Over lunch today I had a really interesting conversation about environmental history and why it’s a Good Thing to know about. Much of the discussion was around the environmental history of Palmerston North, where I lived for about 22 years, first as a student at Massey University & subsequently as a teacher (first in various secondary schools before returning to Massey on the other side of the lectern). Palmy can certainly be a soggy place** – but I suspect very few residents know that until relatively recently it was a place of lagoons & wetlands. One such site was the Awapuni lagoon, in the area now occupied by Palmerston North racecourse – I used to walk through there all the time with my previous dog Bella (who used to loooove puddling around in the Mangaone stream). While it’s now simply a low-lying area (prone to pooling quickly in prolonged downpours), in the not-so-distant past the lagoon was a significant food source for the local iwi, who had a small village there.
But this history doesn’t have to be hidden, & in fact you could argue that it’s really important for school students to learn about it. After all, how can you really make sense of your current environment, except in the context of what went before. One person who’s actively telling these stories of our past environment is Dr Catherine Knight, who writes the blog envirohistory NZ (& who sat across the table from me at lunch). She’s created a veritable goldmine of stories about our past, relevant to students of history, geography, social studies… it’s not just biology students who could benefit from it. Pop over & have a look :-)
**I can still remember the flooding that occurred back in 1988, Cyclone Bola hit New Zealand. We were living in Rongopai Street at the time, 2 doors down from the Mangaone. There’d been some dumping of hedge-clippings, by someone who lived further upstream, & when the stream rose rapidly under the constant heavy rain, said clippings blocked the culvert & the water spread rapidly across neighbouring sections. Including ours. We’d actually been out to see friends on the other side of town – OK, I’ll admit it, to see the flooded paddocks (dratted sightseers!) - and when we got home our section was awash & there was water flowing through the garage. The house was all right, being on a high pad, but the rabbit had fled his tunnel under the sunporch & taken refuge in the greenhouse, courtesy of the neighbours who opened the door for him. The veges took a while to recover from that little incursion!