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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62



There can be little doubt that as a field of labour New Zealand offers exceptional advantages. The average climate page 46 permits of work being done in the open-air all the year round, and a large area of the country is fertile. The mineral wealth of the islands is almost inexhaustible, and the geographical position of the colony offers a commercial future of the highest promise. The dangers and hardships endured by the pioneer settlers in the early days are now almost forgotten; and although there is much heavy work remaining to be done, still, in a country where the Natives are no longer troublesome, and where the lands are traversed by railway and telegraph lines, the settler will find his toil lighter and his reward more sure than that of his predecessors. For those wishing to become citizens of the colony and to secure a share of the success which has attended the efforts of many thousands of hard-working and now prosperous people, the following remarks are intended.

The conditions under which men labour in the country districts differ so much according to the individual training, means, and necessities of each person that it is difficult to give one all-round rule suitable for the requirements of each and every would-be settler. Some desire to see themselves at once masters of property, and owning house, farm, and stock; others are contented if they can only find plenty of employment as wages-men for others. The large majority look forward to some day holding their own farms (either as freehold or under a perpetual lease), and these only accept hire from their richer brothers as a temporary aid enabling them to lay by a store which will some day permit them to become settlers on their own account. They thus gain knowledge as well as pecuniary-assistance; and it is a golden rule for a new arrival to guide himself by, to endeavour to gain his experience by working for another person until the strangeness and novelty of life under altered conditions have worn off. In bush-farming especially everything must be so new to one coming from another country that he will find countless fresh sources of knowledge opening up everywhere. First, the wood-lore has to be learnt; the names of the trees, their usefulness for sawn timber or for fuel; or, on the other hand, their uselessness save for "burning off." So, also, the handling of axe and bill-hook so as to avoid danger in under-scrubbing, felling, and clearing, is not learnt in a day, and requires time before anything like skill is developed. "Logging up" the great scorched logs on the burnt spaces, and sowing down the clearings with grass-seed follow the felling; and when the ground is sufficiently clear for the cattle to be able to wander among the stumps and logs, then come the tasks of splitting posts and rails for fences, and of selecting the stock. If page 47 the farm selected is in the fern land or open country so much technical knowledge and so much hard toil is not at first required, but in its place comes the use of plough and harrow. Lessons must be learnt concerning the seasons (with their antipodean changing of winter months for summer), and diligent exercise in acquiring local knowledge from neighbours. However well versed a farmer or a farm-hand may be in the methods used in cultivating land in other countries, he will achieve little in the colony until he has made himself acquainted with a system fitted to the climate and soil, and acquired a knowledge of the markets for his colonial farm. The largest grain producing districts are in the Middle Island, and a yield far above the average of land in the Old Country results, if we take into consideration the absence of high-farming, and that the soil is seldom treated with heavy dressings of manure. Much of the work on dairy-farms has been lessened by the establishment of factories for the manufacture of cheese and butter. They are generally owned by cooperative societies of the fanners supplying the milk, and these receive a certain agreed-upon price for each gallon of milk supplied, and divide the profits of the butter and cheese afterwards on the ratio of the individual milk-supply. These establishments are by degrees removing the work of butter and cheese-making from the farmer's family; they will help to firmly establish a large and increasing export trade, and to make the market firm by equalizing and steadying the quality of the product.

To those whose proclivities tend towards a pastoral life, occupation as stockriders, shepherds, &c., on one of the large cattle and sheep runs common in the colony may be obtained. These runs in some cases comprise very rich country acquired in early days from the Natives, but such holdings are few. Generally, the runs consist of second-class, or slightly-broken land, unfit for the purposes of agriculture; or, if not unfit, still not of so attractive a character as other properties still obtainable from the Crown or private persons. A run usually contains several thousands of acres, and as, very often, parts of it are mountainous, the work of mustering the cattle and sheep is full of excitement and sometimes of danger. The life for some months of the year is by no means a toilsome one, but this is made up by the long hours required, and untiring activity to be displayed, at other times. On a cattle-run the tasks of mustering and drafting the stock and branding the youngsters are very heavy work, needing the" display of considerable powers of page 48 rough-riding among the horsemen; while on a sheep-run the lambing and shearing seasons tax every power of the station-hands. A large number of men move about the country as shearing-time approaches, in the hope of being engaged as extra helpers; and these men are hard to wean from their nomadic life to more settled pursuits; but as their labour is almost a necessity at times, both to the sheep-farmer and the agriculturist (at harvest), it is difficult to see how their places could be supplied if their gipsy-life should be discontinued. To those who love the saddle and take interest in the care of animals, station-life offers innumerable attractions, and if to this is added (after due apprenticeship) the ownership of such property, then the hope of a pecuniary reward presents itself, of a value greater than the settler can hope to obtain in any other pursuit.

We will now consider the employment of labour in the country districts at occupations not strictly of a pastoral or agricultural character. First of these is work about saw-mills. Thousands of men are employed in the business of procuring sawn timber and forwarding it to the market. There is a difficulty in obtaining stone and brick for building purposes in localities far from towns; the materials being costly on account of the high wages of labourers, their actual weight, and the difficulty of transport. The place of these materials is generally supplied by the use of sawn timber, a product almost everywhere obtainable through New Zealand's wealth of forest trees. In the far north many of the mills are worked for the kauri-pine logs. The trees being felled, the logs are rolled down into the streams, which, being dammed up by the timber, rise in times of heavy rain, until they break through in full flood, bearing their burden to the mouths of the rivers on whose banks the mills are erected, and where the logs are captured. In the south, rough tramways are laid down in the bush, and the logs hauled on low carriages to the mills by horse or bullock teams. Here the great round baulks of timber are "broken down" being cut lengthwise (by saws moving up and down vertically) into "flitches," which are passed over to the circular-saws to be ripped into boards and scantling. All this entails, necessarily, a great variety of labour; first, the employment of gangs of men in the bush clearing roads, felling the trees, cross-cutting them into logs, and moving them out with screw-jacks to open points whence they can be shifted to the mill. The team-driving (or in the north, the rafting), the machine-tending, the handling and cartage of planks, &c., ofter diversities of page 49 labour and degrees of wages suited to all ages of workers and stages of skill.

Next to the saw-mill work, as to the number of hands employed, comes the occupation of flax-milling. The New Zealand flax, or hemp, is the product of a plant peculiar to the colony. When growing, it looks like a clump of broad green sword-like blades, each blade being 2in. or 8in. wide, and rising to 6ft. or 8ft. in height. The clumps stand close together, often covering large tracts of country, much of which is shallow swamp. Men are employed in cutting the leaves close to the ground and gathering them into bundles, which are then carried to the mill. This mill consists of cleaning and scutching machinery, which removes the green portion of the plant and produces the hemp in long white fibres, which are then tied into hanks, pressed into bales, and sent to Europe and America to be made into cordage and binder-twine. A great deal of the work performed about flax-mills is comparatively unskilled labour, although, of course, a certain knowledge of machinery and deftness of manipulation is necessary in working the actual mill itself.

A very valuable source of revenue to New Zealand has been the fields of kauri-gum, mostly found to the north of Auckland. Kauri-gum is the product of the giant kauri-pine, a tree still found lifting its huge bulk on the hills of the North Island, but which was formerly widely spread over spaces which now are open country. This fact is known by the deposits of amber-like gum which in large masses is found beneath the soil. A wandering population follows the occupation of seeking for this deposit; and, as the gum-digger's outfit consists of a spear, a spade, and a sack, it is a pursuit to which men often turn when out of employment, without capital or other resources. With the spear the digger prods about in localities which seem to him to be probable hiding-places of his treasure, and on the "feel" of the brittle gum beneath the surface, he quickly brings it to the light of day by means of his spade. Then the sack is brought into requisition, and the gum is carried to camp, to be scraped and cleaned by the light of the evening fire. It is a free, careless life, usually solitary, and often full of hardship, but having charms for those to whom regular hours and steady employment under the direction of others would be irksome. Nor is it without monetary rewards: diggers often make from £2 to £4 a week each, and a man at this employment must be very idle or very stupid who cannot earn a fairly good living.

Of our mineral wealth and the large population employed in raining industries it is unnecessary here to speak, since in another page 50 portion of this publication the subject receives attention. Suffice it to say that those to whom agricultural or pastoral life seems tame, find in the direction of mining for minerals an outlet for their energies. The life is rough and hard, is full of danger and toil, but it is one which, when commenced, exerts a fascination whose spell is hard to break. A life on the plains or in cities offers little temptation to gold-miners, who, in the mountain air, work with intense energy all day, and at night lie down to dream of the riches the hills and rivers could yield if they would disclose their secrets. Of course among gold-miners there are many who prefer a safe weekly wage to the alternations of hope and disappointment, while among the coal-miners the great bulk of the workers are either wages-men or are on small contracts, whose steady yield almost takes the place of regular earnings.

To many, however, life in the country is hardly endurable. Early habits and training, or the gregarious instinct, induce them to prefer the busy crowded towns to the quiet farm or silent forest. To such at one period New Zealand could offer but small inducement; but with the rapid growth of her cities and encouragement shown to manufacturers, a large population now derives its support from industries worked in urban localities. Not only are there numerous shops for the retail distribution of goods, offices and warehouses for the transfer and storage of merchandise, but factories and workshops are everywhere coming into existence, with their attendant workers busily engaged in their various duties. There are factories for the production of woollen goods, clothing, hats, boots, leather, saddlery, agricultural implements, carriages, bicycles, tinware, ironware, railway material, paper, glass, soap, candles, cordage, casks, baskets, tinned meats, biscuits, confectionery, &c.; besides flour-mills, breweries, gasworks, freezing-works, foundries, dye-works, fell-mongeries, and many other businesses by means of which advancing civilisation supplies the luxuries and necessities of a people.

Besides occupation for those working on the soil of the colony, there is the possibility of earning a competency for those willing to gather the ever-renewed "harvest of the sea." Every bay and harbour (besides many of the open roadsteads) are haunts of incalculable numbers of fish, almost all of which are fit for the table, and many of them of great delicacy. They can be caught with little trouble, and without that terrible risk which fills with Care, and often with sorrow, the breasts of the wives and children of the fishermen who sail the stormy seas of Northern Europe. page 51 The fisher-life is followed by ft considerable number of persona in New Zealand at the present time, but the work they do is but inconsiderable compared to that which awaits innumerable hands in the future. A few successful attempts have been made to commence the canning and preserving of fish, but the trade is in its infancy, and promises to be an almost unlimited source of profit to those willing to invest their energies and means in its development. As a general rule the fisheries are in the hands of a few poor men, and, as little capital is required for an outfit (a boat, a net, and a few lines), the life offers attractions and reward to any hard-working men.

With the desire of expediting and assisting the engagement of labour, and encouraging local industries, the Government has formed a department, under the direction of the Minister of Labour and administered by the Secretary. The central office is the Bureau of Industries, in the Government Buildings, Wellington. There is a bureau in each of the large towns, viz., in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin, and these bureaux are under the charge of the Inspectors of Factories in these cities. In the Country districts the police sergeants and local constables everywhere, are agents of the Bureau, and send in regular reports as to the requirements of workmen and employers. A newcomer to New Zealand who wishes to ascertain the exact position of any particular occupation (as to wages, market, requirements, &c.) will do well to visit some office of this department and obtain the desired knowledge, which the Bureau agents and Inspectors of Factories will be glad to impart.

The subject of labour in the colony would be incomplete with-out some reference to the position of women's work. On the farms the wives and daughters of settlers find occupation in duties which present an unceasing round of service. These duties are in many cases now being lightened by the institution of dairy factories, which relieve the women of the task of butter-making; still, the housework, cooking, and washing for a family, if properly carried out, prevent any idleness or ennui from visiting the household. The life on the whole is a happy one, blest by the buoyant health of those who live in the clear fresh air; and, except in the cases of the more solitary and isolated farms, there is plenty of visiting and flitting about, no population being so constantly on the wing as that of New Zealand, as is testified by the crowded trains and steamers which servo a people sparse and scattered as it at present is. Domestic service attracts few, and it is difficult to keep good female servants, as they marry as soon as their worth becomes known. In towns the tendency of the page 52 young women is to obtain work either in shops or factories, and they prefer the slightly higher wages and regular hours of commerce and manufacture, to the obligations of domestic service. It is a preference which does not tend to fit them for the care of a home when they marry and have to provide for the comfort of husband and children; but the semi-independence, shorter hours, and better pay explain its attractiveness for the young; while the necessity for workers, if industries are to be carried on, renders their choice of a calling useful to the bulk of the community.

Having thus briefly spoken of labour for those likely to find employment, it will be well to warn those who are thinking of coming to the colony unprepared to work at any of the occupations mentioned. It is not the mere idler to whom the caution is addressed, for the idle person is as useless in Great Britain as in New Zealand; it is to those who are of diligent and industrious habits, but trained in some calling not required in the colony, and insusceptible of change. The clerk, the shopman, the highly educated man without capital, will probably find that the openings for employment suitable to them have been already filled or that there are at any rate very many applicants. The chance of a new-comer obtaining a place as clerk or teacher is not great, seeing that he has to compete against sons of men of old standing and influence. It may be broadly stated that the town occupations (even mechanical) are sufficiently well supplied. If, on the other hand, there is a sturdy determination to be ready for any emergency, to rough it in the "bush," on a farm, a station, a mill, or at any other undertaking which requires pluck and muscle to carry out, then the future need not be feared, but the worker may look forward confidently to the possession shortly of one of the many comfortable and pleasant homes with which New Zealand abounds.