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Pioneering the Pumice

Chapter XVI: Government Assistance

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Chapter XVI: Government Assistance

Vowing more than the perfective of ten: and discharging less than the tenth part of oneTroilus and Cressida iii, 2.
page 287

Never since my taking up my country have I received six pennyworth of help from any government. Assistance is extended only to failures.

When an individual is engaged in a gigantic struggle whereby a vast region may be added to the productive area of this diminutive “Dominion” it might be imagined that governments would grant him every facility even if it gave him no direct financial help.

Again, when one man owns fifty-three thousand acres it might be imagined that every facility would be afforded to enable subdivision. Nothing could be further from the facts.

Listen to my actual experiences:

As already stated, my longest boundary — twenty-two miles — was most unfortunately against Crown Land. When I put live stock on Broadlands it became necessary to prevent their wandering over the rest of the North Island. I applied for a contribution towards the cost of the boundary fence. Answer: “The Crown is not liable for fencing.” Consequently I erected some eight miles at my own sole expense. Subsequently this Crown Land was reserved for tree planting and when it was actually planted I again approached the Government urging that, although there might have been some justification for its attitude when it was not occupying the land, now that the land had been planted and my fence was being used, payment of a fair half of the cost certainly ought to be made. After a lot of argument an agreement was made in writing that the half cost should be paid. Foolishly I did not rush the cheque and when I went for the money payment was refused with no better excuse than: (1) “Economic conditions at the present time are very critical.” (2) “The fence has no value to this service.” It will be clearly seen that (1) economic conditions were at least as critical for me as for the Government, and (2) the statement is on the face of it absolutely false.

Later I had a claim against the Forestry Department for loss page 288 through a fire which its officers lit. It damaged about a mile of my fence and burned a very large area of my land, doing great damage. I was in England at the time of the occurrence. On my return to New Zealand I took up the matter and, being unable to get any satisfaction, placed the business in the hands of my solicitors. I then discovered that under the Crown Suits Act a claim against the Government must be made within six months of the cause of action. Consequently I was “statute barred.”

Of course no honest citizen pleads the Statute of Limitations, and further, it seems to me outrageous that claims against the Government should be barred after only six months while actions between citizens are not barred till after six years have elapsed.

Let me now direct attention for a while to the assistance rendered to me by the Public Works Department.

Take the matter of telephone communication. It was quickly borne in upon me when I took up residence on the estate that the farther a man is from facilities the more necessary it is for him to have a telephone. None of the neighbours being prepared to join with me I decided to take action myself. Having ascertained that, where there is no local body, the Minister of Public Works is ex officio the local authority, I applied to him for a licence to erect my line along the roadside. Though the Government of the day sought popularity by professions of its desire and readiness to help way-back settlers to get into touch with the outer world per medium of the telephone, I asked for no help, but only permission to erect the wire at my own sole expense. Some bright intellect in the Department perceived an opportunity of having some twelve miles of main trunk telegraph line erected “without it's costing the country a single sixpence.” Consequently I received some pages of conditions to that end and further providing that, after the line had been erected, the Government reserved to itself, as well as to grant page 289 to others, the right to use my poles without contributing one penny to the cost. To this I made answer that the climate of Wellington was undoubtedly too cold for the Honourable Roderick McKenzie, then Minister of Public Works, and I recommended another place.

When the change of Government came I again applied, and received the same answer — doubtless from the same intellectual official. So I put on my hat and off to Wellington where I interviewed the new Minister without success. Going to my friend Mr. Massey, he was good enough to accompany me to the Minister's room and, in effect, told him he was a crimson old fool. A fresh appointment was then made for the morrow. In the meantime, however, a friend introduced me to the head of the Telegraph Department. After hearing my business he said: “You put the line up to a reasonable specification and the Public Works Department will never dare to pull it down.” Even so it was done. I have successfully spoken to Auckland, Napier and Wellington from my humble cot in the wilderness, and the fact that my amateur-built line had not received the blessing of the Minister of Public Works did not seem to interfere in any way with the transmission. Believe me or not, when others used my line a big majority paid the Government charges; but in some cases I was allowed the greater blessedness of giving the free use of my facilities and paying the official fees also.

My next flutter was about the right of subdivision. Neither I nor my neighbour, Mr. Butcher, had any legal road access, and of course it was necessary to provide frontage to a dedicated road. The authorities consequently “Had us by the woo.” After protracted negotiations we were graciously permitted to give the land and pay for the survey. Moreover we had to give an undertaking that whatever fencing might be necessary should be done at our expense. One would suppose that Governments declaiming against large holdings of land would grant every page 290 facility for the cutting up of two estates, one of fifty-three thousand acres and the other of forty-eight thousand acres. And more particularly so when the road in question must eventually become the main road of the North Island. It cuts off six miles between Rotorua and Taupo, runs straight, avoiding all bad curves, and possesses no bad grades — indeed it is quite level nearly all the way. As there are no votes to be gained nothing has been spent on this important undertaking. When negotiateing the matter with the head engineers of the Public Works Department I ventured to point out that an old track which had actually been used for vehicular traffic in its rough natural state would cut off twenty-one miles between Rotorua and Napier and remarked that intellect and foresight would indicate the taking of the land while it was in my possession and I was willing to give it. Nothing was done. Doubtless at some future date heavy compensation will be paid for this very useful road.

My next attempt at subdivision was also frustrated. Several friends — mostly fisherfolk — had expressed desire for small plots whereon to erect summer shacks and have a little private fishing of their own. With the object of meeting this demand and seeing the advantage of having such men as neighbours (even if for only part of the year) I cut a convenient paddock into acre lots extending from the road to the river. The plan was passed by the Auckland office; but when it reached Wellington, a demand was made that a strip a chain wide along the riverbank should be reserved to the Crown. Of course this river frontage was the only feature that gave value to the sections. There was no justification for the attempted plunder; but, the Minister's approval being necessary, the passage of the plan was blocked as by a highwayman. The consequence was that I withdrew the subdivision, and the development of the district was hindered instead of being helped.

A few years ago when a demand for farm lands had sprung page 291 up I decided to cut up some paddocks and applied for permission to dedicate a road for that purpose. A specification was supplied and the work carried out accordingly. By this time, however, the demand had evaporated; and although the District Engineer had come out and passed the work, I decided to postpone the subdivision. Lately I had occasion to proceed with the sale of sections and applied afresh for dedication of the access road. Judge of my astonishment when I received a demand to provide a sum of £1,020 for outlay upon it. Again I had to go to Wellington and there point out: (1) That the road was in quite good order and needed nothing done that would cost above £50. (2) That only one settler would use it and that only for driving livestock. (3) That the road had actually been passed by the District Engineer with acclaim as being a superior road. These points being proved, the Department's demand was reduced to a mere £160 — a sum that anyone could afford! I deemed it best to comply and handed over the £160. Where the money now is, or what is going to be done with it, I haven't the faintest — and perhaps the Department itself hasn't.

The winter of 1935 proved very wet. Heavy cartage was being done for the conveyance of timber, shingle and other materials to the settlement for which I had presented one thousand acres of really first-class land. The access road used in common by myself, the said settlement, and some few others cracked up under the strain. The deck of a small culvert collapsed. The road became impassable. A ring to the Public Works Department disclosed the fact that no grant was available. Still something simply had to be done. I borrowed a couple of men from the settlement and supplied a couple myself together with dray, plough, horses, &c. Also I went down personally to direct the work and hustle things along by leading the navvying with my own hands. Further, out of my stocks, I supplied nine by three heart matai decking for the culvert. I kept the road open page 292 for the whole winter. For these services and supplies I rendered an account for £5 8s. 9d. But it has not been paid, the excuse being “As the work was not authorized by the Department at the time, I have no authority to refund to you the expenditure concerned.”

What do you think of that? Here is my acknowledgment of the Department's decision:

“Auckland, 2nd December, 1937. Though at the time I under-took the work in question I understood the amount would be discharged when funds became available the contents of yours of 29th ult. causes me no surprise. I have been accustomed to receive from Government Departments treatment which private people of good business standing and reputation would consider beneath them.

“However it is satisfactory to know that I maintained the road throughout the winter ‘Without it having cost the country a single sixpence.’

“I presume that I shall be at liberty to remove the timber for which you have not paid.”

Of course I did not rip the deck out of the culvert. Though such action would have been more justifiable than the attitude of the Department. I considered it beneath me.

And I must admit annoyance at having been asked £1,020 and finally compelled to pay £160 for absolutely unnecessary work on a side road very seldom used when I could not recover the paltry sum of £5 8s. 9d. for essential work done on the main entrance road to repair damage which arose out of my gift of land for the unemployed.

I understand that the Department shortly afterwards spent some hundreds of pounds on this entrance road and I verily believe that its refusal to pay my miserable £5 8s. 9d. was due to the moderation of the amount being a severe comment on the Department's own extravagant methods.

page 293

Such have been my unfortunate experiences — with others of a generally similar nature. I contend that if business were conducted as it should be the actions of Government Departments would be a model of honesty instead of a series of shuffles and avoidance of legitimate claims. It is a curious fact that officers of Government and also of many large concerns will, in their official capacity, be guilty of actions of which in their private lives they would be utterly ashamed. Probably it is because their institutions are too vast and impersonal and so have “No body to be kicked and no soul to be saved.”

It is fair for me to say that I have usually been treated in a courteous way by local officers of Government Departments and found them quite like human beings; but Departments as organizations appear to exert themselves to obstruct, and not to assist, the landowner.

Perhaps it would not be out of place here to make a few observations on the great achievements of our Post and Telegraph Department which, while serving a very small and infinitely scattered population, gives us the cheapest and one of the best services in the world. And not only that, but they pay into the public funds five per cent, interest on cost of all buildings and plant and over and above that contribute half a million pounds (N.Z.) to the consolidated fund. These wonderful results are achieved by organization, enterprise and hard work.

What tremendous public benefit would result if our railways were run on similar lines instead of attempting to improve their own position by legislating competitors off the road. Although our railways are State owned, if His Majesty the King steps off the throne into the market place to conduct business as a common carrier, he should be bound by business principles. Now the test of the success of any business is the advantage it confers on its customers. They must come to it for their own advantage. Directly a concern says “you ought” — or, worse page 294 still, “you must” it confesses its own failure. It is quite true that customers are sometimes unreasonable and even impolite, but they must be served. A business without customers would be a queer concern.

Undoubtedly there are many hard-working, conscientious, able and often underpaid men in the higher ranks of the Civil Service, but in a general way there is considerable truth in the gibe “Half a loaf is not better than a Government job.” And of some Departments Mr. Punch's verse is sufficiently true to constitute it a severe satire:

“There are who in the calm retreat
Of some Department daily gather round and bleat
Of art or scandal till it's time to eat
Return at three and write ‘Dear Sir
Yours of last year to hand and noted’
And then—disappear”.

To come back to my own affairs: as I have said, I have never had any help from any Government. It appears to be a dreadful fact that all help, all public reward, is reserved for the failures. It is deemed that success neither needs nor merits assistance.

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A Day's Sport with the Ducks Fifty-six Ducks for Four Guns 1/5/25

A Day's Sport with the Ducks
Fifty-six Ducks for Four Guns 1/5/25

The First Shoot After Netting the Home Paddocks Produced Forty-six Hares

The First Shoot After Netting the Home
Paddocks Produced Forty-six Hares

Our in the Boat Man the Toiler

Our in the Boat
Man the Toiler

The Hot Pool, Ohaki

The Hot Pool, Ohaki

Out on the River

Out on the River

Mr. Butcher's First House (This incorporates Ross & Kankin's two rooms)

Mr. Butcher's First House
(This incorporates Ross & Kankin's two rooms)

An Expedition to the Sack of the Run in the Early Days

An Expedition to the Sack of the Run in the Early Days

Patient Toilers Useful Horses Bred on Broadlands

Patient Toilers Useful Horses Bred on Broadlands

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