REVIEW: Mark Gibson, Tui Motu

Seven Rivers Walking – Haere Maarire Review


Directed by Gaylene Barnes and Kathleen Gallagher.

Reviewed by Mark Gibson

Seven Rivers Walking is a powerful expression of the collective sadness at the state of Canterbury’s waterways. From the first scene at the mouth of the Rakaia River it feels as if this is “our” movie. For 84 minutes Cantabrians tell their stories as they walk along the rivers during a Lenten pilgrimage, Walk for the Planet. They walked seven rivers over seven weeks and claimed their place as kaitiaki and guardians of those precious waterways and aquifiers.

When a speaker in the opening sequence says: “Our little voices just don’t carry very loud”, he is setting the flow for 70 Cantabrians to tell of their love of their rivers and their grief at what is happening to them. This is a movie about the “little voices”.

Their message is clear. A kind of mindless madness has taken over the Canterbury plains and it needs to end. Dairy intensification (“hydroponics on land” as one speaker describes it) is covering the plains and is pushing ever nearer to the headwaters of the great rivers. This revolution of land-use has been disastrous for the health of the land and the rivers because it is profoundly unsuited to the porous, gravel-laden soil of the Plains. Serious river and water quality degradation and biodiversity loss have been the result.

We hear from iwi, anglers, scientists, farmers, rafters, swimmers and trampers of the pain and folly of the harvest that doesn’t appear on balance sheets or economic forecasts. These people and their hopes and vision for the future represent the counter-revolution that is taking place.

The walk moves along the two main rivers of urban Christchurch also, showing how poor urban design is impacting their health and pointing to the changes needed to restore them.

Seven Rivers Walking is like a braided river itself. It comes from many directions, from exotic locations and from the high country to the middle of the city. There is criss-crossing from river to river and from voice to voice. Yet the movie is braided beautifully and underscored with an evocative sound track by local indigenous musicians. And because the blend of spoken and sung voices engages the heart, soul and head, the film moves us more deeply than political polemic.

This is a prophetic and powerful movie for these times when we are struggling to live in ways that honour and cherish our land and waterways and not destroy them.

Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 219, September 2017: 37.