New book: New Zealand’s Rivers

Rivers coverRelease in November 2016

From cover: New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history explores the relationship between New Zealanders and our rivers, explaining how we have arrived at a crisis point, where fresh water has become our most contested resource and many rivers are too polluted to swim in.

Environmental historian Catherine Knight reveals that the tension between exploitation and enjoyment of rivers is not new. Rivers were treasured by Māori as food baskets and revered as the dwelling places of supernatural creatures. But following European settlement, they became drains for mining, industrial waste and sewage, and harnessed to generate power and to irrigate farmland. Over time, the dominant utilitarian view of rivers has been increasingly questioned by those who value rivers for fishing and canoeing as well as for ecological, spiritual and cultural reasons. Today, the sustainable use of rivers is the subject of hotly contested debate.

Thoroughly researched and richly illustrated, New Zealand’s Rivers is an accessible and compelling read for all New Zealanders, including anglers, kayakers, farmers, environmental practitioners, policy-makers, students and anyone with an interest in our environment and history.

‘… an important book that should be read by all New Zealanders interested in the future of the country …’ Professor Tom Brooking, University of Otago

‘… informs a New Zealand response to a world concern for the natural freshwater environs: what they were, are now and how they should be for our successors.’ Sir Taihakurei Durie, Chair, New Zealand Maori Council

Download New Zealand’s Rivers order form

For more information about the author, go to

envirohistory NZ lives on! (but somewhere else)

frogSome envirohistory NZ followers may have noticed I haven’t written a post for an awfully long time. Ironically, that is because I have been too busy writing – my second book, which is due to be released later this year. The book is an environmental history of rivers in New Zealand, and should prove very topical, given the lively debates around fresh water and its management in our country. (More information on the book coming soon.)

I will also continue to blog about environmental history, among other things, but on my new website  My new website will also link to envirohistory NZ, so all past blogs will still be accessible. I will also be reblogging some of my old posts on the blog.

So, this is not goodbye, it is see you soon (I hope)!

Ravaged Beauty receives award

coverOn Wednesday night, I received an award from the Palmerston North Heritage Trust for my book Ravaged Beauty: an environmental history of the Manawatu.

From the Heritage Trust’s media release:

“Environmental historian Catherine Knight has won the Palmerston North Heritage Trust’s inaugural award for the best work of history relating to the Manawatu. Ravaged Beauty: An Environmental History of the Manawatu was described by co-judge Jill White as an outstanding winner from the 2013-14 publications considered. Continue reading

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

Scandinavian axemen, Maori gardening and forgotten streams of Christchurch

Young Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa. Shows her standing alongside a vegetable garden and a whare. Photograph taken in the 1880s by the Burton Brothers.

Young Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa, near Lake Tarawera, Bay of Plenty. Shows her standing alongside a vegetable garden and a whare. Photograph taken in the 1880s by the Burton Brothers. Alexander Turnbull Library ref. 1/2-004619-F.

In anticipation of my talk on Friday, I thought I would gain some insights into envirohistory NZ’s most popular posts. Fittingly, given that my talk is in the Manawatu, the most popular post (by far) has been The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu.

The next most popular posts have been Maori gardening in pre-European NZ and Earthquake reveals the forgotten streams of Christchurch.

Perhaps you might want to check them out.

Brunner coal mine – holiday destination?

Brunner coalmining town

View of the coalmining town of Brunner, showing the bridge and the mine. Ref: PA1-o-498-36. Alexander Turnbull Library.

This is a photo of the mining settlement of Brunner, perched on the side of the Grey River, on the West Coast of the South Island. The photo is interesting in itself. The mine can be seen in the middle ground, with houses on the deforested flanks of the hills behind the mine. Coal ready for transport by rail can be seen in the foreground. Tailings can also be seen spilling into the river. Continue reading

Possums “doing good in the bush”


The opossum. A ground berry-eater, that helps build fences!

In a similar vein to my previous post about the little German owl, I found another insightful gem about possums, from the official report of the 15th national conference of acclimatisation societies in 1926:

“The Government had appointed Professor Kirk to inquire into opossums and the Forestry Department had also appointed an independent man. Both had come to the conclusion, namely, that opossums did no damage to Native trees. [The President] knew himself that the boards looking after certain scenic reserves had been able to obtain quite a large revenue from the opossums,* and had been thus able to fence the reserves, so that in that way the opossums were doing good in the bush.” Continue reading