A one-day elemental histories symposium, a Centre for Research on Colonial Culture event, was held on 31st October, at the Hocken Collections. ‘Colonial Worlds Elemental Histories’ began with a keynote address from Grace Karskens, Associate Professor, UNSW. Her stories of early settlers (1802-1830s) who farmed the fertile but flood-prone Castlereagh region west of Sydney, revealed dogged determination in the face of repeated devastation. The settlers developed a culture of risk-taking and opportunity that underlay their fatalistic attitude towards the Australian bush.
Professor Tom Brooking’s paper ‘Yeotopia Gained: New Zealand 1840-1914’ explained how by 1914 most farming in New Zealand was carried out by family concerns but on someone else’s land. The changes in land ownership revealed a fracturing of a flawed dream.
‘Elementally United: The Case of Canterbury’s Nor’west Wind’ by Katie Pickles exhorted us to think with our senses. The wind, a dominant force in shaping emotion is both felt and seen in the landscape.
Dr Michael Davis’s paper entitled ‘Entangled Knowledges: Indigenous and Environmental Histories across the Tasman’, featured the botanical explorations and friendships between New Zealander William Colenso, Australian Allan Cunningham and Englishman Joseph Dalton Hooker.
In ‘Getting to Know You: People and Rabbits in Southern New Zealand’, Emeritus Professor Peter Holland presented a collation of information culled from diaries and ledgerbooks of rural farms and stations. Across southern New Zealand rabbit densities varied with swings in weather and climate, and interactions between people and rabbits changed.
By contrast Dr Vaughan Wood examined a single but detailed diary for his paper ‘Mapping the network of a nineteenth century Canterbury farm.’ He was able to plot, trips to the store, post office, friends and relations. Asymmetric patterns of movement across farms were governed by swampy land. These farming men, he concluded were an integral part of community.
After lunch Dr Michael Roche gave us an exposition on ‘The Forest as an Elemental Natural Resource in Colonial New Zealand and the First Failure of Scientific State Forestry, 1874 to 1877.’ These three years saw the introduction of scientific forestry brought by Captain Campbell Walker, who had a career with the Indian Forest Service in Madras and had studied orthodox German practice.
Continuing with the forestry theme Dr André Brett provided us with ‘Forests and Provincial Abolition: Did Conservation Kill the Provinces?’ Forest conservation enjoyed prominent supporters in the political and scientific communities during the provincial era, but it failed to capture the public imagination.
Dr James Beattie’s paper ‘Expanding the Horizons of Chinese Environmental History: Cantonese gold-miners in colonial New Zealand, 1860s-1920s’, used the experiences Chinese working alluvial gold in Otago to explain how their traditional knowledge of water management techniques coupled with hard work and tenacity changed the landscape. One entrepreneurial family Choie Sew Hoy was particularly important in the dredging boom of the 1890s.
PhD Candidate Lucy Mackintosh shared her research on Auckland’s several park-scapes. Her paper ‘Shifting Grounds: Narratives of Identity in Auckland Landscapes’ examined the urban environment with its monuments. ‘Our parks’ she claims ‘so often valued for their natural features, are also rich repositories of stories about the past.’
Continuing the theme of public spaces, Dr Joanna Cobley’s paper ‘The Nineteenth Century Landscape: economics, heritage and national identity’ looked at the heritage site of Tongariro National Park. Gifted to the nation in 1887 this first National Park is still viewed within the frameworks of useful and beautiful.
In the final paper of the day Eric Pawson ‘Writing environmental history’ asked the delegates for their input on an article he was finishing for the International Encyclopedia of Geography.
At a small function also held at the Hocken the book James Beattie and Matthew Henry launched their book Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand, by James Beattie, Matthew Henry and Emily O’Gorman (eds). Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2014. Emily O’Gorman was unable to attend the function.
Thanks to Rosi Crane for supplying this report.