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This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. The background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs draws the eye of the environmental historian. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

This image taken by Charles E. Wildbore circa 1907 shows the rural mail delivery that operated in the Pohangina Valley. It is the background of scorched, leafless tree trunks and limbs that draws the eye of the environmental historian, rather than the mail cart or people in the foreground. Palmerston North City Library, ID 2007N_Poh2_RTL_0852

Why should we study New Zealand’s environmental history? and how is it different from “conventional” history?

These are the questions that Paul Star asks in his essay entitled Environmental history and New Zealand history, first written in 2008, but recently republished on Environment and Nature in New Zealand.

Star offers seven compelling reasons why it is important. And of course, the key difference between environmental history and history is that while people are the central players in conventional history, the relationship between people and the environment is the focus in environmental history. (more…)

Mission farm

Mission farm The Church Missionary Society mission set up at Waimate, in the inland Bay of Islands, in 1830, included a large farm with sheep, cattle, horses, gardens and orchards. Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: PUBL-0144-1-330 Wood engraving by Cyprian Bridge Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The special March issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand contains seven articles – all by graduates of Otago University’s history department (see also: In search of Arcadia?). As the editor’s introduction states, these essays represent the most concentrated research effort in relation to environmental history of any history department in the country, and are well worth a read.

(more…)

Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_The_Arcadian_or_Pastoral_State_1836

Thomas Cole’s The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1834

A series of articles were recently published on Environment and Nature in New Zealand, all drawn from essays written between 1989 and 2000 by students in history at the University of Otago. 

A prominent theme in the essays covering the colonial period is the disconnect between the expectations of immigrants and the reality of what they found, particularly in respect to the environment. (more…)

Clouds over WaterstoneIn another instalment in the sporadic series “Views of Kapiti”, this was a shot I took from the housing estate I live in, while out walking my baby daughter (to sleep).

I found the vivid “tri-colour” effect of this shot pleasing: the green of the regenerating bush of the Paraparaumu Scenic Reserve [click here to view map]; the white of the cumulonimbus cloud against the blue of the sky. (more…)

Front of the Raukawa wharenui in Otaki

Front of the Raukawa wharenui in Otaki

On Waitangi Day (February 6th), we visited the Ngati Raukawa Marae in Otaki. Waitangi Day commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The Treaty is often referred to as the founding document of Aotearoa/New Zealand as a nation, and as such, is integral to New Zealand’s constitution. (more…)

Hiwinui farmscape JPG

“Rolling hill country” of the Manawatu, a landscape created by fire. Photo: C. Knight

This article, published in the lastest issue of the Journal of New Zealand Studies, examines the role of fire in the opening up of bush country in the region of Manawatu for pastoral farming. Within only a few decades, bush burns had transformed a densely forested environment into one of verdant pasture – leaving only the charred stumps and limbs of incinerated trees as evidence of the dense, impenetrable forest that once harboured moa and other ancient forest creatures. (more…)

IMG_4199Yesterday, the family and I visited a newly-built bird hide at the wetlands in QEII Park, near Paekakariki (see Paekakariki: perch of the green parrot). This bird hide differs from the traditional duck-shooter’s “maimai”, in that the only shooting it provides for is with a camera. (more…)

Graveyard and windmillsYesterday, we ventured out on a photography expedition for my near-complete book exploring the environmental history of the Manawatu. (See: A racy title is one thing, but what’s the book actually about?) Many adventures awaited us, including an amorous kunekune pig and his similarly friendly ostrich companion, residents of a historic farm at Karere.

At Ashhurst, I was unable to resist this landscape – a poignant juxtaposition between old and new. (more…)

rain dropsIt is incredible what you can find to do when you should be doing something else, like going for a run.

As I attempted to leave the house this morning for my daily bout of exercise, I paused to check the swan plants for further hatchlings (see previous monarch butterfly-related posts).

As I did so, I noticed these water droplets, remnants from an overnight shower, preserved in all their spherical perfection in a tiny web constructed by some unseen spider.

Though feeling slightly guilty about delaying my run, I couldn’t resist capturing this little bit of magic with a photo.

See also: Little wonders (of nature); Sofia and her red biro

Manawatu River

Manawatu River, ca 1870. Note shacks on flanks of the river. Photograph taken by William James Harding 1826-1899. Ref: 1/1-000339-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

I have been dipping into my recently acquired copy of Making a New Land, the revised edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (see: Environmental histories of New Zealand – Making a New Land). In particular, the conclusion really resonates with me:

Environmental history can and should be more than history with nature added in. (more…)

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