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The Hurunui in North Canterbury, which runs from the Southern Alps to the sea, is the source of legend, artistic inspiration, livelihood and sport. It was also the source of inspiration for Sam Mahon's recent book, The Water Theives (Longacre), in which he tells a rich tale of a battle fought by local environment and recreation groups against the powerful farming and business lobbies that control Canterbury's waterways.

But for Spectrum, it's more a day in the country, visiting Sam at his home, the converted flour mill, on the edge of Waiau township, which he shares with his partner and fellow bronze sculptor, Alison Erickson, and on for a picnic at the river.

Although Sam Mahon holds precious memories of childhood times spent on the river with his father, Justice Peter Mahon, the Hurunui is no longer the idyll of his childhood memories. Pig and diary farms have boomed and bust along its edges, ruining the tranquility and polluting the water.

An inveterate campaigner now, Sam is forever heading off on polemic tirades against the establishment that he feels is destroying the natural beauties of his area, but as we light the camp fire and boil the billy, a more reflective Mahon reveals why these precious places are so worth preserving.

Producer: Deborah Nation