The Last Bridge To Nowhere

Mark Owen

A recently composed New Zealand folk song telling the story of an inaccessible New Zealand farm settlement of the 1920s and 1930s that was eventually abandoned.


The Story

Click here to read the full history of the Bridge to Nowhere.

To further taste the flavour of the story you can read the tale of one settler family here.

The Bridge to Nowhere spans a deep gorge in a remote area of the North Island of New Zealand. It was built to access a farming settlement of First World War soldiers and their families. The soil was prone to erosion and after three decades almost all were forced to abandon their properties.

Through poetic licence the song implies that the settlers crossed the bridge into the valley when they first occupied their blocks. In reality, construction of the bridge wasn't completed until most of the settlers, bankrupted, had already abandoned their properties.

Of course, it was a catastrophe. Now environmentalism, understandably still controversial, has at least become a component of the dominant paradigm. And looking back it seems the government was incredibly irresponsible to open up the area in the first place. But the view back then was that it was in the interest of the economy to bring all of New Zealand "under the plow". What we now know as the "valley of abandoned dreams" was merely rather innaccessible. The returning soldiers were surely up to developing the land, which cost the government nothing,  and was a reward for their war effort.

The extent of the erosion problem was not understood. Geological exploration instead had focused on mineral resources and the fossil record; and no detailed soil surveys of the district were to be completed until the 1970s. Furthermore much already developed hill country had seemingly recovered from the initial impact of devegetation. However, erosion events only coincide with major storms which, with luck, may not hit for decades.

Cleared of natural vegetation, the land in the valley became highly erodable with the result that, after a couple of decades, the feared storms hit with a vengeance. Thus, the real protagonist of the story was Mother Nature herself. In Maori culture  she is known and respected as "Papa", the earth mother; mother of us all, whereas in European culture the relationship with her is merely defined by title deeds. However, the written record makes clear that the settlers remember their time in the valley as the happiest of their lives, proving their strong, albeit sadly misdirected bond, with the land. It must have been one hell of a wrench when Nature forced them to "cross the bridge for the final time".

As a story of the human relationship with the environment; it is the story of our times. It is the stuff of which legends are made and so deserves to be retold as a folk song.

To further taste the flavour of the story you can read the tale of one settler family here.

Click here to read the full history of the Bridge to Nowhere.


The last bridge to nowhere.
The bridge to long abandoned dreams.
The valley of abandoned dreams.

Verse One
Kiwi soldiers returned
from the first great war
trod the concrete high crossing
to their land adored.

Verse Two
Fair return and honest gain,
settlers sought each day,
But storms of thunder, wind and rain
washed the soil away.

Verse Three
Nature thrust a barren wedge
through the settlers' lives,
made them cross the nowhere bridge
for the final time.

Verse Four
Lichen, moss and bracken fern
clothe the faded span.
Settlers never will return
to their rebel land.