Latest ENNZ, vol. 6, no. 2

  In this issue, Paul Star challenges historians to think about the role of private settlers in environmental change, putting forward the concept of ‘biota barons’ to describe those settlers whose actions resulted in significant ecological changes in nineteenth-century New Zealand. Joanna Bishop outlines a fascinating new topic – the role of medicinal plants in New Zealand – and asks readers for their help in tracking down new sources. Charles Dawson – presently in South America with his family – overviews an important new book on Māori attitudes to the natural world, that is also, as he puts it, ‘a handbook for aspiring kaitiaki’. Finally, Julian Kuzma reviews a delightful new book by Alex Calder which re-examines the relationship between Pākehā literature and the environment. View it online or download a PDF. This is the last edition of Environment and Nature in New Zealand under the editorship of James...

Editorial Introduction

James Beattie Environment was strongly represented at the recently-held Past Tensions, New Zealand Historical Association Conference, hosted by the History Programme, University of Waikato from 16 to 18 November 2011. Six streams – and no fewer than 20 papers out of 98 – addressed environmentally-related themes. That represents over 20% of all papers! And, I think it’s a fair indication of the growing importance of studies on the environment. Since the journal began some 6 years ago, environmental studies in the humanities has gone from strength to strength. Environmental history papers are being offered at the universities of Otago, Victoria, and Waikato, with garden history also being taught at the last institution. A website is available (http://envirohistorynz.wordpress.com/) which brings together writing on the environment. As I write, a new environmental history organisation is in the process of forming from the Australian Forest History Society. A new peer-reviewed Australasian journal of environmental history will also be published from ANU E-Press (more details will be forthcoming). While these developments are impressive, there is still room for more to be done. The New Zealand Journal of History carries very few studies on environmental history. The University of Auckland, which of the institutions not to offer environmental history, has the most capacity to do so (being the second-largest history department after the Waitangi Tribunal), has great potential to carry on the mantle of Kenneth Cumberland. Beyond the stuffy rooms of the ivory tower, issues about environment are increasingly to the fore in the public domain. The Rena disaster has focussed attention on government monitoring of ships and the preparedness of the government to...

New Zealand’s Biota Barons

New Zealand’s Biota Barons: Ecological Transformation In Colonial New Zealand[1] Paul Star[2] What trees and birds does a New Zealander most often see?  Of trees, maybe manuka and kowhai, but more likely poplar and gum. Of birds, maybe tui and piwakawaka (fantail), but more likely starling and blackbird. New Zealand’s landscapes, particularly on the eastern side, have been utterly transformed, with the removal of many indigenous species and their replacement by exotic biota. The process of change has largely been a deliberate one, and it took place most notably in the second half of the nineteenth century. This paper considers people who were instrumental in bringing about this change. More specifically, it heralds Henry Matthews and Richard Bills as ‘biota barons’. Biota Barons We have become used to the word ‘baron’ being applied not just to someone of a certain rank in the nobility, but to others who are ‘powerful or influential’, or ‘great merchant(s) in a specified commodity’. The Concise Oxford Dictionary comes up with the phrase ‘beer baron’ to exemplify this, though Australians might be more likely to think first of ‘press barons’ like Murdoch, Fairfax and Packer. I propose the phrase, ‘biota barons’, to describe those who were influential in the business of shifting biota from place to place. ‘Biota’, as defined by the Dictionary, is the ‘animal and plant life of a region’. Nineteenth century New Zealand settlers were not only active in altering the make-up of their biota by bringing in new species, but also thorough in recording the process. When it came out, there was nothing else quite like G.M. Thomson’s 600-page volume on...

Request: Medicinal Plants In New Zealand, 1850s-1920s

Medicinal Plants In New Zealand, 1850s-1920s Joanna Bishop[1] The history of medicinal plants is a subject that often prompts recollections of favoured or loathed family remedies, handed down through generations and representative of a relative’s resourcefulness or frugality. While contemporary debates divide the population into advocates or opponents of traditional therapies, the historical use of medicinal plants continues to evoke feelings of nostalgia and pride in our pioneering past. People who have explored New Zealand’s medical history could be forgiven for thinking that settlers relied predominantly on inorganic medicines and a relatively large number of colonial doctors to maintain their health and the health of others. New Zealand’s current medical historiography is dominated by histories of institutions, the development of public health practices and the professionalisation of medicine. Medicinal plants have been largely overlooked by both social and medical historians as well as environmental historians who examine nineteenth-century plant exchange and transfer. My Ph.D. thesis entitled, ‘A History of Medicinal Plant Use in New Zealand’s Professional and Non-Professional Settler Medical Culture, 1850s-1920s’, will explore the introduction, propagation and use of medicinal plants in New Zealand. It will challenge the distinction between public health practices and domestic or alternative medicine in nineteenth and early twentieth century New Zealand and will contribute to current environmental historical scholarship relating to the role of botanical gardens and the local and international movement of plants. Environmental and garden historians have identified numerous reasons for the rapid introduction of plants and animals by New Zealand’s settlers, including the desire to create a sense a familiarity by importing known species. More recently the pursuit of health...

Review: Māori and the Environment

REVIEW: Māori and the Environment: Kaitiaki. Edited by Rachael Selby, Pātaka Moore and Malcolm Mulholland, Huia Publishers, 2010, 372 pp., ISBN: 978-1-86969-402-9.[1] Charles Dawson[2] The nineteen essays in this book are a compelling combination of outrage, inspiration, and positive action. While the authors attend to resource management policy and practice, the book goes to the heart of Māori culture and tradition: as many of the authors note, without contact with the remnant bush and birds, and the transmission of knowledge, Māori risk losing connection with the places that foster tribal identity. Dozens of books and reports (most recently the Waitangi Tribunal´s Wai 262 report) have warned of the effects of biodiversity loss on culture. This book gives the nation no room for complacency in this regard, reiterating Darrell Posey´s explication of the inextricably linked worlds of indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. The book contains three sections: the concept and practice of kaitiaki, freshwater issues, and the heritage and the protection context. The introduction describes kaitiakitanga as ‘an inherent obligation we have to our tūpuna and to our mokopuna; an obligation to safeguard and care for our environment for future generations. It is a link between the past and the future, the old and the new, between the taonga of the natural environment and tangata whenua.’ Each essay consolidates this link between past and future. Judging from the calibre of the essays  and the authors’ sound grasp of their iwi concerns and traditions and the world of policy-making and resource management, the bicultural reality of local environments will endure. The writers represent the new generation and are impressive, articulate and determined...