The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March 1, 1938.)
The Wairarapa — Land of Promise
I was admiring the pavilions and buildings at the Solway Show Grounds, in Masterton, when I saw a small procession of happy youngsters making it way to the main gates.
I found that they had been on an instructional visit to the fine piece of native bush which has been reserved by the wise public body which runs this branch of human activity in Masterton. The enthusiast responsible for this instalment of education in the sunshine, said that he had named and described for the children's benefit no less than twenty-eight varieties of native flora in that morning journey.
This seemed to me the most important happening in my visit to Masterton and Carterton. Then there was the bold forward move in the conjunction of technical and arts educational facilities as seen in the new Wairarapa High School, an institution which will have the appearance and the scope of a junior university.
The story of the world is the story of its youth, and perhaps in this pleasant land known as the Wairarapa, there is going to emerge an intelligent and sympathetic treatment of the young. Progress in the future might then make even the achievement of the doughty pioneers of this rich district seem a mundane affair, and show that ideals may become fairer and human happiness richer with each succeeding generation.
The Wairarapa Lake had the colour of washing blue as our rail-car wound into Cross Creek; and the smooth streamlined hills in the background shimmered in the heat. The change had exactly the effect of a fresh drop scene in a well produced stage drama. From Kaitoke, once famous for the best ham sandwiches in New Zealand, the journey is a revealing panorama of the size and difficulty of the mountainous rampart that walls off Wellington from the great, rich plain lying to the north. We got out at Kaitoke; the sandwiches are still fresh and appetising as are all railway sandwiches to-day, and the next hour of the journey takes in the world-famous Rimutaka incline. I could not help wondering what the old settlers would have thought of this easy-going way of sliding through wild scenery. I remember hearing one of the finest of sportsmen and pastoralists of the Wairarapa telling of the task it was to get a birthday present piano up from Wellington to the station homestead only sixteen miles from Masterton.
The mountain pass crossing took three days, and the haul from Master-ton a full day. I rather think that Paderewski himself would have had some difficulty in doing the best with his “Minuet in G” on the instrument when it arrived. However, it was a delicious surprise and was just in time for the birthday. I thought when I was being told the story, not so much of the hardships of those pioneers, but of the fine living fact that in that field of grinding toil and daily tediousness there still grew the flower of the love of beauty. I can imagine how the practical and the parsimonious among the neighbours would regard this exceedingly unpractical domestic gift. It is, however, just that spirit that has made Masterton a harmoniously lovely town. I am afraid, though, that the lawny and leafy loveliness of much of the place owes something to the accumulated wealth which has made possible the profusion of homes like miniature palaces set in small models of public gardens.
Of course, the Wairarapa Plain is a pastoral goldmine. Lord Bledisloe pointed out more than once that the world's wealth is derived in the first place from its grasses. The Wairarapa is a grass golconda, a pastoralist's paradise.page 26
I travelled two long journeys, once with the late J. A. Gilruth, who went from the leadership of the Agricultural Department here to be administrator of the North West Territory of Australia. In his racy and incisive Scotch accent, he emphasized the fact that New Zealand was unique in its extraordinary juxtaposition of hills on which to grow sheep and plains on which to fatten them.
He said that the triangular area of the Manawatu and the long pointed plain of the Wairarapa were the best two instances of this in the world. Is it any wonder that this great plain created by dozens of rivers wearing through the hills and building up flats of rich soil, should carry swarming and apparently innumerable flocks of sheep? Dairying, of course, plays its part, and so we have Masterton, Carterton, Featherston, Greytown and Martinborough, a quintette of substantial centres that serve the needs of this busy land of growers.
There is a note of warning that I must strike before proceeding to tell you of the unqestionable merits of the two largest of this group of towns, Masterton and Carterton. As the Mayor of Masterton, Mr. T. Jordan, has pointed out, there are actually fewer people in these rural areas than there were twenty years ago, and the whole area of this land of promise and prodigal richness only carries two-thirds of the average population density of New Zealand.
The words of this chief magistrate of a handsome town are saddening, and this definite shrinking of country numbers calls for something more than pious wishes.
In the Masterton Council Chambers, hangs a copy of the first written petition for the incorporation of Masterton as a borough. The settlement had just come to the period when a young man throws his party and gets his latch-key; it was twenty-one years of age, and so, in 1877, it assumed a full grown man's part in self government. Already, astonishing changes had taken place from the days when Mr. Masters had his Wellington meeting, and, turning down Sir George Grey's offer of plenteous land at Port Ahuriri, formed the Masterton Small Farm Association. The town acres (title included) cost twenty-five shillings each, but the cannier souls, guided by the principles of sound finance, dodged the sections with two frontages because there was the added expense of fencing two boundaries. That was a famous day at the Crown and Anchor Hotel, and the forty acre blocks were quitted at the risky price of ten shillings per acre. That was in the turbulent early Fifties. The borough was the successor of the Masterton town district, created in 1873, and portioned out from the million acres or so controlled by the Masterton Highways District Board. This body with the ornate title had a small wooden office, and two of a staff, in the bush track even then slowly starting to look like a street—Queen Street. It should be mentioned that the cultured Mr. C. R. Carter, after whom Carterton was named, was of great assistance in the formation of the original settlement of Masterton.
I should like to take Messrs. Masters and Carter now for a stroll along Renall, Cole and Essex Streets. I doubt if any of our cities has a street of houses more impressive and gardens more opulent than Essex Street. Masterton is a city of trees, from the huge Lawsonianas whose 100 foot spires dominate the spacious park, to the ten miles of planted avenues. Orderly, tended, symmetrical trees line both sides of a full quarter of all the streets in Masterton.
In addition to this, the park has twenty acres, most of which is wooded, and the spacious garden areas round the greater proportion of the homes give the whole town the effect of a tree bower. From any surrounding height, the roofs and spires of the buildings seem floating in a lake of dark green foliage.
The business part of the town is solid, clean, and the buildings have a uniform air of costliness and strength. There are no shabby interruptions to the long double line of handsome premises in Queen Street, and there are intersecting streets of commercial premises of imposing proportions.
However, I think the essential charm of Masterton is best realised in our picture “The Crossing.”page 27
This takes its wayward way from Essex Street to Cole Street, and is a thing of beauty unlike any everyday short-cut street.
I pause to say that the town stream is the most obliging rivulet in the world. It wanders between streets as if to oblige dozens of houses with back or front benefits of little bridges, decorative pools, sloping banks and all the rest of the distinctive beauty conferred by running waters.
Masterton's impressive feature is the large proportion of homes which rejoice in large and well-planned gardens. Everyone has a garden in this fortunate town, and dozens are of the proportions and formal beauty of a public pleasaunce. The final touch of arboreal embellishment is added by the double lines of gracious trees. Even a walk to the railway station is an aesthetic pleasure.
A sight-seeing tour really does confirm the first impression that the town is the visible expression of the inner beauty of rural life. There seem to be universal growth and greenery, leaf and blossoms, creeper and tall tree.
Then there are the schools, of which there are a full dozen. We show just one, Solway College, which has its own atmosphere even to the white sheep in the foreground. It is a place of distinction, and has the peace which makes for the best educational environment. There are other fine edifices devoted to education, and there is the vast congeries of buildings standing in noble playing fields and grounds, known as the Wairarapa High School. This has the proportions of a university and represents an experiment of surpassing importance to the culture of our country. We saw three Children's Homes where youngsters who are the victims of economic or family disaster, can grow in conditions that not only fit them for the struggle of life, but give them now something of the joy of youthful life, possibly far more important.
There are eleven churches, and no less than nine public halls.
Masterton's parks are the natural emanations of the town's natural environment. Man here proves what Nature in her richest forms of largesse can do to the minds and hearts of everyday, busy, pre-occupied humans. Mawley Park is an exquisite cross-section of natural scenery, well equipped, cosy and sheltered, and, of course, full of fine trees. But the central park is nothing less than magnificent. New Zealand is a land of parks, and it is difficult to select any particular set of ornamental grounds for notice. Here, the remembered loveliness of rural England has been re-created in hundreds of places from hamlets to cities. However, the sweet, the spaciousness, the planned and varied beauty of this Masterton pleasure ground, make one think that it belongs to a city of half a million. There are twenty acres in all; the famous Oval, sheltered and surfaced like a billiard table, is a spectacle in itself; there are ornamental lakes; large aviaries, walks, gay flower beds in profusion; there is a riot everywhere of every hue of leaf and bloom. Finest of all are the tall trees. One towers 114 feet, and in this park there is ample room for the greatest giant to reach full size and majesty. My friend with the camera was at a loss; he saw a new picture every minute, and would have cheerfully stayed until dusk. In case I am making Masterton appear to be a town of retired garden lovers, I should mention that it has many successful industries. I am in favour of the growth of industries in such towns as Masterton. The work is done by folk whose living conditions cannot be reproduced in crowded cities, and there always exist intimacy and community feeling, matchless except in country centres.
It is obvious that Masterton should have factories devoted to the manufacturing of goods from the wool which comes in thousands of bales from the surrounding terrain. I saw one modern and completely up-to-date plant engaged in the making of hose of all sorts. It should be ten times the size.
This compact provincial capital has, of course, large stock firms and many Government offices. The municipal block is a handsome pile of definite architectural value.
It is a matter of repetition to recount the amenities and modern facilities available to the Masterton citizen. They are equal to those of many famous capitals; gas, electric light, paved roads, five golf courses, two bowling greens, four theatres, up-to-date aerodrome, deep drainage. The administration of the borough is efficient and in every way a model of civic enterprise.
The rail-car trip to Carterton is a matter of pleasant minutes. Settlement is close and continuous. Rich lands with splendid homes springing to the eye lie all the way.page 28 page 29
Garterton is a pretty and attractive town named after the studious and enlightened giver of the well-known Carter Collection. I should say that Carterton's main characteristic is modesty. It is a compact, neat, sweet and busy borough. Here again the fortunate citizens rejoice in a standard of municipal comfort which is on a parity with that of a European capital.
The business premises have an air of well doing, and many of them are of imposing dimensions. The head office of the Wairarapa Electric Power Board is here with handsome showrooms. The borough runs its own gas installation, and the gardens everywhere are witnesses to the plentiful water supply. The water metre in the council show-room was recording 125 pounds of pressure when I was there. Here are many fine homes, and the gardens are rich with choice and rare plants, calculated to make an amateur gardener from the city envious and full of despair.
The Memorial Square is in the middle of the town. It utilises every natural advantage and could well be given a more decorative name… . Lit at night, it is a fairyland. There are good schools, golf courses, football grounds and other playing fields. Carterton is an example of extremely sound municipal management. The rates can hardly be noticed. I have said before that life in a New Zealand country town is the most pleasant available to man on this earth. In Carterton all the sound methods of recreation and entertainment cost next to nothing, and are available in profusion. Shooting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation are thrown in for good measure. There is a splendid municipal library. They are indeed fortunate folk who dwell in Carterton.