The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)
Buy New Zealand Goods — … Because They Are The Best — Let's Build New Zealand
The modern version of “Keep the Home Fires Burning” is “Keep the Factory Furnace Going.” The countries of the world are exploring all the methods by which their own people can supply their own needs.
Superstitions about some “outlander's” ability to make better articles cheaper, are almost daily being blown to tatters. Human ingenuity has no limits; the resources of man are without end; distance has been annihilated; longitude and latitude in the matter of making things has disappeared; all the handicaps of environment, scanty populations, and the well worn “distance from markets,” have been overtaken.
New Zealand should be in the first rank of this army of progress. Our proper position will be taken as soon as we realise the actual and exciting magnitude of our achievement in industrial production, and the almost infinite possibilities of the future. We not only Now make a vast range of articles of world parity in quality. We can still do better.
Did you know this? We make in New Zealand in our own factories, omnibuses and tennis racquets, bricks and picnic ware, oils and paints and artificial limbs, drugs, and soap, and cigarettes, hats and bathing gowns, “K” engines, and exquisite underwear, books and radios, and matches, boots and shoes, and toothbrushes, and golf clubs and balls, and a thousand and one other things which would use up, in a list, all the space allowed for this article.
I crossed on the trans-Tasman steamer once with two world travellers who were observers of more than ordinary capacity. They were Heifetz, the great violinist, and Petersen, then Dominion's Editor of the London “Times.” In the course of many hours of talk which ranged from Brahms to the All Blacks, and Carbine to geysers, I steadily excavated to get from these two brilliant folk some sort of joint verdict on New Zealand and New Zealanders. An hour or two from Sydney Heads, Heifetz produced his conclusion. “You New Zealanders are proud of quite the wrong things in your history.” The newspaper man said it differently. “Why not shut up,” he said, “about being the Empire Dairy Farm, and talk about your marvellous woollen rugs and your excellent walking shoes.”
Heifetz was a book collector; his mind was on our astonishing literary achievement; he respected a country which had produced Katherine Mansfield and Peter Buck, Guthrie Smith, and Pember Reeves in less than a century. The “Times” world traveller was more impressed with our good breakfast foods, our modern transport systems, and our hydro-electric development. He regarded Lord Rutherford and Mellor as the true New Zealand type.
For some years now I have been paying calls on country towns in New Zealand for the purpose of writing about them. One astonishing feature, common to all of them, is industrial activity. Regularly and consistently, a pleasant, tree-planted, green-gardened, ordered centre, would have one or more flourishing factories.
Added to these are the huge establishments in our cities; with modern equipment and up-to-date plants they are pouring out articles of all possible types every day.
Yet, if a score of people were asked at random to say what constituted the most important factor in New Zealand's prosperity, it would be safe to assume that most of them would say at once, “Our Primary Production.”
Without actually visualising it, most of us have in our minds a shadowy image of a cow, fat bullock, woolly ewe and chubby lamb, as the sole wealth spinners of our country. Now and again someone mentions gold, kauri gum or apples, but they only pass for casual notice.
Yet, of our New Zealand men who work, three-quarters are not engaged in any form of farming whatever, and only one-twentieth of our women workers are listed as following “agricultural or pastoral pursuits.”page 18
Over one hundred thousand of our New Zealand working population are engaged in the special occupation of making things in factories, and the number is steadily growing.
I do not want to minimize the importance of the direct output of our lands. Our pastures are known all over the world for their richness and permanence. I helped for a day or two in the task of taking pedigree rye-grass seed from a farm in the Manawatu district. The expert said that nowhere in the whole world of grass cultivation could such volume and quality of seed be taken from a similar area. The machine, by the way, was a revelation, for it gathered the seed, graded it, threshed it, bagged it, and did everything but sell it. It was made in Australia, but could easily be turned out in one of our Railway Workshops. I wonder if many readers know that a perfectly efficient machine gun was turned out at the Petone Railway Workshops during the middle year of the Great War, made without samples from very inconclusive blue print drawings. That was before the installation of the modern, superb plants at Otahuhu, Woburn, Addington and Hillside, which “at one leap brought New Zealand within the ‘heavy industries’ area.”
Our prodigal gifts of soil and climate make it possible for almost every growing thing to do well here. We can ripen oranges at one end of New Zealand and sea-kale at the other. Our animals can live in the open throughout the year, and every animal from the rabbit to the red deer, and every plant from the radish to the pinus insignis grow “bigger and better.” They also mature more swiftly.
All this applies to our manufacturing industries.
In our short history, there has developed in our midst a multiplicity of factories and industrial plants making a bewildering complexity of articles for human needs.
This is only a preliminary article, and I simply have not the space for a detailed catalogue. However, here are some figures; last year the value of our factory production was £105,941,722. The wages paid out were in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000. The added value to our country's production was £35,000,000. The value of the premises exceeds £70,000,000.
Now this wealth did not exist before. It was brought into being by the brains and hands of New Zealanders. It is the fruit of New Zealand endeavour, enterprise, and skill. This added value of £35,000,000 is new wealth created by our fellow countrymen.
There are several traditional observations about manufacturing things in New Zealand which call for answers.
Firstly, there is this one: “The population of New Zealand is so small that no large plants can justify themselves, and large scale production is not worth while.”
This fine old crusted story overlooks the purchasing power of each New Zealander. It is not over-stating the comparison that as a market, New Zealand's people quite equal an average of six millions in most older lands. Bruce Lockhart in his last book uses motor car ownership as an index of purchasing power. We have in New Zealand round about two hundred times as many motor cars on a population basis as Bulgaria or Roumania, and, which is of real significance, we have between five and six times as many as England herself.
The next tribal lay of the critics sounds more convincing still, at first saying: “New Zealand is so far from the world markets that things cannot be sold abroad at competitive prices.”
The truth about this is best put this way: the distance from Wellington to San Francisco is no farther than from San Francisco to Wellington. I remember once paying a visit to a fruit cannery at Hastings. This institution page 19 made a brand of products which I knew were rated by our leading hotelkeepers as “the very best in the world”—tinned peaches, tomatoes, apricots, and so on. Yet across the street from the very factory itself was a store well stocked with Californian tinned fruits. I cannot see for the life of me why Hastings tinned peaches are not in Californian groceries, for it is very obvious that in this case at any rate “distance from the market” does not provide any explanation. The man who makes a better article should be able to sell it anywhere.
The next standard objection is that “New Zealand cannot afford to instal the modern plants necessary for modern production methods.” The first answer to this one is that we have done it. And, we keep on doing it. There is a New Zealand factor here which can never be emphasized enough. An industry being newly established has all the advantages. Its founders can search the whole world and make a selection which is eclectic.
For a variety of reasons, the great manufacturing countries of the world, over a long period of development, tend to attain special skill in certain distinctive lines. Owing sometimes to the work of some genius in design, one country will run ahead of another in the form of production plant in some particular branch of manufacturing. The other side of the question, too, is that when industrial concerns attain size and age, alterations and improvements become a matter of huge cost and enormous difficulty. Then there are the considerations of weight of tradition, dislike of change, and the complex fabric of financial alliances and vast property ownership.
The New Zealand manufacturer, starting afresh, is free of all this, and has the opportunity of making a world selection, based on his local needs and conditions. I can point out our own four great Railway Workshops as brilliant examples of this phenomenon. Many countries are represented in their array of mechanical Titans, and I have heard a British expert of high standing say quietly of the Woburn workshops, “There are larger works in the world, but none any better or more up-to-date.”
The actual fact is that to-day we are making a mass of goods which are equal to the world's best in design, construction, durability, and efficiency, simply because we have modern plants having the same qualities.
I shall, in later articles in this magazine, give more particulars of some of these, “giving reasons” as an examination paper asks.
I shall just touch on the last general objection to the further development of New Zealand industries. This is expressed in the well-worn phrase “high cost of production.”
Now in our dairy industry we have high wages, high price farm lands and dairy cows, and a twelve thousand mile sea haul; and yet our butter manages to compete very easily with the countries of the world in their own home markets. English farmers complain of being “under sold.”
When I was an executive in the amusement business, I was besieged every year for collections of our New Zealand woollen rugs. They were much prized by the film stars, and dozens of these rugs were transformed into winter coats. No such fabric, my American friends said, could be procured in the Northern Hemisphere, whatever the cost. But, above all, they were amazed, delighted and puzzled in turn at the “ridiculously low price” of these articles, which as we know are made here every day.
We can take it as amply proven that there is no vestige of a valid reason why we should not only make a larger proportion of all the material things we need, but also that we can enter the world's competitive markets for many types of goods, with every reason for optimism.
There is a further element in our national make-up which needs mention. I have it on the authority of a leading designing engineer that New Zealanders lead the world on a per capita basis in patent applications. We are mechanically minded, ingenious, adaptable and resourceful.
These qualities are the heritage of a pioneering history. In the old days when a “gadget” was not procurable for shop or farm, the man of the place had to contrive one. I am continually in a state of being slightly dazed, at my age, at the uncanny ability of the average New Zealand schoolboy to mend a radio, fix up a choking carburettor, make a substitute bolt for a tractor, and play about with volts and ohms as if they were both tame and intelligible. I mentioned that I have just had the experience of watching complicated harvesting and hay-making machinery at work. A dozen or more men attended these many-armed, many-wheeled steel mammoths, everyone of them seemed to understand the operation of every part, the reasons for each page 20 page 21 element in the design, and most of them could explore, pronounce upon the reason, and promptly remedy any stoppage.
My general conclusions are that we have so many advantages in New Zealand that there are countless lines of manufactured goods in which we already lead the world for quality. The costs difficulty can be overcome, and all other difficulties have no more obstructive strength than tissue paper.
Now when we hear the slogan “Buy New Zealand Goods,” we are often asked to remember many patriotic reasons for doing so. It is obvious that if we are to maintain and improve our standard of living, we must have a more balanced economy.
New Zealand could easily support ten millions of people, but this would entail the wide expansion of our secondary industries. Obviously, too, as our population grows, the internal market for our farming produce increases in scope and absorption power. Our young folk leaving school at the rate of more than twelve thousand every year, must find employment to suit the natural trends of their abilities. Secondary industries are necessary to satisfy this demand, and make a fuller life available for more and more of our people. All these truisms have been stated a hundred times and in a hundred different ways. If we are not going to depend for our material prosperity on the vagaries of a necessarily restricted market for a narrow range of primary products, we must provide ourselves with a better balanced and better ordered utilisation of our total resources of men and materials—of Nature's largesse. These are good reasons, and they have a background of practical commonsense.
But there is a better reason still for buying New Zealand made goods. I believe it can be proved up to the hilt; I believe it is the plain and sober truth; I believe it will continue to be true in an increasing degree as the years go on; I believe that the world will come to recognise this truth about many lines of New Zealand goods, and buy them from us as readily as they do our pedigree sheep and thoroughbred horses, our butter and our lamb. It is this: “Buy New Zealand Goods Because They Are The Best.”
(Rly. Publicity photos.)
A Sample of New Zealand Railways Craftsmanship
A feature of the new standard railcar “Aotea” (one of a number built in the Railway Department's Workshops at Woburn), is the drawing-room comfort of the seating accommodation provided for passengers. These illustrations show the first and second-class compartments respectively.