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New Zealand Now



Biologists know, and can sometimes say, how living things grow. They will even, occasionally, suggest why they grow—tell us about the 'life force' and 'biological urges' and the solemn mysteries of genes. But no biologist has yet told us why towns grow, though the reason is often hidden from economists and the consequences are often disastrous to politicians. page 91Was the biological urge of Palmerston North, for example, always stronger than the urge of Feilding, and would it have become the capital of the Manawatu even if the Gorge had not opened a way through to Hawke's Bay? The answer of Palmerston North itself to this question is not the answer you will get in Feilding, nor will Wanganui, if you go there, tell you the same story about New Plymouth as the people of New Plymouth will tell you. The case of Masterton is a little too obvious to justify questions, but they will not agree in Carterton and Greytown, Pahiatua, Woodville, or Dannevirke that there is nothing more to be said. Then we have the case of Hastings and Napier. Economics alone may explain the triumphs and tragedies of the Manawatu, Taranaki, and Wairarapa, but how is the challenge of Hastings to be explained economically, or Gisborne's continued non-belligerency in the presence of two fighting neighbours? Similar wakings and sleepings, retreats and sudden advances are as typical of the South Island as of the North Island and usually as difficult to explain. It is clear enough why Nelson and Blenheim have slept in beauty together without strife, but it is not wholly clear why Timaru has made a small town of Oamaru, Rangiora a township of Kaiapoi, Gore a village of Mataura. If biologists say that towns as such have no genes we must accept what they say, but without the aid of genetics it is a little difficult to fit economic theories to some of those very human facts.

page 92

And if we could explain the biological mystery, we would still not know what lay back of the mystery. We know that the kauri towers above the beech, the beech above manuka, and manuka above tauhinu, and always will; but we don't know why. For the explanation biologists give us leaves everything unanswered. 'Dogs delight to bark and bite, for God hath made them so'. It is the nature of the kauri to soar, but when is it the nature of a town to wake up after a long sleep, or to pine and droop after a long advance? New Zealand clearly has too many towns. It is everywhere agreed that it would be more efficient and more economical to have fewer small areas under separate control. But even if some towns could join their neighbours and others disappear there would be one serious problem remaining: how to stop the towns, big and little alike, from stealing the brains of the country. For that theft goes steadily on. With a few exceptions every farmer's boy who does well at school leaves the country: every young man or young woman who takes a university degree; every bright boy who wants to 'see the world'; very many specially alert girls; nearly all first-class artisans, teachers, musicians, engineers, accountants. From the beginning of the year to the end the procession never stops; and the consequences are cumulative. The agricultural colleges are throwing some weight back into the scale. A little more is thrown at intervals by the rare individuals of high intelligence who turn back page 93home from the professions. Much is contributed by the boys and girls who are too intelligent ever to leave. But none of these groups, nor all of them combined, make up for the annual loss. The country is getting steadily squeezed. It is paying tribute to the towns under a pressure that it seems impotent to control. It is paying far more than it can afford—treating itself as it would never treat its machines or its animals or, knowingly, its soil. It demands, and gets, free or reduced freight for fertiliser. When will it demand its children back, its blood and its brains?