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Jade River: A History of the Mahurangi

Ronald H Locker
First published 2001. Published online 2014–. This online edition is a work in progress…


Foreword to online edition of history of the Mahurangi


Mahurangi’s Omana: The first edition of Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi inadvertently went to print with the steamshipOmana masquerading as the steamboat that routinely threaded its way up the Mahurangi River. Even before sedimentation began to seriously impinge upon the river’s navigability, the 2550-ton steamship wouldn’t have made it very far up-harbour. The transgression, in part, is due to the posthumous publication of that first edition, seven years after the author’s death. Ronald Locker would never have confused the two Omana. photographer Tudor Collins

That he wrote, and beautifully wrote, the foreword for his own book, was utterly typical of Dr Ronald H Locker.

After all, he wrote his own funeral service, complete with eulogy. But rather than egocentricity, it reflected the exceptional self-reliance that was the hallmark of the man, and a determination to not leave his soon-to-be widow, Sue, with the burden of organising the event. So Ron conducted his funeral via a tape recording, complete with perfectly timed breaks for the live orchestra in which he had played with Sue, and from which cancer had then only recently succeeded in forcing him to retire. His eloquence spilt tears of pathos and of laughter; it was Locker-the-spellbinding-lecturer at his best.

Locker’s self-reliance sometimes came at an unintended cost to those closest to him. Such as when he insisted to the helicopter pilot who was evacuating trampers cut off by flooding whilst attempting to traverse the Southern Alps, that ‘they’ were fine, and didn’t need the spare seat on offer. The sound of Sue’s heart sinking was deafening to everybody but her husband, as she wondered if she had the strength to endure the wait for rivers to recede, in the miserably wet and cold conditions. But rather than callousness, it was more likely that Aspergers was the cause of Locker’s lapses in empathy.

Locker wrote his history of the Mahurangi on an Amstrad word processor, completing the job twenty years ago this year, just as Netscape’s browser was bringing the World Wide Web to the people. But even seven years later, when his work was finally published, only a third of folk in the developed world had even dial-up internet access. Had internet access in Aotearoa in 1994 been anywhere close to today’s four-out-of-five households, it is probable that the rational Ronald Locker would have eschewed print, and published his work himself online—he hated waste and would have been appalled at the liberal use of artistic white space in the layout in the printed work. That, however, was not a battle that the editorial team, led by John Male, was about to let Locker win, even posthumously—Ron could be his own worst enemy, and his friends and supporters were determined to do him proud by having the book’s layout designed professionally. That the designer’s name does not appear anywhere is another story, but there is reason to believe that despite herself she would have found the finished work almost to her exacting standards.

The first edition of 1000 copies of Jade River : A History of the Mahurangi sold out in six months, but rather than reprint, a second edition was published, to enable errors that had come to light to be corrected. One of the more egregious, to a maritime audience, was swiftly spotted by Alan Brimblecombe, whose steamboat Zeltic bore a symbolic cargo of boxes of books up the Mahurangi River to Warkworth as part of the book launch. A poor quality image, only possibly of the steamship Omana, of 2550 gross tonnage, was mistakenly published in place of the 83-ton steamboat of the same name. The second edition bore instead a fine Tudor Collins image of the ‘Mahurangi’ Omana, kindly supplied by his nephew Brian. Two further Tudor Collins aerial images, one taken from Kingsford-Smith’s Southern Cross, graced the endpapers, which in the first edition were left plain.

The 1000 second-edition copies sold quickly at first, but then more slowly, managing to satisfy demand for a further decade. Had 2000 copies been printed at the outset, the then Friends of the Mahurangi might have made a useful profit from the publication, but the two shorter print runs were only made possible by donations and bequests—a latter, by Iraihi ‘Girlie’ Kataraina Paul née Sullivan, was pivotal in even allowing the project to be contemplated, and another, by Mahurangi Action founding member Wilfred ‘Wilf’ John Davy Allan, for $2000, invaluable towards the book’s eventual, shoestring, $38 000, cost of publication. Given the option of publishing online, a third printed edition is unconscionable, even if a substantial bequest was to suddenly materialise. The consequences of continuing to dump waste carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are now all-too apparent, and Mahurangi Action is barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done to render the catchment more resilient to the increasingly extreme weather events that will wash soil from where it is needed into the harbour, where it is not. Ironically, Ronald Locker the scientist, despite being aware of the work of Professor T F W ‘Sandy’ Harris, resisted concerns that his beloved Mahurangi was choking on its sediment intake. It is probable, however, that Locker, already gravely ill by then, lacked the stamina to embrace the unwelcome message contained in Professor Harris’ paper: The Mahurangi System, 1993. In any event, it wasn’t until 2004 that the regional council sounded the alarm; that ten years of monitoring had revealed that the harbour’s benthic communities were stressed to the extent that, in some areas studied, cockles and horse mussels had ceased to reproduce. The culprit strongly indicated: The harbour’s elevated sediment accumulation rate. So, even if some devotee of the Mahurangi was of a mind to bequeath the cause $100 000, or part thereof, it would go to projects such as those that would see many more trees protecting much more of its sublime landscape, than to the printing of a third edition.

The third edition is now being published online, as a kind of payback for all the pleasure the first two editions of his history of the Mahurangi have given.

Publisher’s note One of the many beauties of online publishing, in addition to 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.