The special March issue of Environment and Nature in New Zealand contains seven articles – all by graduates of Otago University’s history department (see also: In search of Arcadia?). As the editor’s introduction states, these essays represent the most concentrated research effort in relation to environmental history of any history department in the country, and are well worth a read.
Manuka, along with its indigenous cousin, kanuka, have long been referred to as “scrub” by New Zealanders. “Scrub” is a term which infers something diminutive, including small trees or shrubs, and has a nuance of inferiority. As one of the first species to recolonise an area of cleared bush, manuka has long been viewed with loathing by farmers – its vigour and ability to quickly regenerate made it a cursed “weed”.
But, in our back garden, with its fine needle-like leaves, and covered in a shower of delicate, five-petaled flowers and pearl-like buds, it is reminiscent of snow on a small pine tree. In my mind, it is more than worthy of being New Zealand’s answer to the Christmas tree.
I have often wondered why I am so interested in the link between deforestation, flooding and erosion. I put it down to my love of forested environments, and therefore my interest in the history of these environments. But it has occurred to me that it is perhaps more than this – that it relates also to personal memory, of an event in the environmental history of my lifetime.
That event was Cyclone Bola, which hit the east coast of the North Island in March 1988, when I was a teenager. Continue reading
Those of us who get annoyed by white butterfly caterpillars on our cabbages or broccoli may want to spare a thought for pastoral or crop farmers of the late 19th and early 20th century in New Zealand. Some caterpillars were of such plague proportions that on occasion, trains were brought to a screaming (or perhaps more squishy) halt by armies of caterpillars with their sights on a particularly tasty-looking field of wheat or oats. Continue reading
On the same trip on which we met the “horse for sale” (see previous post), we also passed through the Pohangina Valley, travelling from north to south.
Like Apiti, the upper Pohangina Valley is characterised by small settlements which are often more evident on the map than they are in reality: places such as Utuwai, Umutoi and Komako. Looking at early survey plans, it appears that the vision for these places was somewhat more substantial than what eventuated. Continue reading
Of all the photographs I have seen relating to New Zealand’s environmental history, this is one of the most powerful. It shows the beginnings of a bush burn off at Puketora Station on the East Coast of the North Island in the early 1900s. This fire destroyed the indigenous forest over 30,000 acres, to make way for farming (probably of sheep). Continue reading
This post follows on from the previous post Did European settlers loathe the forest? While I am largely satisfied with the idea that European settlers destroyed the forest driven by the need to make productive use of the land, rather than any deep-seated loathing of it or what it represented, this still does not explain the extent to which forest – lowland forest especially – was destroyed. It was, by and large, decimated. Continue reading
Driving through Te Horo recently, on the Kapiti Coast, I was fascinated by the number of stone walls, stone cairns, and stone piles evident in the locality – more reminiscent of my image of the English countryside, than of typical rural New Zealand. I sensed there must be a story there, and I was not disappointed. Continue reading