Ravaged Beauty receives award

coverOn Wednesday night, I received an award from the Palmerston North Heritage Trust for my book Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu.

From the Heritage Trust’s media release:

“Environmental historian Catherine Knight has won the Palmerston North Heritage Trust’s inaugural award for the best work of history relating to the Manawatu. Ravaged Beauty: An Environmental History of the Manawatu was described by co-judge Jill White as an outstanding winner from the 2013-14 publications considered. Continue reading

Environmental history and social justice – is there a link? The case of Nauru

nauru islandHuman rights abuses in Nauru are currently under scrutiny by the United Nations and other organisations. We in New Zealand have also expressed our concerns – and with good reason.

But it makes me wonder, how much responsibility does New Zealand have to share in what is, without question, an unacceptable situation? We were responsible for systematically abusing Nauru’s environment for decades, leaving it in ruins. Indeed, without Nauru’s phosphate resources, it is questionable that the ‘pastoral revolution’ in New Zealand, on which our economy depends, would have even been possible. Continue reading

Scandinavian axemen, Maori gardening and forgotten streams of Christchurch

Young Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa. Shows her standing alongside a vegetable garden and a whare. Photograph taken in the 1880s by the Burton Brothers.

Young Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa, near Lake Tarawera, Bay of Plenty. Shows her standing alongside a vegetable garden and a whare. Photograph taken in the 1880s by the Burton Brothers. Alexander Turnbull Library ref. 1/2-004619-F.

In anticipation of my talk on Friday, I thought I would gain some insights into envirohistory NZ’s most popular posts. Fittingly, given that my talk is in the Manawatu, the most popular post (by far) has been The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu.

The next most popular posts have been Maori gardening in pre-European NZ and Earthquake reveals the forgotten streams of Christchurch.

Perhaps you might want to check them out.

Brunner coal mine – holiday destination?

Brunner coalmining town

View of the coalmining town of Brunner, showing the bridge and the mine. Ref: PA1-o-498-36. Alexander Turnbull Library.

This is a photo of the mining settlement of Brunner, perched on the side of the Grey River, on the West Coast of the South Island. The photo is interesting in itself. The mine can be seen in the middle ground, with houses on the deforested flanks of the hills behind the mine. Coal ready for transport by rail can be seen in the foreground. Tailings can also be seen spilling into the river. Continue reading

Possums “doing good in the bush”


The opossum. A ground berry-eater, that helps build fences!

In a similar vein to my previous post about the little German owl, I found another insightful gem about possums, from the official report of the 15th national conference of acclimatisation societies in 1926:

“The Government had appointed Professor Kirk to inquire into opossums and the Forestry Department had also appointed an independent man. Both had come to the conclusion, namely, that opossums did no damage to Native trees. [The President] knew himself that the boards looking after certain scenic reserves had been able to obtain quite a large revenue from the opossums,* and had been thus able to fence the reserves, so that in that way the opossums were doing good in the bush.” Continue reading

Was the little German owl really a ruthless killer, or was this a case of ‘ecological racism’?

A German owl. Looks pretty harmless to me!

A German owl. Looks pretty harmless to me!

While perusing historical minute books of the New Zealand acclimatisation societies, I came across this gem, from the ‘Presidential address’ at their national conference in 1932:

“The German owl was killing out a tremendous number of native birds, and it should be the duty of the societies to wage war upon it. There was a division of opinion concerning the magpie, which was useful to farmers, but his society considered that only definitely proved killers should be destroyed.” Continue reading

Storm of shame


A juvenile seal entangled in plastic

The storm that visited Wellington last week was dramatic. It left countless homes and businesses flooded, one man dead, and transport links paralyzed. In Kapiti, where I live, we had one month’s worth of rain in one day.

The storm had another dramatic, and revealing, effect. It left Kapiti’s beaches smothered in a deluge of debris, washed down streams and waterways swollen by the heavy rain. Continue reading