Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World
The Intrusive World
The Intrusive World
Kaponga's reaction to the war news of 1900–02 seems to have been simple and straightforward. The empire had a need and Kaponga shared in the general pride in the achievements of New Zealand's mounted riflemen. The district made its own little contribution, with Sidney Robert Palmer, son of sawmiller Robert Palmer, off with the first contingent, Samuel Baird of Mahoe with the seventh, and William Treanor and Walter Tait of Kapuni and Harry Herbert Cleaver, son of Rowan Road settler Charles Cleaver, off with the ninth. Kaponga shared simple-heartedly with the empire in the anxieties and the victories of these years. It was not so easy to be simple and straightforward about the growing international tension and threats of page 201 conflict of the following years. Suddenly the world seemed to have restructured into a number of strong and increasingly belligerent empires with competing ambitions. How could one know who were friends, who potential enemies, or what their respective ambitions were in the South Pacific? Many New Zealanders were unhappy to see Samoa divided between Germany and the United States in 1899. Some British moves, such as the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, were hard to understand. If they were somewhat confused about the repeated crises that developed over obscure places in various corners of the globe and the unexpected shifts that occurred in the pattern of alliances, the Kaponga settlers seem to have had no questions about a policy of unswerving loyalty to Britain.
For the generation that paid the great price of World War I there were two utterly convincing arguments for going the whole way with Britain. Firstly, as far as they were concerned, they were British. Many of them had been born in the Old Country. They had friends and close kin there. There too, in the words of a local song of the time, was ‘Where the Auld Folk lie’.1 Having as yet no depth of history, traditions or literature of their own, the colonists fed their minds from the hearthland they lovingly called Home. And secondly, New Zealand had only one significant trading partner, Britain. The British market was the very raison d'être of their colonial economy. Without the British consumers and freedom of the seas the whole Kaponga enterprise would become meaningless. A blow that laid Britain low, a rival who swept her commerce from the oceans, would concurrently destroy settler Kaponga. Unless, of course, such a victor took Kaponga as part of the spoils of war. So, only as part of the larger imperial world did either New Zealand or Kaponga make sense, and only there resided the strength to maintain their freedom and identity.2
The new century's first conflict between major powers was the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–05. Before its outcome was decided, a Star (18/8/04) leader on ‘Citizen Soldiers’ gave its views on New Zealand's place in international affairs. This first affirmed that those who shared the benefits of the empire's trade must share in its defence. It saw likely threats in the continuing ambitions of the old enemy, Russia, and the emergence of a new enemy, Germany. It warned that ‘mastery of the seas is but one of the ambitions of the Kaiser … the second is the conquest of some of Britain's colonies’. Japan's astounding land and sea victories over Russia gave both Australia and New Zealand something very new to think about. Here, across their own Pacific Ocean, was a new imperial power with mastery of the art of modern naval war. In pioneer settler F.W. Wilkie Kaponga had its own emissary journeying to see what was happening in the east. Between April and September 1905 his itinerary took him to the Philippines, Hong Kong, China and Japan. He provided extensive accounts of his visit to Japan to the Star (5, 13 & 23/9/05):
One is constantly passing transport trains laden with men and horses for the front, but except in the cities that are military centres there is little to indicate page 202 that the country is involved in a war with one of the leading powers of Europe…. After the battle with the Baltic fleet it was not an unusual sight to meet a train laden with wounded Japs. and Russian prisoners, the big, blond dejected face of the Russian forming a strong contrast to his cheerful, brown faced conqueror.
Wilkie attended the Tokyo celebrations of the great naval victory. He concluded his series with a warning:
Japan is fairly bursting with pent-up energies, and these energies must and will find an outlet. Australasia offers one of the most promising openings in this direction, and it is only reasonable to expect that if we debar her subjects from landing on our shores, and put up protective barriers against her commerce, that she will sooner or later remonstrate, and a remonstrance from a Power like Japan with China at her call will be worth seriously considering.
By the end of the decade Germany had clearly emerged as the main potential enemy. With world tensions deepening there was little complaint from Kaponga either about taxes for gifting the battle cruiser New Zealand to the Royal Navy or about compulsory military training. From 1910 on, young men in the Territorials had to attend regular training parades and a week's annual training camp. Many Kaponga young men had to get to the town hall for an evening's drill on finishing the evening milking after having been up before 4am for the morning one.3 Fortunately the army took some account of rural needs and held winter camps for men in dairying districts.
The threat of war and the requirements of military preparedness were the most ominous of the intrusions into Kaponga life, but there were numerous others. Not only the military were after the town hall. Entrepreneurs sponsoring the intrusive technology of the movies came looking for exclusive weekly bookings, forcing the old do-it-yourself entertainments to fit as best they could around more regular and confident newcomers. A somewhat similar contest between old ways and intrusive new technology was bedevilling the road to Dawson Falls by the summer of 1908–09. Kaponga residents were annoyed that going up the mountain with their country horses was no longer safe due to the invasion of loudly tooting tourist motors. The Park Board found it had no power to deny the road to motorists, so it advised locals that the only option was to familiarise their horses with motor cars as quickly as possible.4 Some industrial developments were also seen as threatening to Kaponga interests. One such was the rise of the Red Federation of Labour, which led to the 1913 waterfront strike. The federation was seen as an alien movement largely led by urban foreigners. Its socialism had no sympathy for bush settler achievements. Eager to see their hard-won dairy produce flowing freely across the wharfs, most Kaponga settlers approved of William Massey's determined crushing of the Red Feds.page 203
Admiral Togo, victor of the battle of Tsushima (27–28 May 1905), on his bridge in heavy
weather. One of the two pictures the Illustrated London News must have had ready as the
whole world watched the Russian Baltic fleet's great voyage to ‘teach the Japanese a lesson’.
British shipbuilders and their workers watched for they had built much of Togo's fleet,
including his flagship. The British navy watched for they had trained Togo and many of his
officers. Kaponga watched, wondering whether a Russian victory would mean a southward
march of Siberia's emerging dairy industry. And Kaponga's F.W. Wilkie was there to join
Tokyo's Tsushima celebrations