August 8th has special significance for the Dunedin Amenities Society as it was the official national day of Arbor Day established by our co-founder Alexander Bathgate in 1892. Bathgate believed that in creating Arbor Day New Zealand would create future generations of people who would care about their environment, he wrote “a well-grown tree is an object of beauty, and children would become all the better men and women if they had an eye for the beautiful in nature.” The Society have continued on in that vein with its Project Gold collaboration with the Department of Conservation over the last three years. This year staff and pupils from the Carisbrook School planted around 180 native trees including the beautiful golden Kowhai at Sidey Park in Caversham. It was a pleasure to work with the pupils and to see their hard work in completing the planting on a special day for the Society. Alexander Bathgate would certainly have approved.
Launch of the Alexander Bathgate Arbor Day Awards
After devastating winds earlier this year destroyed many significant trees in Woodhaugh Gardens the Dunedin Amenities Society, with the assistance of Les Cleveland, has donated $3,000 of native plants to help the Dunedin City Council restore the reserve which suffered extensive damage to its forest canopy from the gale force winds in May. The clean-up from that damage is on-going.The Society will hold a public planting day at Woodhaugh at 10:00 am on 23 July and members of the public are welcome to help plant trees on the reserve. Society member Les Cleveland, who provided the plants for the reserve, will also be leading a group of international volunteers from Rotary who have come from all corners of the globe.
The planting is also the beginning of a new initiative for the Dunedin Amenities Society who will be announcing the Alexander Bathgate Arbor Day Awards in August this year. The annual awards will provide funding for Dunedin schools to plant trees in their grounds or in a project in their community. The Society hopes to use the awards to stimulate interest by schools and communities in the enhancement of the local landscape and environment. The awards will also be an opportunity to honour one of its most influential founders, Alexander Bathgate, who co-founded the Society in 1888.
The earliest celebration of Arbor Day in New Zealand was held in Greytown in the Wairarapa in 1890. Similar events were held in other regions around the country and Bathgate was instrumental in calling for Arbor Day to be a national day in 1891. He had been heavily influenced by the foundation of Arbor day in the United States in Nebraska in 1872 and was probably aware of the creation of Arbor Day in Australia in 1889.
Bathgate’s vision of Arbor Day was complex, he strongly believed in the development of altruism for the benefits of future generations, but he also saw the development of an environmental ethic as a path to a national identity for New Zealanders. He wanted people to learn patience and tolerance from their protection of the environment. In his 1892 “Plea for Arbor Day” he wrote;
“We are perhaps as a people in too great a hurry and too anxious to see immediate results from anything we undertake, and as the majority of those who plant trees can only enjoy the full fruits of their labours in imagination, the adoption of Arbor Day might teach us and future generations lessons of patience and hopefulness which would be beneficial in the formation of the national character of the coming New Zealanders…”
In July 1892 the Liberal Government declared the 4th of August Arbor Day and gazetted the day as a national holiday. There was flurry of activity nationwide as local organisations developed plans for tree planting and celebrations of the new national day. Arbor Day became a national phenomenon throughout many countries including New Zealand, though its popularity waned to become more regionally focused. The change in date from 4 August to 5 June in 1977 brought New Zealand’s Arbor Day observance in line with World Environment Day.
The Dunedin Amenities Society will announce its inaugural Alexander Bathgate Arbor Day Awards in August this year in readiness for the 2012 planting season. The proposal hopes to rekindle Bathgate’s passion and pass on his wisdom to future generations for many more years to come.
Read Alexander Bathgate’s 1891 plea for the formation of Arbor Day
Read the Otago Daily Times account of the first official Dunedin Arbor Day in 1892