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

A Structured Approach

page 22

A Structured Approach

To gain a firm and disciplined grip on our story it has been shaped by periods into three parts, each consisting of parallel sections on four major topics. For each part the first chapter is ‘Time and Space’. Here we deal with the changing features of the lie of the land as the settlers' programmes interacted with the virgin landscape, and with the changes through time in how the settlers envisaged themselves in relation to their local world and its and their interaction with the wider regional, colonial, imperial and global worlds. These sections share the concerns of the historical geographer in the shaping of landscapes over time with a major interest of the social historian, the reconstructing of the changing mental worlds of the common people. These folk were structuring new local and regional worlds while engaging in vigorous debate as to what the shapes of these worlds were and ought to be. At the same time they were acutely aware that their economic and social fortunes were inextricably intertwined with wider worlds which they made considerable efforts to understand and influence. We will not grasp their bush frontier experience unless we can place them firmly in time and space, understanding them both as shapers of a little new world and as integral citizens and active participants in western civilisation and its economy. If we wish to gain a real understanding of their story we must enter with sympathy into minds where deep concerns for such minutiae as the changing weather jostled with anxieties about the London markets and the clash of empires. We shall find the weather dominant in the early years, the markets and the empires more to the fore as time moved on.

The second section in each part concerns ‘The Making of Livings’. These folk moved to the Kaponga bush frontier because they believed that they could make better livings there than in the districts they had left. We must try to discern what ideas they brought with them about how they would be making those livings, and how their unfolding experience reshaped those ideas. The fortunes of the yeoman farm will be very much at the centre of our concern throughout. The forest harvest will be of considerable importance in the earlier years, while the village shopkeepers, craftsmen and service industries will become of increasing importance as time moves on. The third section* in each part, on ‘The Quality of Life’, will follow the settlers into their leisure time, at home and abroad, to see how they enriched their lives with recreations and sports, how they made holiday, how they sought meaning for their lives through church, politics and intellectual debate, and how they raised and educated their children.

These first three sections in each part, taken together, should give a good deal of insight into the ‘frontier fragment’ experience of our title. But because each is focused on a particular aspect there is something they will page 23 not have adequately succeeded in giving. To get the ‘feel’ of the past we need to follow significant happenings in the intricate contexts within which life was actually lived. In search of this ‘feel’ the final chapter of each part presents and discusses a number of seminal episodes from its period, happenings that illustrate how personal idiosyncrasies and fortuitous contingencies are an inevitable part of lived experience. One purpose of these chapters, then, is to enrich while drawing together and illuminating the concerns of the preceding three chapters.

But these final chapters have also been included for the purpose of balance. The other chapters are particularly heavily dependent on Kaponga's own reporters, particularly ‘Our Own’, for their material. There is an element of bias in these reports due to the concern to present the community in a favourable light. Our episodes will be found to draw heavily on conflicts, litigation, inquests and disasters, in the reporting of which not only the community's good metal, but also much of its dross, has inevitably come to light. For Part 1 this chapter is particularly important and has been given liberal space because these incidents are able to take us a considerable way in penetrating the haze that gives this decade its half-hidden character.

The Epilogue, besides raising one or two more general issues, first reaches onwards for a brief survey of the war years, which lie beyond our stated period. These years, in which the cream of Kaponga's first homegrown generation of young men was siphoned off to help feed the slaughter fields of the northern hemisphere, have much to tell us about the quality of what had been being shaped in the Kaponga district since 1881. They are also included to illustrate how deeply this catastrophe marked the end of an era, both for little Kaponga and for the wide world, as they faced a new future after the years of devastation.