Music rings out on island sanctuary for concert
Boaties enjoying another fine day on the Hauraki Gulf must have wondered what was happening as thunderous blasts came from Tiritiri Matangi Island.
Closer in, they would also be puzzled by the sight on the lawns beneath the lighthouse.
It was a pied piper scene as dozens of people streamed behind a group of ‘‘musicians’’, many playing strange whimsical instruments. They were led to a white building with a bright red roof and a massive horn protruding from one wall.
A series of ear-shattering moans followed from the 19th century diaphone fog horn as part of the musical performance.
A week of celebrations on the sanctuary island was organised by Friends of Tiritiri Matangi, who co-run the island along with the Department of Conservation.
The saddleback bird was being celebrated as one of the comeback conservation success stories there.
Visitors wandering the tracks close to the lighthouse came across would-be ‘‘ sound artists’’ tucked away on the walks.
Rather than crafted music, they produced sound that was often beautiful and ethereal from conventional instruments and from odd gadgets and equipment.
Among them was Unitec art and design tutor Sam Morrison whose sounds were made of threads of beads attached to the spinning heads of old tape players pinging off hanging cups, pots, plastic bags and wooden railings – all powered by a solar panel.
House painter Ivan Mrsic, who has a masters of fine arts, struck hanging wooden table legs and various plastic and metal lids. A brass bowl gave an eerie ring when moved about after being hit.
A transparent tube with blowing holes, covered at each end with elastic material, had a small ball inside that bounced off the ends. The player accompanied himself by rolling a giant cat bell on the ground.
Birds largely ignored the strange sounds and often stranger mechanisms or people producing them, and fluttered around their water troughs, but one visitor commented on the large number of saddlebacks hanging around a trombone player.
The ‘‘concert’’ then started, with a surprisingly effective clink and grind session as the artists used just stones as instruments. Overall, the audience seemed to really appreciate its uniqueness. Endangered takahe ignored the whole thing.
Also enjoying the event was Ray Walter, the island’s last lighthouse keeper.
Ray had a passion for the isolated lifestyle. His first post was at the remote Puysegur Pt lighthouse in Fiordland as a 20-year-old. He’d been pestering to get an appointment for three years.
Ray became an anomaly in the high-turnover service. Keepers with their families (they had to be married) were bonded for three years, and on average lasted up to five years before moving on.
Extreme isolation and correspondence school for children were hard for most, but he and his family thrived on it, he says.
There were 43 families in the service when he joined, but ongoing automation saw just four lighthouses still needing keepers by the time Ray arrived on Tiritiri Matangi with wife Barbara and their three teenage children in 1980.
Three years later it too was automated and Ray, employed by the Ministry of Transport, was transferred to the Lands and Survey Department over a four-year period while retraining as a nurseryman on the island. It had been a working farm but was being transformed into a native forest wildlife sanctuary.
Retiring six years ago and living in Howick, the couple still volunteer on the island.
The island birds had another week of noise when Silverdale contractors Hicks Brothers got stuck into fixing three of the island’s six dams.
The contractors arrived with their diggers, compactor and truck to dig out and repair the leaking dams.
Tree roots growing into the dams, water overflow damage to dam walls and a failed clay bottom were repaired in the $63,000 project. The dams are used as part of the habitat for wading birds on the 220 hectare island, including brown teal ducks, Warkworth Department of Conservation office spokeswoman Liz Maire says.
Getting the heavy earthmoving equipment on to a barge created a bit of a stir on the wharf, contractor Dave Johnstone of Stanmore Bay says. Three trips were needed to get it all on the island.
It was the first time he’d been to the island and he says he’s been impressed with the variety of birds.
He and the team were particularly taken with a takahe family, including a chick, which live in the northern area where they were working. There are only 255 surviving takahe and the island has four resident pairs. Offspring are transferred to other safe areas when old enough.
Pied pipers: The concert rose to a booming crescendo as the diaphone fog horn joined in the final piece.
Sound garden: Unitec tutor Sam Morrison tunes his sound equipment on one of Tiritiri Matangi’s walks.