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

Change and Continuity

page 199

Change and Continuity

Looking back we can see, with a clarity denied to the folk of the time, the shaping forces that made Kaponga on the verge of World War I markedly different from Kaponga of the turn of the century. Let us begin with the advent of the new century. As they scanned their first Stars for 1901 local readers would have found that neither the editor nor ‘Our Own’ mentioned the advent of a new century or commented on what changes it was likely to bring. The year's first leader (3 January) was about traction engines cutting up the roads, and ‘Our Own's’ first letter (4 January) was full of trivia, mainly about holiday season entertainments. As in any other January, politics at all levels was largely in recess, all who could afford to were holidaying, and rural folk were busy with the demands of high summer.

Meanwhile on 1 January, while premier Seddon joined the Sydney celebrations of the coming into being of the Commonwealth of Australia, with New Zealand outside it, in Wellington the Executive met to mark the opening of the new century by inaugurating universal penny post. Early in the month New Zealand's Sixth Contingent for the South African war went into training, and they sailed on the 30th. On 22 January Queen Victoria's long reign ended. The Star had plenty of opportunities for broad views and for editorial comment on forces likely to transform both Kaponga and its world. But its broadest discussion on the colony was an editorial on the 9th on ‘The Prosperity of 1900; the Prospects for 1901’, whose theme was that it had just had its most prosperous year ever, and that this prosperity looked likely to continue. The most sweeping survey beyond New Zealand was on the South African war on the 5th. Unaware that the war was already entering a long, new guerrilla stage, this was based on the false assumption that ‘the crisis is past … the Boers know they are fighting a lost cause’. The Star held that the war had shown the European nations something they had little understood—that the empire was united, that the colonies contained considerable reserves of power and that they were ‘so loyal, so satisfied with the Imperial connection, that at a pinch they could be relied on to rally round the Old Country in any difficulty which beset her’.

It is not difficult to see why the Star, and no doubt most Kaponga page 200 settlers, were looking for the world to go on much as of yore. Yes, Australia might be federating, but trade went on unhindered, for the island continent was in the grips of a great drought and drew heavily on New Zealand's flocks, fields and market gardens to feed itself. Yes, the Old Queen may have died, but what really mattered was that King Dick was still firmly at the colony's helm. We, with the benefit of hindsight, can see far more in the month's news. The Australian drought gave us only short-term protection from the ruin that the new federal tariff was to bring to our trans-Tasman export trade. On 10 June 1906 King Dick would die at the comparatively young age of 61, returning from Australia with what proved to be an unacceptable reciprocal tariff treaty. Thereafter, for various reasons, a deep rift quickly developed in trans-Tasman relations. New Zealand's punt for the universal penny post was a reminder that the world was growing smaller, but one important message from international reactions to the South African war was that it was not growing more friendly. Kaponga was to continue as a predominantly dairying district serving the distant British market. But at all levels—district, colony, Australasia, the empire, the world—this continuity was to be affected by restructurings already well under way.

Again the benefit of hindsight shows up a marked difference between Kaponga's Late Victorian story and its Edwardian one. Up to the turn of the century it was largely one of settlers bringing skills and dreams to the reshaping of a virgin landscape. The outside world left them to the task with little interference. But the new century saw the outside world increasingly intrude, both openly and subtly, bringing gifts but also exacting costly, and eventually terrible, tribute. We will give two examples here; others will emerge as the chapter proceeds. In 1900 most of Kaponga's transport needs, in terms of vehicles, horsepower and fuel, were produced locally. By 1914 the shift was well under way to imported motorised vehicles, with a different order of horsepower fuelled from abroad. In 1900 military involvement for Kaponga's young men was a purely voluntary matter. By 1914 compulsory military training had been in force for four years; all had registered, been assigned to units, and become much better prepared to be thrown against similar armies of young men burgeoning across the globe.