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Settlers and Pioneers

6 — Waikato Settlement

page 42

Waikato Settlement

Mention has been made of the foodstuffs, especially wheat and flour, that were brought to Auckland from the Maori country. It was the Rev. John Morgan who civilised the Upper Waikato in the period 1842-1861. He introduced English ways of farming, brought in English fruit trees, taught the natives to grow wheat, and to grind it in their own water-mills. He it was who, by precept and personal example, made the natives of Te Awamutu, Rangiaowhia, Kihikihi, Orakau a farming and fruitgrowing people, with the result that long before the "Waikato war travellers found there to their astonishment many beautiful settlements, with large fields of wheat, potatoes, and maize, and dwellings arranged in neat streets, shaded by groves of peach and apple trees. Each large village had its water-driven flour-mill procured by the community, which after the harvest was kept busily grinding into flour the abundant yield of the cornfields.

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The Maoris of the Waikato and the Waipa, as well as those of other districts, were industrious and prosperous, thanks to the missionaries and to the help given by Sir George Grey in his first governorship. Waikato's surplus produce was taken to Auckland in large canoes. This consisted chiefly of wheat, flour, maize, pigs, fruit, and muka (dressed flax). After each harvest the Waipa and Waikato rivers were busy with this canoe transport going down fully laden to the market and returning with goods purchased in Auckland. The route was via Waiuku, which was then a very busy place, and Onehunga.

A great deal of the heavy work on the farms was done by means of an ohu (working bee). The harvesting was also done by this method.

A member of a leading half-caste family of the King Country, the late Mr Arthur Ormsby, of Te Kopua, on the Waipa River, gave an account of the old-time farming methods on the convenient and helpful community system, which was revived in his district after the war. 'In one season,' he said, 'I was for nearly a month assisting with the harvest at Te Kopua going from one wheat or oat field to another, working hard every day and all day. The owner of each plot would provide a feast for the workers on his crop as part payment. I have been one of 50 sickle hands on one field, and there were more than a score of lassies behind the reapers binding the sheaves with flax, which had been prepared before reaping page 44commenced. Frequently the leading man or woman would start a song, which would be taken up by all the workers in the field, and the effect on the listeners and workers alike was inspiring. The community singing seemed to make the sickles go like miniature mowing machines.'

The war ended the golden age in the Waikato. The British conquest replaced the Maori tribes with military settlers, as far south as the Puniu and Waipa rivers. Waikato took refuge with Ngati-Maniapoto who lost only their northernmost village and headquarters, Kihikihi. Some 3,000 military settlers were introduced, and were given free sections ranging from 50 to 300 acres. Redoubts were the centres around which the settlements were grouped.

The first home I knew, the first trees and flowers, were on the soil that had less than ten years before been a battlefield. The place had originally been a grant to a Waikato Militia officer, who sold it. The farm lay with a gentle tilt to the north. Wheat was much grown and gave large yields. Memory lingers on the many peach groves and cherry groves, Maori planted, laden with the largest and sweetest fruit ever grown.

There were tongues of raupo and flax swamp thrust into the land from the broad belt of forest page 45that covered the main swamp on the north—rich pasture land now, with scarcely a white pine or a rimu left. A small swampy stream flowed through the deep valley on the west of the knoll on which our home stood. Harry, the North of Ireland man who worked on the farm, made a toy water-wheel for us; it clacked merrily at a tiny water-fall. Lower down there had been a small Maori flour-mill, in the wheat-growing days before the war. The old mill-dam, fed by the little creek and large springs, was now used for watering the farmer's cattle and sheep. Where the stream crooked its way past a large grove of acacia trees and a peach grove, there were ruins of Maori houses, relics of the peaceful missionary days when there were several villages of Ngati-Raukawa here.

The farm life was comfortable and happy, however primitive in some ways. There were farm and household utensils never seen now. Peaches fattened the pigs; even the horses and cattle munched those peaches. We had everything we needed; to the youthful mind, that knew no other life, it was endless comfort. I came to know later how short cash often was, and how settler and storekeeper often had resort to the barter system in which no money passed. Later on I carried to the township every Saturday on the saddle in front of me a box of home-churned butter, that surpassed in excellence of flavour any factory butter of to-day. We got fourpence a pound page 46for it, not in cash, but took it out in groceries— tea and sugar.

The things we did without simply because we had never heard of them—at any rate we youngsters had not—were legion. We were happy at home; those evenings were never monotonous. We had books at any rate. I am sure I don't know how modern youth would survive a revival of those movie-less, radio-less, jazz-less evenings, the only sound from the outside dark the sharp wailing call of the weka in the swamp and the bittern's occasional muffled boom.

The farming then was mixed; root and grain crops of many kinds were grown, and there were sheep as well as cattle on every farm of any size. Candles were made by the farmer's wife from tallow; I remember the tin moulds used. Smelly candles they were, but better than nothing, especially when kerosene was hard to get. We had orchards of generous size. There were no orchard pests; but caterpillars once destroyed a wheat crop.

The flax-bush was all important. No farmer could have done without it, for a score of purposes. The down or pollen (hunehune) of the raupo flowerhead was a substitute for feathers or kapok in filling pillows and cushions. Harness was made, in the early farming days, from green cowhide, cured with salt and alum. Plough and bridle reins and stirrup leathers were manufactured in that way. Floor mats page 47and carpets were made by Maori neighbours, and on these were often laid dressed and dyed sheepskins. The old-fashioned flail was used for threshing grain before the first steam thresher arrived.

The housewives made much use of the abundant fruit. The big honey peaches were cut in slices, which were strung with darning needle and thread or string, and hung out in the wind and sun to dry; then they were laid out on boards, or on sheets of corrugated iron, thoroughly dried in the hot midsummer sun, and finally hung up in festoons in the rafters of the kitchen for future use in pies. This practice seems to have become a lost art in the country; no doubt because those beautiful peaches of the pre-blight years are no longer seen, except in a few places on the Bay of Plenty coast. The farm women in South Africa, I am told, sun-dry their peaches in exactly the same way.

There was no factory-cured bacon in the pioneer days, for there were no factories. We dealt with our pigs on the farm, and we had a hand in every stage of the process from sty to kitchen. After the killing the meat was well rubbed in with salt, a business several times repeated, and then was transferred to the smoke-house, a small slab whare without a window and entered by a low door. Here the dissected pig was hung in the smoke of a sawdust fire which was kept steadily burning, or rather smouldering, on the earth floor for many days. When page 48thoroughly smoke-cured the rolls and sides of bacon, now a fine golden colour, were suspended on wire hooks in the high-roofed kitchen. How often I think now at breakfast-time, or thereabouts, of that airy old kitchen with its rafters all hung with our hoard of home-cured bacon! Never has there been any like it to me since those days on the farm. On the maize-growing plains of the Bay of Plenty maize-cobs were added to the smoke-house fuel, giving the bacon a delicious nutty and aromatic flavour.

We have travelled far since those days of the semi-primitive life. But I question whether the excessive specialisation of the farming industry has been altogether a change for the better. The dairy-farm nowadays is often a bare, comfortless place. The ground for plantations is begrudged; most of the trees are felled; there are fewer orchards. A farm in the early days was self-contained; nearly everything that the family needed except clothes and a few groceries was produced there. Intensive dairy farming means that some of the amenities that make country life pleasant and happy are sacrificed.

I know if I were a boy again I would sooner be a youngster on a far-back Waikato farm of that era than on one of these down-to-date places where they put through a hundred cows twice daily. We were not slaves to that exasperating animal. We were not all standardised then by radio and cinema and motor-car and labour-saving machinery. There are page 49indications that the mechanisation of rural life has reached its crest and that in many places the inevitable reaction has set in.

On rare occasions there was an entertainment of some kind in the township, or the next one. There was the first amateur minstrel show of the young eighties in the village hall. What mystery about those 'Genuine Tennessee Negro Minstrels!' What excitement, what floor-pounding with heavy boots when up rolled the rag and revealed the drop-scene, a bush picture with a misty mountain and a Maori canoe and the creek! It was painted by an artist in the Armed Constabulary redoubt on the hill. There they were, all in a half-moon row, the darkies of our dreams, with a long-whiskered, venerable Uncle Tom in their midst. It was very new and wonderful.

The sharp eyes of boyhood, however, soon penetrated the burnt-cork disguise. 'Why, it's old Bill Kelly, the cook at the redoubt!' 'So it is!' And there were Brudder Bones, and the brudder at the other end of the row. 'Why, it's Jock Anderson the blacksmith, and there's Sergeant Coulihan!'

There they were, the old soldiers and some of the young, the talent of the township, singing and strumming away like billy-oh. They sang all the old Christy Minstrel ditties—new to us youngsters—and they told each other the funniest jokes in the most solemn manner. The sophisticated cinema-sated young folk of the day cannot imagine what a treat page 50it was to us, that show of the Tennessee Minstrels, with old Bill Kelly and his white whiskers in the chair. Bill and the sergeant and the rest of them— they have long gone where the good niggers go.

The township school picnic day was an outing long looked for and enjoyed with zest. Plump and bustled beauty played 'Jolly Miller' with whiskered manhood under the peach trees, and the dames picked up their skirts for the foot races and ran like wekas—and if you know the weka you will remember it can get some pace on when it likes.

But the annual race-meeting was the great day of the year. The races were the gathering place for settlers for thirty miles around. Many of them rode their own horses, and there was no monkey-crouch jockeying in those days. Stockman's seat, as in the hunts, and weights a well-grown man's. Tattooed and bushy-whiskered Hauhaus who had been ready to raid the border farmer a few years before came in and got tight in pakeha company and yelled hilarious hakas when a Maori horse came in first. Big Ngata, a tall humorous Ngati-Raukawa warrior, who had been one of Rewi's fellow-councillors on the Runanga before the war, and who had fought in Taranaki as well as Waikato, went round greeting his pakeha friends and ex-foes, begging shamelessly a hikapene for another drink. He told me he had lived in Orakau before the war, and was one of the owners.

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Te Kooti was our neighbour in 1884 and 1885. He had a Government allotment, a gift from a grateful, or relieved, country; it was in Kihikihi township; and he had a camp for a while on Andrew Kay's farm just where the Orakau defenders made their desperate, forlorn effort to escape. Later he shifted back into the King Country with his obedient people, and we saw him in Otewa, a neat village on the Waipa. Finally, the Government bestowed a block of 600 acres on his people at Ohiwa, on the Bay of Plenty. His history was curious to contemplate. But he was a quiet if sometimes convivial neighbour, and faith-healer. Also a sportsman. He entered one of his horses, a grey gelding called Panirau (which means 'Many Orphans'), for the Kihikihi Cup, the principal event at the Kihikihi races of 1886. I was at those races; it was a true picnic meeting, picnic being construed very liberally. After all those years I am not sure whether Mr Te Kooti's Panirau won or lost.

All such gatherings, jovially unconventional, tended to build and strengthen the pakeha-Maori friendship.

We frequently saw Te Kooti in those years, 1884-1889. He was a man of middle size, with grey hair and sparse grey beard. His features were finely cut, his strong nose aquiline, his expression determined, dogged. He was not tattooed, his frame was spare, his shoulders slightly stooped. One of his hands was page 52mangled by a Government bullet in the 1869 campaign. The war-worn veteran and spiritual medicine man often passed through Kihikihi township attended by his faithful cavalcade. In his later days he rode in a buggy with his two wives, stern, resolute-looking women who composed his bodyguard against revengeful attack by some old enemy. Reputedly each carried a loaded revolver in her blouse.

In one way and another there was pleasure in the country life in one's youth. There was leisure, for all the hard work. Life went in a contemplative sort of way; there was time to think. No one was in a hurry except in the strenuous and rough-country riding after half-wild cattle. There was always another day. We cannot return along the old paths of life—perhaps few of us would even if we could— but one would like to recapture something of the early-days outlook, the freshness and the delight that every rising sun brought with it when it glistened on the dewy fields and the trees and the flax-blades of the old loved places.