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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

[introduction]

decorative feature

Land for the People and People for the Land, is, as every one knows, an old electioneering cry in New Zealand, and has so often been made a stepping stone to a seat in Parliament by political aspirants, that one would think that there should now be no impediment to prevent the people getting land to their heart's content. It must be admitted, however, that impediments grow instead of diminishing, that it is only after a protracted agitation in any locality that a block of oven a few thousand acres can be wrenched from the pastoral tenants, and then on account of its inadequacy to the demand. People in their eagerness to make homes for themselves and families, compete so keenly that prices are raised to sums altogether out of proportion to their means, thus driving them to the money lender and many of them ultimately to the Bankruptcy Court.

The Government has, however, under its various Land Acts, disposed of all the really good agricultural land for twenty miles or so inland along the East Coast, a great portion of which is held in large estates by capitalists, and men wanting good and purely agricultural farms must deal with these capitalists, some of whom are cutting up their estates into farms of various sizes, and advertising them for sale on deferred payments.

There are undoubtedly large tracts of good agricultural land in the interior still in the hands of the Crown, but the expense of transit, even though they had railway communication, will render them as purely agricultural farms—depending on the sale of grain, unpayable for many years to come. Interior agriculturists cannot compete with those on the more fertile coast lands, until Colonial consumption is increased and less dependence put on markets be-yond this Colony. The question then arises, what are we to do with our interior lands which are held by a few runholders, and which probably comprise about three-fourths of the Provincial District of Otago. Every impartial thinking man must admit that it would be impolitic to tolerate the present state of affairs, and page 4 that many homes must be made where but few are now. Considering how disproportionate our enormous Colonial debt of—soon to be—£27,000,000 is to our small population of some 400,000 souls, it is absolutely necessary that the human carrying capacity of the country be increased to enable it to bear so heavy a liability.

To increase the population by simply importing immigrants, and turning them adrift to find a precarious living, is hardly the way to build up a nation. And we cannot expect all new arrivals to be in a position to become settlers at once; but were there greater facilities for people to make homes for themselves, thousands of the present employed, who have been successful in finding regular work and having money, would vacate their places for new arrivals, make homes for themselves, and so become employers of labor.

We find that notwithstanding our Country's vast resources, its great territory of highly fertile agricultural and pastoral lands, its immense and valuable forests, its rich gold fields and numerous mineral deposits, its picturesque lakes and rivers, and its majestic mountains; having within itself every thing necessary for the com-fort and sustenance of millions of human beings, yet with all these advantages thousands of good men amongst us are at the present time in a destitute state, and unable to find employment. Admitting that such evils will always exist to some extent, while men are improvident, yet we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the majority of our working men are terribly handicapped, and can hardly better their condition in the present state of the Country. When shearing and harvesting are over they are compelled to resort to boarding houses in the towns and even without much drinking, long ere work conies on again, their earnings are spent. Thus they go on living from hand-to-mouth, seeing no way of bettering their condition, and therefore getting more and more reckless.

Happily, however, there is an antidote to the evil, viz., in the creation of more employers. For every homestead that is on our pastoral lands at present, it is quite practicable to put ten, and thus increase the labor required on them in proportion. In regard to our interior agricultural lands, they have simply to be opened in farms of sizes to admit of their producing wool, beef, and mutton, as well as grain, to be taken up at once.

Our Liberal politicians readily admit the necessity of having the runs cut up, but they suggest no practical plan as to how it shall be done. It seems indeed that they have not attempted to solve the question, except so far as to decide that runs are to be cut up in some way—and our Land Board has certainly done this with the few—the leases of which have expired with results so unsatisfactory that we may well shudder for the future of our adopted country. The methods for administering the pastoral lands at present page 5 seems to be that when the lease of a run expires, the Land Board divides it into two or more runs, advertises the leases for sale for ten years, and on a stated day sells by auction to the highest bidder, he paying valuation for improvements. These newly made runs are of no use to any except the old lessee, whose homestead is probably contiguous and erected on freehold. The Government makes no provision for compensating the new lessee for improvements made by himself in the event of his lease being cancelled on a year's notice, according to law.

This is certainly a protective measure for the Squatter, who need not put on improvements, and can therefore afford to out bid all others, as did the lessee of Shag Valley Station a few months ago. Such a method of cutting up runs is simply a farce, and exhibits a cunningly devised plan made for the benefit of the runholder, who may—according to it, hold large tracts of the public estate without improving them; but if a poor man gets even a small portion, he must improve it and run the risk of giving his improvements to the State for nothing. It is fortunate however, that only a very few of our pastoral leases have yet expired, but as a large number of the best of them will fall in shortly, no time should be lost in impressing the Government with the necessity of immediately devising measures by which our public estate be made to carry a large population; with this end in view, and from my experience in sheep farming on the runs of Otago for the the past eighteen years, I beg to submit the following Rules which I hope to see improved upon where found faulty by abler pens.