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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

Professionals and Public Servants

Professionals and Public Servants

We have already seen the impact that the coming of resident professionals had on the district. We must now show that this was but one element in a much wider and more pervasive shift the community was undergoing, arising both from the maturing of the settlement and from the direction in which western civilisation was developing. Kaponga's first listing in Wise's Post Office Directory in 1890 has 45 of the 50 residents as ‘settler’, and the word ‘farmer’ does not appear. The 1904 list of 96 residents has only 34 settlers, but 30 farmers, and the remaining 32 follow a wide variety of callings. The 1890 list reflects a settlement at the Robinson Crusoe stage, with settlers doing whatever has to be done, however crudely, to bring civilisation to the wilderness—roadmaking, sawmilling, bush carpentry, carrying, storekeeping, whatever. The 1904 list reflects a maturing community (shall we say a Middlemarch stage) in which specialists are now getting things done ‘properly’, allowing the occupiers of rural sections to concentrate on being real farmers. But something else is happening too: a worldwide transformation moving on from the Middlemarch stage. To provide quality dairy produce to a far distant market the district has had to join a new modern world which, in the words of Harold Perkin

… is the consequence of a myriad human activities which have only one thing in common: they are increasingly diverse, increasingly skilled—in a page 260 word, increasingly professional. The twentieth is not, pace Franklin D. Roosevelt, the century of the common man but of the uncommon and increasingly professional expert.42

As the countryside filled up and land prices rocketed it became very clear that many of the young people growing up on the bush farms and in the township could not expect to find their futures as farmers, rural tradesmen or shopkeepers. Fortuitously, new employment outlets were multiplying, drawing on a very different ideal to the yeoman one on which the district was founded. The yeoman ideal, based on the acquisition and mastery of land, saw enterprising workers making their way up ‘farming ladders' to freeholder status by ‘honest toil’, creating family enterprises whose standing was determined by the peer judgment of the local community. The new professional ideal was based not on property at all, but on trained expertise giving human capital. This expertise had to be suitably certified so as to make it transferable from place to place. (Thus Drs Noonan and Maclagan had entry to a world market through their Edinburgh degrees.) Its status was much more individualistic than that of the yeoman, being based on personal accomplishment rather than family enterprise. This was determined by a wider world judging the career one built up, either by establishing a successful ‘practice’, or by being selected for promotions on merit, which was largely determined by one's ‘credentials’.

To grasp much of what was going on in our district from the mid-1890s on, we must understand that this process reached down to a very low level. Not only doctors and lawyers but the humblest applicants to the civil service, the railways and the post office had to meet credential requirements. Thus, under the Civil Service Reform Act 1886, no person could be appointed permanently in the civil service to a position in defence, the police or as a prison officer ‘unless he has passed an examination equivalent to that of the Fourth Standard of Education’. This public service approach was widely copied in the private sector. So Kaponga young folk seeking careers outside of farming had very limited prospects unless they passed Standard 4; much better ones if they passed Standard 6. If they had civil service ambitions they could try their fortunes in the Junior Civil Service Examination. Set up under the 1886 act, this examination was intentionally set at a level to which senior primary school pupils could aspire. It was deliberately designed to give country equal chances with city in manning the public service, and to eliminate ‘jobbery’ in cadetship appointments by requiring that they be offered automatically in the order in which successful candidates in the exam had been ranked.

Parallel with the rise of professionals and of the need for credentials came the growth of bureaucracies, with the central government as their most notable sponsor. The settlers were quite happy to depend upon the state for a wide range of services from railways, a savings bank, telegraph and public schools to agricultural guidance and labour bureaux. To manage these page 261 nationwide activities and recruit and deploy the professional skills they needed, bureaucratic structures were put in place. Bureaucracies are characterised by hierarchy and centralisation, with lines of authority operating under codes of laws and regulations. Their growth inevitably led to some friction with the Kaponga rural world, where folk were used to sorting things out in face-to-face discussion, by means of mutual understandings rather than rigid rules. Of course the original shape of the settlers' world had been decided by surveyor professionals directed by a bureaucracy, but for years thereafter they had been left largely to themselves and to the local bodies that they themselves manned. But now it was their own prosperity, their quest for its further development, the need to solve local problems, and the appetite for modern conveniences and luxuries that brought professional services among them, together with the associated bureaucracies. Especially from the mid-1890s these new realities had manifold implications for the making of Kaponga livings. We will look at some of the ways in which they worked out in two areas. We will turn first to the state schools, looking at them not from the viewpoint of pupil experience, as in Chapter 6, but as places where staff made their livings and pupils gained credentials vital for their future careers. We will also look at some of the consequences for Kaponga of government initiatives in technical education in the early years of the 20th century. We will then look more briefly at how health professionals served the district, operating mainly under individual and local initiatives.