Cumberland Lecture 2019

Called 'Place as person, landscape as identity', the School of Environment's 2019 Cumberland Lecture was given by Kennedy Warne.

Kennedy Warne on the Whanganui River
Kennedy Warne taking a break on the Whanganui River

In 1972, in a landmark essay, US legal scholar Christopher Stone asked, “Should trees have standing?”. What would it mean, he asked, to conceive of the natural world from a nonhuman perspective? Could we imagine a world in which trees—and rivers, mountains, glaciers, and more—possessed innate existence rights enshrined in law?

Almost 50 years later, New Zealand has led the world in granting legal personhood to a river, Whanganui, a former national park, Te Urewera, and soon a mountain, Taranaki. At the heart of these legislative decisions is not just the issue of rights for nature, but a recognition of longstanding connectivity between land and indigenous people and of a worldview that espouses unity and reciprocity between the human and nonhuman realms.

Writer, editor and broadcaster Kennedy Warne discusses the geographical implications of the Whanganui River and Te Urewera decisions and reflects on his own evolving conversation with landscape. The talk included a response from Daniel Hikuroa, a senior lecturer in Māori studies at the University of Auckland.

About Kennedy Warne

Kennedy Warne co-founded New Zealand Geographic in 1988 and served as the magazine’s editor for 15 years. He continues to write for the magazine, as well as for National Geographic, to which he has contributed for the past 20 years. He writes mostly on history, geography and the natural world, but increasingly addresses contemporary issues such as climate change, environmental ethics and indigenous worldviews.

For the past 10 years he has provided an outdoors and environmental perspective to Radio New Zealand’s weekday morning programme, Nine to Noon, with a segment entitled “Off the Beaten Track.” He has written books on the global loss of mangrove forests, a 20-year retrospective of his work for New Zealand Geographic, a profile of the Tūhoe iwi and two children’s stories.

About the Cumberland Lecture

The Cumberland Lecture is an annual lecture hosted by the School of Environment. It was named in honour of Professor Kenneth Brailey Cumberland, the first Professor of Geography at the University of Auckland. Professor Cumberland was renowned for his ground-breaking 1981 documentary series "Landmarks", presenting his view of the story of New Zealand. The achievements of this English-born geography professor were many and include: establishing and heading the University of Auckland's Geography Department, writing on soil erosion, producing 13 editions of an Australasian school atlas, and helping plan Auckland’s development.