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Pioneering the Pumice

Chapter XV: Rotorua-Taupo Railway

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Chapter XV: Rotorua-Taupo Railway

At last with easy road we come to Taupo—Adapted from Henry VIII: iv, 2.

As i have already stated one of the very first things to strike me on inspecting this country was the necessity for, and the certainty of ultimately getting, a railway. And in my recent researches I have come across two very interesting facts. Wairakei was purchased by Mr. Robert Graham in June 1881, and in a pamphlet published in the following year (now well over half a century ago) he used these words “When the railway is completed to and continued from Rotorua to Taupo, as it will be within a reasonable time … The railway will make all the difference.”

Then when the North Island Main Trunk was being discussed a flying survey was made up the Waikato Valley, crossing the river at Wairakei, proceeding along the southern boundary of Broadlands, and thence on to Hastings. This was depicted in a map published by the Survey Office in June 1884, so that when in 1908 I began my active campaigning I had already been anticipated in ideas by a quarter of a century. It will be of interest, I think, if I give a very brief resumé of railway history in the Pumice Country prior to my arrival.

The railway to Rotorua had been made in slow stages. Construction was commenced in 1864 by the Auckland Provincial Government. For a while the rail-head remained at the military page 255 post of Drury. It was carried forward to Mercer on 20th May 1875; to Ngaruawahia on 13th August 1877; to Frankton on 19th December 1877; to Hamilton on 20th October 1879; to Morrinsville on 1st October 1884; to Tirau on 8th March 1886; to Putaruru on 21st June of the same year — following on the work of the Thames Valley Land Co. This company constructed the railway from Morrinsville to Lichfield, but a change of route caused that portion lying between Lichfield and Putaruru to be abandoned. The whole railway from Morrinsville to Rotorua (with the exception of some four and a-half miles between Ngatira and Arakiwi, which was built by Messrs. John McLean and Sons) was constructed by the well-known contractor Mr. Daniel Fallon under the supervision of Messrs. Stewart and Hunter as engineers. It was not till the 1st December 1893 that the section Putaruru to Tarukenga was opened and the final stage to Rotorua itself on 8th December 1894. And there it has struck for forty-five years and not made an inch of progress. Our railways are so slow that they may be said to be fast — fast to an immovable mass of incompetence and political prejudice.

It is a curious fact that the great Waikite geyser stopped playing at the very time the railway was opened.

Then there was the Taupo-Totara Timber Company's bush tramway starting at Putaruru and ending at the Company's mill at Mokai. As tramways go this was a superior work, and it has often been called a railway. Unworkable features, however, were grades of one in thirty-three; curves of one and a-half chains radius; cuttings only thirteen feet wide, and a wooden bridge over the Waikato River. Government rolling stock could not run on the line. This railway was opened for traffic at a date variously stated by the Company as 1903 and 1905; and in 1908 the Company obtained an Order-in-Council enabling it to carry goods at freights varying from about sevenpence to tenpence per page 256 ton per mile. Seeing that the average charge on Government railways all distances and all classes was then twopence farthing per mile it cannot be claimed that the Company's rates were very cheap.

Such then was the position in 1908 when I headed a deputation to the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce (at that time the only local body in the district) seeking their support for a railway to Taupo.

The matter more or less drifted until 1911 when the Chamber's support gained strength and it published a small pamphlet setting out the advantages of the proposed railway with the object of its early construction. In the same year the Taupo-Totara Timber Company got busy with a petition to Parliament setting forth that their tramway reached to within sixteen miles of Taupo and praying for the right to buy an area of Native land not exceeding two hundred thousand acres at current values and to dispose of it for the purposes of financing the railway extension. There was also a supporting petition from residents.

This petition came before a Special Committee of the House. In giving evidence Mr. W. C. Kensington, Under-Secretary for Lands, specially referred to the Broadlands turnips, expressing perfect astonishment at their size as the land had previously been regarded as valueless.

I opposed this petition only on the ground of the Company's excessive freights and lack of proper public control.

Next year (1912) the Company presented a new petition the prayer of which was that the Government would either (a) buy the completed tramway at cost subject to the right of the Government to hand it back after fifteen years and receive a refund of the purchase-money, or (b) grant the right to buy two hundred thousand acres of Native land as before set out. Further the same right to buy Crown Lands was sought.

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The evidence laid before this committee was of considerable value. The agricultural evidence showed the improved opinion of high officials of the Department of Agriculture as to the possibilities in connection with the Pumice Country. The engineering evidence did not approve the Company's railway and strongly supported the route via Waiotapu. Mr. H. J. H. Blow, late Engineer-in-Chief of the Public Works Department, said: “If we were going to run a standard line I should certainly suggest that it should go from Rotorua.” He also stressed the advantage of connection with the Port of Tauranga. Mr. W. R. Holmes, at the time Engineer-in-Chief of the Public Works Department, strongly advocated the Waiotapu route in these words (among other expressions of approval): “Whether the question be viewed from the standpoint of cheapness of construction, suitability of line when constructed, future working expenses, probable traffic and therefore revenue, or from the point of view of satisfaction to the travelling public and the greatest good for the greatest number, the route from Rotorua via Waiotapu is unquestionably the one to be adopted.” No verdict could be stronger than this. Mr. Holmes also advocated connection with Tauranga. I gave evidence again emphasizing the essential necessity of cheap freights and advocating a government railway. The findings of this Committee were: negativing the purchase by the Government of the Company's line; declining the Company's request for permission to buy two hundred thousand acres of Native lands; recommending the Government to guarantee the cost of extension to Taupo not exceeding £50,000 on adequate security and under strict conditions.

On the 13th October 1913 the Company obtained an Order-in-Council authorizing the extension of its tramway to Taupo, work to be completed by 31st December 1917.

At the end of the session of Parliament in this year (1914) the Company succeeded in having a clause inserted in the page 258 “Washing-up” Bill empowering them to rate an area of one million two hundred and fifty thousand acres at one shilling per acre on country lands and ten per cent, of the unimproved value of land in the town of Taupo. Conditions antecedent were: (1) A majority of European owners must present a petition asking that the rating area be proclaimed. (2) The Governor must be satisfied that a majority of the owners of Native land within the area proposed to be proclaimed present or represented at a meeting of such owners have, in the manner prescribed by regulations, signified their assent to the issue of the Proclamation.

Be it noted the Company was given power to rate Crown Lands.

A new Company was to be formed in which the Taupo-Totara Timber Company was to receive fully paid-up shares equal to the amount invested by it in the tramway and equipment. Moneys paid under the proclamation were to entitle the landowners to shares in this new company (but on what basis was not at all clear). All shares were to rank equally in capital and dividends but “There shall be paid in respect of any moneys paid up on any of such shares … a cumulative preference dividend of six per cent.”

I want to emphasize that this outrageous measure was placed on the Statute Book in the dying hours of the session without any notice whatever and so that those interested could have no possible chance of objecting.

The Company had no difficulty in obtaining the signatures of a majority of European landowners. There were plenty whose contribution would be round about £1. So that persons like myself who would be hit up for more than £2,000 had no say.

The next proceeding was to obtain the consent of the Maoris. After considerable delay (the Act was passed 5th November 1914) during which the Company obtained from Native owners — many of them residing outside the district — all the proxies page 259 that they could, the meeting was held at Taupo on 23rd March 1915. As it was my last chance I went up, and in the presence of mine enemies I approached the Judge for permission to address the meeting on the morrow. After consideration he declined. Next day the crowded Court opened proceedings at 10 o'clock. All the morning and part of the afternoon was taken by Mr. Dalziell in his opening address. The Judge then asked the Maoris to state their views. They kept wandering from the subject and the Judge said: “I have nothing to with these matters. All I want to know is whether you are agreeable to have your lands charged to buy a share in this tramway and its proposed extension.” But the Maoris would persist in their accusations. Finally the Judge said: “The meeting is adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. Meanwhile you Maoris must discuss this business among yorselves and come to a decision which you must declare to me at 10 a.m. tomorrow. You may use the courthouse. It will be lit all night.”

When I returned to the township after dinner I could not see a single Native so went along to the courthouse which I found crammed and the Hon. G. W. Russell, M.P. (who had just arrived by special car), about to speak. He began as follows: “I am the largest landowner in the district. I am the owner of sixty-six thousand six hundred acres. My contribution will be £3,330. I have been a Member of Parliament for twenty years; I was a member of the late Ministry; I am the second man in the Liberal Party; I am the Chairman of the Canterbury College Trustees and have charge of half a million pounds' worth of property. You take my advice. If you support this railway Taupo will soon have six hotels and twenty streets, and in every street a dancing hall. Do not sell your lands but lease them to Europeans. When you receive the rents you come into these six hotels and these twenty dancing halls and enjoy yourselves.”

He then proceeded to extol the Company's railway, exclaiming: page 260 “Who would travel in a bullock wagon if he could travel in a railway train”! and told them of all the development he meant to do at Runanga and of a wonderful crop of peas which he had grown in his back yard. He had sent some to Mr. Massey who had declared them the best he had ever eaten. Here a Maori enquired “What sort of a man is Mr. Massey?” Mr. Russell then proceeded to give Mr. Massey a very bad name but said he had no time then to expose all Mr. Massey's evil deeds and designs but would return another time and fully expose him. “Now all of you who want the railway hold up the right hand.”

Thereupon I raised myself on to my feet and lifted up my voice saying “Taihoa. I am not the owner of sixty-six thousand six hundred acres. I am the working farmer; you see me every day, holes in the knees of my pants, working among my sheep and cattle. I do not waste my time growing peas in my back yard, but I plough the land and sow the grass. I give my friend the Maori the work to put up my fences; dig my drains; clear my manuka; shear my sheep and all sorts of other work.” (The point of this was that Mr. Russell had made no improvement in Runanga and had given no employment to Maoris). “You know the Company's railway. Is it any better than a bullock wagon? What are their engines like? You know one is named the teapot and the other is called the coffee pot. You know that the train travels no faster than horses. You know the Company's freights are as high as wagon freights: you know how the tramway twists about like a worm in a fit. I have not been a member of Parliament for twenty years and I have not been a Minister of the Crown, but I consider it most disgraceful for a man who has occupied those positions to come here and advise you to waste your money and disgrace yourselves in his six hotels and twenty dancing halls. You know my advice is honest — sell part of your lands and farm the remainder yourselves all the same the Pakeha. Anyhow the Pakeha should not come here to waste page 261 your time. The Judge said the Maori must talk amongst themselves. I think all Pakehas should go.”

Suiting the action to the word I proceeded to leave, but Mr. Russell called me back and abused me strenuously as an opponent of the progress of the district. To this I rejoined: “I will say no more now; but, if the Judge will let me, I will say a great deal tomorrow. Mr. Russell has disgracefully abused Mr. Massey in his absence, but I will tell you that while Mr. Russell claims to be the second man in the Liberal Party, Mr. Massey is undoubtedly the first man in the whole Parliament. He is the tangata toa; the tangata tino pai. He is a great friend of mine and if Mr. Russell shall beat me here, I will go to my friend Mr. Massey and he will stand between the rich Company and the poor Maori.” Tumultuous applause in the midst of which I left the premises.

The effect of this was that next morning the Maoris refused to do anything until I had addressed them. The Judge was resistant but the Maoris were insistent and finally prevailed. It did not give me much trouble to tear the Company's scheme to pieces; to show that the Company's tramway could not possibly pay a dividend; to point out that, as the Maoris had no means of paying the rate, their land would ultimately be sold in default; that my little hapu (the Ngatitahu), would have to find £2,400 in ready money (and on the Company's own evidence would derive no benefit) and other hapu more; to emphasize the very unfair incidence of a flat rate of one shilling per acre, e.g., Wairakei with a station in its back yard and a large tourist trade would pay £200 while the valueless Rangipo desert thirty miles from the railway would have to pay many thousands of pounds; that the Company had no title to an essential part of what they sought to sell, several miles of their line near Putaruru being on Crown land to which they had no title; that no benefit would accrue to anyone but the Company as the freights they page 262 were authorized to charge could easily be bettered by horse wagons; and so on. When I sat down several folk wanted to ask questions. Some chiefs such as Heu Heu and Kingi Topia had gone over to the Company, but their silly questions were easily answered to their discomfiture. One of the Grahams fared no better.

When up rose the big gun, the Hon. G. W. Russell, M.P., second man in the Liberal Party.

The Judge intervened: “Mr. Vaile is not under cross-examination.”

Mr. Russell pressed.

The Judge: “Do you object Mr. Vaile?”

“Not in the least.”

So Mr. Russell followed on to retrieve the Company's fading fortunes; but I flatter myself that my answers to his first three questions fairly knocked him flat. He proceeded to a fourth and demanded: “Answer me yes or no.”

To this I retorted: “I will answer you as I choose and not as you choose.”

“Answer me yes or no,” repeated my very cross questioner.

To this I countered: “I will answer you yes or no when you answer me ‘yes or no’ have you stopped beating your wife?”

Of course this was not absolutely original, but apparently it was new to the Maoris; and, when they saw Mr. Russell could not answer, they evidently thought that he did belabour the wife of his bosom, and loudly expressed their disapproval. In the midst of this I turned on Mr. Dalziell, fixed him with a forty horsepower glare, and hurled at him the famous Maori defiance: “Ka whawhai tonu ahau ki a koe, Dalziell, ake, ake, ake!” (I will keep on fighting you, Dalziell, for ever and ever and ever!) At this the Maoris raised a regular war whoop and the Judge said “I think you had better stop, Mr. Vaile, the Maoris are getting too excited.”

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“Very well,” I replied, “but Mr. Russell should not attack me unless he wants to take what's coming to him.”

So the vote was taken and the result announced amidst the most enthusiastic acclamation. “For the Company ten, against one hundred and sixty-five.” By the use of its proxies the Company reduced this margin but were still soundly beaten. Leaving the room I saw Mr. Dalziell, Mr. Russell and Messrs. Graham in close confab. So I went up and greeted them saying: “I confess that I feel rather like the ruffian in the Scriptures who knocked the man down, stripped him of his raiment, wounded him and left him half dead. But I will also act the good Samaritan. Come across the road with me and I will pour wine into your wounds.” Messrs. Dalziell and Russell accompanied me, but the Messrs. Graham would not.

Upon my return to Broadlands I could not understand why everyone called me “King of the Maori,” but subsequently learned that the Ngatitahu delegation had despatched a courier immediately after the meeting to let the tribe know the glad tidings of the Company's defeat. It seems that this messenger had delivered himself thus (referring to my humble self): “That ferrow he beat the roia (lawyer): that ferrow he beat the mema (M.P.) that ferrow the king!”

Well, shortly after this signal defeat of mine enemies I conceived the very valid idea that, if it were practicable to impose a rate on land for the construction of a useless private tramway, why not for the construction of a useful Government railway? Filled with enthusiasm for what I rightly believed to be a really great principle whereby landowners would be induced voluntarily to contribute to the cost of railways so as to obtain precedence in construction, I went to Wellington to interview the powers that then were. This was war time and the “National” Government in power. Mr. Massey gave me no encouragement. Sir Joseph Ward said: “Railways are not built for the sake of page 264 subsidies”: and he ought to have continued: “but for the sake of votes to win or retain power.”

Anyhow I immediately got to work and held meetings at many places within the area during the winter of 1915. Although I was in no way attacking the T. T. T. they dogged my steps everywhere and had organized opposition at all my meetings. So I finished up by “carrying the war into Italy” and holding a meeting at Mokai, the Company's great stronghold. Of course I was not permitted to have a hall in the township, but succeeded in hiring one not far away. There was a good audience and full representation of the Company. However I contrived to inflict defeat on these gentlemen and the next morning — so as to show no animosity — I and my friend Mr. Butcher called in at the Company's office. Some of the head officials were present and we were ushered into the private office of the manager. There I perceived a snake curled up in a bottle.

“What's this thing?” I enquired.

“Oh, that's a snake a friend sent me from Tasmania.”

“You don't say so,” I rejoined. “I thought it was a plan of your railway” — which is very tortuous.

Over this joke we all had a good laugh.

Our meeting at Whakarewarewa was also very interesting. Mr. Wm. Hill, the very capable representative of the Government at Rotorua, kindly took the chair. To support our cause we brought in Henry Werahiko, the head chief of Waiotapu, and Harehare, the head chief of Te Whaiti. The meeting was held in old Meta Taupopoki's runanga house. Meta himself opposed us. He and our chiefs had a real good go. Brandishing their umbrellas, in the place of taiahas, they barked at one another and did everything except actually bite. Mr. Justice Herdman, who happened to look in, was highly amused. It was a good as — in some respects better than — an opera. In the end we beat Meta page 265 in his own house and carried our vote against him. The old chap got properly wild, seized his taiaha and drove us all out. So I took a room at the Geyser House Hotel where I accepted signatures to our petition. Most of the Maoris signed up.

This petition was really a tremendous task, but by August I had secured eight hundred and fifty-seven signatures — practically all the land owners in the district — agreeing to have their lands rated to provide a sum estimated at from a fourth to a third of the cost of the railway.

A petition embodying this provision was duly presented to Parliament and a special Committee set up to hear it. To my surprise I found that Sir John Findlay, K.C.M.G., K.C., LL.D., had been feed by the Company to oppose me. Of course I felt frightfully flattered but still raised objection on the ground that the Company had no interest or standing in the matter. They were not attacked in any way. However, the Chairman overruled me and Sir John continued.

The evidence was not printed, but the following extract from the Auckland Star of the 14th October 1915 will sufficiently show the trend of business:

Rotorua to Taupo
Proposed Government Line

Large Petition in Circulation

A petition which contains the signatures of eight hundred and fifty-seven landowners has been promoted in favour of an extension of the Government railway system from Rotorua to Taupo via Waiotapu. Some pointed arguments in favour of the scheme were included in an address which was given before the Special Parliamentary Committee by Mr. E. E. Vaile, one of the pioneer settlers at Waiotapu.

Mr. Vaile pointed out that an area of two million acres page 266 would be served by the proposed railway, while a large portion of the Urewera country would also be beneficially affected. The bulk of this area would be suitable for settlement by men of small means. Mr. Vaile quoted statements by various authorities concerning the productivity of the land, and produced a series of photographs showing excellent crops of turnips, oats, and other fodder plants which had been grown on his property and that of his neighbour. The present cost of manure conveyed to Waiotapu was as much for two hundredweight as it was for three hundredweight to the Waikato.

A further argument in favour of the proposed railway was that it would enable the bringing out of the Government and native timbers. The Crown had reserved in that district forty-six thousand acres for forest plantations, of which seventeen thousand acres had already been planted, and two thousand more were being planted yearly. Again, the railway would greatly develop the tourist traffic, linking up, as it would, Rotorua, Waiotapu, Wairakei, Rotokawa, Aratiatia Rapids, Huka Falls, and Lake Taupo in one continuous run. Thence the tourist could proceed across the lake to Tokaanu, and on by the excellent motor read now being constructed to Waimarino. From there he could either see the mountains or continue his journey down the Wanganui River. Mr. Vaile confidently asserted that once cheap and easy communication was afforded, the Taupo district would become the sanatorium of the Southern Hemisphere.

The landowners interested in the scheme, said Mr. Vaile, were offering a liberal subsidy which they estimated at from a quarter to one-third of the cost of the railway. In this, he submitted a good precedent was being established. Had the principle been in vogue from the beginning of the Public Works policy, there would have been from thirty-three per cent, to fifty per cent, more railway lines constructed for the same amount of page 267 borrowed money. The Government must build its own line to Waiotapu, to get the timber out. From there onward to Taupo the country was good and level, and it was thought that the subsidy would almost complete the line. Practically all the Europeans and a vast majority of the Maori owners were in favour of it.

At some length Mr. Vaile drew a comparison between the advantages of this line and those of the Putaruru-Taupo route. He quoted Mr. Holmes and other Government engineers to show that it would cost £59,000 more to bring the existing line on the latter route up to Government standard than to build an entirely new line from Rotorua: that was, if the Company gave the existing line for nothing. He claimed that the proposed Rotorua-Taupo line would earn an excellent revenue both direct and indirect.”

The official evidence was again entirely favourable.

The finding of this Committee was to refer the matter to the Government for consideration, and not one word said about the great principle of a contribution from the landowners — a truly disappointing result.

Our petition was renewed on two occasions and referred to the ordinary Parliamentary Petitions Committee. On each occasion Sir John Findlay appeared on behalf of the T. T. T. to oppose me. Little evidence was called, but I addressed the committees for the railway and Sir John Findlay, K.C.M.G., K.C., LL.D., against it. On both occasions I was completely successful, the committees by unanimous votes referring the petition to the Government for favourable consideration — which is the best a Parliamentary Committee can do.

In 1920 the Auckland Railways League, after listening to my address (in which I stressed the particular claims of the Rotorua-Taupo Railway and further showed that the North Island had only 1,278 miles of railway, against 1,715 miles in the South page 268 Island; that the population of the North Island was 651,072, that of the South Island 448,377, therefore on this basis the North Island was entitled to another 1,250 miles before another mile was built in the South; that the revenue earned by North Island railways was £888 per mile open against £322 by the South Island railways, showing that on earning capacity the North Island was entitled to 2,222 miles; that the total trade of the North Island amounted to £35,690,000, against £15,881,000 in the South Island, thus showing that on the possibility of business available the North Island was entitled to 2,576 miles), unanimously decided to urge the immediate construction of a Government railway from Rotorua to Taupo.

The New Zealand Herald in the leading article of 29th January, 1920, said “The arguments for a railway to Taupo are unanswerable.”

All the time I was pushing the interest of the railway and on one occasion in the course of an interview with Mr. Massey at Rotorua he, in a moment of incautious candour, remarked: “What you want, Mr. Vaile, is more votes.” To which I made answer: “Too true; but how am I to get them without the railway?”

Experience had by now convinced me that “Railways are not built for subsidies” — but for the purchase of votes to obtain or retain place and power. In this same year, 1920, the T. T. T. Company again got to work in the endeavour to get rid of their tramway. The reply from the Government was that another route was proposed, and enquiry must be made into that as well. Notwithstanding this when the order of reference was published there was no mention of the Rotorua Taupo route.

A Royal Commission was appointed consisting of Messrs. H. J. H. Blow (late chief engineer of the Public Works Department) as chairman, Mr. F. M. Furkert the then chief engineer; Mr. H. Buxton of the Railway Department; and Mr. G. H. M. page 269 McClure, Commissioner of Crown Lands for Wellington, with Mr. H. H. Sterling as secretary. The order of reference contained ten clauses all complicated and contentious, but it all really amounted to this: Could the Company sell to the Government all its assets; or, failing that, its tramway.

Our organization decided to put up a fight. When the Commission arrived in Rotorua on the 2nd November, 1920, our honorary solicitor, Mr. M. H. Hampson, appeared and asked permission for Rotorua interests to be represented. This being granted he asked whether a person, not a solicitor, might conduct the business. This was also conceded and I was nominated for another arduous, bitter, unpaid and thankless job. I followed that Commission around to Putaruru, Mokai, Taupo, back to Rotorua, to Auckland, and finally to Wellington, fighting every inch of the way. The Company was represented by three lawyers — Sir John Findlay, Mr. Dalziell and Mr. Strang, while on my side there was only my amateur self. At Taupo the Company, which keenly resented my presence — apparently not regarding it as a courteous return of Sir John Findlay's calls on me on various occasions — threatened me with an action for libel and damages. To this I made answer that I was not throwing down the gage of battle to a concern financially much more powerful than I; but, if the Company thought they had any claim, I was quite ready and prepared with proofs of all I had said. At my invitation the Commission stepped aside to have a look at Broadlands, but the Company's representatives refused to come in. When the Commission resumed at Rotorua I at once drew its attention to the threat made and offered to produce my proofs. The Chairman, as I expected, replied that the Commission had nothing to do with quarrels between me and the Company. But I had got my shot in. At the final meeting in Wellington Sir John Findlay and I delivered our closing addresses. The Chairman formally thanked us and was kind page 270 enough to add: “You have put your case very eloquently, Mr. Vaile.”

This Commission went very thoroughly into the whole question, and its findings are rather lengthy. However they rejected all the Company's proposals and condemned the incorporation of the Company's tramway in the railway system of New Zealand. They approved the area for development saying: “It undoubtedly constitutes the largest area of undeveloped waste land in the Dominion, and calls loudly for some special action to be taken to bring it into productivity. The experiments already made with pumice soils clearly show that, given proper tillage and with the use of appropriate manures, the land is capable of satisfactory development … We are forced to the conclusion that the suitability of these pumice lands for farming purposes is beyond question…. The land that cannot be ploughed is admirably adapted for timber tree planting.” And they go on to say: “But the needs of the district will not be fully met until the Government railway is extended to Taupo … Irrespective of what is done in the way of giving Taupo railway connection it will be absolutely necessary that a railway be constructed to deal with the output from the State forests. The State forest will … provide constant traffic for a railway … and this will continue in perpetuity … It would seem, therefore, that there is urgent necessity in order to avoid great national waste, for an extension of the Rotorua Government railway to Waiotapu with as little delay as possible; and bearing this in mind, and having in view the probability that the Government will give effect sooner or later to the strong recommendations of the late Engineer-in-Chief and the Director of Forests, your Commissioners venture to express the opinion that the line to connect Taupo with the Government railway system should be an extension of the existing Government railway to Rotorua.”

Truly another great triumph for little me. A Royal page 271 Commission set up at the request of the T. T. T. not only condemns their proposals, but strongly recommends my proposals — which were, strictly speaking, not included in the order of reference. The New Zealand Herald in the leading article of 15th March, 1921, said: “It is proof of the strength of the case for a Rotorua-Taupo railway that a Commission set up primarily to investigate a rival scheme should have ended by rejecting that scheme and recommending an extension of the Rotorua line.”

One would imagine that after such an enthusiastic recommendation by the Royal Commission the railway would be constructed. But no: railways absolutely condemned in equally emphatic manner are now being built and this is not. “What you want, Mr. Vaile, is more votes.” “Railways are not constructed for the sake of subsidies.” True! Disgracefully true!

The New Zealand Herald afforded me space in its issues of the 8th and 9th December, 1921, for an article in support of this railway containing a series of facts and arguments truly “Unanswerable” — nor has any answer ever been attempted. Our opponents have been the negative ones of: (1) Prejudice, and (2) Want of votes. I was as the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

In this year (1921) I again promoted a petition to Parliament. To this petition I accepted all the signatures of interested parties that came forward, but did not repeat the infinite labour devoted to the petition of 1915 as our offer of a substantial subsidy had met with no recognition, and I secured also the support of several Public Bodies in a separate petition urging the acceptance of the offer of a subsidy by the landowners. In support of our efforts we published a handsome illustrated booklet setting forth the advantages of the railway. This petition was referred to another Royal Commission which sat in 1922 and took evidence at Auckland, Rotorua, Reporoa, Taupo and Wellington. The sitting at Reporoa took place on a midwinter's day when there page 272 was a heavy frost, and that at Taupo during one of the “Taupo shakes” of that year. The T. T. T. again appeared to oppose me, but this time not so vigorously, for Mr. G. O. Bayly was the only one to follow me round, and Sir John Findlay did not appear until the Commission reached Wellington. Then a curious thing happened. Mr. Dalziell in his extraordinary manner declared that he had never opposed “Mr. Vaile's railway”: indeed he would advise his directors to subscribe to the funds for the promotion of that railway. I must say I was utterly astonished at this declaration and was just able to gasp “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!” The finding of this Commission was not so enthusiastic as that of the previous year due, in large part I am convinced, to the fact that the 1921 Commission took vastly more trouble. Moreover, this 1922 Commission sat in the very dead of winter and refused to look at a single farm, saying that they already knew the country.

Their report was very lengthy and I must again severely condense what they said:

“The pumice country has been proved to be specially suited for the growth of timber trees … For the development to a state of productivity of this great area of land it is essential that artificial manures and other requisites be delivered on the farms and the produce of the farms be taken to the markets at a much more moderate cost than is possible with the present means of transit … We are satisfied that there is sufficient timber in the indigenous forests to furnish traffic for fifteen years at the rate of cutting estimated. When that timber is exhausted the output from the Government forest plantations will have largely increased … To provide for the estimated traffic it will be necessary to run each way one passenger and two mixed or goods trains daily … We are aware that in 1912 the late Engineer-in-Chief of the Public Works Department estimated the cost of a railway from Rotorua to Taupo on page 273 approximately the same route as we now propose at £7,000 per mile; but since 1912 the cost of such works has greatly increased. The estimate of £700,000 is, we are satisfied, a reasonable on.”

The Commissioners then quote the emphatically favourable opinion of the late Engineer-in-Chief and Under-Secretary of Public Works (Mr. W. R. Holmes), and the still more emphatic finding of the 1921 Commission, and go on to say: “We respectfully beg to endorse the opinion that in order to realize the value, both present and prospective, of these plantations means of transit by railway must be provided and we may add that a railway from Rotorua terminating at a suitable point in the vicinity of the Waiotapu plantation would reasonably serve the present settlement in the Waiotapu Valley and would open up a further large area of land for development.” They also found that there was no likelihood of the railway paying working expenses plus four per cent, interest on capital — which was not surprising seeing that the whole railway system of the long-settled South Island was then returning under one per cent.

Now this report met with a mixed reception. It was of course one hundred per cent, favourable for the railway to proceed to Waiotapu and eighty per cent, favourable for it to be made to Taupo subject to the reservation that it would probably not yield four per cent. Our friends described it as cautious. Our enemies tried to put us down, pretending that the report condemned our railway, but on our side there were truth, facts and sound reasons and a strong and well-grounded faith.

Again in this year (1922) our friends of the T. T. T. had recourse to the valuable “Washing Up Bill,” this time obtaining authority to rate timber lands for the benefit of their tramway, without any petition from ratepayers of the said district. I did not concern myself to treat the Company as it had treated me and did not appear to oppose it.

In 1923 we returned to the charge with a petition signed by page 274 every public body between Taupo and Tauranga with only one exception — and I have forgotten its ignominious name: I also obtained from each of these bodies an authority in proper legal form, drawn by our honorary solicitor, Mr. Hampson, appointing me to appear on its behalf in support of the petition.

This petition was referred to the ordinary Public Petitions Committee of Parliament before whom I appeared, and received, as always, the capable and willing assistance of our member, Mr. Frank Hockly. I received also the customary opposition of Sir John Findlay, K.C.M.G., K.C., LL.D., notwithstanding which our petition secured the unanimous support of the Committee.

About this time there was considerable interest taken in our district through a favourable report from Professor Park on the probability of petroleum deposits existing in the district; from the suggestion of the utilization of the natural heat of the earth for industrial purposes; also the purchase by the Government of the Rotokawa sulphur deposits; but of course nothing has been done to develop these resources, the energies of Parliament being devoted to providing the numerous debtors with facilities for dodging their lawful debts and obligations to their creditors — a much smaller body of voters.

During 1924, 1925 and 1926 our project was kept before the public eye by the Waiotapu Railway League, of which I was president, and by our good friend Mr. Frank Hockly, M.P.

In 1927 we petitioned the Minister of Public Works, the Hon. K. S. Williams, to place on the Estimates a sufficient vote to enable immediate effect to be given to favourable recommendations of the Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees, and I headed a strong deputation which was received by the Prime Minister the Right Honourable J. G. Coates and the Hon. K. S. Williams. Mr. Coates complimented the deputation on the way it had handled the business and promised that, subject page 275 to the approval of Cabinet and funds being available, the railway from Rotorua as far as Reporoa should be the next railway built after completion of the so called East Coast Main Trunk Railway (events have proved this to be another frightful example of the imbecility of seaside railways). At a subsequent meeting when two or three were gathered together Mr. Coates confirmed this promise.

Strangely enough at this time opposition started to develop in Auckland of all places — but its inhabitants have ever been hesitant and shortsighted in their own interest — while Wellington papers, both Dominion and Post gave kindly support. It seems unbelievable, but the Auckland Chamber of Commerce conceived a Lunnatic opposition to this railway, objecting to its construction for no earthly reason but that twenty-two branch railways in the South Island were not earning sufficient to pay interest on capital. What do you think of that? Naturally I delivered a violent counterattack saying that the Auckland Chamber of Commerce had no right to seek to inflict a mortal blow on a large area of country which it ought to exert itself to develop; that it knew absolutely nothing about the subject; that the fact that certain South Island railways did not pay interest had nothing whatever to do with the Rotorua-Reporoa line; that they should be aware of the fact that the South Island was enormously over-supplied with railways while our North Island was ill-supplied; that their statement that a road would serve the district equally well and cost only two-fifths of the amount needed for a railway was ridiculously false and showed that they didn't know what they were talking about; that the Royal Commissions and Committees of enquiry with all the evidence before them knew more about the railway than did the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Certain newspaper correspondents also attacked me and two of the Auckland newspapers though both professing to page 276 illuminate the heavens, “turned dog” on the interests of the Province in which they were published — to such an extent that, at a meeting I was likened unto Sisera.

All this unnatural opposition I fiercely countered and beat down with the cordial support of the great newspaper The New Zealand Herald — always alive to the true interests of Auckland. And about this time I had a great stroke of luck — I sold thirty thousand acres of Broadlands. My ship having come in I decided to sail round the world, and in 1928 started on a grand tour.

When at the very heart and centre of civilization, I began to receive congratulatory cablegrams from which I learned that the railway had been started. And I went on my way rejoicing. However, I had not got very far before I had news of the change of Government, with our old friend the “Wizard of Finance,” late of the celebrated Ward Association, at the helm. As he had promised to give the people £70,000,000 without its costing them a single sixpence, I had little fear for the railway; but, by the time I had reached the holy city of Jerusalem (about Christmas 1928), I decided to get in touch with the home front and cabled to my brother and to my neighbour Mr. Butcher. The replies were most satisfactory: Ministers had visited the district and approved the railway. Further reassuring reports reached me as I proceeded right along to Melbourne. But while I was spending a few days with my old friend Naval Lieutenant James Jickell, D.S.C., near Ballarat, on opening The Argus I was stabbed straight in the eye by the news that the financial wizard had decided to stop work on the railway; to waste all the money spent on the undertaking and to proceed with the construction of the ghastly railway along the eastern seaboard of Hawkes Bay. (One viaduct on this money-sponge to cost more than the whole Taupo railway.)

So I got busy, despatched a flight of cablegrams, packed my swag and off to Sydney where I had to spend several impatient page 277 days simply because I couldn't swim the Tasman. Arrived in New Zealand I was astonished to find that during my absence opposition to the railway had continued. The “Auckland Railways League” saw fit to go back on its own resolution and oppose us. “The New Zealand Land Settlement and Development League” spoke disparagingly. The Chamber of Commerce was at us again. Various anonymous folk had their foolish and uninformed say. My absence was most unfortunate. Had I been here I could have beaten down all this imbecile opposition and put these opponents of the progress of Auckland Province in their proper place.

It now being too late to do anything about all this I dashed to Wellington where I found Sir Joseh Ward supreme, suave and useless. Up in Rotorua and Waiotapu I formed an Association and raised funds to fight for the railway. We published a really fine pamphlet entitled “The Truth about the Taupo Railway: The Story of a Great Crime” and distributed it to members of Parliament, newspapers and Chambers of Commerce throughout the Dominion.* The response was generally favourable; but, of course, we were attacked in some quarters — in Parliament and by a strangely misnamed publication with headquarters in the same city. The latter folk I bearded in their own den. I don't know that the facts and arguments I adduced carried much weight with these gentlemen; but, when I pointed out that the directorate owned the largest block of freehold land in the area, I returned with the opposition withdrawn and subscriptions to our fighting fund from the directors! Friends could not understand how I achieved this triumph.

Early in June Sir Joseph Ward came up to Rotorua and delivered an address in which he endeavoured to persuade the inhabitants that they would be better off without the railway page 278 than with it. He promised a bitumen road — which of course has not been made.

Here is my reply (Herald, 14th June, 1929):

Rotorua-Taupo Railway

“The criticism of this railway voiced by Sir Joseph Ward at Rotorua as reported in your issue of Saturday, displays economy of candour and abundance of bias. It is not such a statement as the public is entitled to expect from one occupying the responsible position of Prime Minister. In quoting from the report of the Royal Commission of 1922 he twists the findings of that body to serve his own ends; but he cannot get over the fact that that Commission did unanimously recommend the construction of the railway as far as Waiotapu (p. 7) and he cannot deny that three successive engineers-in-chief (Mr. Blow, Mr. Holmes and Mr. Furkert) and the Royal Commission of 1920–1921 as well as two Parliamentary Committees have, after full enquiry, unanimously recommended construction to Taupo. Nor can he deny that of the four Ministers to whom he professed to have referred this question, two actually recommended its construction, one had never seen the country, and the fourth took a very cursory glance at it. Sir Joseph makes much of the minority report of the 1922 Commission, but neglects to mention that the minority consisted of only one and that this very minor report applied only to the construction of the line beyond Waiotapu (p. 8). Sir Joseph said that, in his opinion, the traffic would justify only “one train a week or one train a fortnight,” but the Commission, from whose findings he professes to quote, reported (p. 5) “To provide for the estimated traffic it will be necessary to run each way one passenger and two mixed or goods trains daily.” The Commission also reported (p. 6) that this railway would serve 1,250,000 acres. This may not page 279 satisfy Sir Joseph, but nevertheless it constitutes the greatest area of cultivable and habitable land as yet undeveloped in this Dominion. Sir Joseph piously decried rivalry between North and South, but he neglected to point out that though the population of the North Island is near enough to double that of the South Island, the latter actually possesses three hundred and eighty-two miles more railway. On a population basis the North Island is entitled to no less than two thousand miles additional railways before the South Island gets another mile, and on a revenue basis it is entitled to even more, as the railways of the North Island pay three and a-quarter per cent. net, and those of the South Island less than one per cent. (current Year Book, 1929, pp. 370 and 376). It is quite true that the Commission found that the railway would not pay four per cent., but they did find that it would return a greater net percentage than all the railways of the old-settled South Island. What new railway has, or even can, pay four per cent.? If we wait for such, then railway construction must cease absolutely. I will conclude by remarking that a Prime Minister should not degrade his office by descending to an appeal to the selfishness and greed of his audience. He said he would not take traffic past Rotorua (except on a bitumen road) to another tourist resort. I say it is not the province of a Prime Minister to favour one town against another, but to give all places a fair and equal chance. Is there not room in this country for Taupo as well as Rotorua? And is not the wider and the truer view that each place will supplement and assist the other?”

Following up his attack in July, Sir Joseph Ward made a most extraordinary assault on me in Parliament and in his usual theatrical style produced a private letter I had written to Mr. Coates in 1927 upbraiding him for not having started the railway. There was nothing the matter with the letter except that for a communication from a humble backblocks “cockatoo” to page 280 the Prime Minister it was rather strongly worded. Attached to the letter was a note to Mr. Furkert “Can you suggest a reply?” and also a draft reply which, however, had not been despatched. In his attempt to score off me Sir Joseph made some extraordinary statements.


That the Royal Commission did not recommend the railway.


That it was a political railway.


That I had sold a large area of land in consequence of the railway being started.


That he did not know me!

To this I made a pretty hot reply: that the letter was in the face of it a private communication; how Sir Joseph got it I could not tell: having obtained possession of the letter it of course rested with Sir Joseph's good taste and sense of what was gentlemanly, or even decent, whether he should publish it: that it was false that the railway had been put in hand immediately I had informed Mr. Coates of what I had done for the Party; that calling this railway a political railway was the exact opposite of the truth for it commanded no votes; that Sir Joseph knew quite well that two of his own Ministers had approved the railway, also that three successive engineers-in-chief of the Public Works Department — Messrs. Blow, Holmes and Furkert — and the present General-Manager of Railways, Mr. Sterling, had all recommended the construction of this railway: that the Royal Commission of 1922 did certainly and unanimously recommend construction of the railway as far as Reporoa; that Sir Joseph Ward's statement that I had sold a large area of my land after the railway was promised displayed the same economy of truth as his other statements. I had sold all my land (except one-fifth, which I still retained) prior to May 1925”— that is over three years before the starting of work on the railway.

But I did not add that, so far from not knowing me, Sir page 281 Joseph had been quite glad of my company when in 1899 he was wandering round London under a very dark cloud.

A great deal of interest was aroused by these circumstances and there were several skirmishes in the House.

Then we petitioned Parliament in these words:

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of New Zealand in Parliament assembled.

May it please your Honourable House.

Our humble petition sheweth.


That in 1920 and again in 1921 the Public Petitions Committee of the House of Representatives recommended the immediate construction of a railway from Rotorua to Taupo.


That in 1921 the Taupo Tramways and Timber Commission unanimously found that “There is urgent necessity, in order to avoid great national waste, for an extension of the Rotorua Government Railway to Waiotapu with as little delay as possible.


That in 1922 the Royal Commission on the Rotorua-Taupo Railway unanimously endorsed the above finding.


That in 1928 Parliament authorized the construction of the railway as far as Reporoa, and voted the sum of £75,000 for the building of the first section.


That in pursuance of this authority a very large sum of money was spent on the said railway.


That if the work be not resumed without delay this expenditure will be wasted; but far more serious is the fact that the development of the great Rotorua-Taupo district will be further delayed.

We therefore pray your Honourable House to order the immediate resumption of work on the said railway: And your petitioners will ever pray.”

This was signed by myself and eighty-eight others — mostly page 282 public bodies and institutions. Our request for a special committee was refused and the petition referred to the ordinary Public Petitions Committee M. to Z.

Here I may remark that the Member for the district had, from being an enthusiastic advocate, become strangely hostile. I suppose the Wizard had bullied him into submission to the Party programme irrespective of the interests of his constituency. Anyhow I found that, if I required any help, I had to seek it from some friendly member of another Party.

The Committee consisted of Colonel McDonald (chairman), Hon. E. A. Ransom, Mr. Makitanara, Mr. Lye, Mr. Jenkins (of the United Party), Messrs. Kyle, J. N. Massey and Samuel (Reform), and Mr. Semple and Rev. Clyde Carr (Labour). So that the Government had an equal vote on the Committee plus the chairman's casting vote. This Committee sat on fifteen occasions during September and October 1929, usually for about three and a-half hours, and attracted great attention, many Members of Parliament not on the Committee attending from time to time.

My friend Mr. Dalziell of the Taupo-Totara Timber Company was also in attendance and gave evidence, but did not directly attack our petition.

I had been warned about the Chairman, and he justified the warning by attempting to bully me at the very start, but I stood to my guns and would not be bullied. I was ordered to sit down. Up jumped Mr. Semple and dressed the Chairman down properly. “Sit down Mr. Semple!” But Mr. Semple did not sit down and continued to slate the gallant Colonel. Mr. Samuel followed in his quiet imperturbable manner. He, too, was ordered to sit down; but he did not do so and continued quietly to rub salt under the Chairman's skin until he was smarting rather badly. In the end we had him pretty well civilized.

However, I was not permitted to have a copy of the evidence page 283 given — upon what grounds I cannot imagine — and consequently found cross examination several days after the evidence had been given rather difficult. Besides myself, seven witnesses gave evidence in favour of the railway; nine were rail-sitters; but one gave some most hostile, extraordinary and incorrect evidence for which, had his testimony been given on oath, I should have prosecuted him. He professed to give this evidence on behalf of his Department (Lands and Survey) but, upon enquiry from the head officials, I found this statement to be false.

Besides these vocal witnesses I staged a fine exhibit of roots and other produce and a mass of prize tickets won by exhibits from Broadlands at all the principal shows from Palmerston North through Rotorua, Matamata, Hamilton (Waikato Winter), to Auckland. And I pressed the Committee very hard to visit the area and judge of its possibilities for themselves but they would not come.

Complete success was of course out of the question, but I obtained the maximum vote possible — fifty-fifty, with the casting vote of the Chairman against me. The finding of the Committee was consequently adverse — a purely political verdict.

Next year (1930) we were to the fore again with another petition, this time from non-residents.

This was signed by sixty-five well-known men, nearly all farmers, and residing as far away as Hunterville. I select a few names: Dynes Fulton (Tuakau), C. J. Parlane (Hamilton), F. E. Hughes (Waharoa), R. G. Glasgow (Onewhero), Samuel C. G. Lye (Newstead), J. E. Makgill (Auckland), F. Carr Rollett (Auckland Weekly News), Daniel Bryant (Hamilton), Joseph Baraugh (Hamilton), Sydney A. R. Mair (Hunterville), D. Stewart Reid (Ngahinepouri), H. J. Gill (Te Puke), H. Cherrington Marsh (Maungatainoka), P. Pederson (Taihape), H. M. Martin (Ngongotaha), W. J. Phillipps (Morrinsville), Frank Colbeck (Morrinsville), and many others.

page 284

This was referred to the Ordinary Petitions Committee once more, but this time to the A - L Committee, whereas the previous year we were before M - Z, so that we had a fresh body of men to familiarize with the subject. Eventually I found myself in the same position as the year before: the voting equal and the Chairman's casting vote against the railway.

About this time a deputation of Reporoa settlers arrived in Wellington to plead for a further reduction of their valuations, and gave evidence most damaging to the cause of the railway. Their endeavour, I may say, was first to score a reduction in the price of their sections, and then to get the railway; a double win of wonderful advantage to themselves — if it could be achieved. They went so far as to say that the Reporoa land was so poor that it wouldn't grow even a carrot! Naturally I was highly disgusted and indignant. Just at this juncture I was called back to Broadlands on important business and I argued “Am I to sacrifice my private interests for these stupid and ungrateful folk?” Moreover I believed that with usual governmental dilatoriness the matter would not come up for a week or two and I should have time to return.

However, a vote was taken in Parliament in a couple of days and the railway lost by one vote — the vote of Mr. C. H. Clinkard, the representative of the district. Had he voted for his constituents the railway would have been won to the great and permanent advantage of the district of Rotorua, Auckland and the Dominion generally. By such close margins was I defeated and my great efforts brought to nought.

All along the line I had won my battles against the most strenuous opposition, but my victories were Pyrric. The railway is not built though so many unanimous recommendations were made in its favour (and none against it).

Thus this vast area in the centre of our small Dominion lies idle and unproductive without any adequate means of transport page 285 either by land or by sea; the additional expense of bringing out the native timber by road has cost more than the entire capital construction of the railway; this great area is becoming one vast nursery for the production and distribution of ragwort, blackberry, rabbits, hares, deer, and other pests.

But other railways utterly condemned after careful independent enquiry are being constructed at enormous expense and wicked waste of public funds. Democracy, or rule by the ignorant and the irresponsible, is a curious institution. “Mr. Vaile; what you want is more votes.”

In closing this chapter I desire to acknowledge the active and influential help of the late M.P. for the district — Mr. F. F. Hockly; of the greatest newspaper in the Dominion, The New Zealand Herald; and in particular of its Agricultural Editor, Mr. Fred. Carr Rollett; of the Wellington Evening Post, The Dominion and Waikato Times; and of other newspapers and friends throughout the length and breadth of the land.

* Copies of this interesting and well-illustrated pamphlet may be had—price one shilling.