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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Labourer and the Land

The Labourer and the Land.

Another of New Zealand's Socialistic experiments more easily carried out where large tracts of land belong to the State than hem is that of village settlements.

page 17

Acting on the doctrine that the State should not permanently alienate the public domain, the land is let for a lease in perpetuity, that is, for 999 years, at a rental equal to 4 per cent, on the value of the land. No rent is payable for the first two years. No man may have more than 100 acres, and his application is not entertained if it be shown that he possesses land elsewhere in the Colony. When he has built a house on his plot the Government advances him a sum not exceeding £20 on the security of it, and a further sum not exceeding £50 at the rate of £2 10s. an acre for the first 20 acres cleared and cropped. Upon these advances interest at the rate of 5 per cent, is charged. Married men are given a preference. In the province of Auckland the scheme was inaugurated at a time of great pressure from the unemployed, and it has been extensively tried. Although some of the sections taken up have been abandoned, wherever the improvements have been effected and advances made, the Government have readily found other tenants to take them up, showing that the security for the outlay is sufficient. The Government further assist the village settlers by employing them as much as possible on road-making, and where it is found necessary to build schools for them (which under the Education Act is done wherever ten or more children are beyond the reach of an existing school) the settlers are employed upon the building.

I visited two of these settlements in similar circumstances and in the same district: one formed by a voluntary association of earnest industrious men under a capable leader, the other by a mixed band of unemployed—settlers rather from necessity than from choice—who met for the first time on the steamer that took them from the town to see the settlement. The latter were making a living indeed out of the settlement, but had expended much of the money advanced by Government at the nearest store on articles most of which they could quite well have grown themselves, and were clamouring to the Government to take them out of the "hole" they had brought them to. The voluntary association, on the other hand, appeared thoroughly contented. Under a spreading puriri tree they gave us a luncheon of bread, milk, cheese, honey, vegetables, and fruit, all grown on their own plots. A laughing crowd of children played round, and their only complaints were that the winter rain played havoc with the roads, while they had no chance to have their plots by purchase "for their very own," as the children say. Up to the present time 900 men in 85 settlements have availed themselves of the provisions of the Act, holding 22,677 acres, an average of 25 acres each man; £24,625 have been advanced; the total amount page 18 receivable for rent and interest has been £10,522, of which about £2,000 is in arrear; but the value of the land upon the security of which this advance has been made as improved by the settlers is estimated at £61,699.

The opinion which I formed was that in any case the State had good security for its advances, but that only careful selection both of the land and of the men, with a real desire on the part of the settlers to become small farmers, would ensure success.

To empower them to obtain their freeholds would no doubt bring with it a temptation to become encumbered by mortgage, but the power to sell or charge a long lease is not far removed from that of effecting a mortgage.

Associations of not less than twelve persons may take up land on the same terms in blocks of from 1,000 to 11,000 acres, provided there be not less than one selector for every 200 acres. I pointed out to General Booth that this land law appeared to be specially suited to the purposes of his Over-sea Colony, but consideration of distance and want of funds have hitherto deterred him from attempting it.

About sixteen years ago a large party of Scandinavians took up land on this system. Each family was allowed 40 acres. At the time the settlement was formed it was all dense bush, and there was no European within twenty miles, but the Government were constructing a road forty miles long to pierce the bush. The settles were employed on this. Now the bush is cleared, the land laid down to pasture which will carry four sheep to the acre. All the original settlers save two are still in the settlement; those two cut up their farms to form what is now a flourishing township.

The establishment of State farms for the employment of elderly men who should live rent free on the property, and cultivate the land under co-operative contract, has been contemplated. As yet, however, the Government have not succeeded in combining circumstances of soil, access, &c., on any site sufficiently suitable for the purpose.

The Cabinet of new South Wales has set aside £20,000 for advances to village settlers under conditions similar to those in force in New Zealand.

New Zealand, notwithstanding the fertility of some of its soil and the extraordinary amount of produce exported in proportion to its: population, is rich only in patches. In the North Island there is one huge area all covered with the pumice and scoriae of volcanic eruptions, and another area still in the hands of the Maories; in page 19 the South Island are found range upon range of rocky snow-erowned mountains which so close in upon the sea in parts of the west and south of the island as to leave hardly any land available for cultivation.