From the North Island to the South Island as the gull flies is fourteen miles. From Wellington to Blenheim as the plane flies is fifty miles. But from a North Island cowshed to a South Island woolshed as thought flies is all the way from one world to another, and the only hope of reducing the distance is to reverse the direction of flight. For mind moves from south to north in New Zealand, and not from north to south. The South Island has to go on thinking about the North Island to keep its anger warm. The North Island remembers the South Island only when the interest falls due.
And for all this, if you examine the facts closely, you will blame the Southern Alps. If the mountains had inclined to the east coast south of Cook Strait as they do north of Cook Strait the Strait would have been a stormy ditch cutting a single country in halves. But for every drop of rain that falls south of Wellington two drops fall to the north, and for every blade of grass that becomes flesh in the south two or more page 61in the north become fat. It is curious in so short a distance to see economy turned upside down, but the South Island is almost as reverential to wool as the North Island is to milk. Even when it follows the plough it likes to see a fat lamb watching through the fence. It is also curious that the South Island, though it is in fact younger than the North Island historically, seems very much older. In part this is meteorological. The more rain there is the more greenness there tends to be, so that the North Island seems always spring and the South always autumn. In part it is the result of religious and cultural associations, the dry lands of Egypt and Palestine having got into our minds with the Bible, the sun of Italy and Greece with the culture that we commonly call classical. It is in fact difficult to associate history and rain unless it is modern history. If we look past Australia the driest places on the map of the world seem to be the oldest places, and in the same way the driest parts of New Zealand seem a thousand years older than the wettest parts. Nowhere in the North Island—unless perhaps on Coromandel Peninsula—do you feel that history is behind you. Nowhere in the South Island—unless perhaps in the irrigation areas—do you feel that 'the best is yet to be'. Walking through Central Otago you could easily be among the hills of Judaea or on the road to Samarkand. You know in sober fact of course that history has hardly begun yet in one island or the other, but if you go south from Nelson through the Buller page 62Gorge you will enter the only area in New Zealand where rain talks to you of things past. Between Reefton and Ross you will not think of the days that are coming, as we should everywhere in New Zealand, but of the days that not even our children's children will ever see again.
The more you see of the "West Coast and talk to West Coast people the more worthless worldly prosperity seems and the more vulgar your own standards. But the more conscious you also are of the 'tears in things'. For there is this difference between Thames and Karamea, say. Thames has fallen into a doze. Karamea and Reefton and Hokitika and Ross are all wide awake. They do not leave you to your own sad, and probably foolish, thoughts. They pull you up, remind you where you are, ask if you have been there before, and if you would believe that where you are now standing there was once a bank, or a school, or a jail, or a church, and gold flowing past you in the gutter. Then they give you a drink, and still another, and another, and when you finally drag yourself free you are not sure whether you have been present at a wake or at a christening. You do know, however, that whatever it is to you it is a christening to the Coast—that hope springs eternal there, and that real diggers never die.
But Westland is Westland, a world of its own, isolated by mountains and deep pride. A Westlander is not a New Zealander, and does not wish to be. page break
Ross Forty Years Ago
Nelson is Peaceful
If you want to see the South Island that is
New Zealand you must go east from Nelson into Marlborough and from Marlborough by the only open road into Canterbury. And as soon as you get round the northern end of the mountains you find yourself thinking again of sheep, and of a past that is as remote politically as Westland's hectic days are economically. It is as true in the South Island as in the North, though not quite so obvious, that the man who milks the cows or grows the wheat will sooner or later make laws for the man who shears the sheep. Nothing can alter this but a rainfall so low that cows and cultivation are both contra-indicated, and in the whole of New Zealand there are two areas only, neither much bigger than a squatter's hand, where the soil receives less than twenty inches in a year.
Mile after mile therefore as you cross Marlborough and turn down the coast you meet political ghosts in sheepskin looking almost as forlorn as the economic wraiths of Westland. New Zealand owes them much, far more than it realises, infinitely more than it has ever publicly acknowledged. But they also owed New Zealand much, and they forgot, having little in their past to remind them, that the earth is the Lord's, and that although Caligula made a consul of his horse no Christian ever made a sheep into an elector. And when you enter Christchurch you see a sheep in the Cathedral and fleeces of wool on the city's coat of arms. For if it requires courage to call New page 64
Zealand the Britain of the South, it requires almost as much to call Christchurch 'typically English'. It has an English cathedral and an English name, English trees, and what could be, if it were not artesian, a sleepy little English river. Many of its streets bear English names, a handful of its citizens have been to English schools, it has one school of its own passing on a form of English speech and an ancient but never general English tradition. It has a newspaper that, if it were not all about New Zealand, might have come out of one of the three offices in Fleet Street that maintain its standards of intelligence and taste. But except that winter comes in winter and summer in summer there is almost nothing else in Christchurch that was ever England. The real story of Christchurch is as un-English as flax and cabbage trees, and begins, not with the arrival of the first four ships, but with the first challenge to squatters by shop-keepers. It is of course as true of cities as of the individuals who inhabit them that their actions are never as simple as they seem. No man builds a house or marries a wife or learns a trade or enters a profession for a reason that would go easily into one sentence. So Christchurch has not built its cathedral, preserved its park, given itself flowers, and factories, and race-horses, and twenty-seven religions, merely because it lives on mutton and wheat and goes both to Church and to Chapel. But no one studying the city to-day or examining its yesterdays can fail to realise that there page 65
has always been conflict between squatters and shopkeepers; between a minority, predominantly Church of England, who had land and some education, and a majority, largely Methodist, who followed trade and said 'baa' to the wool kings. It was not exactly the Cathedral against the Chapel, and it was never the country against the town. It was not even conservatism per se
against radicalism per se
, for some of the entrenched minority were more deeply liberal than most of the attacking majority. It was not wool against wheat or old world against new world. It was not even the thoroughbred against the trotter, although that often seems to be the line of division to-day. But it has been all those things in part, and since they are in general irreconcilable things, there is still no peace. Superficially the conflict has ceased, for now of course the majority rule. But the difference remains. And it is a New Zealand difference, woven out of the finest wool. If the Alps had risen a mile or two off the east coast instead of a mile or two from the west coast the story of Canterbury would have been the story of the Waikato and the Manawatu, and the story of Christchurch the story of Hamilton writ a little large. But the Alps said that Canterbury might have an inch of rain in a fortnight, never on an average an inch in a week, and that it would sleep on shingle and not on peat. The Alps kept the bush away, except here and there, and said that tussocks and Wild Irishman page 66
were sweeter than all the lianes of Malay. So they established early Canterbury firmly in the worship of sheep, and more and more sheep, till it seemed necessary to rise in the world not to get lost. Canterbury rose. Its squatters were the best, and most foolish, men New Zealand ever imported, for they had no sooner performed miracles of enterprise and endurance than they forgot that they were the creators of a brave new world and sent back to England for their top hats. It was a challenge to all the low hats, and at once there was a shout of'Snob!'—a foolish cry but fatal. For snobbery is of course no respecter of persons or of pockets, and in itself is merely pathetic. But if you talk about it you create it, like excess or lack of colour in the face. If the visitor is more conscious of social distinctions in Canterbury to-day than in Otago, Wellington, or Auckland, that does not mean that there are more snobs in proportion to population, or fewer, since snobbery is biological, like blue eyes or curly hair. It means that snobbery has been the subject of heresy hunts since the abolition of provincial government, with the result that some maintain a defiant uppishness when in fact they are only genteel, and others go about suspecting themselves and slipping unintentionally into a patronising friendliness. It may sound harsh to pile all these evils on the back of the sheep, but no one ever heard of top-hatted dairy-farmers or potato-growers or market-gardeners. To wear a top hat you page break
Across a Frontier
must have leisure as well as prosperity, and there is more leisure between fleece and fleece than between calf and calf or seed-time and harvest.
With a few worthy exceptions the old families of Canterbury stand proudly aloof from politics, if not quite aloof from trade. They are still the best farmers in the province and the best neighbours—if neighbourliness is keeping your fences tight and your stock at home and your hand in your own pocket and your nose on your own side of the road. But they are not charitable institutions. They know how many pounds make five and how many weeks with its mother make a thirty-six pound lamb. If they owe you half-a-crown they will pay you half-a-crown, but when they hand over threepence to a newsboy they wait for the change.* After all nothing is more embarrassing than charity, and the Canterbury tradition is the just price. It is also the Canterbury belief that everything has a price. It at first shocks and then annoys Otago people, who enjoy being bantered about their thrift, and do not want to lose that privilege, to discover when they visit Christchurch that the superfluous kittens given away in Dunedin are in Christchurch offered for sale in the newspapers, with stray pups and superseded false teeth. Which all comes perilously near to saying that there is something in Canterbury that the other provinces lack. page 68It is certainly true that if Canterbury is New Zealand Wellington and Auckland are something else.
Even Otago, which lies so close to Canterbury, shows no signs of merging with it. After ninety years of coming and going, and especially of buying and selling, the Waitaki river is still a boundary. It is not merely that sheep, as you move south, share the field with cows; that wheat gives way to oats; and relatively dry plains to relatively wet hills. It is not gold alone, or religion alone, or race alone. It is all these things working against the caste system in social affairs and turned to the uses of Puritanism in moral affairs. You may think it odd that oats and John Knox are more potent than wheat and the Thirty-Nine Articles when the rainfall rises; but the whole history of Otago proves that they are. No bishop has ever been so powerful in Dunedin as the famous Dr Stuart of Knox Church; no maker of starched shirts ever rose in the world so fast as the makers of working boots. You are not a paragraph in the history of Otago if you have owned a cup-winner and sat half your life in a racing club; but your grand-children may find you in Who's Who if you have been Chairman of the Education Board, on the Council of the University, or the leader of a movement for or against licensed drinking, mixed bathing, or Bible in schools. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the moment you enter Dunedin you feel John Knox's hand on your shoulder. You do not, unless you arrive on a Sunday. page 69You are in fact more likely to feel the hand of Robert Burns, since the Octagon lies across your path whether you enter by rail or by road, and the poet looks down on it from one side and the monument to his nephew, Otago's first Presbyterian minister, rises up on the other. But long before you leave it, if you stay years and not days, you feel that the day you crossed from Canterbury to Otago you moved from England to Scotland politically and from the parlour to the kitchen socially. You also feel that life is very real in Dunedin, and very earnest, and that getting on is always one of its goals. Even in the University, of which Otago is so justly proud, 'Get on' is the motto though 'Get out' must so obviously be the result. Ever since the Dominion's population began to move north Otago has been bleeding itself intellectually through its University. For the influence of its Scottish founders remains. The students attend to pass examinations, and pass them; they go there to get degrees, and get them. But the rest of the Dominion gets the graduates when they offer their degrees for sale, and sometimes the rest of the world gets them. In spite of the fact that it is the only university college in the Dominion that has something like Dominion status and a Dominion-wide prestige—for the special schools in the other colleges do not approach its medical school in influence—it remains the nearest thing to a crarnming school under a New Zealand university roof; which might not matter page 70much if Dunedin were not stationary economically. But with the goldfields worked out, the coastal fringe of bush disappearing, the soil getting thinner, and the winters no shorter, the cultivation of brains is Otago's only unthreatened industry, and forced cultivation means increased export and speedier exhaustion of supply. Pessima corruptio optimi.
But the real Otago, you may begin to think as you move south, starts when you leave it. Railways, radio, Sabbath-breakers, and jazz bands have left their mark all the way to Balclutha, and it is only when you enter Southland that you see Otago as it used to be. There are certainly some reasons for regarding the Clutha River as a boundary between two societies. It is a frontier, to begin with, over which permanent movement has been predominantly one way. Land is still cheaper in Southland, quality for quality, than it is anywhere else in New Zealand, unless perhaps in South Westland, and this means that of all those who have settled in Southland since the whaling days only a negligible percentage have moved out again. It is also the case of course that Southland has a long winter, and that Scotsmen endure cold well when cold and endurance are both good business. Four out of five of its farmers have always been Scots. It is almost safe to say that they are New Zealand's most typical Scots, since they pushed farthest into the wilderness when Captain Cargill turned them loose in Dunedin, and have been reinforced from time to page 71
time by those with the strongest noses for cheap land. They have certainly remained as stoutly themselves as any community of any origin now established on New Zealand soil. For it must be remembered that Southland was only for a very short time a separate unit politically. Whatever separateness it has to-day is the separateness of individuality, and not even Westland has more of that. For you can't shut your eyes on the West Coast to the self-consciousness of the West Coast tradition. There is no self-consciousness in Southland. The people are never 'Southlanders' (except once a year at football) as the people of the West Coast are 'West Coasters'. Southland was never Southland romantically, or even economically. No one ever heard of a Southland tradition. But it remains Southland in thought and speech, and retains some peculiarities in action. It votes Prohibition, for example, but makes illegal whisky. It wears sober clothes, but will pay forty guineas for a tartan kilt. It breeds the best draught horses in New Zealand, and perhaps in the world, but it can always find five hundred pounds for a tractor. It goes regularly to church, even when there is no church and it must meet in a school, but it remains one of the few areas in New Zealand in which anyone who can hire a film, borrow a projection plant, and buy an old car, can make wages by taking Mae West
and Deanna Durbin
to those who would otherwise not see them. It is for sociologists, or perhaps anthropologists, to page 72
say why the people in New Zealand who live nearest to the Bible and nearest to the soil, who can fatten pigs on grass and extract gold from skim milk, know more about Hollywood than they do about Massey College
. But they do. A standard-of-living survey made in Southland three or four years ago established the fact that farmers there work longer hours than any other industry in the Dominion, and longer than any other group in their own industry. But they know who Charles Laughton
is, and if he appeared suddenly at the Invercargill Show he would be offered a place in the parade between the leader of the pipe band and the ghost of Harry Lauder. He would also be shown the Municipal Theatre, and might even in a day or two be asked to go fishing. But if he squeezed through a fence into a paddock where cultivation was going on, the horses would not be stopped to greet him. The driver would make at least one more turn to gain time to think, and would stop his horses only when it seemed clear that this was not another of 'those fellows from Wellington'. It is doubtful if there is deeper suspicion anywhere south of the Equator than a government official arouses in Southland before his mission is known. Once he is himself known every door is open to him, but the day he first stops his car beside a gate and walks in he discovers what a gulf separates the man who 'works' in Southland from the man who only 'talks'; how little of what he says is being listened page break
to; and how plainly that slouching figure is saying to him, 'Now tell me what you do
want'. He will be lucky if he makes any impression that day. But if he survives the discussions at the factory next morning his troubles are over. No one is so hospitable, so warm-hearted, so genuinely friendly, as a Southland farmer once he drops his shield, but a talker must be living by his wits or he would be working.
You may however not follow the coast to Invercargill. You may turn up one of the river valleys followed by the gold-seekers, and if you continue into the centre of Otago you will find yourself farther away from the rest of the Dominion than you would be in Samoa or Fiji, and will discover that it is easier to talk about Ballarat and Bendigo than about Taupo and Tauranga. Two generations have come and gone since there was any exchange of population between Victoria and New Zealand, and one since gold was an important industry in Otago, but Clyde, Cromwell, and Arrowtown are still 'the goldfields', and it is still a shorter mental journey to Castlemaine than to Christchurch.
And if, now that you are on the gold trail again, you follow it all the way to Westland, you will make another discovery. You will find that "Westland does not end, as you thought, at Ross, but begins there. There are in fact two Westlands, one following the railway north and the other following the motor road south. Go north, and you will find people living page 74on gold, coal, and politics. Stay south, and you will see cattle grazing on the river flats, miners still fossicking for gold, or dredging for it, timber workers feeding saw-mills, and the swagger exploiting his last paradise. You will see mass evacuations to Greymouth to watch a football match and news of your own movements racing you along the single highway. But you will also see the most cheerful, the most independent, and the most secure group of settlers and workers in the Dominion, all with at least three strings to their bows, and indifferent which one circumstances make them use. Slogans are not so potent as they used to be anywhere in the world, but if ever any one had the hardihood in New Zealand to say 'Go west, young man', he would have to add, 'and then turn south.'
* There is on the other hand a West Coast legend that a prominent man who offered a boy threepence was known for the rest of his life as 'The Split Sixpence'.