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

Outings from the Bush

Outings from the Bush

In the early years, while their own district had so little to supplement what the homes could offer, outings to nearby centres will have been highlights in Kaponga settler life. There was a steady interaction with their adjacent service townships, Manaia and Okaiawa. Their flavour in the early days we will illustrate from Okaiawa. ‘Travelling Correspondent’ Frank Lawrie wrote on the place in the Auckland Weekly News of 18 August 1883. He found there a commodious hotel ‘which appears to obtain most of its support from the great number of travellers and settlers constantly passing to and from the bush country at the back’. Other aspects of the village/bush interaction were well caught in the Okaiawa ‘Our Own’ of 19 November 1883:

Tradesmen's carts and picnic parties may be seen frequently going to and coming from the bush, as well as riding parties. Some who have taken up land in the bush are busy making new homes, and a good many emerge from these to have a look round here on Saturday evenings and on Sunday.

Being so much further back in the bush than the folk referred to here, the scattered Kaponga settlers will have come out much less frequently, often waiting for some special occasion to make the journey worthwhile. They will have been represented at all notable occasions in Manaia and Okaiawa. We will choose an example or two from Manaia.

Manaia's races became a regional Boxing Day fixture and were drawing crowds of over 1000 by the later 1880s.50 The Easter Monday athletic sports became equally popular. Kaponga settler G.H. McKenzie was one of the star performers at these sports in 1888.51 Four months later Kaponga settlers must surely have been present on the wet Saturday afternoon when the page 70 long-talked-of match between Pakeha wrestling champion George Pearce and his Maori counterpart, Whanga Katipu from Waikato, was staged in Manaia. The crowd of up to 1000 included enthusiasts from as far away as Wellington. The match was ‘in Cumberland style first three falls out of five to win’. Pearce, four stones lighter than his opponent and suffering from a cold and a recent fall from a horse, took the first two falls but, being the more experienced, eventually felled Whanga twice. Delayed by periods of drenching rain the contest dragged on till the light faded and the contestants, on Whanga's initiative, agreed to a draw.52 This was an adult occasion, and on the Pakeha side a male one. But both sexes, young and old, must have come down from the bush for festivities such as those of Christmas Eve 1889 when

… the town was very full of people, all the shops were nicely decorated with ferns, Chinese lanterns and flowers, and the goods displayed to best advantage. The Band was out, and the town was pretty lively.53

Further away the regional ‘capital’, Hawera, also had a number of annual events of considerable drawing power, especially its highly successful annual A & P Show, founded in 1884. Normanby's annual horticultural show also became a regional event, drawing attendances of up to 1500 by the end of the 1880s. Such was the vitality of the new bush township beginning its rise on the banks of the Kaupokonui that within a very few years it would be providing its own version of almost all the activities for which the district's settlers trekked abroad in the 1880s.