, in any of its three phases, was enjoyed by only about 5% of the population—similar to the percentage enfranchised in the United Kingdom at the time of the Chartists. drawing John Travlos

Similarly to what occurred on a grand scale in the United States, many New Zealanders have been left behind by neoliberalism, something that Gareth Morgan is attempting to address via his Opportunities Party. Rapid reform of the political system is needed and, in Aotearoa is possible, to enable it to work for the interests of the children who will bear the brunt of an increasingly hostile climate, rather than in the interests of big oil. So long as big business can buy and pay for elections, little will change, regardless of whether Labour or National leads the next government. One may splash the greenwash around more liberally, but neither will significantly challenge the status quo for fear of impacting ‘the economy’.

As beautifully summarised by writer Tom Givón, democracy in the Golden Age was:

…spotty at best. The initial 100 years of Athenian democracy (505–403 BC) excluded 95 percent of the populace (slaves, women, non-natives, the poor), seesawing wildly between democracy, oligarchy and demagoguery.

Two millennia later, the Parliament that the Chartists sought to reform was recently represented by possibly less than 7% of the adult populationthe pre-1832 Reform Act electorate was 500,000 of a total population of 14 million, and this was progress, given the dictatorial proclivities of recent monarchssuch as Charles I, from 1629 to 1640. Excepting for its lapse regarding women’s suffrage, the People’s Charter, in 1838, uniquely brought together the essential reforms needed to complete the United Kingdom’s transition to a fully representative democracy. The Chartists would have doubly wept for those of their number killed, incarcerated or transported, were they to have foreseen that, within two centuries, the people would be giving up on democracy. The evidence is that the closer young people are to their enfranchisement birthday when they first get the opportunity to vote, the more of them develop a lifetime commitment to voting. Three years is a long time in the life of a 16-year-old, and four years is an eternity. Aside from keeping politicians honest, annual parliaments would be pivotal to reversing the slide in turnout.

Annual elections, lowering the age of suffrage to 16, and voting in schools, would soon see Aotearoa bucking the worldwide declining-voter-turnout trend and building a firm foundation from which to take world-leading, meaningful climate action.

There was no golden age of democracy, but there could be, and must be, now.

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