May 11, 2013
One of many scenes of devastation in the aftermath of Cyclone Bola.
I have often wondered why I am so interested in the link between deforestation, flooding and erosion. I put it down to my love of forested environments, and therefore my interest in the history of these environments. But it has occurred to me that it is perhaps more than this – that it relates also to personal memory, of an event in the environmental history of my lifetime.
That event was Cyclone Bola, which hit the east coast of the North Island in March 1988, when I was a teenager. (more…)
March 10, 2013
Peter 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. (more…)
February 10, 2013
Farmscape near Piripiri in the upper Pohangina Valley. Photo: C. Knight
On the same trip on which we met the “horse for sale” (see previous post), we also passed through the Pohangina Valley, travelling from north to south.
Like Apiti, the upper Pohangina Valley is characterised by small settlements which are often more evident on the map than they are in reality: places such as Utuwai, Umutoi and Komako. Looking at early survey plans, it appears that the vision for these places was somewhat more substantial than what eventuated. (more…)
December 23, 2012
Yesterday dawned an overcast but warm day. A fine, summery rain began to fall after breakfast, the kind of rain that is not at all unpleasant to walk in, or turn your face up to. I found it quite refreshing, and was a little disappointed when I could see it was starting to clear. But when I went to my gym class that morning, the instructor ran through her usual greetings, and then declared with surprising intensity (in contrast to her usually serene demeanor, befitting of a yoga instructor) – “I hope it is fine for Christmas and we have no more of disgusting weather!” (more…)
December 23, 2012
A 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. (more…)
December 8, 2012
Recently 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! (more…)
December 2, 2012
Swamp area in the Rai Valley, Marlborough, with horses hauling a log over a tramway bridge. Photograph taken circa 14 December 1912, by James Raglan Akersten. Not to be reproduced without permission of Alexander Turnbull Library, ref ID: 1/2-110328-F
We tend to think of battles for the preservation of indigenous nature in New Zealand as a phenomenon of the last few decades, particularly since Manapouri. However, these battles have been going on in New Zealand well beyond our lifetimes. One early example is the battle for the Rai Valley, located between the South Island towns of Nelson and Blenheim [click here to view location]. This was classic example of the tension between development versus preservation that continues to be a central to New Zealand’s environmental history to this day. (more…)
November 11, 2012
At first, “swamp fires” might seem like an oxymoron, and I was certainly surprised to read about them when I read Suspended Access, the history of the Opiki toll bridge. In this history, Molly Akers relates how, as the floodplains around the lower Manawatu River were drained to stimulate flax growth for milling, peat fires in the swamp became a continual menace. What makes peat fires unusual, in comparison to forest or scrub fires, is that they burn underground. (more…)
October 20, 2012
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…)
September 29, 2012
The Manawatu Estuary has transformed significantly over the last century or more. In the 1800s, the mouth of the Manawatu River reached the sea several kilometres north of where it flows into the sea today. With the arrival of Europeans in the latter half of the 19th century, and the foundation of the town of Foxton, it soon became a bustling port. However, with the strong southward current depositing much sand on the coast a spit has gradually grown and the mouth of the river has slowly moved southwards. Today, it is used by recreational boaties but has long since lost any commercial significance as a port. (more…)