Ikawai: a revelation


A lamprey or pirahau. Photo by Stephen Moore, Department of Conservation

I came to the world of Ikawai rather late. I had dipped into the hefty 800 page volume some time back. What I read was very interesting, but thinking that it was basically an encyclopedia about fish, I had not ventured much further than the introductory chapters.

Recently, my interest in the impact of acclimatisation on Maori led me back to the book. What a revelation! Well actually a series of them. Continue reading

Wild rivers


River rafting. Source: http://www.riverrats.co.nz

I recently had the great pleasure to read John Mackay’s book “Wild rivers”, published in 1978, in which he recounts with remarkable descriptive detail the rafting adventures he and his mates had during the 1970s. He describes adventures on the Upper Buller Gorge, the middle Clarence, the Motu, the Wanganui, and the Karamea – all undertaken on home-made rafts, constructed using inner tyre tubes, timber and ropes, with accessories such as life-jackets either borrowed or improvised. Continue reading

Review: Home in the Howling Wilderness

Holland Howling WildernessPeter Holland’s recently published Home in the Howling Wilderness is a valuable addition to the repository of literature and knowledge relating to New Zealand’s environmental history.

Holland, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Otago, focuses on the first half century of organised settlement (1840 to 1890) of the lower South Island of New Zealand.

He has meticulously researched the ways in which early settlers learned about, and responded to  the challenges of this unfamiliar environment, drawing on farmers’ dairies, letter books, ledgers, newspaper articles and other available sources. Continue reading

Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the US, Canada, Australia, and NZ

nature-and-the-english-diasporaA little while ago, I read a reference to the book Nature and the English Diaspora: Environment and History in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, by Thomas R. Dunlap, which was published back in 1999. I don’t have a copy of this book, and not many libraries hold it, so I was keen to find out what the reviews were at the time. However, I was not able to find one single review through my friend, the usually highly reliable Mr Google.

Luckily, I was able to ascertain that New Zealand environmental historian Paul Star had done a review of the book for the journal Australian Historical Studies in 2000, and he has kindly given me his permission to reproduce a version of it here. This review is written from the perspective of a New Zealand scholar of environmental history, so is particularly useful for Antipodeans. Continue reading

What is environmental history? (no. 2)

Arbour Day at Rata School 1894Recently I read J. Donald Hughes’ “What is Environmental History?” This is an excellent little introductory book, aimed primarily at those relatively new to environmental history  – whether it be students, those specialising in other disciplines, or non-scholars who have an interest in environmental history. Having never studied environmental history in a formal setting myself, the book provided useful context.

The book is very accessible and unthreatening to even the non-academically inclined in its content as well as its slimness – “models”, “paradigms” or “axioms” are rarely mentioned, and “post-modernism” is only mentioned once, as I recall! Continue reading

Christchurch – a city built on buried forests?

I have been reading Kenneth B. Cumberland’s 1981 book Landmarks recently. The book, which was published in parallel with a television series of the same name,* is a colourful presentation (both in the literal and metaphorical sense)  of Cumberland’s views on New Zealand’s environmental history, supplemented by many photographs and illustrations. Some of the archaeological and palaoecological information is now somewhat outdated (for instance, the dates that humans first settled New Zealand and other radio-carbon dates), but it is nevertheless a highly worthwhile read – Continue reading

Exploring NZ’s environmental history through maps

I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this (and therefore perhaps shouldn’t), but I have only recently discovered the cartographic and other visual delights which lie between the sturdy covers of the New Zealand Historical Atlas, published in 1997.

Of course, I had seen it referenced many times in scholarship on New Zealand’s environmental history, but (and this is where my less than favourable encounters with high-school geography may be revealed), I had imagined a dusty old book of the traditional style maps that only a dyed-in-the-wool geographer or cartographer would get excited about. Continue reading