Undoing environmental history (with a spade)

Though my implement of choice for environmental history is the pen (or more accurately, the keyboard), I am known to pick up a spade from time to time. Specifically, to plant native trees on land in the Pohangina Valley, about 40 kilometres north-east of the Manawatu provincial “capital” of Palmerston North [click here to view location].

When I do so, I am deeply conscious of the fact that I am undoing the toil of hardworking men who “broke the land in” only a century ago, transforming the Manawatu – at the time described in a government advertisement as “the waste land of the Colony” – into productive farmland. Continue reading

The city of hidden lagoons: Palmerston (of the north)

I came across this photo on the Manawatu Memory Online site the other day, while looking for an image of early Manawatu history. I was immediately captivated by the image. It is the 1881 photograph of the now long-gone Awapuni Lagoon, located in what is now the south-western corner of Palmerston North city, about where the Awapuni racecourse is today [click here to view map]. Continue reading

Scandinavians, earthquakes & whales: top 5 posts of first quarter of 2011

At envirohistory NZ, we like to review the most popular posts of each quarter (though sometimes – such as on this occasion – a little late). The top five posts of the first quarter of 2011 covered a wide breadth of topics, from the the environmental histories which contributed to the devastating consequences of the seismic disasters of Christchurch and Japan; an urban wetland; a history of whaling in New Zealand; and the Scandanavian settlers of the Manawatu. Here are the topics in order of hits:

1. The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

2. Waitangi Park – an urban wetland recreated

3. Christchurch: a city haunted by its environmental past? Continue reading

Forest clearance in 1880s New Zealand – the views of Mrs Robert Wilson

In 1962, A.G.S. Bradfield published “The Precious Years”, a sequel to his earlier book “Forgotten Days”; both books recounting stories of the “pioneering days of Palmerston North and Districts in the Manawatu”. These are charming little books, in which Bradfield draws on first-hand memories of older Manawatu residents, giving it an authenticity and poignancy that would not be achievable today, nearly half a century on. Continue reading

Need a job done? See new “Services” page

A new Services page outlines the services that are now on offer by Catherine Knight, the convener and primary contributor to the envirohistory NZ website. These services include: research, policy and analysis, writing, editing, proofreading and Q&A. Catherine is also able to offer expert Japanese to English translations! See the Services page for more details of services and to view Catherine’s portfolio.

From cesspits to sewers: a tale of wastewater treatment

The post on the history of pollution in the Manawatu River has been one of the most popular posts on this website. This post adds to that story with a history of Palmerston North’s sometimes beleaguered sewerage system.

In the 1870s, the early years of the township, there was no sewage network. Instead, households had “long-drops”, while hotels and boarding houses built cesspits to bury “nightsoil”. By 1877, the odour from these was becoming unbearable in some locations, and in 1879, the borough council prohibited the digging of open cesspits, instead creating a ten acre “sanitary reserve” for the burial of nightsoil and household refuse.

Continue reading

The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

In 1870, Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel introduced a public works and immigration scheme, under which suitable immigrants would be settled along the projected lines of the road and railway. The idea was that the construction work for this infrastructure would support the settlers until they could develop farms on the blocks of land allotted to them.

At this time, the Manawatu and western Hawkes Bay was still largely undeveloped, in most part covered in dense impenetrable forest. For these areas, Vogel was keen to recruit settlers from Scandinavia, who were reputed for their skill as foresters and axemen. It also appears that he may have also been influenced by an early, and rather illustrious settler in the Manawatu – Ditlev Gothard Monrad, former premier of Denmark. Monrad had immigrated to New Zealand, along with his family, in 1866, in a kind of self-imposed exile. Clearly not afraid of hard work, he found a small clearing on the banks of the Manawatu River, in Karere (near Longburn) and, using timber from the surrounding thick forest, built a home and then went on to develop a farm. Continue reading