Diving for the history of the Southern Cross Cable

Artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith tested the depths of her comfort zone by learning to scuba dive as part of her PhD research into the history of the Southern Cross Cable, New Zealand’s primary internet connection to the world.

Since its installation in 2000, the cable the width of a garden hose, has carried 98% of New Zealand’s international internet traffic; 4.5 million users every day.

The cable is 30,000 kilometres long and traces a figure eight over the floor of the Pacific Ocean from Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore to Hawaii then to the US mainland and back, then through Fiji, Sydney and Muriwai Beach in Auckland’s west. Landing stations in Auckland at Northcote and Whenuapai connect the cable with local New Zealand networks.

Ms Holloway-Smith who is carrying out her research with Massey’s College of Creative Arts says one of her objectives is de-mystify how the cable operates and how the internet is provided to New Zealand homes and businesses.

“Expressions like The Cloud, wireless and cyberspace evoke ideas that it is all happening above our heads when it is all actually beneath our feet.” Ms Holloway-Smith planned a dive to see and touch the cable for herself in a part of the Hauraki Gulf where it passes through a disused-explosives dumping ground. She gained her advanced open water diving license, then upskilled with a deep diving course to test if she could handle it, and do it safely.

In addition, she wanted to determine whether a dive to the cable amid growing security restrictions was actually achievable. Early this year she realised her ambition by diving to the cable in a secret location in the Hauraki Gulf.

“It was an exercise in real persistence but I got to hold it in my hands, a bit like Ma – ui in E Mervyn Taylor’s mural Te Ika-a- Ma-ui: the story of Ma – ui fishing up the North Island.” Since 2014 Ms Holloway-Smith has led a search for 12 murals created by E Mervyn Taylor between 1956 and 1964, a search inspired by the discovery of one of his few surviving murals Te Ika-a-Ma – ui stored in cardboard boxes in a disused cable station she visited for her Southern Cross Cable research.

Taylor was commissioned by the New Zealand Post Office to create the ceramic tile mural showing Maui drawing New Zealand “out of the Pacific into the telephone systems of the world.”

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