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Logs deposited on the beach in Tolaga Bay after heavy rain (Photo: Graeme Atkins, design: Tina Tiller)
Logs deposited on the beach in Tolaga Bay after heavy rain (Photo: Graeme Atkins, design: Tina Tiller)

SocietyFebruary 14, 2023

You need to listen to this heartwrenching interview with a Tolaga Bay farmer

Logs deposited on the beach in Tolaga Bay after heavy rain (Photo: Graeme Atkins, design: Tina Tiller)
Logs deposited on the beach in Tolaga Bay after heavy rain (Photo: Graeme Atkins, design: Tina Tiller)

After yet another flood, Bridget Parker has had enough and is pleading for help.

In 2018, heavy rain passed through Tolaga Bay and forestry debris (commonly known as “slash”), that had not been cleared on the hillsides, was swept downstream, causing dams to form, logs to be displaced and sent hurtling onto neighbours’ properties, and silt to form in drains, exacerbating the flooding.

At the time, local farmers Mike and Bridget Parker said the damage had cost them about half a million dollars of their own money, and they wanted the forestry companies responsible to pay.

Four years later, the companies responsible were finally made to pay after the Parkers testified in court about their non-compliance with consents and negligence leading to the damage during heavy rain. That was December of 2022. In January 2023, Cyclone Hale hit Tolaga Bay and the slash damage was even worse. Once again, the Parkers spoke out about the worsening forestry debris causing serious damage to streams and properties in the area.

A week later, a 12-year-old boy died on the beach in Gisborne after reportedly being struck by a floating log while swimming.

On Monday night, with Cycle Gabrielle on the doorstep, it all happened again. Logs came down, silt embedded itself everywhere and the rain quickly turned to flooding. Bridget Parker spoke to Kathryn Ryan on RNZ’s Nine to Noon on Tuesday morning. We have transcribed the full 10-minute interview (which you can listen to here) where Parker delivers an impassioned plea to local and central government that everyone should bear witness to.

The interview has been very, very lightly edited for clarity.

Kathryn Ryan: Bridget, good morning, I’m so sorry for the situation you’re going through. Welcome.

Bridget Parker: Hi, good morning.

Can you explain what’s happened overnight?

Look, it’s been the worst nightmare really. The rain started about 4pm yesterday afternoon and by nine o’clock, we had water and logs and sediment flying up Paroa Road, through our fences, into our cherry tree orchard, into our maize, into our paddocks, right through our gardens, tennis courts, huge dog kennels… every facet of our home has been hit with the deepest amount of sediment and logging that you could possibly imagine and it just went for hours.

It went for, we think, about six hours, seven hours, even more, and the speed was such – you couldn’t walk in it, you couldn’t stand in it.

You’ve literally had the digger out just to be able to get around!

Yep, luckily our son happens to own a very old digger, not like the big flash new diggers that you see the roading companies being able to afford. Typical cocky way, he rebuilt it himself, very old digger. He managed to get it going even before the floods, because we were suddenly worried. We saw the river breaking.

Actually last night we went out onto the road and he spent two hours digging logs out of the drain that no one has bothered to move.  The council hasn’t bothered to have [them] removed, or the forestry company hasn’t moved from the flood that hit month ago. The logs were stopping the water being able to escape and they were forcing the water to pour into our neighbour’s property. They’d already evacuated, but he made the call, we stayed to help him because he was working under power lines, to open up all these logs, and get this water moving down Paroa road and into Waipurapura stream. We’ve probably saved buildings and houses from going under by being able to move that water then.

Then we got to bed when the power went off, went on and off, couldn’t sleep, honestly. Horrendous night. Got up and down all the time to look out the windows, to take photos, take videos of the most horrendous nightmare. And woken up to just total fucking carnage. 

It’s not the first time for Tolaga Bay but have you ever seen anything like this? 

Mike and I were here for [Cyclone] Bola, so we know. We’re farmers. We’re used to living through floods or high water or rain events and droughts and all those things – cyclones – but Mangaheia River is well and truly able to keep water in it. It’s a very big river and it’s a big system. Bola didn’t come near our house, but that was coming more from the Hikowhai at times.

It’s a totally different event when it’s come down from the hill, and is bringing massive trees, that are so heavy – as you know, due to the dear little boy that was lost a couple of weeks ago – 300 kilos of logs, huge logs, one after another, rolling off the forestry up above us, taking up the river with massive amounts of logs.

And then the water bounces out with the sediment and comes pouring out over people’s homes and farms, and every single fence is busted around us and these logs – there’s hectares of them, through our maize crop. It’s just horrendous, kiwifruits are needing to be pulled down. The logs are in the kiwifruits, the kiwifruits are about two feet higher than it should be, it’s that fucking sediment.

This is a logging event, this is what New Zealand doesn’t understand. It’s one thing to get a cyclone and get water, it’s another when the water comes with bloody pine trees attached to it.

I know – I feel your passion and your anger – so I don’t have words for you but I hear your words. I know the comms and the power have been down, it’s so hard to reach anybody there. Are you in touch with others in the district, Bridget?

We can’t get much information. We know the district’s in a lot of trouble. Spark’s down. I can’t talk to my children in Gisborne because they’re all Spark, the power’s down in Gisborne. The communication situation is very poor.

Our neighbours evacuated up a hill, we spoke to him, they got the fence tied together, we walked through the silt and logs to talk to them. We asked them specifically to keep people off the roads because surely with the national state of emergency, roads can be shut down and people can be told they have to stay home because the rubber-necking that starts to go on causes a lot of upset, not just emotionally, but they’re a pain up the arse when you’re trying to do things that are unsafe anyway, and we’re just totally bloody gutted.

Since our event [Cyclone Hale] has happened here a month ago, we haven’t had one person from the Labour Party or the National Party or the local government, or Fed Farmers or Beef and Lamb. All these people, rural support, we’ve had the most lovely cake dropped off, which we appreciate very much, but in the month since the last event we’re all struggling to find out why these logs are continuing to be allowed in these forestry estates and strewn over our beautiful properties. It’s just beyond us. No one has come up our drive from the last month from any of these outfits to sit down and discuss what the hell is going to happen and how the hell they’re going to help us get through this mess.

What’s going to happen for you today in the first instance?

Our son, Toby, got his digger out early and he dug us out of our drive and then he dug the road enough to start to get silt off the main road. Now he’s helping dig out the neighbour, get some silt out from around their place. It’s an absolute mess. Our dogs are still at the woolshed, we haven’t even checked if the woolshed is still under because we can’t even get there. We can’t walk in this stuff, because it’s so fucking deep, you just sink.

Sorry, I don’t mean to swear. I do not mean to swear. I’m sorry. I just forget I’m talking on air.

I’m going inside now to have a cup of coffee and some breakfast, we’ve been up since 5am trying to clear the driveway and the road. Then we’re going to make a plan as to what else we’re going to do. It’s still raining here. It’s so wet. The silt is so deep. It’s very, very difficult. I used my compost bags to sandbag the side of the house last night, and when we looked out, all the compost bags were just floating on top of the water and the water was so fast it picked them all up. Then when I opened the back door, it was already 10 inches high with water and the bags floated inside. Anything that wasn’t tied down has just floated away.

We spent two days getting ready for this event, we didn’t get caught out. We knew Gabrielle could be bad. We prepared for the worst. Nothing prepares you for this carnage.

Is anybody coming to help? We just cleaned out everything. Like, we’ve got great mates, but where’s the bloody army? Can’t they get in here and get some bulldozers and favours and some shit? Why are we just left alone every time this has happened? The whole district needs the army in here – end of story.

Bridget, that message’s just been broadcast and we’ve just been speaking to them. My heart goes out to you, I hope that assistance is coming and thank you very much for giving us an insight into what you’ve been going through. Thank you for your time.

If anybody else is hearing this, we just send our aroha to the whole of New Zealand. We know there are so many people like us battling on their own. It’s not just about civil defence or the councils sending out messages, it’s about the people on the ground who’ve been woken up to a terrible situation. We just send our love to you. We understand what you’re going through.

Keep going!