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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

Home and Neighbourliness

Home and Neighbourliness

Throughout the 1880s the quality of the district's life depended almost entirely on the qualities of the individual homes on the scattered clearings. No other institution had yet developed an effective presence. The characters of these family and bachelor establishments depended in turn on the social maturity and domestic skills of their individual members. Maintaining morale and making life feel worthwhile amid the privations of the settlement's early weather-battered years must have been a real challenge. The unfolding years provide good evidence that most settlers had the calibre to succeed on their sections both as homemakers and as pioneer farmers, and to move out over the following decades to create a rich and varied community life. There had, of course, been a tough self-selection process behind their becoming frontier settlers, and for many an earlier such process in deciding to emigrate. Both decisions would have involved assessing one's adequacy in social skills, adaptability, toughness and ambition for the demands of a challenging venture. Let us look first at how it worked out for families and then for bachelors.

On the emerging farms the making of livings was itself an important element in the quality of life. From an early age all family members shared the widely varied work of the subsistence economy. The diversity of the tasks, the breaking of them down into individual projects, the team aspect, the home consumption of the produce—all helped make the work interesting and meaningful, often not too far removed from play. In the absence of schools, team sports, public entertainments, often even of near neighbours, these families will have had to provide most of their own social life and entertainment. They will have valued their time together at their ample, if rather unsophisticated, meals. On winter evenings and in wet weather parents and children will have sat together around a good log fire, enjoying a yarn, a reading or a sing-song.43 The traditional Sunday leisure will also have been important. Many folk will have devoted part of it to the weekly Egmont Star, from July 1887 available at Kaponga on the afternoon of its Saturday publication.44 Its 16 pages included news, stories, serialised novels, farming and gardening columns, a children's column and a sermon. Some will have regularly used Sunday to visit neighbours. Such neighbourly sharing of home life, and the putting of personal and home resources at the disposal of neighbours in times of crisis, sickness, page 67
The edible fungus Auricularia polytricha

The edible fungus Auricularia polytricha

childbirth, bereavement and celebration will have contributed greatly to the general quality of life.

The ‘Kaupokonui’ ‘Our Own’ had a deal to say about his district's bachelors. His letter of 18 September 1886 commented on the ‘startling number of bachelors throughout the Kaupokonui’ living in ‘lonely looking little houses built by the roadside throughout the block, some with nice gardens’. He told how they could become confused as to the day of the week, reporting on 17 January 1885 how one missed a fine Saturday's work at his grass seed because he thought it was Sunday, and on 6 June 1887 on another setting off for church on a day that wasn't Sunday. He noted that Sunday was generally ‘celebrated among the bachelors in the bush by cooking or visiting’.45 Few Kaponga District bachelors of the 1880s will have lived within easy reach of church. ‘Our Own’ also noted periodic outbursts of gold fever, which must have been predominantly a bachelor phenomenon. On 13 June 1884 he wrote:

By many the old days of the West Coast rushes are not forgotten. The gold fever rages as fiercely as ever. In many a lowly whare and by many a camp fire, with flashing eye and burning cheek, the old digger may be heard recounting his experiences, and fondly calling back to mind the times when fortunes in a day were lost and won.

This serves to remind us that besides the settler bachelors there were also the work gang bachelors, felling bush, building bridges, sawmilling &c. page 68 Sunday visiting must have seen mixing not only among but also between the two groups. And the old diggers' yarns will have sent some of the more footloose off to the rushes across the Tasman. Most of the bachelors will have been less tied to home than the family men, getting away more easily to labouring jobs and in search of recreation in Manaia, Okaiawa or further afield. Probably both bachelors and families made up the cases reported by ‘Our Own’ on 24 November 1886 ‘where neighbours are living within a mile or two of each other and not acquainted’. Yet while some failed to find time to get to know their neighbours others engaged in various recreations and social occasions.