Holland Howling WildernessPeter Holland’s recently published Home in the Howling Wilderness is a valuable addition to the repository of literature and knowledge relating to New Zealand’s environmental history.

Holland, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Otago, focuses on the first half century of organised settlement (1840 to 1890) of the lower South Island of New Zealand.

He has meticulously researched the ways in which early settlers learned about, and responded to  the challenges of this unfamiliar environment, drawing on farmers’ dairies, letter books, ledgers, newspaper articles and other available sources. (more…)

I have learned a few things while reading “Seeds of Empire”, by Tom Brooking and Eric Pawson, including the definitions of some terms that crop up a bit in environmental history literature (see also: How did the Korean War change the NZ landscape?). One example of this is in Robert Peden’s essay “Pastoralism and the transformation of open grasslands” (Chapter 5).

Using Mount Peel Station* in central Canterbury as a case study, Peden explains how pastoralism transformed much of the eastern hillcountry (or rangelands, as he refers to them) of the South Island, and seeks also to debunk a few myths about the impacts of pastoralism while he is at it (specifically, about the role of pastoralism in rabbit infestations and burning as a management tool). (more…)

I came across this map in Mick Strack’s essay “Bounding the Land: Cadastral framework on the Taieri” in the recently published “Making Our Place”, and it intrigued me.

It is a map of the South Island, sketched by Edmund Halswell around 1841 from an unidentified Ngai Tahu source. The map shows the South Island so elongated and distorted in shape, that is almost unrecognisable. But is precisely this cartographic inaccuracy which reveals valuable information about how Maori interacted and viewed the land before European colonisation. (more…)

When we encounter the extensive tussocklands of the eastern South Island [see below right], it is hard to imagine any other landscape in that place – so much a part of the “natural” New Zealand landscape have they become. Yet, as explored in a previous post What is natural? The tussocklands of Lindis Pass, this is in fact a human-induced landscape; the tussocklands have replaced podocarp and beech forest [see left] that once covered the South Island. However, this occurred long before any written history was established, and this environmental history has had to be pieced together through painstaking paleoenvironmental research.

New ground-breaking research, undertaken by an team of both New Zealand and international scientists, has determined how, to what extent, and over what time-frame large tracts of South Island forest were destroyed. (more…)

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