Swamp fires of the Manawatu

At first, “swamp fires” might seem like an oxymoron, and I was certainly surprised to read about them when I read Suspended Access, the history of the Opiki toll bridge. In this history, Molly Akers relates how, as the floodplains around the lower Manawatu River were drained to stimulate flax growth for milling, peat fires in the swamp became a continual menace. What makes peat fires unusual, in comparison to forest or scrub fires, is that they burn underground. Continue reading

A rare survivor – Taupo swamp

Our environmental history is littered with the stories of wetlands that were drained to make way for farmland or settlements. But in the Wellington region, there is a rare example of a substantial wetland that survived this onslaught. It is an example of how – paradoxically – an environment’s utility as a source of a commercial resource can sometimes provide for its preservation.

Over the last 150 years there were a number of attempts to drain the swamp for farming, but these attempts succeeded in only partially draining the swamp. Continue reading

Flaxmilling in the Manawatu

Now, the Manawatu region of New Zealand’s North Island [click here for map] is known for its farming and wind turbines, but for a few decades from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, flaxmilling was one of the region’s most important industries. When farmers began to drain the swampland to establish pasture in the late 19th century, they found the process stimulated the growth of the flax already growing naturally in the area.  From this chance discovery, flaxmilling grew from the 1870s and continued until the 1930s. Continue reading