Manawatu history talk: Totara Reserve

Dr Catherine Knight will be presenting a talk on November 2nd about the history of Totara Reserve as part of this year’s Manawatu Local History Week [click here to download programme]. Entitled “Totara Reserve: a window into Manawatu’s environmental history“, the talk will explore how Totara Reserve was preserved initially for its timber, but within a few decades, when lowland forest elsewhere in the Manawatu had all but vanished, became a prized scenic and recreational reserve. By tracing the history of the reserve, we can better understand the changing attitudes and values of New Zealanders towards our natural heritage. Totara Reserve is situated in the Pohangina Valley on the eastern side of the Pohangina River, in the Manawatu [click here to view location]. It encompasses an area of 348 hectares, much of it podocarp forest, made up of totara, matai, rimu and kahikatea, as well as some black beech.

Its history as a reserve began in 1886, when it was gazetted under the provisions of the State Forests Act (1885) as a ‘reserve for growth & preservation of timber and for river conservation purposes’. This at a time when the area was been ‘opened up’ for settlement – settlement in the Pohangina Valley area began with Ashhurst in March 1879.

In 1932, a portion of the Reserve was designated as a Scenic Reserve under the provisions of the Scenery Preservation Act 1908, and vested in the Pohangina County Council. In 1947 the area was increased and, renamed  the Pohangina Valley Domain, passed to the Palmerston North City Council for develop as a reserve for recreational purposes. In 1989, it changed hands yet again – this time to the Manawatu District Council, where it remains today. The Council has made ongoing efforts to enhance the reserve’s capacity and potential as an important habitat for indigenous flora and fauna.

Today, the reserve is valued as a rare remnant of lowland forest in the Manawatu district, by no means pristine, but nevertheless a valuable habitat for many indigenous species of plant and bird species. It is also valued as a place of recreation and rest by the many people that visit the reserve to swim, walk, picnic and camp every year. However,  it is important to remember that we have not always valued our indigenous forest in this way; the massive totara stumps which remain scattered throughout the reserve today serve as a poignant reminder not only of the grandeur of the trees that once towered above the forest, but also of the way in which values towards our indigenous forests have changed from an emphasis on utility to their scenic, ecological and, for many, spiritual, value.

The talk is at 12 noon on Wednesday 2nd November at the Palmerston North City Library. The talk will be introduced by former Palmerston North City mayor and current regional councillor, Jill White. There will also be many other interesting talks and activities. Click here to download programme.

See also Totara Reserve: A Window into Manawatu’s Environmental History, The Manawatu Journal of History, 2008 (4), pp.50-8.

Photo above left: Totara Reserve about 1915, C. E. Wildbore (Palmerston North City Library). Above right: Totara Reserve today, C. Knight.

See also: The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu, Flaxmilling in the Manawatu, The opening up of the Manawatu – the “waste land of the Colony”.

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