Geoff Park

Story by Nicola Caldwell

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2016

Geoff Park

Ecologist, writer and research scientist, Geoff Park, combined his love of the natural world with a lyrical understanding of human relationships, history and spirituality.

His seminal work, Nga Uruora: The Groves of Life (1995), draws on both his knowledge of NZ’s wetland ecosystems and his fascination with human history to tell the story of changing landscapes from Māori settlement to European colonisation.

Park was mindful of the great impact people have had on the environment, calling for greater respect and sustainability in conservation, and taking into account tikanga Māori.

Park grew up in Pinehaven, surrounded by forest on the eastern side of the Hutt Valley. Botany grabbed him at a young age. He went on to gain a Bachelor of Science in Botany and Geology and a Master of Science in Ecology and Soil Sciences here at Victoria University.

Environmental Activism

Here, he formed Victoria University’s Ecology Action Group with his close friend, and emerging ornithologist, Sandy Bartle.

In the late 1960s they had two major political victories.

First they forced the Ministry of Works to alter the route of the Hutt motorway to protect regenerating bush on the Hutt Valley’s western side.

Then they succeeded in preventing the Forest Service’s plans to mill the coastal wetland region that is now Punakaiki National Park, saving the exquisite forest, limestone and Pancake Rocks for posterity.

Career and Writing

Having gained his PhD from the Australian National University, Canberra, in Forest Ecology, Park went on to work as a botanical scientist at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR).

In the 1980s he established and led the New Zealand Biological Resources Centre. Park was awarded the J.D. Stout Fellowship in New Zealand Studies in 1986, and it was during this year of tenure at Victoria that he began research for his first book. Nga Uruora, The Groves of Life: Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape was published in 1995 by Victoria University Press (VUP).

His subsequent publications include New Zealand as Ecosystems: The Ecosystem Concept as a Tool for Environmental Management and Conservation (2000) which he wrote during his time as senior scientist for the Department of Conservation, and Theatre Country: Essays on Landscape and Whenua (2006, VUP) which masterfully brings together such diverse subjects as ecological history, literature, art and environmental management.

Interdisciplinary Legacy

Park’s considerable knowledge and talent were sought as Concept Leader – Papatuanuku at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Park’s concepts of sustainable human-environmental partnerships resonate throughout the exhibits, bringing together science with Māori systems of knowledge.

Geoff Park passed away in 2009. He was a keen outdoorsman, always willing to share his passion for Aotearoa New Zealand's wetland forests, including his beloved kahikatea.

Park’s original and holistic environmental thinking continues to inspire the teaching and research at Victoria and our wider understanding of New Zealand's ecological history.

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