Life changes

tree houseAbout three weeks ago my family and I made a very big life change. We moved from comfortable, convenient, leafy suburbia on the Kapiti Coast to a 7-acre block of land in rural Manawatu. This involved moving ourselves out of our 213 m2 4-bedroom, double-garaged home into a garage-less house of exactly half that size.

There is a very good reason for us doing this: it wasn’t the plan.

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Did you know moreporks mewed?

baby morepork.jpegI woke up with the rain gurgling down the guttering at 5:30am this morning, made myself my customary morning coffee and sat down to do some work before the morning’s quiet was broken by the duvet-bearing preschooler sharing her first thoughts of the day with me. As I typed, my muted keyboard percussion was accompanied by a “mew mew mew” sound* from the lanky poplars that line our top paddock.

This curious mewing is the less well known call of the morepork (ruru) – the onomatopoeic “more-pork” call being the one we associate with them. (In fact, until only a week or so back I had no idea what creature this mystery call belonged to.) I am not sure what the mewing call means. I suppose, just like humans, owls would get bored with just saying the same thing over and over again (as a mother of young children, I can empathise completely), so perhaps it is just for variety – who knows? (Perhaps someone does – if so, please be in touch.)

 In any case, as far as morning calls go, I think this is up there with the best.

*You can listen here (on the excellent NZbirdsonline site) to the various morepork calls.

Image: Newly fledged young. Wellington, January 2009. Image © Peter Reese by Peter Reese

[Originally published on http://www.catherineknight.nz, 29 April 2017]

Why write about rivers?

Since New Zealand’s Rivers has been released, I have had a number of opportunities to talk to journalists and others about the book and how I came to write it. So, I thought I would document these questions and my answers in a series of posts.

One of the first questions that I have been asked is ‘What led you to write a book about rivers?’

To answer this properly, I have to go back to the motivations behind my first book, Ravaged Beauty: An Environmental History of the Manawatu. The genesis of this book stemmed from a desire to better understand the place in which I grew up, one of the most transformed landscapes in New Zealand. As such it was very much an endeavour of the heart – though this sounds a bit cliched, it was genuinely a journey of discovery for me – uncovering the layers of a landscape that had been so familiar to me, yet so unknown. But of course this book only had a limited audience because of its focus on the Manawatu – a region dismissed by many (including prospective publishers) as ‘boring’.

So for my next book I wanted to write something that would be rewarding for me as a researcher and writer but also exploring a subject that would meet a need – preferably on a national scale. So I consulted Professor Tom Brooking, one of our leading environmental historians, and he immediately suggested rivers. While there is a range of environmental history scholarship on other parts of our environment: our forests, our coasts, and our towns and cities, there is virtually nothing on rivers and other water bodies. (I should acknowledge too, there is very little about our marine environment either, but I will be leaving that to someone else.) Professor Brooking saw a real need to fill this gap in the environmental history scholarship to better inform the debates around fresh water going on today – debates that are pursued with little reference to the historical context. A notable of course exception being Waitangi Tribunal claims relating to fresh water, which are all about history. But while Maori are painfully aware of their history in relation to their tupuna awa (ancestral rivers), non-Maori New Zealanders seem to be blissfully unaware of their history.

The subject of rivers posed a challenge for me, because apart from knowledge I had gained from my research of the Manawatu, I knew next to nothing about rivers. But knowing nothing was in some senses a strength – it meant I could bring a level of objectivity that someone with a deep-seated passion for rivers (through fishing or kayaking or some other recreational interest for example) might not be able to bring to the subject.

But environmental history is also intensely interesting and thought-provoking (constantly causing us to reassess our understanding of the world) – and therefore has immense value in its own right.

 Photo: View of the Rangitikei River, taken by Maurice, cycling the infamous ‘Gentle Annie’ in 2010 (www.acta.org.nz).

New Zealand’s Rivers launch – 17 November

Only a few days to go now until the official launch of New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history, with award-winning journalist Rebecca Macfie. If you would like to join us, RSVP to universitypress@canterbury.ac.nz, or just come along on the night.

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 www.catherineknight.nz

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 www.catherineknight.nz  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 www.catherineknight.nz 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