By David Carnegie Young

All my life I had driven through the village, the great iron gates to its cemetery and  spreading oaks speaking of a larger, lost past. From the 1950s I’d watched the gradual decline of a place that, long before my life, had been so much more. There was the smithy, whose hanging door I recall one day remained shut, the shops with their arthritic verandas, old houses that became hidden behind brambles as they staggered under the weight of vegetation and age. The village’s human edges greened and frayed until it was little more than a hamlet. Yet its centre survived.

There was still the Ben Nevis pub, Harry Stirling’s old garage, two churches, a graveyard on the hill and a broken necklace of 1860s wayside architecture where wayfarers might stop for a pie or sandwich and even a browse. (more…)

“Coast” is a novel written by David (Carnegie) Young about three generations of men; their relationships with each other and the wild Rangitikei coast. Strong themes running through the book are ancestry and belonging (and acceptance). The narrative is largely based in the Rangitikei: in the township of Marton and the small beach settlement of Koitiata, near Turakina [click here to view map], spanning from around the turn of the 20th century through to today (or thereabouts).

The Turakina River features prominently in the narrative: as a destructive and unpredictable force which takes life in the dramatic opening scenes of the novel; as a source of food and recreation for Maori and European alike; as an ancestral place for Maori; as a source of historical relics (including shoes of the victims of the Tangiwai train disaster); and, as a dynamic and powerful forger of the landscape. (more…)

Though I am not entirely sure what it is, there is something about the landscape south of Wanganui that I find quite alluring: perhaps the sculpted curves of the hilly terrain, which is largely pasture, but scattered with clusters of indigenous bush. My attraction to this landscape was explored in another post Drama and history in a southern Wanganui farmscape. This photo was taken just south of the southern Wanganui town of Turakina [click here to view location]. (more…)

When Europeans began arriving in the Canterbury region in the early 1800s, most of the swamp forest – dominated by matai, totara and kahikatea (white pine) – that covered much of the Canterbury Plains in previous centuries was gone. It is thought that it had been destroyed by a great fire that swept across the plains during the moa hunter period, leaving only a scattered bush remnants. (more…)

Eels (or more broadly, tuna) have long been important in the culture of the our islands. For Māori, not only were they an extremely important food source – particularly for those who lived inland, but they were also of great cultural value. For the European New Zealander, eels were perhaps less vital as a food source, but for much of the 20th century eeling represented what was valued about the New Zealand lifestyle – the accessibility of our outdoors for both recreation and supplementary sources of food and income. However, as the health of our environment has become eroded, so too has this ability to hunt, fish, or recreate as freely as we used to. The eel, though less charismatic or cuddly than many of its land-based counterparts, is nevertheless a powerful symbol of the impact we have had on our environment as well as traditional values.

One indication of the eel’s importance in Māori culture is the number of words that were used to describe different varieties and conditions of eel (like Inuit terms for snow): as noted by  David Young in Woven by Water – histories from the Whanganui River, ethnographer Eldson Best recorded at least 166 such words. (more…)

Whether we like it or loathe it, the Resource Management Act (RMA) is so much part of our social fabric and the way we make decisions about the environment today, it is hard to believe that only 20 years ago it was considered revolutionary, and groundbreaking by international standards. When it was enacted in 1991, the RMA repealed 78 statutes and regulations, and amended numerous others, to provide a single piece of legislation for the management of land, water, soil and air throughout New Zealand.

It came at a time of great change in local and central governance in New Zealand, particularly in relation to environmental management. Up until 1986, most policy and legislation relating to the environment was developed or administered by the monolithic Ministry of Works or the Forest Service, the key pieces of environmental management legislation being the Town and Country Planning Act 1977 and the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 (not to be confused with the Water and Soil Conservation Act, enacted in 1967) . But by the 1980s, there was a growing recognition that these pieces of legislation had become outdated and were in need of review. (more…)

A previous article explored whether Scottish settlers brought with them certain conservationist attitudes and practices [click here to view], but there were also other nationalities that stood out among those urging a more cautious approach to the use of our natural resources in the early years of New Zealand’s European colonisation – one of the most prominent being the German voice.

In Our Islands, Our Selves, David Young introduces a number of German figures who spoke out in protest against what they saw as wasteful and wreckless treatment of New Zealand’s natural resources, including wildlife. (more…)

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