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…)
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 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…)
September 16, 2012
No, not really – but this is what one Manawatu farmer suggested might happen if the plant was allowed to spread any further through the district and the country.
So serious was the issue by the 1920s, that noxious weeds (including gorse and blackberry) were a hot topic at a Farmers Union Conference in Feilding in 1928. As one concerned delegate somewhat facetiously put it: “Unless the blackberry pest is taken in hand seriously by the Government the main exports from New Zealand in years to come will be blackberry jam and farmers”.
August 5, 2012
Of all the photographs I have seen relating to New Zealand’s environmental history, this is one of the most powerful. It shows the beginnings of a bush burn off at Puketora Station on the East Coast of the North Island in the early 1900s. This fire destroyed the indigenous forest over 30,000 acres, to make way for farming (probably of sheep). (more…)
July 29, 2012
I have been reading Kenneth B. Cumberland’s “Landmarks” (1981), a story of the human transformation of New Zealand. One of the many characters who makes his appearance in this story is Chew Chong, a pigtailed pedlar who had come to Otago, New Zealand in 1867, during the gold boom. He eventually made his way up to Taranaki, where a fledgling dairy industry was becoming established. (more…)
July 14, 2012
This post follows on from the previous post Did European settlers loathe the forest? While I am largely satisfied with the idea that European settlers destroyed the forest driven by the need to make productive use of the land, rather than any deep-seated loathing of it or what it represented, this still does not explain the extent to which forest – lowland forest especially – was destroyed. It was, by and large, decimated. (more…)