Tree lovers, seed savers and sponge cities

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections’ have significant holdings on the topics of environmental action, conservation, and natural history. On show now on level 2 of the Central City Library | Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero, till Monday 30 October, is the wonderful display: 'Tree lovers, seed savers and sponge cities'. In this display we focus on the manuscript, or archive collections, and supplement these with items from our ephemera, photograph, and oral history collections. This blog post highlights some of the material and information from the display.

Manuscript collections take the form of physical or digital documents (or a mix of both) and can include material like scrapbooks, diaries, letters, and minute books. They can also contain photographs, ephemera, audio visual material and other taonga. Collections can range in size from the small - Richard Davis’s two meteorological diaries, to the medium sized - the seven boxes in the Tahuna Torea Rangers archive, to the very large - the 98 linear metres of material held in the Greenpeace NZ Auckland branch’s collection.

Manuscript collections are important sources of original information as they capture the writing, events, people, or organisations at a certain point in time. 

Image: Page from a diary showing snowfall around Waimate North mission station, see entries for 30 July 1849 and 31 July 1849. From: Richard Davis. Register of thermometer and barometer, April 1849 [to 20 September 1851]. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 14.

The journals of Richard Davis (1790-1863), a young farmer and lay preacher from Dorset, who lived at the Church Missionary Society’s station at Waimate North, inland from Paihia, have been identified as the earliest continuous land-based weather records currently known in New Zealand. The journals are inscribed on the Aotearoa New Zealand UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The two weather journals cover the time periods 1839-1844 and 1849-1851. Davis recorded temperature and barometric pressure and described cloud cover, wind speed and extreme weather, including heavy frosts and a snowfall that persisted for two days on the hills around the Waimate North mission station. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) use data from Richard Davis’s weather observations for scientific research. The ‘20th Century Reanalysis Project’ aims to reconstruct six-hourly snapshots of the weather conditions across the globe for use in future weather predictions.

Image: Arthur Pycroft. A clutch of bird's eggs laid on a beach, Tūturiwhatu (New Zealand dotterel), 1920-1930. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1265-PY120.

Arthur Pycroft (1875-1971) was a New Zealand-based amateur collector, naturalist, scholar, conservationist, and historian. Pycroft had a particular interest in photographing birds and plants and organised expeditions to coastal areas and islands off the coast of the North Island. In the summer of 1903-1904, he spent nearly six weeks on Taranga (Hen Island), the first of several visits. He also visited Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier) in 1928 and the Kermadecs with Guthrie Smith in 1929.

Pycroft was a member of the Auckland Institute at Auckland Museum for seventy-five years and held the office of president for a year in 1935. He was married to Minna Pycroft, a recognised ornithological and botanical artist. Pycroft’s collection held by Auckland Libraries includes approximately thirty boxes of quarter plate and one box of half plate glass negatives.

Image: Part of a speech about municipal composting. From: Dove-Myer Robinson, Papers, 1930 – 1986, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 822.

Sir Dove-Myer Robinson (1901-1989) had a wide range of interests relating to nutrition, diet, soil fertility, sewerage purification, health, environmental protection, rapid transport, fluoridation, and a nuclear free New Zealand. One of Tāmaki Makaurau’s most well-loved and energetic local politicians, he served as Mayor of Auckland in 1959-1965 and 1968-1980.

In 1946, as president of the Auckland and Suburban Drainage League, Robinson and his campaigners waged a long and ultimately successful campaign to ensure that the Motukorea (Browns Island) sewerage scheme was abandoned. The Motukorea (Browns Island) sewerage scheme would have pumped raw sewage off the island into Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. As Mayor, he sought the latest technology with the building of the Manukau Sewage Purification Works. In the 1960s, he proposed a coordinated bus and rapid electric rail plan for the Auckland region with rail from south and west and from the North Shore via an underground harbour tunnel to an underground subway. New lines were planned for eastern areas, from Māngere to the airport, and in the central suburbs.

Image: Conservation Week 1974 poster. Ephemera Collection, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. Reproduced with permission from the Friedensreich Hundertwasser Art Centre.

The Department of Conservation website notes the scouting movement in Aotearoa launched a public education campaign about conservation at the 1969 Scout Jamboree in Kaiapoi. The first Conservation Week soon followed with the goal to promote greater interest in the environment and encourage people to take practical actions to look after it.

Hon. Duncan MacIntyre, the Minister of Forests and Minister of Lands, decided that there should be an annual Conservation Week. From 1970, the Nature Conservation Council was responsible for the campaign. This was an advisory group administered by the Lands and Survey Department to advise on scientific and technical matters relating to environmental conservation. The Department of Conservation took over the running of Conservation Week in 1987.

Image: Greenpeace Warrior poster, World Park Antarctica over winter team, 1991.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 1000.

Greenpeace New Zealand’s aims are based on an old Quaker tradition – to bear witness. A core element of the organisation’s work involves the act of travelling to the scene of environmental destruction. This serves two purposes; members register their opposition, and the organisation can show the world what is happening first-hand.

The Greenpeace Foundation of New Zealand was established in 1974. It is an autonomous organisation, affiliated with Greenpeace International. Greenpeace New Zealand’s campaigns, fundraising and administration align with the framework and policies agreed by the global organisation.

In November 1979, members of Greenpeace New Zealand attended the first Greenpeace international council meeting. David McTaggart, a powerful advocate for Aotearoa, pushed for issues relating to nuclear testing. Campaigns opposing nuclear testing and whaling dominated Greenpeace New Zealand’s work throughout the 1970s. The organisation and its supporter base expanded rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s.

Image: Coromandel calling poster, Peninsula Watchdog. A reproduction by NZ Printing Co. after an original hand coloured woodcut by Nigel Brown, 1989. From: Friends of the Earth, Papers, 1972-2002. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS-1353.

Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) is one of the world’s largest grassroots environmental movements. The organisation consists of member groups and local activist groups on every continent across the world.

Friends of the Earth New Zealand (FOENZ) was formed in 1975 and operated as a nationwide volunteer organisation. The group joined FOE International in 1983, making it one of the earliest members to do so. The organisation was well-known throughout Aotearoa as a watchdog environmental group. The FOENZ collection held by Auckland Libraries contains the activities of the organisation including material on the following areas of interest: rainforests and forests in Aotearoa, mining, hazardous waste, energy production, waste management, packaging and recycling, agricultural chemicals, Antarctica, marine mammals, aluminium, Pacific networks, and health.

Image: School students from Tamaki College assist with weed clearing at Tahuna Torea Reserve, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Tahuna Torea Reserve Rangers, NZMS 4037.

Tahuna Torea (the sandbank of the oyster catcher) has a strategic position at the mouth of the Tāmaki River. For Māori, it held an important defensive role, it was part of seasonal trade routes, it was well-known as a fishing spot and for its fertile soils. To the south, along the river, prosperous villages and gardens were overlooked by two large pā. 

From 1972 to 2007 the Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve Rangers’ Committee worked to establish a 25 hectare reserve to save the area from becoming a rubbish tip. The project developed further with collaboration between local iwi, Auckland Council, and community volunteers. The reserve is a swampland and estuarine environment which is home to a wide range of wetland and migratory birds, fish species, shellfish, insects, native vegetation, and fungi.

Image: H.L. Wakelin, Kōwhai, 1966. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 904-0732.

From 2018 to 2019, Shelley Chignell, a landscape designer, writer, and editor, interviewed three men (Geoff Davidson, Graeme Platt and Rhys Gardner) who are dedicated to collecting the seeds and preserving the native plants of Aotearoa. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections holds these oral history recordings. Learn more and listen to excerpts from the interviews on Kura Heritage Collections Online. 

Image: Green City poster, Auckland Regional Authority, 1980s, Ephemera Collection,
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website notes that the term “sponge cities” is used to describe urban areas with abundant natural areas such as trees, lakes and parks, or other good design intended to absorb rain and prevent flooding.

Interest in harnessing nature or using nature-based solutions to tackle climate shocks has grown in popularity in recent years. Sponge cities hold more water in rivers, greenery, and soil instead of losing it to evaporation, meaning they are more resilient to drought. Early research indicates that natural ways to absorb urban water are about fifty percent more affordable than man-made solutions and are twenty-eight percent more effective. 

Image: I only drain rain poster, Auckland Regional Council, date unknown, Ephemera Collection, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Ephemera is a term for printed material originally intended to have a limited lifespan. It includes posters, programmes, invitations, tickets, postcards, pamphlets, and flyers, with details about specific issues, activities, events, products, and services. The examples of ephemera in the 'Seed savers...' display are from our Ephemera Collection, part of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

This blog post highlights a sample of the collections held at the Central City Library relating to environmental action, conservation, and natural history. We also hold other manuscript collections relating to these subjects, including the records of the Auckland branch of the Forest and Bird Society and the Environmental Defence Society, Project Jonah, and the Water Protection Society.

There are also collections on similar topics held at our regional archives, such as the Manukau Harbour Protection Society, Project Twin Streams held at Research South, and the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society Project collection, at Research West. Find out more about Auckland Libraries research services here.

Come along to level 2 of the Central City Library | Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero, till Monday 30 October, to have a look in person at the 'Tree lovers, seed savers and sponge cities' display.

Author: Sharon Smith, Senior Librarian Community Archives, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections