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Environment and History

Vandalising Aratiatia and Beautifying Benmore: A Tale of Two Landscapes

Joanne Kathrine Whittle

Environment and History 25 (2019): 55-86. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15137949592089

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The paper contrasts public responses to landscape change associated with the construction of two hydro-electric power stations in New Zealand during the 1950s and 1960s: at Aratiatia Rapids, a scenic tourist attraction on the Waikato River in the North Island; and at Benmore among the remote South Island tussock high country. The tale of these two landscapes shows that two similar developments were received very differently by the public depending on their locations. There was widespread opposition to what was conceived of as the destruction of valuable scenery at Aratiatia but, in direct contrast, development at Benmore was viewed largely positively, as the transformation of barren land into picturesque scenery. Contrasting the public reception of contiguous developments in different places highlights the fact that attitudes towards technology and the environment are contingent on place as well as time and shows that, in mid-twentieth century New Zealand, responses toward hydro-electric development developed in relation to the idiosyncrasies of specific projects. This paper also demonstrates that communities were not just passive consumers of electricity, but were actively engaged in the interpretation and formation of these landscapes. Their ideas about the appropriate locations for, and appearance of, electric power generation had considerable impacts on the way both these places look today.

KEYWORDS: Landscape, hydro-electricity, technology, environmental, history, scenery, New Zealand

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