Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Natural monuments: rethinking arboreal heritage for twenty-first-century Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-23, 22:33 authored by Goldsmith, Susette

The twenty-first century is imposing significant challenges on nature in general with the arrival of climate change, and on arboreal heritage in particular through pressures for building expansion. This thesis examines the notion of tree heritage in Aotearoa New Zealand at this current point in time and questions what it is, how it comes about, and what values, meanings and understandings and human and non-human forces are at its heart. While the acknowledgement of arboreal heritage can be regarded as the duty of all New Zealanders, its maintenance and protection are most often perceived to be the responsibility of local authorities and heritage practitioners. This study questions the validity of the evaluation methods currently employed in the tree heritage listing process, tree listing itself, and the efficacy of tree protection provisions. The thesis presents a multiple case study of discrete sites of arboreal heritage that are all associated with a single native tree species—karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus). The focus of the case studies is not on the trees themselves, however, but on the ways in which the tree sites fill the heritage roles required of them entailing an examination of the complicated networks of trees, people, events, organisations, policies and politics situated within the case studies, and within arboreal heritage itself. Accordingly, the thesis adopts a critical theoretical perspective, informed by various interpretations of Actor Network Theory and Assemblage Theory, and takes a ‘counter-’approach to the authorised heritage discourse introducing a new notion of an ‘unauthorised arboreal heritage discourse’. The thesis introduces alternative examples of arboreal heritage to the contemporary heritage canon paving the way for other forms of heritage that may remain mired in the expectations of the twentieth century’s authorised heritage discourse. In doing so it elevates arboreal heritage as a valid part of physical heritage and a worthy topic for further critical heritage study. The research findings show that in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand trees have been active in forging links between the past, the present and the future in new and powerful ways transcending the received evaluation methods and establishing a new rhetoric of arboreal indigeneity. Through the lens of tree registers, the research contributes to a better understanding of both natural heritage and heritage in general and, while firmly placed in the New Zealand context, provides a basis for critical heritage studies of related subjects elsewhere. 2 Little has been written about arboreal heritage in Aotearoa New Zealand. As the first academic study of the topic, the thesis fills gaps in academic and professional knowledge of the tree heritage process. It introduces interdisciplinary ideas, from both the sciences and the humanities, and draws attention to tree heritage as a significant historical, social, economic, cultural and environmental contributor to the well-being of New Zealanders. The case studies demonstrate that effective, contemporary stewardship requires a revised ‘tree sense’ that acknowledges that arboreal heritage is founded on complex and various values, meanings and understandings, and is manifest in many different forms. Drawing on the archival, documentary and empirical research undertaken, the thesis proposes a democratisation of arboreal heritage decision-making, and contributes a set of principles to facilitate the negotiation of arboreal heritage acknowledgement and protection by communities, local authorities and heritage practitioners.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Museum and Heritage Studies


McCarthy, Conal; Hunter, Kate