Ravaged Beauty launch invite

 

coverThe long-awaited Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu is available June 2014
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Ravaged Beauty tells the story of one place, from prehistory to today. But its themes are universal. What motivates the human desire to modify and exploit their natural environment, and have people learned anything from the consequences? Read this new book to find out.
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Only a century and a half ago, the Manawatu was a heavily forested hinterland: the floodplains were a sea of swamps and lagoons, teeming with birdlife, eels and other fish; the hills and terraces were covered with thick impenetrable forest, refuge perhaps to a few lingering moa. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

A skimming station on the corner of Roberts’s Line and the Bunnythorpe-Kairanga Road, Manawatu. This photograph shows the long line of carts which was a typical sight at a skimming station in the early years of that century. Source: Palmerston North City Library.

Reading a 1977 paper reviewing farming in the Manawatu, by soil scientist J. Cowie and farming advisor W. Osborn, I was interested to read the following passage:

Dairy farming no longer predominates [in the Manawatu] as it has lost a great number of units in recent years. Twenty-six small dairy companies existed in the billycan and horse and cart days. (more…)

Making a New LandA new edition of the New Zealand environmental history classic, Environmental Histories of New Zealand, is out this month. Entitled Making a New Land, it has six new chapters with the existing ones revised. (You can read more about the book here.) I have put my order in for my copy already (and for my local library too).

This book (well, not this exact one – I haven’t got it yet!) is close to my heart. I discovered it when I was writing my Masters thesis about the Japanese treatment of nature through history (see publications page – it’s near the bottom). (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…)

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