One Tree Hill

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The following article is an exclusive and original story I received from Simon Daniel's ([email protected]) friend in New Zealand. The full email/article is unedited and unchanged. Any inquiries can be forwarded to Simon Daniel at: [email protected]


One Tree Hill

It still looks pretty much the same as it did back in 1987, except for the thick wire cables that now stretch in all directions from the top of the tree in an attempt to prolong its life. All this as a result of a senseless act of vandalism. More on that later...

One Tree Hill is so named after a lonely pine tree that grows on the summit of one of the volcanic cones that are dotted all over the city of Auckland. These cones were natural sites for pas, or fortified Maori settlements. Fierce inter-tribal conflict in the 1820s led to there being little organized Maori resistance to European settlement, and by 1840 the British had either beaten or bought out (generally for a few trinkets) the Maoris.

The summit of One Tree Hill is the burial site of one of Auckland's 'founding' fathers, Sir John Campbell, who played an important part in the city's early development.

One Tree Hill has become an Auckland landmark. The distinctive, lone pine and adjacent monument can be seen from many parts of the city, and the summit is very popular as a tourist lookout.

The U2 connection...

In 1985, U2 met a New Zealand Maori by the name of Greg Carroll. He worked as a roadie for the band on the New Zealand gigs and made quite an impression. Paul McGuinness was one of the many who were impressed, and he suggested that they invite Greg to Australia for the next part of the tour. It just went on from there. He ended up working for the band in Dublin and became very close to them (particularly to Bono) during that time.

On a wet Dublin day in 1986, Greg was running an errand on Bono's Harley. He collided with a car and was killed instantly. This, of course, devastated the entire U2 camp. The sense of loss for Bono was immense. Both he and Larry attended the Maori funeral (Tangi) for Greg in Wanganui, New Zealand.

Greg had spoken keenly to Bono about One Tree Hill the first time they met. I'm not sure at what point after Greg's death that the song was written, but I've been told that some of it - possibly the coda (Oh, great ocean...) - was sung at his Tangi. I could be wrong, so don't quote me on it.

During the U2 press conference which took place at Auckland airport in 1989, when U2 were here in New Zealand for the Love Town tour, Bono talked somewhat uneasily about the background to the song:

Press: "Can you tell us about One Tree Hill? What was the motivation [for] where that song came from; what it's about?"

With a look of anxiety on his face, Bono attempts an answer. "Again, ya know, it's hard to have sex in public - it's also hard to talk about things, arr..." He suddenly thinks about what he's said and realizes the faux pas. "Actually it's...", the press gallery now joins in on the joke as Bono thinks about how to get out of it. He adds, "depending on your point of view!" to much laughter from the media.

He gets serious again and continues, "One Tree Hill - we were there last night, actually, [the] four of us just got up there but, ah... - It was the first night we came into New Zealand [in 1984]. We went, ah - I actually couldn't sleep and I met some people who also couldn't sleep who were hangin' in the hotel, and they took me up to One Tree Hill. So I associate it with the first night. And also, it was the first conversation I had with Greg Carroll - was about One Tree Hill and what it was, a symbol for the Maori people, and the like."

It is obvious that Bono does not want to dwell on the painful past, and he seems to be searching for a quick way out. He finds it by simply adding, "And it's now... a song."

As for the vandalism... On the 28th October 1994, the tree was attacked by a Maori activist known as Mike Smith. The following article was front-page news in Wellington's Evening Post later that day:

New Zealand's most famous tree, on top of One Tree Hill in Auckland, was attacked, perhaps fatally, with a chainsaw early today. Made famous internationally by rock band U2's 1988 hit One Tree Hill, the 115-year-old pinus radiata was wrapped in wet sheets today as it struggled to survive. Police rushed to the top of One Tree Hill about 1:50am today after nearby residents saw a man attacking the tree with a chainsaw. Sergeant Don fisher said the offender had cut through a metal fence, erected to protect the tree from vandals, to get at the trunk. Two cuts, each about 30cm deep and extending two-thirds of the way around the trunk, had been made. A 43-year-old Northland man [Mike Smith] was arrested and was due to appear in the Auckland District Court today charged with willful damage. Council area manager Clive Manley said contingency plans had been in place "for a number of years" in case the tree died or was chopped down. He said three replacement trees - another pine, a totara and a pohutukawa - are being grown in a secret location. The council would consult interested groups over the next few weeks as to which tree should be used if the existing tree dies. The tree was the subject of a U2 song dedicated to the band's roadie, New Zealander Greg Carroll, who died in a motorbike accident in 1986. Carroll, aged 26 when he died, had been one of lead singer Bono's personal assistants. Following Carroll's Tangi in hometown Wanganui, Bono visited One Tree Hill to have a look at the place Carroll had enthused about. The brief visit inspired the song, which was released on The Joshua Tree album in 1987 and as a single, in New Zealand only, in March 1988. Bono was reported at the time to have felt Carroll's death keenly. The band's management company, Principal Management, said from Dublin Bono was on holiday and could not be reached for comment.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 26, 1997 8:44 PM.

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