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It was 1971 and a cold winter's day in New Zealand's central volcanic plateau. An area with abundant lakes and it was a yachtie's paradise. My parents owned a house on Lake Tarawera - a most forbidding yet beautiful lake. But was renowned for treacherously mischievous winds that could change direction, change speed and taunt even the most seasoned of sailors. 

My brother and I were keen yachties and, even at 15 years of age, I fancied myself as a bit of a seasoned veteran. ( As you do when you are young and impervious to fear.) My older brother, then about 19 years old, had joined me for a quick afternoon sail before heading home to a warm fire and the comfort of our parent's lakeside home. 


 The Lake was famous for the (now ) dormant volcano that sat menacingly at its southern edge.  Tarawera had a history of being a frightening place and had a reputation for dark and mysterious occurrences.  

It was famous for the Pink and White Terraces that graced its slopes until a volcanic eruption on 10 June 1886. 


One legend surrounding the 1886 eruption is that of the phantom canoe. Eleven days before the eruption, a boat full of tourists returning from the Terraces saw what appeared to be a war canoe approach their boat, only to disappear in the mist half a mile from them. One of the witnesses was a clergyman, a local Maori man from the Te Arawa iwi. ( tribe ) Nobody around the lake owned such a war canoe, and nothing like it had been seen on the lake for many years. It is possible that the rise and fall of the lake level caused by pre-eruption fissures had freed a burial waka (canoe) from its resting place. Traditionally, the dead were tied in an upright position. A number of letters have been published from the tourists who experienced the event. 

After midnight on the morning of 10 June 1886, a series of more than 30 increasingly strong earthquakes were felt in the Rotorua area and by 2:45 am Mount Tarawera's three peaks had erupted, blasting three distinct columns of smoke and ash thousands of metres into the sky . At around 3.30 am, the largest phase of the eruption commenced; vents at Rotomahana produced a pyroclastic surge that destroyed several villages within a 6 kilometer radius, and the Pink and White Terraces appeared to be obliterated. 

So it was, all those years later, that we sailed off for a quick afternoon jaunt on the lake.  The wind suddenly got up and changed direction, It went from a breeze to about 35 knots in an instant. Our tiller snapped and we were both flung into the frigid (and I mean cold ) water of the lake. 

The water temperature would have been about 12 degrees Celcius and not something you could survive in for too long at all. 

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature is below 35°C. This can develop with prolonged exposure to temperatures under 10°C, or after prolonged immersion in cold water of less than 20°C. 

My legs got caught up in the rigging of the upturned yacht and my parka had filled with water. I was going to drown or perish from hypothermia.

My brother, who was free of the ropes, managed to dive down and push me up into the upturned cabin of our 12 foot yacht. My head was in this small and confined space and my brother said to me " don't worry. I''ll keep you safe. " 

The claustrophobic space and the dark deep water chilled me and I could feel myself becoming less inclined to stay alive. But my brother kept diving down to untangle my legs and coming back up to reassure me and will me to stay with him.

Finally, he managed to untangle the ropes from my legs and rip the parka from my body. He guided me to safety on the top of the upturned yacht.

We got back to shore, with the help of a neighbour who had seen us in distress and we both survived.

You must wonder why I am telling you this story and, at the same time, telling you about a lake in a far-off land or a place so far removed from your lives.

It is this.

Sometimes, we live in places where nature tells us to be careful. To be mindful of the sleeping giant that is the world in which we live.

Whether it be a mystical volcano, a place where rivers can flood or forests can burn. 

No matter how much you try to appease the gods of the natural environment with money or with politics. laws or environmental action, our planet will always do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants.

The wind will blow. Or it will not. It will rain. Or it will not. 

We can never control Mother Earth. Neither should we try.

No money or law can change her. 

And my message today in my " I remember when.. " is just that. 

:Love of money will never triumph over love.for each other.

Because if we do not keep holding each other up and hold each other's hands when the volcanic eruption of corruption descends upon us ( as it has done these many years)  then we will surely drown.

Not from Mother Nature's cycle of normality but politicians' meddling. Then we will sink to the bottom of a very dark and frightening place. 

Remember that on election day. 


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