Maori relied on them for sustenance.
The Europeans saw them as ‘glorified drains’.
Most New Zealand cities were built with their backs to the rivers.
Christchurch was an exception – built around the Avon River – one of the few rivers the settlers respected because it ‘accorded with the European sense of picturesque’ Knight writes.
Rivers had been outsiders from the beginning.
They became open sewers – industry turned them into sludge channels.
Early gold miners even poured cyanide into rivers because it made it easier to pull gold from the rocks.
The practice destroyed fisheries used by iwi and made the water too poisonous for stock to drink.
‘Since colonial times our tendency has been to look at rivers and streams as glorified drains’ Knight says.
The idea that rivers are machines – tools for economic development – continues to this day.
Bickering over which industry gets to use of them began with gold miners and transferred to farming.
But that is slowly changing Knight says.
Minority voices are having a say and cities are turning toward the rivers they once shunned.