Darcy O’Brien

December 29th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Gibson at NZ Herald reports:

If you’ve ever visited Cape Reinga, the Bay of Islands or even the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, you have a lot to thank Darcy O’Brien for. Anne Gibson meets the quiet public servant who bought large chunks of these precious coastal areas for the public good.

For many decades, much of the coast and so many parks and islands around Northland and the Auckland region have been available to camp on, walk around, land on from boats, photograph and generally adore. That access is something we think we always had. It seems right, it makes our lives better and we are happier for it. Maybe we even take it for granted because these areas have been our playground for so long.

But were it not for one man, it could well have been otherwise. The Northland and Auckland land may well have been the preserve of the rich, locked away from our eyes forever.

Darcy O’Brien is a quietly spoken unassuming gentleman who will only agree to tell us his extraordinary tale to honour others, never himself.

It is a story so strange, it beggars belief that it was ever forgotten.

“I’ll agree to it, for the sake of all New Zealanders and the belief in the public ownership of the estate,” says the 95-year-old over afternoon tea at his Belmont, North Shore home of a request for an interview. …

Mr J.D. O’Brien – as he was known in the media at the time – was assistant Auckland commissioner of Crown lands in 1957 and, a decade later, Auckland commissioner of Crown lands, a title he held until he retired in 1976. He was at the centre of at least 40 separate purchases which gave the northern area its most precious northern conservation estate of well over 5000ha.

No other New Zealander has ever come close to achieving so much in this field, as with the support of successive governments and ministers of lands and survey, he created some of New Zealand’s biggest reserves, public land now in the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) hands.

What a great unknown story.

“Our man in the land grab” said the Herald on May 18, 1974, on his retirement and role with what was then the Department of Lands and Survey. It summed up just some of his accomplishments: creating the 9300ha Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park and becoming the park board’s inaugural chairman; purchasing Red Head Island, Urupukapuka Island, and Moturua Islands in the Bay of Islands; and buying Motukawanui Island, the largest in the Cavallis, for just $150,000.

Hauraki Gulf is iconic. Those of us who enjoy it, owe Darcy a vote of thanks.

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25 Responses to “Darcy O’Brien”

  1. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    Stop the press, we wouldn’t have public parks without forcing the taxpayer to handover money to buy parks!

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  2. Matt (227 comments) says:

    You’d have thought he could have bought a decent theater while he was at it…

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  3. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    Praise for socialism on Kiwiblog? Must be the festive season.

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  4. liarbors a joke (1,069 comments) says:

    cats outa the bag..I hear the trampling hoofs of IWI…

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  5. SPC (5,619 comments) says:

    Dare anyone mention mining the conservation estate at this time of year?

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  6. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Should have bought all of it just so’s we could give it back to the sellers.

    Bloody socialists.

    And we are what in debt.

    Time to sell some off. Those that need to have a bit of coastal walkway can buy it back.

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  7. annie (539 comments) says:

    If only he’d had the authority to do the same for iconic areas in Southland, Canterbury and Otago, particularly the high country.

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  8. Longknives (4,746 comments) says:

    But surely Maori own this land? Just as they own the Sun, Moon and Stars??
    I can hear Mr Finlayson reaching for his trusty chequebook as I write….

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  9. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    What a great story about a great man. Hopefully in another thirty years there will be similar eulogies to those behind the build-up of our conservation estates in the 1990s and 2000s, when some very astute purchases were made.

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  10. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,752 comments) says:

    Kiwiblog salutes Socialism. :roll:

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  11. gump (1,649 comments) says:

    It is stories like this that illustrate why the “small government” folks are so retarded.

    I would challenge anyone to argue that Mr O’Brien hasn’t made our country into a better place.

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  12. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Go gump. We’ve had DPF blogging that the government should buy up more of the land.

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  13. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Gump. Rather the challange is for you to prove it has.
    Taxpayers incurred debt to buy land that was already owned by taxpayers. If those taxpayers wanted to sell they should have met the market andf accepted what was available rather than have some socialists spend taxpayers money for something that most will never use.
    If you want to own land buy your own like many of us do. If you want someone else traipzing all over it then its yours to do what you like with.

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  14. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    V2
    Would you be in favour of a share float for a privatised conservation estate, or just sell the national parks bit by bit?

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  15. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    This is a classic example of ignoring the opportunity cost on the other side of the ledger. The unanswered question is how many people did these land purchases kill by removing jobs and resources from the community?

    Without that answer the plaudits being bestowed are empty.

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  16. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    That’s quite a big, and unquantifiable, counter factual there Alan. Firstly, are you assuming that the deleterious (in your view) results came simply from using taxpayers’ money for those land purchases, or do you believe there was some other effects (lost production, etc) from moving a certain amount of privately owned land into public ownership?

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  17. mick buckley (9 comments) says:

    Yes, big vote of thanks to those who look after the land so we can all enjoy it. Last year I think the Herald sent its silly season reporters round Bay of Islands to see if anyone was blocking of the beaches and preventing public access. As far as I remember it was a surprising result as they were well received by tangata whenua (beach access granted in all cases) but had no luck at all gaining beach access at privately owned gated communities.

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  18. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    @mm, both may apply. Government ownership always looks good until compared with the free market. Cheer-leading without information is not analysis. There is far too little information in this report to come to any kind of conclusion. DPF’s comments are facile.

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  19. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Alan
    I agree with all of that except your second sentence. The current test though would surely be that having acquired that land would public welfare overall be enhanced by disposal.

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  20. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    @mm, yes, that is the correct test. I would just add that a considerable part of Northland’s poverty is directly due to vast unrateable holdings of DoC and Maori land. I doubt that public ownership of the Cavalli island mentioned in the report is in any way a positive contribution. Access to it and use of it compares very unfavourably with, for example, Great Mercury Island owned by Michael Fay.

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  21. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Does DoC not pay a contribution in lieu of rates? Anyway, re disposal – should the unlikely circumstance come about – would need to balance so many competing many competing demands that it is politically unrealistic. Just look at the outcry against proposals for mineral prospecting on conservation land or the considerable opposiiton to selling the power SOEs.

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  22. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    @mm, oh yes, the public are financially illiterate and totally unaware that nothing is free. Turning a blind eye to hidden costs is the key characteristic of socialists and their unscrupulous politicians. In this they are perpetually aided by clueless journalists the world over.

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  23. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I agree, although it is not only ‘socialist’ politicians who indulge themselves in that manner. I’m all for rational debate about a whole lot of things politicians and the public take for granted. Holding the conservation estate in communal ownership is certainly not free, even without calculating the lost opportunity of putting some or all of it to alternative use.

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  24. Sam Buchanan (501 comments) says:

    “Turning a blind eye to hidden costs is the key characteristic of socialists and their unscrupulous politicians”

    I’m always bemused at how motel, cafe and other tourism business operators, and their unscrupulous capitalist politicians, fail to appreciate that the cost of the conservation estate is a subsidy to these businesses.

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  25. Alan Wilkinson (1,878 comments) says:

    @Sam, probably because you don’t know what you are talking about. Tourism operators are well aware of the cost of the conservation estate as they pay direct fees to DoC and/or indirect fees in commercial rates and taxes that are obviously way beyond your ken.

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