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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

The Waikato Times. — The North Island Trunk Railway. — Turning the First Sod

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The Waikato Times.

The North Island Trunk Railway.

Turning the First Sod.

The ceremony of turning the first sod of the North Island Trunk Railway took place yesterday afternoon on the south bank of the Puniu river, at the spot where the line is to cross the stream. That a large amount of interest was evinced in the proceedings was evident by the large attendance, not only of the residents of the immediate locality, or even of the Waikato district, but of the Province. The special train which left Auckland yesterday morning, in addition to bringing a large number of people for the Cambridge races, conveyed many of the foremost citizens of the Northern metropolis to Te Awamutu. These included Messrs T. Thompson, F. J. Moss, and Col. Fraser, M.H.R., the Mayor of Auckland (Mr Waddell), and others. At Hamilton a pretty large contingent, including a number of ladies, Mr J. B. Whyte, M.H.R., the Mayor of Hamilton (Mr Graham), Mr John Knox, Capt. Steele, and others, got on board, and a start was made from Frankton Junction at 11.45 a.m., arriving at the destination at about half-past 12. Numerous coaches and buggies, chartered by a liberal Government, were in waiting at the terminus, and into these the most fortunate (because the most active) of the passengers quickly got, and were driven free of charge to the bank of the classic Puniu, some three miles away. The route, however, lay through Te Awamutu, and at the township a halt of some minutes took place to allow of the procession being formed in proper order. The Te Awamutu cavalry turned out, forty strong, under Major Jackson, Capt. Rutherford, and Lieutenants Bruce and Wilkinson, and made a very efficient guard of honour. The Te Awamutu band, too, under the able conduct of Mr Sibley, mustered strongly, and beguiled the tedium of the general public during the interval that elapsed between the arrival of the train and the departure of the procession. The dust, meanwhile, was intolerable, and as the cavalry came down the road at a smart pace, and drew up into lint opposite Devin's Hotel, nothing beyond the distance of a foot or so could be seen, so dense were the clouds of tine earth that floated in the heavy atmosphere By-and-bye the hon. the Premier (who had arrived the night before, and had occupied the morning at Alexandra) showed himself, and a general movement was made in the direction of the Puniu. The order of the procession was as follows :—An advance guard of the Te Awamutu Cavalry, under Lieut. Wilkinson; a buggy containing the hon. the Premier, and Mr G. T. Wilkinson, Native Agent for the Waikato; carriage containing Mr W. N. Blair, Assistant Engineer-in-Cnief, Col. Fraser, M.H.R. and others; carriage containing Messrs W. H. Hales, District Engineer, D. M. Beere, Resident Engineer, and others; the main body of the cavalry, with a banner; a native carrying the Union Jack; Cavalry band in a waggon; coaches, buggies and horsemen, and, lastly, the rear guard of the cavalry, under the command of Lieut. Bruce. The procession started at about a quarter past one, and the river was reached in a very short time. Just at the junction of the property of Mr S. Westney with that late in the occupation of Mr Parsons, a temporary, but very serviceable plank bridge had been erected, and over this the visitors crowded to the scene of operations on the south bank of the stream. A pathway had been cut up the steep bank, so that none experienced the slightest difficulty in making the ascent. On reaching the level land above, the path led under a small triumphal arch, on which was inscribed the appropriate motto, "Te ika a Maui, te rangimarie " (" A day of Peace to New Zealand.") Further on a booth had been erected for the accommodation of the Premier and party, and over the spot where the sod cutting was to take place there was a lavish display of bunting, in which the Union Jack played a conspicuous part. When the ceremony commenced there must have been fully a thousand persons present, a third of whom were natives, and one and all manifested the keenest interest in the proceedings. The cavalry dismounted and formed a cordon round the space set apart for the ceremony, by which means those present were enabled to obtain a full view of ail that took place. Tawhiao was not present, having gone to the Waikato Heads, but Rewi, Wahanui, Taonui, Hopa and many other chiefs of note were on the ground.

For some time past Mr Hote Thompson, son of the great King Maker, has been making a fuss about the affair, breathing threatenings and slaughter against all and sundry who should take part in the pro- page break ceedings. Hote opened the ball yesterday by crying out, in a pretty loud tone, to Rewi and Wahanui, " What do you think of your child (Tawhiao) now?"

Rewi replied to the effect that they thought nothing of their child.

Hote said he objected to anything being done without his knowledge and consent; but after a few words from Rewi the matter was allowed to drop.

The Premier and party then approached, and

Mr W. H. Hales, stepping forward, said :—Wahanui, as the Engineer having local charge of public works, I am deputed to ask you on behalf of the native people to turn the first sod of the railway.

Wahanui, then amidst applause, took off his coat, and in the most workmanlike manner dug out three or four sods and depesited them in a very ornamental barrow, varnished and emblazoned with portraits of North American Indians, in default of Maoris, with whose appearance the artist seemed to have but the slenderest acquaintance.

Rewi then said;—I now call upon the hon. Mr Stout to wheel the sods away. (Applause.)

The Premier, following the example of Wahanui, divested himself of his coat, and in the most approved style, wheeled the barrow a few yards away, and dexterously turned the earth out on to the ground, amidst the vociferous cheers of those assembled, the band playing "God Save the Queen."

At the invitation of the Mayor of Auckland, three cheers were then given for Her Majesty.

Mr Stout, addressing the assemblage, said :—Ladies and gentlemen,—I can assure you that I feel I occupy an honourable position in that I have been deputed to take part in one of the greatest works that this colony can undertake. I need not explain to the Europeans the good that will accrue to the country from the railways, but this railway which we are met to initiate to day is peculiar in many respects. It will unite together two parts of this colony which have been long separated, and I hope that by it we shall further that time when we shall become indeed a nation of New Zealanders; and while we as colonists will always think of our homes, we shall also think of the colony as our nation, and look forward to the development of our national life. We are standing now on ground which a few years ago was not deemed to be open to Europeans, and we are almost in view, of the most classic spot in the Maori country, the Maori Thermopylœ which future historians shall describe as a battle between two rages in which the bravery was not all on one side. In this month, some twenty-one years ago, a battle which is called Orakau was fought, and when we think of the brave words uttered from the Maori pah on that occasion, and when we think what we have accomplished since, and that now the brave warrior who defended the pah on that occasion, has asked the representatives of the Government to take part in the work we are engaged in to-day, we can say that an advance has been made in our history. Men thought in the old days that this colony was to be conquered by war, but we know that peace has her victories greater than war. By works of this nature the progress of the country is secured, and while we ought never to be forgetful of the brave deeds of the past, let this day be kept in remembrance as a great day for this part of the colony; for here, I hope, is given us a pledge of peaceful relations between the Europeans and Maoris; for the latter will see how important railways are in the march of civilisation. I cannot express how deeply sensible I am of Rewi's presence here to-day. I may tell you that when I was appointed Premier, the first congratulatory telegram I received was from him, even before I received any communication from my constituents and friends. I did not know him, I had never seen him, but something I had done or said in 1878 had won his approval, and he took this means of showing his gratitude. I relate this incident because it has been argued that the Maoris have no sense of gratitude, (Applause). If we had in the past been more philo-Maori than we were, we might never have been obliged to have recourse to war. (Applause.) In the future let us think of the Maoris as brethren, and when they do wrong I lot us treat them as we would treat our own children. If we must chasten them, let us do it in a loving spirit. (Applause). To-day we have taken part in a great work, great not only in respect of one section of the colony, or of one district, or of one race; but a work which will benefit all, and I hope that all will so act, that in the future they may be able to look back to this day as one great in the annals of the colony, and that they will have no cause to blush for their present actions. History is made up of the social life of the people. The people in these districts have a heavy responsibility upon them, inasmuch as it their duty in some measure to educate the Maoris, and to train them in the right way. We have already done something that will remain in the remembrance of the Maori people; we are standing on ground where the sale of liquor is prohibited, (applause) and we are going to ask you presently to partake of refreshments in which alcohol forms no part (hear hear), and I would ask even those who do not agree with me in my temperance policy whether this prohibition is not just and right in view of the fact that alcohol is inimical to the existence of the Maori people? I say the Maori race ought to be preserved (applause); and we small incur the detestation of the civilised world if it can be said of us in the future that we have done nothing to preserve the race. It is the duty of out-settlers to endeavour to preserve the Maori race. I trust it will be said of us that we did all we could to raise the race, to improve them, and to perpetuate them. (Applause).

Turning to the natives, Mr Stout spoke as follows :—Chiefs and men of the Maori race. I want to say a few words as to the page break benefit that the railway will be to you. I do not need to address the Europeans about the good that the railway does. They know that. But a railway is a new thing to the Maoris. They know more about a canoe. A railway is to a European what a canoe is to a Maori. He uses it for travelling about in; but the difference between the two is that the railway can go a great a deal faster than the canoe. On this section we intend to ask the Maoris to make it, and they will get the same money as Europeans. We don't want to make any distinction between them. Mr Richardson, the Minister for Public Works, has told me about the way in which the Maoris work. In 1858 he had 40 Maoris working for him in Victoria. They did their work well, and got wages equal to Europeans, and I have no doubt the Maoris will have pride enough to see that the Europeans do not beat them here. This section will be known as "the Maori section," and I hope it will be better than all the Europeans' work. But the railway will do more than that. It will make your lands more valuable, and the land that you don't need you will get more money for when you lease it. As you get learned in farming, you will raise roots, grain and cattle, and you will get more money for these things if you have a railway. The Maoris can't get on without money any more than Europeans. I hope they will spend the money in making themselves more comfortable. If they take care of their money and their health the land will not be a curse to them. Let me especially thank them for coming here today. The thanks of the Government are due to the chiefs who so loyally supported them. I don't like to mention names in case there should be jealousy. Let me tell them this: They should not be jealous of this sod-turning, because it does not affect their titles. There was some difference of opinion as to who should do it, but things like this do make a chief or a landlord. They should think of a story that is told of my part of the country. There was a great chief there, the head of many people, and one day when he sat at the foot of the table, someone said, "Come to the head of the table; you are a great chief," and he said, "Wherever McNab sits, that is the head of the table." (Laughter.) So you will remember that if you are great chiefs, and have not taken part in the ceremony, it will not hurt you. Now a few words to all. I have to thank the ladies and gentlemen for their presence here to-day. We have had a good omen. The day is beautiful, and everything is lovely; but all these things are not lovely unless they are graced by the ladies, the Europeans and the natives. What makes scenery lovely, is to see the people enjoying themselves, as I hope you will do to-day.

The Premier retired amidst loud applause, the band playing "For he's a jolly good fellow."

Wahanui said : I shall not make a very long speech. The part in Mr Stouts speech that I wish to make reference to is that which refers to the prohibition. The Government marked out the district, but I objected. I said there can be no better boundary than the stream of fresh water which flows below us. (Applause). I consider a river the best boundary for such a district. One other suggestion I would make, and that is we should give this railway a name, and the name is "Turango road." There was an ancestor whose name was Turango, and I wish that name given to the line. I wish the name to be given only to the chain wide, as the people on each side have their own names for their lands.

Hopa Te Rangianini: All that you are to take is the line for the railway from one end to the other. You must not by-and-bye branch off in the direction of Taupo, or elsewhere, or I shall cause you trouble. All the affection the Maoris show is in connection with this line of railway. After we get on, and see how things go, I may, however, change my mind (laughter and applause).

Taonui: I wish to say a word or two about the management of this railway, but I will defer it until Mr Ballance arrives.

Mr Stout: That, ladies and gentlemen ends the ceremony. I may say in answer to Wahanui, that this section shall be called by the name he has suggested.

Some of the visitors subsequently partook of light refreshments on the ground, but the large majority returned forthwith to Te Awamutu, and thence drifted homewards insections, the Hamilton and Auckland visitors leaving by special train at 6.30 o'clock.

The weather during the whole day was beautiful, and looked upon simply as an outing, and without regard to its important aspect, the visit to the Puniu yesterday, was delightful in the extreme. A ball at Kihikihi wound up the day's enjoyment.

The Hon. the Premier proceeded to Kihikihi last night, and to-day he will drive to Cambridge, meeting several deputations en route, and at the latter place.