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Investigative artist creates tour of cable from harbour to ocean
A tour depicting the route of international telecommunications cable the Southern Cross Cable across the North Island has been created by investigative artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith.
As part of her contribution to the exhibition ‘This is New Zealand’, at the City Gallery in Wellington, Holloway-Smith has created a small booklet outlining a tour that begins at Takapuna beach and ends on the shores of Muriwai Beach, beside the entrance to Woodhill Forest.
Along the way, the tour stops at two significant points in the cable’s crossing. The first is the Northcote landing station complex, which connects the Takapuna landing site with the Whenuapai landing station.
In the booklet Holloway-Smith explains that this was first used as a landing station by a previous international cable known as the Commonwealth Pacific Cable (COMPAC), constructed in 1961 by the New Zealand Post Office. Decommissioned in 1984, the cable was “an important predecessor to the Southern Cross Cable, which follows the route developed for the earlier cable system,” Holloway-Smith writes.
The second site is at Whenuapai, directly opposite the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Auckland base. Holloway-Smith writes about the claim made in 2014 by Edward Snowden that the Southern Cross Cable was used by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) as part of the Five-Eyes mass-surveillance system, in a programme called “Project Speargun”.
“The first phase saw equipment installed to give the GSCB access to the cable,” Holloway-Smith writes. “Fresh excavation marks appeared between the Whenuapai Air Force base and the Southern Cross Cable landing station – a metaphorical “speargun” was fired in the form of an intercepting cable.”
Holloway-Smith notes that while the Government claimed in 2013 that Project Speargun had been halted, “recent aerial photographs of the Whenuapai site show the intercepting cable has not been removed.”
The final stop on the tour is Muriwai, where white posts on the access road to the beach mark where the cable is buried, to warn the public about the risk of electrocution. Disruption to the cable would be widely felt, as it “has carried 98% of New Zealand’s internet traffic for 17 years,” as Holloway-Smith notes.
The Southern Cross Cable, which landed at Takapuna beach in 1999, has been constructed in the shape of a figure 8 to allow for redundancy and possible damage. It is approximately 30,500km in length and its other landing sites are in Sydney, Fiji, Hawaii, Oregon and California. Owned by Spark, Singtel/Optus and Verizon it was effectively the sole provider of international connectivity to New Zealand for many years.
Its monopoly is now being challenged with the construction of two new cables - the Tasman Global Access Cable jointly owned by Spark, Vodafone and Telstra, which went live in March 2017 and the trans-Pacific Hawaiki Cable, which is owned by entrepreneurs including Malcolm Dick (previously of CallPlus) and is due to go live this year.
Holloway-Smith notes at the end of tour booklet that the lifespan of cables is finite, ending the tour with the final direction to visit an “old communications cable” at the mouth of the Okiritoto stream, which has been “exposed due to erosion”.
’This Is New Zealand’ is at the City Gallery in Wellington until 15 July, copies of The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour, can be purchased at bronwyn.co.nz.