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…)

The previous post Prehistoric revelations of a Manawatu flood made me curious about other signs of moa habitation in the Manawatu area. I came across an intriguing article in a 1908 newspaper which reports on a find of moa bones in Kimbolton, and the controversy the find created.

The question it raises is, were moa still roaming the densely forested hinterlands of the North Island even as Europeans were first arriving on these shores?

But let the discoverer of those bones tell the story. In a letter to the Feilding Star in July 1908, Mr Thomas A. Bryce, a farmer from Kiwitea (see: Kimbolton and surrounds – “putting the small man on the land”), wrote:

“What time has elapsed since the moa became extinct? (more…)

When surveyors laid out the Manawatu town of Palmerston North, they were a little optimistic.

An 1878 [see left] and later 1895 survey map shows sections in the suburbs of Terrace End and low-lying Hokowhitu running right up to – and in some cases beyond – the banks of the meandering Manawatu River. However, the multitude of lagoons in the district showed that the Manawatu River must have flooded, and changed its course, many times throughout the centuries, leaving these “cut-off meander” lagoons as evidence. (more…)

Archaeologists have conventionally divided New Zealand prehistory into two chronological phases: “Archaic Maori” and “Classic Maori”. These phases are defined by the distinctive assemblages of artefacts (such as adzes, fishing implements and ornaments) that are associated with each phase. But they also largely coincide with the centrality of big game to Maori subsistence. During the earlier phase, moa and seals were central to people’s diet. However, as moa became extinct (by around 1500 AD), and seal populations seriously depleted, Maori had to rely more heavily on other sources of food. (more…)

Much of the material on this site focuses on the impacts of European settlers on the New Zealand environment. But of course the environment was neither untouched nor pristine when organised European settlement began in the 19th century. As can be seen in the forest cover diagrams in the earlier post, Destruction of our forests over time, the Maori also had a significant impact on New Zealand’s forests, albeit over a much longer period of time (centuries as opposed to years). Between the beginning of Polynesian settlement in New Zealand around the fourteenth century and the beginning of organised European colonisation in the nineteenth century, it is estimated that forest cover was reduced by about half, largely through fire. (more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 336 other followers