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…)

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…)

A fantail doing some of the aerial acrobatics it is known for at Anzac Park, Palmerston North. Wind turbines can be seen on the Tararua Ranges in the background. Anzac Park is a significant – but little celebrated – historical site; known as Motu o Poutoa, it was a strategically important Rangitane pa before it was destroyed by an invading tribe. Photo by Paul Knight.

It occurred to me that readers might want to know more about the book before offering an opinion on a title for it! (See: What’s the best title? Please vote! and What’s in a title? Your ideas please!) So here is a synopsis:

Few today would describe the Manawatū as spectacular or iconic – it is unlikely to adorn a tourist brochure promoting New Zealand. But behind this domesticated landscape is a story of transformation so dramatic that few could even imagine how “wild” – primeval, even – this landscape was only a little more than a century ago. (more…)

I am getting super-sophisticated now! I realised that there is a poll function in WordPress, and thought, what better opportunity to try it out! This should make it easy for everyone. And, it also allows you to give me your fantastic ideas. (Feel free to post your comments too.) Please see previous post What’s in a title? Your ideas please! for background.

Also see: A racy title is one thing, but what’s the book actually about? for a synopsis of the book.

Note that the following options are the title only; the subtitle will be “An Environmental History of the Manawatu”


The moa footprints discovered in 1912 on the banks of the Manawatu River. This photograph was included in the report of the discovery, published in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

It’s been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately, as I have been busy getting as much writing done on my book as I can before the Claude McCarthy Fellowship I was so fortunate to receive finishes. The book examines the environmental history of the Manawatu Region, in the lower North Island of New Zealand, from pre-history through to today (see: Manawatu’s environmental past to be documented), and I have been working on it (between work, family and life) for a couple of years now. (See: A racy title is one thing, but what’s the book actually about? for a synopsis of the book.)

Making progress on writing has been further challenged by the arrival earlier this year of our baby girl, Caitlyn. Caitlyn is known to make her feelings very clear when I spend too much time staring at the screen of my laptop, rather than gazing at/playing with/talking to her. (more…)

Te Apiti wind farm

Te Apiti wind farm, near Ashhurst. Photo by Ashhurst.org.

One of the topics I have been researching for my book documenting the environmental history of the Manawatu Region (see: Manawatu’s environmental past to be documented) are wind farms. This is a fascinating story, not so much because of the wind farms themselves, but in terms of the clear evolution in thinking around wind farms. The contrast between the public response to the early wind farms in the Manawatu and the later ones could not be more dramatic. (more…)

IMG_3280And, in continuation of this ad-hoc series of it’s not always about environmental history, here is a shot of Kapiti Island a few minutes after the previous one.

Sunset South IslandThis is another example  of “it’s not really about environmental history“, but I couldn’t resist sharing this shot taken from Paraparaumu beach at sunset yesterday. In the foreground is Kapiti Island, and in the background is the top of the South Island – a reminder that a not insignificant amount of the South Island is in fact further north than the lower end of the North Island. This maybe highlights the perils of naming a place after a seemingly self-evident geographic characteristic – but then, “Mostly South Island” and “Mostly North Island” does seem a bit clumsy. Perhaps “Middle Island” was more accurate after all!

How did the Manawatu transform from a densely forested environment in 1870 to a pastoral landscape by the turn of the century?

The answer, which will be explored in a lunchtime talk on 8th November, as part of the 2012 Manawatu Local History Week, is “fire”. (more…)

envirohistory NZ‘s founder and primary contributor, Catherine Knight, has been awarded a New Zealand History Research Trust Fund Award in History to research the environmental history of the Manawatū. The project, tentatively entitled “Forested hinterland to pastoral province: the environmental transformation of the Manawatū”, will ultimately result in a book. The research will canvass the region’s history from its Māori settlement through to the present day, and will make use not only of historical, archaeological and archival records, but also the latest palaeoenvironmental research. (more…)


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