If a tree falls: raising awareness of threats to native forests in Aotearoa

Research Overview

The aim of this research is to better understand how public arts practices can cultivate and grow public awareness and kaitiakitanga, caring for and respecting the mana of our ngāhere/forests, with a focus on kauri dieback and myrtle rust. This project is located at the intersection of the arts, science and te āo Māori. It is interested in what emerges at the meeting place of these distinct, but interrelating domains. This project asks:

1. How can the arts connect with science and te āo Māori to contribute to public awareness raising around Kauri Dieback and Myrtle Rust, in ways that reflect/support iwi and hapū interests?

2. What constitutes ‘public awareness raising’ in the context of arts practice focused on issues of kauri dieback and myrtle rust?

3. How can the value of an artistic response to the urgent ecological threats of Kauri Dieback and Myrtle Rust be articulated and communicated?

Research article in process

If a tree falls: raising awareness of threats to native forests in Aotearoa


The pathogens Phytopthora Agathidicida (Kauri Dieback) and Austropuccinia Psidii (Myrtle Rust) are ravaging native trees in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa’s unique biodiversity profile means the intrinsic value of indigenous species should be unquestionable. However, management of biosecurity threats is frequently driven by global market priorities and western (colonial) science. These approaches often fail to protect native species or ensure Māori sovereignty over tāonga, as guaranteed by Te Tiriti ō Waitangi. This paper proposes an approach to public environmental/ecological awareness and action based at the interface of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), colonial science and the arts. Research and forest management approaches operating in partnership with iwi/hapū and based in indigenous Māori knowledge are making important, hopeful breakthroughs. The arts can contribute to such science–mātauranga collaborations by growing awareness amongst specific audiences, in ways that acknowledge different paradigms, reveal complex, incomplete information, and support the mana motuhake of iwi/hāpū and the ngahere.

Research presentation completed

At the International Drama in Education Research Institute Conference 2022.

Online presentaion as part of the panel: Acting for the Planet: Drama for ecological awareness, transformation, and social action

Toi Taiao Whakatairanga

Molly Mullen (presenter—University of Auckland), with Mark Harvey, Sophie Jerram, Nick Waipara, Marie McEntee, Arianne Craig Smith and Chris McBride

This paper arises from two projects in Aotearoa New Zealand, both working at the interface of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), western/colonial science and the arts to raise awareness of, and garner public action in response to, two plant diseases myrtle rust and kauri dieback, which present significant threats to native and endemic plant species. The projects involve commissioning Māori artists to develop arts projects that raise public awareness in ways that support mana motuhake (self-determination) of iwi, hapū and the ngahere (tribes, subtribes and the forest). This paper focuses on the complex task of trying to understand what it is these projects ultimately achieve. I will outline the attempts of the research team to decentre Eurocentric, capitalocentric and anthropocentric notions of value/impact.

Molly Mullen is a senior lecturer in applied theatre and participatory arts. She has over ten years of experience producing theatre education, youth theatre, community arts and children’s theatre projects in the UK and New Zealand. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Aotearoa since 2009. Dr Mullen’s research focuses on the ways in which theatre and the arts can contribute to social justice, environmental justice and well-being. Most of her research is ethnographic and/or arts-based, involving in depth, often collaborative, fieldwork to understand the relationship between examples of practice and the contexts in which they are produced.

Next article
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