“River Birmingham” – a powerful environmental history in a poem

This image courtesy of www.geograph.org.uk, has a caption that reads: The River Rea alongside Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham This section of the Rea is canalised, and has a walkway alongside that nobody uses, people preferring to walk through the park instead.

This image courtesy of http://www.geograph.org.uk, has a caption that reads: The River Rea alongside Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham
This section of the Rea is canalised, and has a walkway alongside that nobody uses, people preferring to walk through the park instead.

In my exploration of different ways of writing about our relationship with the environment, I embarked on a search for poems about rivers. First and foremost, my interest was in poems describing New Zealand rivers, but then I stumbled across a poem by English poet Roy Fisher. Entitled “River Birmingham”, it is the story of the rivers (the River Tame and the River Rea) that run through the highly industrialised city of Birmingham.

This poem is an environmental history. Continue reading

Wild rivers

rafting

River rafting. Source: http://www.riverrats.co.nz

I recently had the great pleasure to read John Mackay’s book “Wild rivers”, published in 1978, in which he recounts with remarkable descriptive detail the rafting adventures he and his mates had during the 1970s. He describes adventures on the Upper Buller Gorge, the middle Clarence, the Motu, the Wanganui, and the Karamea – all undertaken on home-made rafts, constructed using inner tyre tubes, timber and ropes, with accessories such as life-jackets either borrowed or improvised. Continue reading

New issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand now out!

deerJust released: Environment and Nature in New Zealand Vol 9 No 2

Includes the following articles and book reviews:

Alistair McMechan, “Timber Town: A History of Port Craig”

Simon Canaval, “The Story of the Fallow Deer: An Exotic Aspect of British Globalisation” Continue reading

Christchurch on the “old delta of the River Waimakariri”

Christchurch, 1860, showing Avon River in the middle ground and Worcester Bridge in the background. Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. 1/2-022720-F

Christchurch, 1860, showing Avon River and Worcester Bridgein the middle ground. Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. 1/2-022720-F

I have been trawling historic newspapers in Papers Past in my efforts to research early European attitudes to New Zealand’s rivers. In the course (unintended pun) of doing so, I stumbled upon a report on the drainage of the city, submitted to the Christchurch City Council in 1864 by the City Surveyor. It is illuminating given the city’s struggle with flooding following the Canterbury earthquakes. Continue reading

Whose rivers are more pleasant? New Zealand vs England

Avon River, Christchurch

A “pleasant” river, complete with punts: Avon River through Christchurch

Reading Andrew McRae’s paper “Fluvial Nation: rivers, mobility and poetry in Early Modern England”, I was struck by its opening statement.

In 1665, the speaker of the House of Commons, addressing the King and Parliament reflected that: “Cosmosgraphers do agree that this Island is incomparably furnished with pleasant Rivers, like Veins in the Natural Body, which conveys the Blood into all the Parts, whereby the whole is nourished, and made useful.” Continue reading

Rivers in New Zealand: deadly, destructive … but quite useful

Two men using a plank to cross a river in the Collingwood area. Date unknown. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: G-979-10×8

The Manawatu River was a defining feature of the Manawatu Region, which was the subject of my recently published book, Ravaged Beauty. This has led me to research the environmental history of our rivers more broadly. Continue reading

When is a river a drain?

Brunner Mine on Grey River

View of the coalmining town of Brunner, by the Grey River, showing the bridge and the mine. Coal ready for transport by rail can be seen just below the photographer. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-o-498-36.

Some may argue that too often rivers are treated like drains even today, but a century and a half ago, rivers were drains under this country’s law.

Under the Public Works Act 1876,  “drain” was defined to include both artificial channels and “every natural watercourse, stream, and river not navigable” (s. 165). Under the Mines Act, certain rivers could be proclaimed “sludge channels”, as was the case with the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers in Waikato. Continue reading