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Jacques Lawinski

Jacques Lawinski

PhD candidate in philosophy and ecology at Université Paris VIII, visiting researcher in Lesvos, Greece. A writer, an activist, and an avid walker, I explore the planet and what it means to relate to nature, finding new, ecological ways of being.

Ngā Uruora, The Groves of Life: Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape
By Geoff Park
Victoria University Publishing Classic Editions, 2018. First published in 1995.

Geoff Park (d. 2009) was a renowned New Zealand ecologist and research scientist who made significant contributions to our understanding of the natural history of the country.


Part travel-recount, part natural history, Park’s literary work weaves in his own explorations of the land we call Aotearoa New Zealand, as he comes to understand the way in which human presence has modified and shaped the landscapes across the country.

In less than 50 years, settlers managed to fell New Zealand’s many forested ecosystems and convert them into sectioned lots to be farmed. Aotearoa would become Britain’s farm – lacking the space for wood production and animal goods, the wood from our ancient forests was shipped off to serve the Motherland. Through the stories of several iconic ecological locations in New Zealand, Park breaks the myth of a ‘clean green New Zealand’ for good.

No longer is it possible to think of ourselves as being an untouched paradise, and no longer can we ignore the history of complete ecological destruction that went hand in hand with the forging of the modern nation that became New Zealand. This book is a great example of how colonisation and ecological destruction were, and still are, intimately linked. The same mindset, of domination, separation, and construction, continue today under the guise of economic development.

We also learn that nature is not a blank slate, nor is it something that was just constructed by itself – the natural world is intimately historical, and this historical dimension is what Park brings to the fore. Even pre-colonisation, New Zealand’s landscape wasn’t completely untouched by Māori settlement. Rather, iwi throughout the country knew how to work with the landscape in order to cultivate food sources, situating their settlements close to the frontiers of river, forest, and plain.

I like to think of this book as the ‘ecological bible’ of Aotearoa New Zealand. In order to understand how New Zealand was built, and why the land is the way it is, one must read Park’s work. Not only does he cover our natural history, but he also discusses the disenfranchisement of Māori as they slowly lost their lands, and with it, their food and life sources: the most important parts of their culture.  

Another interesting aspect of Park’s writings are his reflections on the conservation movements, beginning with scenic reserves of land left alone at the beginnings of colonisation, to the current National Parks. He encourages us to reflect on why we are protecting parcels of land, what they mean to us, and just what we are protecting by not allowing development in these areas.

Park’s reverence for the natural world and his never-ending wonder shine through in the book. It’s not a difficult read, either, which makes the work accessible to all those interested in learning more about their country. If there’s one book about New Zealand that you read this year, make sure it’s this one.

Ngā Uruora is available at Te Herenga Waka Press here, or check out your local bookshop to see if they have it in stock or can order it for you. 

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Our environment is more than a resource to be exploited. Human beings are not the ‘masters of nature,’ and cannot think they are managers of everything around them. Plurality is about finding a wealth of ideas to help us cope with the ecological crisis which we have to confront now, and in the coming decades. We all need to understand what is at stake, and create new ways of being in the world, new dreams for ourselves, that recognise this uncertain future.

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