Knowing our history is an important foundation to forging a better future, environmental historian Dr Catherine Knight says.

It is important in terms of our environment and socioeconomic wellbeing.

Dr Knight spoke on the topic New Zealand's Rivers: Can We Learn from History in the Palmerston North library last month.

In 2017 New Zealanders throughout the country were concerned at how the country's rivers had degraded.


Fresh water was a key election issue and the incoming government made some big policy promises.

Those promises were to restore our rivers and lakes to a truly swimmable state within a generation, help farmers and other owners of waterways with fencing and riparian planting through the Ready for Work programme, and to give regional councils the resources to clean up their waterways through a water royalty.

Dr Knight's talk provided context from her book — New Zealand's Rivers: An Environmental History, which explores some complex, and often conflicted history with rivers since humans first settled in Aotearoa New Zealand.

New Zealand's Rivers was long-listed for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2017 and was selected as one of the Listener's best books for 2016.

The New Zealand Herald said it was "a thought-provoking and important book".

University of Otago Professor Tom Brooking claimed it was "an important book that should be read by all New Zealanders interested in the future of the country".

New Zealand Maori Council chair Sir Taihakurei Durie said it "informs a New Zealand response to a world concern for the natural freshwater environs: what they were, are now and how they should be for our successors".

Her previous book, Ravaged Beauty: An Environmental History of the Manawatu won the JM Sherrard award for excellence in regional and local history and Palmerston North's Heritage Trust's inaugural award for the best work of history on the Manawatu.
Her third book, Beyond Manapouri: 50 years of Environmental Politics in New Zealand , was released in May this year.


Dr Knight is a policy and communications consultant who lives with her family on a small farmlet in the Manawatu where they are restoring the totara forest that once thrived on the region's river terraces.