By David Carnegie Young
All my life I had driven through the village, the great iron gates to its cemetery and spreading oaks speaking of a larger, lost past. From the 1950s I’d watched the gradual decline of a place that, long before my life, had been so much more. There was the smithy, whose hanging door I recall one day remained shut, the shops with their arthritic verandas, old houses that became hidden behind brambles as they staggered under the weight of vegetation and age. The village’s human edges greened and frayed until it was little more than a hamlet. Yet its centre survived.
There was still the Ben Nevis pub, Harry Stirling’s old garage, two churches, a graveyard on the hill and a broken necklace of 1860s wayside architecture where wayfarers might stop for a pie or sandwich and even a browse. Continue reading
“Coast” is a novel written by David (Carnegie) Young about three generations of men; their relationships with each other and the wild Rangitikei coast. Strong themes running through the book are ancestry and belonging (and acceptance). The narrative is largely based in the Rangitikei: in the township of Marton and the small beach settlement of Koitiata, near Turakina [click here to view map], spanning from around the turn of the 20th century through to today (or thereabouts).
The Turakina River features prominently in the narrative: as a destructive and unpredictable force which takes life in the dramatic opening scenes of the novel; as a source of food and recreation for Maori and European alike; as an ancestral place for Maori; as a source of historical relics (including shoes of the victims of the Tangiwai train disaster); and, as a dynamic and powerful forger of the landscape. Continue reading
Though I am not entirely sure what it is, there is something about the landscape south of Wanganui that I find quite alluring: perhaps the sculpted curves of the hilly terrain, which is largely pasture, but scattered with clusters of indigenous bush. My attraction to this landscape was explored in another post Drama and history in a southern Wanganui farmscape. This photo was taken just south of the southern Wanganui town of Turakina [click here to view location]. Continue reading
When Europeans began arriving in the Canterbury region in the early 1800s, most of the swamp forest – dominated by matai, totara and kahikatea (white pine) – that covered much of the Canterbury Plains in previous centuries was gone. It is thought that it had been destroyed by a great fire that swept across the plains during the moa hunter period, leaving only a scattered bush remnants. Continue reading
Eels (or more broadly, tuna) have long been important in the culture of the our islands. For Māori, not only were they an extremely important food source – particularly for those who lived inland, but they were also of great cultural value. For the European New Zealander, eels were perhaps less vital as a food source, but for much of the 20th century eeling represented what was valued about the New Zealand lifestyle – the accessibility of our outdoors for both recreation and supplementary sources of food and income. However, as the health of our environment has become eroded, so too has this ability to hunt, fish, or recreate as freely as we used to. The eel, though less charismatic or cuddly than many of its land-based counterparts, is nevertheless a powerful symbol of the impact we have had on our environment as well as traditional values.
One indication of the eel’s importance in Māori culture is the number of words that were used to describe different varieties and conditions of eel (like Inuit terms for snow): as noted by David Young in Woven by Water – histories from the Whanganui River, ethnographer Eldson Best recorded at least 166 such words. Continue reading
Whether we like it or loathe it, the Resource Management Act (RMA) is so much part of our social fabric and the way we make decisions about the environment today, it is hard to believe that only 20 years ago it was considered revolutionary, and groundbreaking by international standards. When it was enacted in 1991, the RMA repealed 78 statutes and regulations, and amended numerous others, to provide a single piece of legislation for the management of land, water, soil and air throughout New Zealand.
It came at a time of great change in local and central governance in New Zealand, particularly in relation to environmental management. Up until 1986, most policy and legislation relating to the environment was developed or administered by the monolithic Ministry of Works or the Forest Service, the key pieces of environmental management legislation being the Town and Country Planning Act 1977 and the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 (not to be confused with the Water and Soil Conservation Act, enacted in 1967) . But by the 1980s, there was a growing recognition that these pieces of legislation had become outdated and were in need of review. Continue reading
A previous article explored whether Scottish settlers brought with them certain conservationist attitudes and practices [click here to view], but there were also other nationalities that stood out among those urging a more cautious approach to the use of our natural resources in the early years of New Zealand’s European colonisation – one of the most prominent being the German voice.
In Our Islands, Our Selves, David Young introduces a number of German figures who spoke out in protest against what they saw as wasteful and wreckless treatment of New Zealand’s natural resources, including wildlife. Continue reading
Possums are now estimated to number 70 million in New Zealand, and are acknowledged as a pest that inflicts colossal damage on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. However, only 100 years ago, they were highly valued and strictly protected.
Possums were introduced to New Zealand with the intention of establishing a fur trade. They were first released in the 1830s, but initially failed to become established. Imports began to taper off after 1900, and until the late 1930s, they were periodically protected as imported game – it was illegal to trap or kill them. As David Young notes, they were regarded by the government as “furry money-spinners” well into the third decade of the 20th century. Continue reading
Children at Toko Primary School, Taranaki, planting trees on Arbor Day 1900. In the fields around them, the devastating effects of the milling and burning of forest that was occurring throughout the country can clearly be seen. [Photo not to be reproduced without the permission of Alexander Turnbull Library, ref 1/2-003378-F. Acknowledgments to David Young for sharing this poignant photo in Our Islands Our Selves.]
In his history of conservation in New Zealand, Our Islands, Our Selves, David Young provides us with an anecdote that illustrates that the way we understand and value our environment does not always develop following an upwards trajectory through time.
He relates how in 1903, two engineers, L.M. Hancock (from California) and Peter Hay, were commissioned to report on the hydro-electric potential of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers. Their 1904 report drew the following conclusions about Lake Manapouri: “It is not likely, for scenic reasons, that a high dam would be build at Manapouri. The present beauty of the lake is worth preserving to its fullest extent.”
Yet, 60 years later, the government began work on a hydro-electric scheme that would raise the level of the lake 26 metres. It was only after an unprecedented level of public opposition over more than a decade – including a petition of 264,900 signatures – and ultimately leading to the downfall of the National government, that the lake was saved from this fate.
Picture above: “After Rain” (Lake Manapouri), by Tim Wilson. Used with permission from artist.