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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

Homes for the People in the Provincial District of Otago

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Homes for the People in the Provincial District of Otago.

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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.

Suggestions for Regulations.

Before stating regulations, I should first intimate that as there are large tracts of pastoral lands on which stock cannot safely be depastured, except for about eight or nine months in the year, groat care should be taken in cutting up the runs, that all lands, except those under perpetual snow, be made available. One-third at least of each run should consist of country on which stock would be comparatively safe during the winter season. In this case, runs must be of different sizes, because in some places we find that from the only place on which a station could be built the country ascends rugged and steep right back to the perpetual snow line or water shed, a distance in some cases of twenty miles; therefore, in order to make all such land available, a run of say 10,000 acres would require to be less than a mile in breadth, and its boundaries would, in some instances, have to run over groat chasms, perpendicular cliffs, rocks, &c., &c., rendering fencing, or perhaps the removal of stock from one end to the other, an impossibility. On such country natural boundaries would require to be taken, and it follows there- page 6 fore that to turn the public estate to the best advantage, making all parts available, runs must vary in size from, say, 1,500 to 50,000 acres. On runs such as Deepdell, Cottersbrook, Puketoi, Highfield, Blackstone Hill, Ida Valley, and a large number of others where the country is available in all seasons, runs from 1,500 to 3,000 acres would be very desirable properties; on the most of which, 300 or 400 acres of good agricultural land could be got, and from 500 to 1,200 sheep with a few cattle and horses could well be kept; but runs of so small an area can only be made on lands not attached to mountains, still the most mountainous and rugged can be cut into several, and worked to advantage to the lessee and to the State.

In regard to regulations, I beg to suggest:—
1.That twelve months or so before the lease of a run expires, the Government appoint a party experienced in runs and sheep farming, along with a surveyor, to divide said runs into as many sheep farms as can be worked profitably, taking care that on each there be a suitable place for a homestead, attached to which there should be, if possible, a piece of agricultural land not exceeding 400 acres, and that all the remaining agricultural land not necessarily wanted for the working of the new runs be reserved for purely agricultural farms.
2.That the paying and carrying capabilities of each run be taken into consideration, and in accordance therewith a fair average rental fixed, varying, say from 8d to 1s 3d per sheep per annum.
3.That all new runs be advertised to let by tender for fourteen years, and that the applicants best fitted for sheep farmers having a fair amount of means, be accepted. Such a rule as this may be considered rather arbitrary, but it is the only way by which the State can secure good tenants—a matter which a landlord never loses sight of, and the state in many respects is in the same position as a landlord. It is to the benefit of the whole community that the Crown Tenants be good—paying their rents regularly, and their farm products be large in quantity and good in quality. At any rate, selling by auction is the most objectionable; a man does not like to be out-bid, and the excitement occasioned by bidding causes properties to go too high, resulting in the non-payment of rents, impoverishing the land and the tenant, and so causing a general loss to the State.
4.That homesteads be made on every run, each to be worked separately, and that a lessee be allowed to hold only one run.page 7
5.That neither the land at the homestead nor any part of the run be sold to the lessee nor to anyone else, but that each run be kept perpetually as a "Pastoral Crown Farm." In regard to this rule, it will be clear to anyone that if the homestead be sold and if there be no other place on the run suitable for a homestead, then the property must become comparatively valueless, except to the party who holds the homestead, and he having the key to the run would of course make his own terms and simply pay a nominal rent. Besides pastoral lands, except very select portions, cannot be sold for years to come, except at very low prices. How much preferable it is therefore, that they be retained entire, especially when we consider our mining population, whose ejection would speedily take place, were the State to sell the pastoral lands which are so impregnated with gold, and on which mining reserves would be so difficult to make, as payable gold is continually being found in the most unlikely places. Though the rents of pastoral lands must necessarily be low for some time, yet at the expiration of the first leases, they would probably stand to be doubled, as by that time -we may reasonably expect the population to have greatly increased, and consequently the consumption of farm products, thus materially raising the price of stock, and so enabling farmers to pay higher rents. The present system of selling runs on deferred payments, to be paid up in fifteen years, does not greatly attract the buyer and is decidedly a loss to the State. No one will, of course, buy such property unless it be good average land available in all seasons, and in many cases it must follow that the country behind which may be good, though only available for eight or nine months in the year, will be rendered almost valueless to the State on ac-count of the frontage being sold.
6.That the lessee of a new run have no power to sell his lease, but if at any time during its currency he wishes to relinquish it, he must give notice of his desire to the Government who will advertise the run, and on finding a suitable tenant, take over the lease.
7.That a lessee on relinquishing his run be paid compensation by the Government for all necessary permanent improvements that he may have made, and that he agree to sell his stock at valuation to the incoming tenant, who shall be bound to take the same.
8.That on improvements becoming the property of the State, the rent be increased in proportion to the amount of page 8 their value, such amount to be spread over the term of the lease. According to this rule for instance, a run leased for fourteen years, carrying 5,000 sheep at a rent of 1s each, and having improvements on it to the value of £ 1,000, the rent would have to be raised in order to cover improvements to about ls 4d per sheep per annum. By this means facilities to settlement would be greatly increased compared with what they would be were a new lessee made to pay down the £1,000 pounds at the commencement of his term.
9.That on the present runs being cut up, the Government should re-purchase from the old lesseo any freehold that he may have bought on the run and improvements erected thereon, in cases where such freehold or improvements be considered necessary or suitable for the working of the new runs. In commenting on this rule, I may intimate that on many runs the improvements exceed the amount promised by Government as compensation, and that there fore the homesteads are nearly all built on freehold. It would be well, therefore, that where the buildings are not unnecessarily large nor the freehold too extensive, that the Government purchase them for the State, and have each included in one or other of the new runs for homesteads.
10.That interior agricultural lands be surveyed into farms varying in size from four hundred to two thousand acres, and leased by tender to the most suitable applicant for fourteen years, at a rental of from one shilling to five shillings per acre per annum, and that they be subject to similar rules as those sketched in the preceding pages for pastoral farms, and that exclusive of farms of the above size, there should be small reserves of say five hundred acres each—along proposed railway lines, or wherever they may be considered necessary for villages and small farms for laborers.

In regard to interior agricultural lands, and considering their diversity of character, even at equal elevations, their classification is absolutely necessary, as to be a success they must be various in sizes and prices. In many cases we find, especially in Maniototo, side by side with fair agricultural land, thousands of acres shingly to the surface, which without irrigation are hardly suceptible of improvement. Farms therefore comprising a large percentage of inferior lands must be more extensive and at a low rental.

Printed at North Otago Times Office, Oamaru.