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New Zealand Now

4 — North Island

page 41

North Island

Year in and year out Wellington has two thousand hours of sunshine. It has also, intermittently, days without a breath of wind. You fall asleep to the groaning of trees and the rattle of windows and doors. You awake to a stillness that makes you wonder where you are. If you have the imagination for such alarms you think at once of 'earthquake weather'. If you have not forgotten Wordsworth you think of 'Westminster Bridge'. The hills, the houses, the harbour, the dingiest streets are not merely beautiful but touched with a benignity for which you have no words. It was Patagonia yesterday. This morning it is Lemnos or Norfolk Island.

But such miracles are rare. As a rule Wellington is gusty and bleak. Its harbour is choppy. Its hills are bush on clay. When rain comes with the wind, as it does on two days in every five, no other city in the Southern Hemisphere can be quite so dreary. It is difficult a hundred years later, when axe and fire have let in the page 42sun and drainage has conquered the mud, to realise how depressing their first winter must have been to the original white settlers put ashore on Petone beach. It is however on record that many of them would have sailed away again if that had been possible, and when it is possible many people move away from Wellington now. For it is less true of Wellington than of any other city in New Zealand that men come here to live. They come to work, and when their work is done they go somewhere else to live unless age and habit have brought on inertia. There are certainly brave spirits who like Wellington for its own sake: the 'tempest's howl it soothes their soul', as Burns says it does to Scotsmen. They like its moodiness, its wildness, its sudden rages and equally sudden surrenders; they are Wellingtonians. All others are Wellington residents,* and on these at least the climate and site have been fatal to cohesion. Time will of course win in the end. More and more people as the years pass will spread out into suburbs and conquer exposure and bareness and transfer their affections to these precious patches of clay. The proportion of dwellers is increasing, of residents decreasing, and so it must continue as long as there is growth.

But the fact remains that people do not take root

* I have however heard one of these 'residents' speak of Wellington with arresting fervour. It was not merely the 'only place in New Zealand in which to work', he insisted, but the only place free of the inferiority complex that demands 'eternal protestation of glory'. And Athletic Park was 'probably the only ground in the world', he added, 'on which the visiting team got louder cheers than the home side'.

page 43in Wellington as readily as they do in Auckland or in Christchurch. When allowance has been made for the fact that the seat of government must have a bigger boarding-house population than other cities, the number of temporary residents in Wellington is disproportionately large. The number who talk about their future plans is large, even for a city in which superannuation dominates the mental horizon. But although the proportion is large it is not surprising. Men and women are animals who love the sun, and shelter even more than the sun; they like peace, and as the years pass over their heads they like repose; they dislike noise. They like to be able to talk without raising their voices, to walk without fighting for their balance, to wear clothes without a challenge and their hair on the right side of their heads. So when the day's work is done they leave Wellington. They leave when their life's work is done. They leave for their holidays. The first words their children learn are 'Five (or seven or three) years more!'

And with that thought so big in their minds there is less room for many sordid worries. The house could do with another coat of paint. But whose house is it? The hedge is rushing up instead of out, and is now all draught-holes. But it was tending that way when they first took the place. The garden should be trenched and generously manured. They know that as well as you do; but a real garden—the kind they will give themselves in Havelock or Nelson—is the page 44work of several years. They have only two more to go. And why buy pictures until you know on what walls they will finally hang? Why collect books? Pianos are just impossible things until you come finally to rest. Well made furniture will not go with jerry-built houses.

It is not mere patter. Wellington carries on its houses and in its houses, on and in its people, the wind that blows above them and the clay that lies below them. It is careless materially because it has no alternative; it is careless mentally because one thing leads to another. Because so many do not intend to stay, there are more here than anywhere else who can never be worked up into those absurdities of parochialism that at times make other cities ridiculous. While Christ-church is Canterbury and Dunedin Otago, Wellington is not much more Wairarapa or Manawatu than it is Marlborough or Nelson. It is almost true to say that there is a typical New Zealander after all and that Wellington is his home. You will certainly find the unbranded New Zealander here more easily than you will find him anywhere else; the New Zealander without a local warp; without pride of place or slavish delight in his misfortunes. If it rains in Auckland, Aucklanders like it so; when it freezes in Christchurch, Christchurch likes cold fingers and dead feet. But the people of Wellington do not pretend that they like being uncomfortable. Their reaction to their climate is a decision not to remain miserable all their lives. page break
The Railway Made Taumarunui

The Railway Made Taumarunui

Wellington is Gusty

Wellington is Gusty

page 45They are quitters, but they are honest and free. And in the meantime they are tolerant. It does not worry them that twenty thousand of their number should have hived off and established a city of their own ten miles away. Twenty thousand near Auckland but not in Auckland,* on the flank of Christchurch but not under its seal, would mean Royal Commissions, public agitations, appeals to parliament, and sooner or later a municipal campaign of protection. Nothing like that happens in Wellington. The Hutt is Wellington, but if its people choose to give it another name Wellington does not worry. It almost applauds.
But it is one of the paradoxes of Wellington that this widely held desire to leave some day is in conflict with the physical facts. The encircling hills are unfinished but they are there. You do not feel in Wellington harbour as you do in, say, Lyttelton harbour that the hills, with the Lord, shall endure for ever; that they were 'set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was'; when 'He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His Commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth'. You feel that they could have been made by men, millions of men throwing up clay and puddling in round stones. And yet no other city in New Zealand is so effectually enclosed. If Kupe had been an explorer and not a navigator he would have

* I remember, as I write this, that there are in fact more people in Auckland suburbs than in Auckland city—123,880, the latest returns show, out of a total population of 230,680. But they are all emphatically Aucklanders.

page 46been hard put to it to escape to the north. It was years before the first white settlers knew their way out. And even to-day, with all our road science, we are limited to two routes—both depressing. Whether you take the Hutt Valley or the Ngahauranga Gorge you go out through gorse, and the gorse means that the soil is too cold and too mean to clear. You are well into the Wairarapa or the Manawatu before you feel that the farmer is working with Nature and not against her, and before that stage is reached you have lost the feeling that New Zealand is a young and fertile country with its big days yet to come. "When you recover it you are well into the Wairarapa and the Manawatu, and even then you find yourself wondering what the story might have been if, instead of being South of England, the first occupants of Port Nicholson had been South of Scotland; if the Scandinavians who reached the Manawatu in the sixties and Hawke's Bay in the seventies had started from Petone in the forties; or if the whole colony cornered in Wellington a hundred years ago had escaped then over the ranges and not crept out one by one over a period of fifty years.

But since the land makes the man before the man makes the land, the traveller north by the eastern route finds himself at last among a sheep-raising gentry while the western route keeps him among cows. In both cases he passes through a Scandinavian belt without any sense of strangeness, though he sees signs here page 47and there of an un-British respect for pigs; for in seventy years the Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes have suffered the same bush and mud changes as the English, Scots, and Irish, and only their names remain to remind us where they came from.

Now you are well into Hawke's Bay on one side and approaching Taranaki on the other, and from this stage on the story does not change. As far as you can go on one side you will find yourself among sheep and on the other side among cows. You will of course find cows among the sheep and sheep among the cows, but these will not deceive you. You will realise that you are watching a social-economic war for which the stage was set when New Zealand took its present size and shape. For the history of New Zealand is not so much a struggle between different races of men as between two great families of domestic animals. It is the battle of the sheep and the cows, which began as soon as white men came here to settle, and will go on as long as New Zealand is lifted up in the centre and lies across the track of the ocean winds. And the battle of the sheep and the cows, if it is not quite the battle of two civilisations, is the battle of two social systems. Sheep make gentlemen and cows unmake them. Sheep leave you with clean hands and clean feet, but cows drag your pride into the mud. Sheep leave you free, cows enslave you. Sheep make you a big farmer, cows make you a small farmer. Sheep leave you with Abraham and Jacob—though Jacob page 48
Distribution of Dairy Cattle

Distribution of Dairy Cattle

Note. One spot represents 2,500 cows

page 49
Distribution of Sheep

Distribution of Sheep

Note. One spot represents 25,000 sheep

page 50learnt something about cattle too—cows compel you to cultivate men of science or lose your labour. For although it is four hundred years since More's 'nobility and gentry, and even those holy men the abbots', amused themselves by teaching sheep to devour men, the practice still goes on. Sheep are still 'naturally mild and easily kept in order', but wherever they are kept in order by fences and not by the labour of their owners the human population decreases. The humble shepherds who watched their flocks in the plains of Bethlehem remained humble. The shepherds who came to New Zealand put up fences and climbed over the top wire into a new world. The social differences between the east and the west in New Zealand are to-day unmistakable; and sheep created those differences. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the history of the North Island is the story of those differences; and exaggeration is just truth a little out of focus. Until about thirty years ago, when the bush-farmers along the Main Trunk railway began to bridge the gap, the North Island was slowly splitting in halves. More's 'naturally mild' sheep were creating an eastern gentleman class, 'living at their ease' and (their western rivals thought) 'doing no good to the public', while the seven-days-a-week cows of the West Coast were converting labourers into farmers and farmers into politicians. When the gods wished to destroy our ancestors they first drove them mad. To-day they turn us out to grass. Although page 51the sheepfarmers of Hawke's Bay were the first in the Dominion to demand political independence, they are the servants to-day, and will remain the servants politically, of their more numerous (and far more vocal) neighbours who milk cows. The most they can hope for is an uneasy truce with dairymen under the pressure of Labour, or an alliance with Labour to control the 'cockatoos'. If this were not a story without a moral, we might find ourselves suggesting that long fences mean short dynasties.

There is of course a little more in the North Island story than the social rivalry of cows and sheep. The men and women who followed the Main Trunk railway, for example, wove a social fabric of their own that their children have not torn up. You do not feel in Taihape or Taumarunui that it matters much whether they milk 'ceows' or 'caows'. It matters that they have sharp axes and a wholesome fear of fern. They do not lose caste if they eat in the kitchen. They lose everything if they are careless about second growth. For the corpse of their enemy will not stay dead. They have conquered the bush but they still sit in anxious occupation of the stumps. And because they were far too busy when the battle was on to polish their nails every day and scrape their chins, some are now too old and some too proud to change. The day will come when the traveller will pass from, the Rangitikei to the Waikato without knowing where he is socially. But he knows to-day page 52that he is among ruder, stronger, simpler, and for all their cultivation of the ranker sins, essentially cleaner people than inhabit many more sophisticated settlements. Ask one of the older inhabitants to-day what he does in Taihape to amuse himself, and he may give you the answer you deserve: 'Watch fools like you going past in the train.' Ask one of the younger generation, and he will tell you with a tremendous grin that he drinks beer and knows a girl or two. Thirst and lechery are exalted in casual conversation into the high-spots of life, although the signs are everywhere that the chief sin is hard work without time to stand and stare.

And there is of course a reason for all this. The coast was settled by men of all ages and of all conditions, but whether they were young or old, penniless or relatively rich, they came straight from a settled and ordered society. Behind them lay a thousand years of Britain, a thousand years of Church and State with all their social balances and checks. The men who settled the King country had lost their traditions. They were the sons and sometimes the grandsons of men and women who had been half a century uprooted, or Irish immigrants who had strong national and religious reasons for not carrying on the old tradition. With few exceptions they were poor, and it was an accident if they had received a liberal education. They were hearty, as adventurers usually are, but they were also a little defiant, because many page 53of them were the unlucky numbers from the first scramble, settlers who had not succeeded, artisans and labourers who had known soup kitchens, and who now went into the bush with many of the resolutions and resentments with which their parents had left Britain in the first place. The first money many of them ever saved was paid to them for work on the railway. Without that railway they would in fact have been submerged, but they succeeded so quickly with it that they are still in a sense nouveaux riches, confident and contemptuous, slap-dash, by no means a legion of the lost, but a legion, it is difficult not to say, of frontiersmen, who chopped and burnt their way to liberty in twenty years and found fortune in a bag of manure. You must not expect them to have social graces. But you have lost the faculty of distinguishing grain from chaff if you think that they and not you are barbarians.

When you reach Te Kuiti you are in a new drainage area and low country all the way to the end of the Island. If you turn off to Rotorua and Thames you will rise a little and fall a little, but whether you turn right along the Bay of Plenty or left along Auckland Peninsula you remain among cows, with the great flocks of sheep behind you or to one side of you across bush-clad mountains. Auckland worships the cow as devoutly as Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago worship the sheep; nor is its devotion a divided allegiance as geography has made Wellington's. A page 54sheep north of Taupo has about the same place in the hagiarchy as a milking cow has south of Palmerston North: you uncover before both, and may even make sacrifice, but you do it furtively, and only when your other deity has failed you.

And because you are now in the country of the cow, and pass monuments to her every few miles—they stand as thick in the Waikato as in the greenest patch of Taranaki—you soon see the signs of a cheese and butter economy. From Kawhia to Hokianga, and from Opotiki to Keri Keri, though you are aware now and again of the influence of timber, of coal, of gold, and even of gum, you enter no township and follow no road that does not bring you sooner or later to a dairy-factory. You live cows, think cows, talk cows, breathe cows everywhere but on the rocky hump of Coromandel Peninsula; and even there you come on cows as often as you drop to the creek-flats and swamps.

In Thames you certainly forget the present as you linger among the signs of the past. Thames stops you. It has so many houses for so few people, and such good houses; so many churches and so many hotels, ancient and modern; so many poppet-heads and so many heaps of slag, that the past tugs at your elbow. Thames stands dreaming on its feet like a dray-horse that has emptied its nose-bag. It has worked hard, you know it will work hard again, but as you see it resting there with its head down, asleep on its legs between page break
They Worship the Cow

They Worship the Cow

Here There are Sheep

Here There are Sheep

page 55the propped up shafts, you wonder if it will ever wake up and start forward again into the collar. And those thirteen churches and thirteen hotels! Who built them, who supports them, which came first? They will tell you in the churches that sin built them, the consciousness of sin in those who fear God, and that they continue partly at least because the hotels continue. In the hotels, if you ask in lucid places, you will be told that they are the answer to the 'unco guid'—that the bars provide the charity and warmth that the rigidly righteous refuse. And although you may think yourself that both are the answer to the same prayer—the lonely and lost crying for escape—you wonder why Thames should be so eloquent and bigger towns so dumb. But so it is. The gold that made it still speaks. It speaks not only of days past but of days still to come, and here and there if you keep your eyes open you will see men disappearing still into holes in the hill, and doing incredible things in that dripping blackness now that gold is worth 168s an ounce. Gum you will find no one digging any longer, though there are many who know where it still lies; but if you are unlucky you will see something that makes you sick inside—caterpillar tractors climbing mountain ridges to drag down centuries-old kauri trees. It is not safe in 1941 to be sentimental, but it is difficult to avoid some internal disturbance when you come on the fresh stump of a tree that was standing before William conquered England, before page 56Kupe left Raiatea, perhaps before the cross was set up on Golgotha; and know that the tree itself is on its way to Auckland to make wash-tubs and troughs for scalding pigs.

But it is time to get back to the cows, and if you return by rail you will arrive again at Hamilton. You will also pass from one age into another. In that short journey back to the Waikato you say goodbye to everything that was New Zealand once and make acquaintance with nearly everything that is New Zealand now. If Thames is many times older than its age, Hamilton is many times younger. Thames is as old as age can be without being decrepit. Hamilton is as young as youth can be and still sit at table with grown-ups. It will some day be mellow and beautiful, as every town must be that lies long enough on the high banks of a deep clear river. But it is not mellow yet. It is new—clean, vigorous, bustling, alert, but almost indecently young. And just as travellers find it difficult in Bournville to believe that they are in England, and not easy, when they remember where they are, to be sure that such a place should exist—meliorism, they will tell you, can itself be a menace—so the South Islander suddenly entering Hamilton wonders where all those shops and offices came from, who built them, who visits them, and what right the Waikato has to be so flagrantly prosperous. For it clearly makes little difference to Hamilton in normal times whether it hails or rains page 57in Otago, whether frost or the north-west wind sears Canterbury, whether there are floods in Marlborough or drought in Hawke's Bay. As long as its cows calve and its bulls gender money will flow into its pocket and petrol fumes rise like incense from its main street. Canterbury can charge it a little more for wheat, North Auckland or Central Otago extract a little more for their fruit; but there is not much more that the rest of the Dominion can do to it, and the thought is hard to bear.

And as it is in Hamilton, so it has always been, for a hundred different and a thousand identical reasons, in Auckland. Auckland is not what it is just because its citizens are what they are. It is not the Queen City because two hundred thousand people keep on saying so. It has left Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin behind because it lies degrees nearer to the Equator; because it has always had land for its people to build their houses and water in which to swing their ships; because it is in the track of trade to Australia, the first point of call from America, and the nearest point for trade with what we still foolishly call the South Seas and the Far East. Timber has helped it, gold, coal, sugar, and gum. But nothing means so much to it to-day as butter, cheese, and milk. It is a rich garden fertilised from the cow-shed. And because cows are the foundation of its economy, the grocer, the butcher, the draper, and the baker are the guiding stars of its municipal life. Auckland is a city page 58in which you buy and sell things and hope that you will not lose by the exchange. It has the short-circuited economy of the dairy farm itself—grass to-day, cream to-morrow, and your cheque at the end of the month. It has of course many rich men, but most of them have become rich in trade, which means exchange, and keeping things moving, and not having too many poor men. Auckland is a prosperous city—prosperous rather than comfortable. It moves, its pots keep on boiling; however full they are, they are not pushed to one side of the stove. They overflow, they splutter, they rise and fall, they bubble, the contents never settle. So privilege never gets a long grip. There are no entrenched families or parties. The man who serves behind the counter, in the courts of law, or in the doctor's surgery, who fights for his union, or keeps watch on the waterfront, becomes more influential than the man whose prosperity involves no personal contacts. It is not so much service before self—though any prophet could have foretold that Auckland would become the home of Rotary—as service to build up the self; and it is never forgotten in Auckland that they who build up can also take down. He that exalteth himself shall be abased unless he goes on holding himself up by useful work. Cows make you work. They make you remember the source, as well as the secret, of your prosperity. Auckland wears the secret on its brow. It has no false pride; only what the Scots call a good page 59conceit: no superior ways; only a tendency to become self-centred: no superciliousness; only a frank parochialism. It has no need to worry about the south, no desire therefore, and no disposition to pretend.

Nor is it much more interested in its own north. Auckland peninsula means very little more in Queen Street than it does in Lambton Quay—once you have made allowance for its cows. Run a fence from Dargaville to Whangarei, and Queen Street will give you the rest for history. It is pleasant to think that our civilisation began there, pleasant to live there, comforting to know that when Queen Street becomes too noisy there are quiet bays up north and still waters studded with islands. But Auckland does not eat, drink, or grow fat there. It makes holiday. And when it is not there making holiday Auckland leaves the 'winterless north' to retired Empire-builders who do not think her thoughts and to European peasants who do not pursue her ways. When pride of place asserts itself at intervals and insists on a separate identity, Auckland smiles indulgently. If Northland sounds sweeter than North Auckland, Northland it shall be. But the cows still look south at milking-time.