It has dawned fine in Gisborne this morning. While forecasts remain uncertain, this part of the north island looks less horrible than much of the country, so we could yet get a decent gander at the transit of Venus today in Tolaga Bay.
I’ll be heading out there with about 300 of the delegates to the Transit of Venus Forum any minute now.
The event began last night with a series of welcoming speeches. Sir Peter Gluckman, the chief science adviser to the prime minister, emphasised the importance of the location – “to stand here close to where Maori and Pakeha first made substantive contact” was “highly important”, he said, obliging scientists to cast concentrate their minds on New Zealand’s history as well as its future.
Sir Peter, who has led the organisation of the forum since the death of its instigator, Sir Paul Callaghan, called for a “genuine dialogue between science and the broader community” about the role of science and technology in New Zealand’s future.
A concerted focus on the kind of New Zealand we want two decades hence, he said, “is the best way to honour Paul’s contribution, to move our country ahead”.
New Zealand, he said, has “insufficiently used its most important talent – our collective thinking ability”. Science and scholarship could better help to “move New Zealand ahead”, he said. “Not incrementally, but through step changes”.
Richard Brooking, chair of the Eastland Community Trust, and Dame Anne Salmond then presented “The Landings” – illustrated accounts of the Maori history of the region, and the arrival of James Cook in 1769.
Dame Anne encouraged the scientists and others gathered in Gisborne to embrace a bit of the Enlightenment spirit – a time “before arts and sciences had divided and disciplines fragmented”. Their task, she said, was to summon up every bit of “insight, ingenuity, knowledge and devotion towards peace and prosperity for the people”.
The bus will be here any minute. I’ll report back later from Tolaga Bay.