Review: Home in the Howling Wilderness

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. Continue reading

Creating a pastoral world through fire: bush burning in the Manawatu

How did the Manawatu transform from a densely forested environment in 1870 to a pastoral landscape by the turn of the century?

The answer, which will be explored in a lunchtime talk on 8th November, as part of the 2012 Manawatu Local History Week, is “fire”. Continue reading

Did European settlers loathe the forest?

In 1969, geographer Paul Shepard published a monograph entitled “English reaction to the New Zealand landscape before 1850”, in which he explored the various attitudes of English immigrants towards the indigenous landscape, particularly the forest, in this early settlement period. He review of the written accounts by early settlers and observers found that the most prevalent view of the forest was negative: it was described as “dreary”, “dismal”, “gloomy”, and seen as the antithesis of civilization and morality.

Since then, a number of historians and historical geographers have explored this question further, including Jock Phillips in his 1981 paper “Fear and loathing of the New Zealand landscape”, and Paul Star in his 2003 article “New Zealand environmental history: a question of attitudes”. Continue reading