Environmental history and social justice – is there a link? The case of Nauru

nauru islandHuman rights abuses in Nauru are currently under scrutiny by the United Nations and other organisations. We in New Zealand have also expressed our concerns – and with good reason.

But it makes me wonder, how much responsibility does New Zealand have to share in what is, without question, an unacceptable situation? We were responsible for systematically abusing Nauru’s environment for decades, leaving it in ruins. Indeed, without Nauru’s phosphate resources, it is questionable that the ‘pastoral revolution’ in New Zealand, on which our economy depends, would have even been possible. Continue reading

When is a river a drain?

Brunner Mine on Grey River

View of the coalmining town of Brunner, by the Grey River, showing the bridge and the mine. Coal ready for transport by rail can be seen just below the photographer. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-o-498-36.

Some may argue that too often rivers are treated like drains even today, but a century and a half ago, rivers were drains under this country’s law.

Under the Public Works Act 1876,  “drain” was defined to include both artificial channels and “every natural watercourse, stream, and river not navigable” (s. 165). Under the Mines Act, certain rivers could be proclaimed “sludge channels”, as was the case with the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers in Waikato. Continue reading

A West Coast odyssey

To call it an “odyssey” is, without question, embellishing slightly, given that it was less than a day. But today, I had the great privilege to travel to the West Coast (Hokitika and Greymouth) for work reasons, and although our time there was regrettably brief, I relished every moment of this beautiful, complex and historically rich landscape. [Photo above: A solitary kahikatea standing by the roadside just before the entrance to the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve (click here to view approximate location).] Continue reading

Top posts for the quarter

A little late, but hopefully none the worse for it, here are the top five posts for the second quarter of 2010. Two of this quarter’s top 5 were also in the top 5 in the first quarter: Our favourite Californian – the history of the Radiata Pine forestry in NZ came in at number 1 last quarter, while Manawatu River – pollution concerns date back to 1890 came in at number 2. However, this quarter, they have been upstaged by the history of mining story Continue reading

The eternal dilemma – development versus preservation

This is the dilemma highlighted in the Economist’s March 23 article “It’s not easy seeming green“, which exposes the ever-widening divide between New Zealand’s projected image of “clean and green” or “100% pure”, and the reality – of a nation, which like any other, is perpetually struggling to find the balance between economic development and preservation of our precious natural heritage. This fissure between projected image and reality has for many become a gaping chasm since the government’s announcement that it is considering opening up high-value conservation land for mining exploration. Continue reading