50th Anniversary Celebration of Saving Lakes Manapouri & Te Anau, 7-8 March, 2020

A simple summary of what happened – through my senses. It has been a privilege.

– Jenny Campbell



Campaign success- what did we learn?

On reflection, the  co-organisers, Sir Alan Mark and I think our event was an awesome one with the main objective being to meet- gathering and catching up with people who were there over 50 years ago doing the planning, meeting, protest sign making, getting petitions filled by walking streets, strategizing, engaging with media, laughing and encouraging others, sharing hospitality and being kind to each other with their people power!

Using the expertise of scientists, the skill of fundraisers, the influence of on- board MPs and people of influence in the community, both locally & nationally – all the work being done through writing letters or using old-fashioned telephones. Letters written and posted with a penny stamp and waiting patiently for NZ Post Office to deliver, the addressee to think about it and consult and then write back- all taking up to 3 weeks- if they considered it was ‘urgent’!

Point of interest: The third Save Manapouri petition was started in January 1970 with forms carrying 265 000 signatures presented to Parliament by Forest and Bird on 26 May 1970.

It certainly was a different time. I have been reflecting on all the energy it took to Save the two lakes, Manapouri and Te Anau 50 years ago and how the Resource Management Act (RMA) came out of that campaign. There was no public participation or accountability previously. Up till then the Government rode rough-shod over public opinion, if they had managed to find out what was being planned secretly, and of course the environment. Beware : Parallels with the current ‘shovel- ready’ situation of changing the RMA to stop public input?

At our 50 years Celebration event the Saturday afternoon cruise on Lake Manapouri was a wonderfully nostalgic trip on a sparkling lake, with commentaries from Alan Mark, first Chair of the Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Te Anau and Monowai, and Peter Johnson ( botanist) reminded us of what was at stake.

1960 had seen the Labour Government clinch the deal with Comalco giving it exclusive rights to use the waters of Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau for hydro- electricity for 99 years, with no public consultation. In 1971 Government plans became evident to artificially raise Lake Manapouri up to 8.4metres ( reduced from initial plans of 26m) so the cheap electricity going to power the Comalco Aluminium Smelter in Bluff since 1969 could be hugely increased. Power was being produced from the tailrace tunnel constructed through the mountains with all the fresh water pouring in to the sea at Doubtful Sound and changing its ecology. Raising the Lake would have destroyed all the beaches, drowned several islands and dramatically affected the lakeside vegetation including the beech trees, leaving them like skeletons around the 170km Lake edge as people has seen happen with disastrous results at Lake Monowai, close by and also bordering Fiordland National Park.

At the Manapouri Hall, Alan and Peter along with then local GP, John Moore, recounted the commitment, energy and self- sacrifice so many made to bring both campaigns to save both Lakes, to fruition. Others present revived some of those stories and people marvelled at the audacity of some of the actions taken by the protestors while the Government had a lot to answer for. The displays around the walls were telling and featured the precious movers and shakers- putting their reputations and even livelihoods on the line in order to save both Lakes from some ‘think big’ plans which would have totally destroyed their beauty, serenity and ecological values. Dinner was enjoyed looking out over a calm Lake Te Anau with its original beauty evident in the early evening light.

Sunday brought 200 people to the Te Anau Community Centre to listen to several Guardian Chairs and others tell how they got involved and changed what seemed to be inevitable in 1971. Tangata Whenua Kaumatua, Stewart Bull blessed the event and reflected on the auspicious accomplishment of 50 years ago, after a 13 year campaign. They brought their own special perspective of our Taonga of Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau, working with the Guardians.

Showing the 1980 National Film Unit documentary, ‘’ A Question of Power: The Manapouri Debate’’ was a real highlight, recording the personalities and people of power in both the Government and those shaping up to them in the community.

A candle was lit to remember, acknowledge, honour and thank all those who were involved in so many aspects of the campaigns, those who were unable to attend because of other commitments or ill health, with special thoughts for those who have died. Those pioneers gave so much to see their vision realised. The recent death of mentor for so many, Jeanette Fitzsimons was also acknowledged.

Alan Mark outlined his involvement in the 13 year campaign following on with his 26 years as Chair of the Guardians, a huge commitment and a long haul, bringing his plant ecology scientific expertise from Otago University.  John Moore, Chair of the Te Anau committee, gave a heart- felt outline of all the work which he and a few others spearheaded which went in to saving Lake Te Anau. The danger to the town was largely unrecognised by those living there at the time. His view of many officials and the Government and how they stretched the truth was a strong feeling, held by many. John had energy and tenacity as he drove the campaign in between his commitments there as sole GP.

It was amazing how the words ‘Threats of Bombing on Te Anau Project’ as a heading in an Otago Daily Times story startled the nation and brought energetic pioneers in to the campaign. Overnight a secure barbed- wire with flood lights and guards appeared around the Ministry of Works project. One night a simple sign appeared on the fence, ‘Gotcha’!

Scientific and practical botanical knowledge was brought to the campaign by Peter Johnson, from Dunedin who was involved in initial surveys.

The women who had stayed home over those campaign years while their husbands attended many meetings which spearheaded the campaign, were honoured. It was expected that the women would keep the homes as normal as possible for the children and wider whanau, as well as keep the business running. For example women on farms were feeding shearers, tending to animals’ needs and making decisions to ensure crops were planted or harvested with organising of workers another essential task. There was little acknowledgement in that era of the behind the scenes contribution they made as unsung activist heroines.

Stories about the antics locals got up to, to raise awareness of the campaign which continued for 13 years, sapped their energy and affected the health of the leaders, especially when they realised the giant task ahead of them. People were ingenious with their responses, turning up when powerful people came to town and as pioneers they were not impressed with people who tried to push them around. After all, these were their lakes and towns and the Government needed theirs’ and others’ votes to stay in power and be able to push these schemes and plans to fruition.

Save Manapouri Campaign people had a 30 000 Share Issue with certificates which they sold to the public in 1970 for 50c to raise funds and promote the campaign.

It reads ‘ Save Manapouri Campaign. ( Assets:- Natural), Capital : 30 000 Ordinary Shares @ 50c, Shareholders : New Zealand Public, Perpetual Dividend : Retention of Lake Manapouri in its natural state.’

Labour’s Norman Kirk’s pre-election promise not to raise the Lakes if they got in to power, saw them take the 1972 event, with no turning back on their promise.

The Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Te Anau and Monowai, made up of ‘the cream of the rebels’, headed by Alan, were invited by the Labour Party leader, Norman Kirk, to oversee the health of the Lakes. These rebels and others who had spearheaded the campaigns in the early years included the late Wilson Campbell, the late Les Hutchins, the late Ron McLean, the late Bill Bell, the late Norman Jones, the late Les Henderson, the late Jim McFarlane, the late Les Ryan, the late Alister McDonald, John Donaldson and John Gardener.

One personal story is of the late Ron McLean, a farmer near Invercargill who with his teenage daughter Jill (now Galt) travelled around the North Island leaving in January 1970, raising awareness by speaking at various meetings over a month, all the while leaving their cut hay lying on the ground at home, waiting! Such commitment. By the time they got home about 20 centres had a Save Manapouri branch, or the makings of one, alongside the groups already set up in the South Island.

Much of the Guardians work involves ensuring each electricity company at the time, Meridian at present, maintains the lake within its natural levels while generating power. At the celebration event they spoke of the hard work put in by their members in continuing to negotiate with electricity companies to ensure the lake levels remained within the guidelines as agreed at the beginning. The theme of needing to be very vigilant when dealing with the power company at the time, reminded people of the challenges which kept coming over the years and how they had many tough battles which are continuing today.


Alan credits the Manapouri and Te Anau campaign as being significant beyond saving the Lakes. It was a forerunner of the Resource Management Act, which requires environmental values to be considered in developments. It also helped create the Official Information Act, because of the secrecy that surrounded government plans for the Lakes.

They were indebted to the many media outlets which carried on-going news items, with passionate reporters who researched widely, interviewed significant people and wrote them up to keep the issues alive both locally and nationally. These are very significant now as they record the story and allow others to learn from the activists’ efforts.

It doesn’t end there because it became obvious that even though the Lakes were saved, the Waiau River was suffering badly. In response the Waiau Working Party was formed in 1990. The lack of water going down the Waiau River to the sea at Te Wae Wae Bay because of the diversion of water at the Mararoa Weir to Lake Manapouri, has seen initial and on- going degradation of the river.

Many hold reservations as to how the power station and the Lake levels are being managed in relation to the electricity market. They are frustrated that Manapouri Lake levels are being managed to deprive the lower Waiau, with water being held back in Lake Te Anau instead. Members of the Waiau Working Party, the wider Waiau community and the public are distraught about the state of the Waiau. The campaign to improve the lower Waiau ecosystem continues.

We have seen before us, Conservation Champions who brought their knowledge, humour and wisdom to so many aspects of a long and hard fought campaign.

You will have recognised the significant characteristics of the people who got involved and made it happen: tenacious, ingenious, team builders, leaders, sign writers, crowd gatherers, challengers, not taking the Government and voices of authority as ‘gospel’, fun loving, forthright, loving, hospitable, empathetic and carers for the well- being of self and others.

50 years on, the future of these lakes and river in a low-carbon future shows how valuing our environment above all else has been an inspiration for people to keep campaigning not only then but in to the future on so many fronts.

This was a major environmental campaign won through the passion, commitment and energy of ordinary and extra-ordinary people using their ‘people power’ to ensure success. It marks a new era in caring for our unique and special places.

This knowledge is of real value as we view this Campaign in light of our present-day perspective as a result of the changes we now all realise we must make to create a ‘new normal’ with the environment at its heart, so ensuring our earth’s well- being.

He waka eke noa. We are all on this waka together.

Rangimarie. Kia kaha. Tumeke! Peace. Be strong. Excellent!

– Jenny Campbell

( From left) Peter Johnson, initial botanist survey, John Moore, chair Save Te Anau Campaign committee and Alan Mark, Chair of initial Guardians