Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand
Chapter XXVI. — A Meeting of the County Council
A Meeting of the County Council.
About a year ago the Government decided to create a new county, which was to be formed of the riding in which I reside, together with seven others. With this object eight councillors were elected for the eight different ridings. A meeting of these gentlemen took place to carry out the intentions of the Government, and to appoint certain officers. This was the first meeting of the Council, and I rode over in order to be present.
A large hall—at one end of which was a kind of stage—was hired for the occasion, and on the stage stood a good-sized table, supplied with pens, ink, and paper, and surrounded by eight stout chairs—one for each councillor. By one o'clock "the trusted of the people" had all arrived and taken their seats with countenances carefully arranged, to suit the solemnity of the page 207occasion which had called them together. Some interested ratepayers occupied the body of the hall, and watched the proceedings of the "trusted ones" with awe and admiration.
The first business to be transacted was the appointment of a chairman. Two councillors were proposed for the office, and there were four votes for each. Here was a dilemma—a deadlock. What was to be done? A gruff voice from among the audience was heard to exclaim, "Toss up for it!" a proposition rightly met by a volley of indignant and withering looks from the councillors.
After a short pause, a remarkably solemn looking councillor moved that the "County Council Act" be consulted, with a view to finding a way out of the difficulty. This motion being duly carried, the County's Act was produced, and a clause eventually discovered bearing on the matter, and which stated that lots were to be drawn by some totally disinterested individual. It was naturally felt that it would be extremely undignified on the part of a councillor to go and hunt up a suitable party. Still somebody must undertake the duty —the two embryo chairmen and their supporters could not sit staring blankly at one another all page 208day—the county work would never be got through in that fashion, nor the county roads ever graded and metalled. At this crisis a gentleman among the audience—all honour to him—volunteered to find an eligible person, and on his offer being graciously accepted, rushed from the hall. tie first encountered a workman halfway up a ladder, standing against a building in course of erection, and called out to him to come and draw lots for the chairmanship of the county. The man on the ladder, owing probably to the hammering that was going on, evidently only imperfectly heard, for instead of replying, he hailed his mate on the roof with a "Hi, Bill! here is a go. They wants me to go and be chairman of the county." Bill leant over the parapet, and delivered himself as follows—"You take my tip, Jack, and have nothing to do with em!" and this advice Jack concluded to follow, and refused to be beguiled from his ladder. Nothing daunted, however, the public-spirited volunteer proceeded with his search, and after a considerable lapse of time, returned with a small boy in charge, whom he triumphantly marched up the hall, amid murmurs of applause.
In the meantime the only "bell-topper" to be page 209found among the head-gear of the assembled sages had been called into requisition, placed in position on the table, and the names of the proposed chairmen written on pieces of paper and laid in it.
The boy was now commanded to approach the hat and draw. At this supreme moment the scene was most impressive. Round about, in various attitudes, betokening the deep interest they felt in the proceedings, were the eight councillors, and on tiptoes in front of the table was the small boy, endeavouring amid profound silence to fathom the depths of the bell-topper. Never before had that small boy in the course of his brief life been such an object of interest outside his own family. The eyes of the leading men in the county were on him, and the election of chairman of the County Council was in his hands. It ought to have been a proud moment for that lad, but I regret to record he hardly seemed duly impressed.
At last his not too nimble fingers secured one of the pieces of paper, the boy became once more an insignificant atom of humanity in flour-bag pants, and the selected chairman was duly announced. He assumed the position with a calm dignity and solemnity, which page 210seemed to proclaim him as not being unaccustomed to such honours, and the County Council proceeded to business.
The Supreme Moment.*
The practical working of this system is not at present very satisfactory, and the last half-yearly page 211statement of accounts shows that the roads of the district were not so economically managed as when they were under the former Road Boards, which did not involve the keeping up of this august body, the County Council.
* In order to avoid the possibility of giving offence, I have taken care not to caricature any actual members of the Council.