The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June 1, 1937)
Hamilton—The Empire's Dairy Capital — Where Grass Turns to Golden Wealth. — (Rly. Publicity photo.) — New Ferna-concrete Bridge across the Waikato River, Hamilton
Hamilton—The Empire's Dairy Capital
Where Grass Turns to Golden Wealth.
My genial friend, with a hundred varying interests in the district, stopped the car and said: “This is the farm; there are twelve sheep to the acre on those far slopes.” And they were there all right, their white woolly forms seeming to be almost back to back against the vivid green.
I stood and admired the massively handsome English stallion, Hunting Song, causing bother to my friend with the camera, for, quiet as he was, wherever he trod he was fetlock deep in grass, and would look in the picture as if he were without hocks at all.
I watched from the goods train, the colossal shape of the Waharoa dried milk powder factory, towering above the tall trees beside the Waharoa Railway Station.
I gazed for an hour at the activity at the Manawaru Cheese Factory which handles across its receiving stage, more than one million pounds of milk daily.
These things helped me to solve the problem of Hamilton. For it is profoundly true that these cities in miniature in New Zealand, represented by such a provincial capital as Hamilton, require explanation. They exist nowhere else in the world. They are, in a special sense the creation of their own citizens, and the special production of our New Zealand culture.
Greater Hamilton is a town of approximately twenty thousand people, as a maximum. It has public buildings, shops, factories, huge blocks of administrative offices, and in other ways the amenities of a centre which in any other part of the world would carry five times the population at least.
I can give quickly one striking set of figures which indicates the scope and reach of the municipal activities of this town. The number of consumers of gas and electricity supplied by the city Departments of the Borough Council reaches the staggering figure of over eight thousand. I use the word “staggering” advisedly in case I am met with the provincial type of criticism which proudly recounts the consumption of a city of one million.
Phenomena such as these in the old days of tyrants, art loving but otherwise intolerable, would have led to the erection in every public place or park, of statues to the Jersey, the Ayrshire, the Friesian, the Red Poll and the other mild-eyed workers of this continuing miracle.
The same sort of ruler would liave decreed that the old home of Henry Reynolds should be a hallowed place. Here was made the first pound of Anchor Butter and the oak he planted on his front lawn would be preserved in its mature splendour as a symble of the growth of the mighty industry he founded.
Any, consideration, therefore, of the qualities of Hamilton as a centre or dwelling place for men, is inextricably bound up in a sense which is distinctive of its own personality with the noble hinterland that it possesses.
In saying this, I do not want to detract from the achievement of its citizens: for in its beginnings there was nothing particularly distinctive or advantageous about its actual location to compel that Hamilton should be the premier centre of this wide region.
Captain Steele handpicked his recruits, and it was a fine body of men that pitched camp on the eastern side of the river and valiantly wrestled with the problems that beset them.
As with other parts of the Dominion, the precious gifts of British racial origin and stout tradition, belong to the Waikato capital and its environs.
The first town grew up on the eastern side of the river, and is now a suburb with leafy streets and noble old trees. It is said that a rather ebullient manifestation of private enterprise drove the Bank of New Zealand to seek for cheaper sites on the Western side of the big river to be soon followed by other enterprises. The course of farm settlement also tended to make the western bank the most thriving. The present distinctive beauty of Hamilton is largely due to its great river but in those days, it was a definite hindrance to progress. Of course, its traffic, prior to the days of road and rail was large, but in the struggling township a punt was for many years the sole means of crossing. In 1879 the first traffic bridge was built, and the wooden structure was operated on toll principles. I do not think that many New Zealanders know that the town was named after Captain John Fane Hamilton, a naval officer who was killed in a gallant attempt to retrieve the awful disaster to British troops at the Gate Pa.
The town was made a borough in December, 1877, in the wide and joyous days when the conflicting parties were the east and west sides of the river. The total population was then about 1,200 and growth was slow for many years. A loan policy for development was commenced and from then on progress was steady until the amalgamation with the neighbouring borough of Frankton.
But more important than any of these purely local phenomena, was the revolution caused in the usefulness of Waikato farm lands through the use of top dressing. It is in my memory as a grown man that Waikato lands were held in mild derision by the farmers from the permanent grass lands of the Taranaki, Wellington and Hawke's Bay Provinces and the South Island.
I remember that road when it bore the disorderly, sparsely settled, untilled appearance of the settlers' outback scenes in a Christmas number.
This magical change occurred all over the vast area of the Waikato. Hamilton has shared the benefit and its modest total of 1,200 is now in the neighbourhood of 20,000.
Its early builders had the vision to lay out wide streets, and these fine thoroughfares are a feature of the town's beauty. The noble Waikato river is of course an outstanding natural advantage; it is the greatest of our rivers and as it flows through the town, it is seen in its best clothes. Every town of importance in New Zealand has been blessed with public spirited citizens who have spent time, money and unbounded enthusiasm in the beautifying of their place of home making.
Grey Street in Hamilton was the work of very early settlers. Its great trees whose branches meet across the 100 foot street, might be centuries old.
Hamilton has also broken new ground with its fine policy of planting native trees in the streets of the suburbs and town areas. It is always a source of wonder to visitors as to who the fortunate folk are that live in these mansions that adorn our provincial capitals, and Claudelands is possibly the finest example of this type of suburb in the Dominion. Gardens are everywhere, riotous with colour and elaborately designed. The river, however, has its recognisable nobility and its possibilities were easily discerned; but the park known as the “Domain” is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by inspired vision, love of beauty and steadiness of purpose.
Here, in undulating country, an everyday swamp lagoon in a setting, scrub covered and desolate, has been transformed into a spacious pleasure ground and ornamental waters. As is so usual in our country, the trees have the look of “immemorial elms.” The shrubs are luxuriant and the swards have the shining but gentle green of a thousand-year-old Dublin or Oxford lawn. The growth was speedy and the transformation was effected in a few years. It is long years ago, so my genial guide told me, that after a large and cheerful party of farewell, they drove a visitor round and round three tall trees, while he sleepily complained that it was a shame to miss the way to Frankton station and that he “hated these bush roads anyway.” This park contains 141 acres; there are formed sandy beaches, bathing and boating facilities, a nine hole golf course, and picnic places which are like those in a boy's dreamland. Across its wide waters stand handsome residences, and above it again is the Hospital, the fourth largest in the Dominion.
This is not the whole tale of the recreation grounds of Hamilton for every sport is catered for with parks with modern equipment and surroundings of natural beauty.
The gold course at St. Andrews is known throughout the Dominion as one of the best all weather grounds.
Naturally, the river means that acquatic sports are popular; and while I was on my visit there was a tumultuous “King” competition to provide a handsome new rowing club pavilion.
Hamilton is imposing to resemble through as it consists of several main divisions. The river divides Hamilton East and Claudelands with their quite distinctive air from the main town, and still farther west is the populous suburb of Frankton, formerly a sister borough of nearly equal size.
Frankton contains the busiest railway junction in the Dominion. Its figures of traffic and goods handled are impressive, and approximately 100 trains pass through it daily. It has many hotels to cater for the change-over traffic to Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty areas which are among New Zealand's most patronised tourist regions. The travel volume in and about. Hamilton is of enormous extent and it was not surprising to find good travel bureaux busy all the time we were in Hamilton. It seemed to me that both townsfolk and primary producers were planning holidays with gusto and frequency.
The municipality has a fine block of offices on the river bank. I will not weary readers with the familiar list (Continued on page 52.)page 14