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New Zealand Now

2 — Appeal to Figures

page 14

Appeal to Figures

There is of course a sense in which every man springs from the soil. Literally as well as figuratively all flesh is grass. A New Zealander is a man whom New Zealand earth has nourished. He is the size, the shape, the colour, the weight that climate and geography have made him.

And of these we have reasonably precise knowledge. New Zealand breaks the surface of the world's loneliest ocean. Its nearest neighbour is twelve hundred miles away, and most of it faces boundless sea. Sail east or sail west and you will come to no other land for three weeks unless you lose your course; and then you will hit the toe of South America. Sail south and you will not be stopped till you reach the ice round the Pole. Though New Zealand is a thousand miles long and averages a hundred miles wide, that is such a small area in the Southern Ocean that it looks about as important on the map as a match in a bucket of water. And because much of it is 'uplifted high'— a considerable proportion of the South Island is more page 15than four thousand feet, and a good deal more than eight thousand—it brings down the clouds and throws up the winds. We have much sunshine in New Zealand—an average of at least six hours a day right through the year; but nearly all of the North Island and much of the South Island has fifty inches of rain or more; and there are two or three corners only where the wind does not blow for at least three days in every week. All this sunshine, all this wind and rain, playing on a land surface generally fertile at low level but seldom low for many miles on end, covered the North Island and much of the South with a forest growth at once sub-tropical and sub-antarctic. It was only in Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago that the first settlers found country ready for sheep and cattle. Everywhere else bush stood in the way, a black impenetrable mass. Everywhere else to-day if settlement disappeared the bush would return. We live exposed to all the conditions that made our country half a jungle and half a wilderness before we first saw it, and inevitably we carry the marks of the struggle.

For although it has not been a harsh struggle relatively, such a battle with blizzards as would have been our lot in North-West Canada, or with icefloes and hurricane seas such as we would have met in Labrador, it has been persistent. Our land is rich where it is arable, and if we had not cleared and cultivated it so recklessly most of it would still have been stable. In millions of years it had covered itself page 16with a plant growth perfectly adapted to our weather. Where the rain was forty inches or more there was sub-tropical jungle. Where it was less than that the bush had adapted itself by reducing its evaporation rate; or had given way to tussock. Our battle with our environment has been the kind of battle our muscles and nerves carry on every day against our clothes—not often a violent war, but never for a single moment complete peace, as we discover when the enclosing pressures and irritations are removed. It has been stimulating enough to prevent us from becoming Italians or Spaniards, but it has not battered and blistered us into Norsemen or Nova Scotians. One of its chief effects has been a call to work, unceasing diligence against unceasing efforts by Nature to smother our struggles and absorb us. We are extraordinarily diligent for people who have never gone hungry or cold or been threatened with annihilation by tempest, fire, or flood; for although earthquakes threaten us, few of us believe that they threaten us with extinction, and if we did believe that we would not think it possible to defend ourselves. It is not to outwit Vulcan that we work so steadily but to resist the return of the bush, the sweeping away of our uncovered soil by wind, frost, and rain, the destruction of our plant and animal life by disease, to overcome our distance from our markets, and the unpleasantness of mud, bad roads,* hastily built houses, wet

* When all his other works (and words) are forgotten, Mr Semple may be remembered as the man who lifted us out of the mud.

page 17clothes, and a hundred other things that harry us without threatening to crush us. We are committed, not at all to a violent life but to a life without repose. We travel, and must travel, like the ships that brought us here—tacking, turning, slowing up, racing on, an erratic course that from the deck itself seems to be leading nowhere, but is a steady journey from one world to another which posterity will see as a straight line.

Already some of the results are on record, for in most measurable ways—occupations, health, numbers, and length of life, for example—we are precisely what our environment has made us. Even our less measurable attributes—educational and social trends, and perhaps even our marriage customs and histories—depend far more on soil, rain, and wind than statisticians realise or will confess. They certainly depend on the fact that we are here, and we are here partly at least because geography has enslaved us and made us feel that it is good to be here. It is literally true that the Lord is our shepherd if we are farmers. Without His sun and rain we do not He down in green pastures. Unless He raises mountains across the course of the winds we do not walk beside still waters. In Central Otago, where the rain is less than twenty inches a year, we do not milk cows. In Westland, where it is more than a hundred inches, we do not run sheep. We are carpenters because we have timber; fell- mongers because we have skins and hides. Gold and page 18coal made us miners. Melted snow made us hydroelectric engineers.

The list could be lengthened indefinitely, but it would be labour in vain. That job has been done. Our best known, most frequently consulted, most eloquent, and in many ways most original book, a book that robs Mass Observation of its novelty and most of its nonsense, counted us, classified us, labelled and disposed of us before all but the very oldest of us were born. It tells us in fact why we were born, and how; what has happened to us since, and who made it happen; what pots we boil, what games we play, what mates we find, what battles we have waged and must wage—for as Einstein reminds us, the domestic war can never cease. And when it has told us all that, the Year-Book gives us one terrifying glimpse ahead—tells us what will kill us, when death will come, and in what corner of the cemetery we shall then lie.

According to statisticians our story is something like this. We are born British if we can be, but only 91 per cent succeed if the test is blood. For the statement so often made that New Zealanders are 98 per cent British means no more than that 98 per cent of them are born under the British flag. If it were permissible any longer to talk of race we could certainly say that we are pure beyond all precedent, but we could not say that our purity reaches 98 per cent. We might claim 92 per cent, but since race is a page break
Rivers But No Rain

Rivers But No Rain

page 19myth, and the British nation its chief destroyer, it is better to say that 91 per cent of us were clever enough to be born of English, Scots, Irish, or Welsh stock, and 98 per cent of parents wise enough to be British citizens. We should have to say also that it is twice as easy in New Zealand to have English as to have Scots blood, half as easy again to have Scots blood as to have Irish, and fifteen times as easy to have Irish as to have Welsh. It is in fact as easy to be Scandinavian as to be Welsh, and about half as easy to be German, but it is very difficult to be French. It would be easier to be born French than to be born Russian, but as there are more Jugo-Slavs in the Dominion than Russians and French combined, the prospect of arriving in New Zealand to find oneself a Jugo-Slav is almost as good as the prospect of opening one's eyes on parents wholly Nordic. Nor is it nearly so easy as most people imagine to be Asiatic. While the chance of a Scandinavian parent is about one in a hundred, and of a German parent about one in three hundred, the chance of an Asiatic parent, Chinese, Indian, or Syrian, is a little smaller than one in five hundred. But whatever our choice is in parents, and our prospect of getting the blood we want, we are not so anxious to exist at all as we were ten years ago, and not nearly so anxious as we were twenty years ago. In 1919 the birth-rate was twenty-one in a thousand. In 1929 it had dropped to nineteen. To-day it is only seventeen, which means that death is maintaining its pace more page 20consistently than life is. For although the death-rate in New Zealand is low, the second lowest in the world, births have dropped so much faster than deaths that the natural increase has declined in ten years from 12.8 to 8.7. And if that is not sufficient evidence against our statistical New Zealander it is on record that, when he does think it worth while to sample life, he prefers to be a male, likes a father between twenty-five and thirty-five and a mother a little younger, is a little shy of printers and public servants, and prefers farmers to miners, miners to quarry hands, quarry hands to fathers who build bridges.

Once he arrives the young New Zealander has a better chance of surviving his first year than any other baby in the world. He can in fact at the end of his first fortnight expect to live to sixty-five, but if he has had his way and has arrived as a male he has robbed himself of nearly three years. He will of course have to go to school whether he wants to or does not, and stay there for seven years at least, but if anyone would tell him the facts in advance he could have the satisfaction all that time of knowing that he will usually be about seven months ahead of his Australian contemporary in mental age and be costing his father at least a packet of cigarettes a week in taxes. The chance that he will go through a secondary school is about one in two, and his prospect of getting to a university is a little better than one in twelve. But he will sooner or later have to work, and this, if he is page 21not a farmer, will take him into manufacturing as a first choice, into commerce next, then into transport or communications, and after that into public administration or professional work. It will also take him into the biggest tax-paying group, and, if he remains our average man, bring him something between £4 and £6 a week. So he will marry, more certainly and more promptly than his contemporaries anywhere else in the British Commonwealth, and the chances are about fifteen to one that he will stay married. He is also five times as likely to have a religious as a civil marriage, ten times as likely to remain nominally associated with a church as to break away altogether, and twenty times as likely to retain some religious faith as to proclaim himself an unbeliever. He may of course remain statistically religious and not go to church so far as the government knows, either because he has so few companions that a church is beyond their financial resources, or because he worships at a secret shrine that he refuses to reveal, or because he believes that God is a jealous God who resents intermediaries. Similarly he may be outside the ranks of the believers for more than one reason—either because he is a Rationalist, in which case he will have two thousand companions, or an Agnostic, when he will have fifteen hundred, or a Freethinker, when he will have nine hundred. If he is a Confucian, he will find himself in a group that is shrinking almost as rapidly as the birth-rate, and if page 22nothing will satisfy him but membership of a congregation that is growing faster than the natural increase of the population he will have to join the Christian Scientists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Rationalists, the Agnostics, the British-Israelites, or the Others.

His age is now uncertain, but if he is still under thirty he has a mathematically undefined but still strong claim to a game of football, and for another twenty years at least, and probably more, he will remember with some pain what the Springboks did in New Zealand in 1937. Even if he turns his back on football and goes to the races he will remain sensitive to national calamity,* and if a further football disaster threatens he will stay away from the racecourse for a whole day to lend moral support to what his evening paper once called 'mastodons straining in the mud'. But for all his fidelity to football statisticians find him elusive, and hesitate to say on how many days in the year he will be found on the bank, how often inside the enclosure, and how often he will have slipped away without excuse or reason to cricket, tennis, bowls, or the dogs, or even into the wilderness to shoot or fish. If he goes to a hut in the bush or the tussocks he will not however lose contact with the serious side of life unless it is one odd hut in a hundred, but will go to bed with Phar Lap looking at him from the walls and Tom Heeney, the Brownlie brothers and Mark Nicholls, George Nepia and Dave Gallaher,

* Phar Lap's sudden death in America in 1932 shook us almost as much as the death of Kitchener in 1916.

page 23and will know that all the others looking on—cricketers, scullers, hockey girls, and gun-club champions—are helping to keep the world healthy for democracy.

But the day will come when he begins to feel stiff in his joints. He will grow old, and if his digestion does not give him trouble his circulation will, or his respiration, a cyst—we have one special to New Zealand—or a malignant tumour, and one day he will die. He will die because his heart has failed, or because of anarchy in his cell tissue, or because his arteries have become brittle or his kidneys are tired, or he himself is too tired and too slow to jump out of the way of a speeding motor-car; for one of those reasons, and perhaps for two of them; but there are many other possibilities for him if those do not open a wide enough door. If it happens in his fifties he will be a little unlucky, since the sixties are a good deal more dangerous, the seventies worse, and the eighties-and-over worst of all; but although there is about one chance in ten thousand that he will even go safely through the nineties, he will die sooner or later, this man who has never existed, and all that lies before him then statistically is a choice of burial services. It is certainly a very generous choice, with the chances about one in two for the Church of England, one in four for the Presbyterians, one in seven for the Roman Catholics, one in twelve for the Methodists, one in sixty for the Baptists, one in ninety for the Brethren, page 24one in 120 for the Salvation Army, and at least a dozen other possibilities that may not be entirely ruled out. For we treat our statistical population well in life and in death until the Treasury hears about them, and even then we are kind to them if they have lived and died average robots. It is quite likely that the Treasury will forget him, since the deceased, having married someone younger than himself, and having in any case a shorter expectation of life than females of his own age, will probably have left a wife; but if more than a pound in a hundred is taken from his estate he climbed at some time during his statistical career into a class to which he did not belong, and New Zealand does not like people who do unexpected things, or climb up in the world and forget their friends. So it drags them down afterwards, and puts its penalties on record. It also likes to think that whatever people leave behind them—for even statistical men take nothing with them—they leave to beneficiaries standing close to them in kinship. If for example our statistical man, finding himself a widower, decides to leave everything to his mother-in-law, she will pay from 5 to 10 per cent for his devotion, unless the estate is very small. So if the wind and the weather, the sunshine and the soil, make us do unexpected things while we are alive, they will make the community do unexpected things to us after we are dead, and thus keep our idiosyncrasy curve under safe control.

page 25

Figures of course leave a good deal of us unaccounted for, but that is not the fault of the statistician. He measures us when we give him the chance, and the results go accurately into his books. But he does not post a he-detector to us when he sends us a form to fill up, and honesty in most of us is relative to the time and the place. We may be safe with the pound note that a friend gives us for the totalisator, but our memory may fail a little when we are filling up an income tax return. And how is the statistician to know, and the Year-Book to say, how often 'it will do' is substituted for 'it is done' in our factories, on our farms, in our kitchens, and even in our schools? In a country in which labour is dear and raw materials are cheap the temptation to scamp work is too strong to be resisted every time. The farmer who has dipped ninety-nine sheep will sometimes forget the hundredth if it jumps out of the yards at the end of a long day and joins the ninety and nine when he is not looking; the carpenter who splits a board may not replace it if the accident happens at five o'clock; the reporter who is covering a meeting may decide, if he is rushed, that Johnson will do for Jonson, Johnston, or Johnstone, and that names are only labels in any case; the woman who has scalded the milk twenty days on end may decide on the twenty-first day of the heat wave that it will not this time go sour. We can hardly blame the statistician if figures do not always mean what they say in his lists, but we shall certainly not see New page 26Zealand accurately if we shut our eyes to facts that every visitor notices—our tendency to be casual, to drop the hammer when the nail needs one more blow, to trust to luck, and to assume, in big things and small, that Nature can now and then be mocked. There is an Italian proverb that the devil shows us how to make the pot, never the lid. New Zealanders make strong pots, but they are too busy sometimes, and sometimes too tired, to give the lid the same attention, if indeed they have any taste or talent for lids. We must therefore remember when we read the Year-Book exactly what we are reading. But if statistics are sometimes not true they are never false, and they are 'near enough' to the truth in most cases to support an argument. As a picture therefore of the official New Zealander they 'will do'.