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The Long White Cloud

Chapter VI — The New Zealanders

page 367

Chapter VI
The New Zealanders

No hungry generations tread thee down

Reeves headed the final chapter of the first three editions of this book with the above quotation. In his time it could be read as a statement of fact, but to-day, to give it relevance, it really needs to be regarded as an implied wish. Looking round the world in the middle of the twentieth century, with its displaced populations, its hunger for land and its desperate search for security, New Zealanders find themselves in some danger of being trodden down by hungry hordes. When Reeves wrote in 1898 the population of New Zealand was 785,000. When he wrote in 1924 the figure was rather more than 1,400,000. In 1949, at about 1,820,000, it had little more than doubled the meagre total of 1898. This was in spite of the revolutionary work of Truby King who cut the infant mortality rate by means of his Mothercraft Society. Beginning a campaign in Dunedin in 1907 he reduced deaths from infantile diarrhoea in that city from 25 per 1,000 live births to 9 in five years, 4 at the end of ten years, 1 at the end of fifteen years, and eventually to none at all from any form of diarrhoea. The Royal New Zealand Society for the Health of Women and Children, commonly known as the Plunket Society, has exercised its beneficial influence for more than forty years and will be a perpetual memorial of Sir Truby King whose genius conceived and fostered it.

After the great migration wave of the seventies New Zealand was mainly dependent on the excess of births over deaths for its increase in population, and this increase became gradually less, the lowest point being reached in 1935. As infant and maternal mortality rates were very low, and the country one of the healthiest in the world, it follows that artificial methods of checking population have been rife. A sort of race suicide was taking place in what should have been an earthly paradise and, though it is easy to think of reasons for family limitation in a land where there is little domestic help, it is difficult to justify the thousands of deliberately childless homes.

page 368

It could be argued by stern moralists that New Zealand is reaping the logical harvest of an opportunist and selfish policy. Trade unions in the past feared migration because it meant competition for jobs. Families were small because cars were popular but expensive. The birth-rate has risen after the second world war but this is probably only a passing phase. A new faith in the future seems to be necessary for any real contribution to the solving of the Dominion's population problem. That problem is best solved by a rise in the birth-rate, though migration, if well conceived, can help considerably. Wake field's idea of encouraging young married couples to migrate is not so practicable in these days of housing shortages, but with a public works department capable of prodigious feats in war it would surely be possible to build one or two small settlements to take complete cross-sections of British communities. It is of interest to note that the total number of migrants assisted to settle in New Zealand up to 31st March, 1944, was 226,274, all of whom were from the British Isles except 3,909 who went from Europe between 1874 and 1878. The predominantly British character of the New Zealand population is as marked now as ever it was. Apart from the Maoris, who numbered just over 107,000 in 1948, there is only a sprinkling of inhabitants not British in origin. The rate of increase of the Maori population is incidentally much higher than that of the rest of the community.

The drift to the cities is not so pronounced in New Zealand as in some other countries but it is increasing. The proportion of the population in rural areas has fallen from 38.5 to 32.5 in thirty years. If the country is to increase its population to any reasonable extent, that tendency is inevitable. But proper planning should prevent in New Zealand cities the grosser evils that the industrial revolution left in its wake in Britain. There are slum areas in New Zealand, but public opinion will evenually demand their elimination. It can still be said, as Reeves wrote in 1924, that while the New Zealand race shows no sign of beating the best British, or of producing an average equal to that best, its average is undoubtedly better than the general British average. “Their speech is that of communities where men are seldom illiterate and as seldom scholarly,” said Reeves. “A suspicion of twang is sometimes noticeable, but is not yet page 369 common. The young people, perhaps, speak rather faster than English of the same age. As a rule New Zealanders speak English very much as do the English.”

Many common words in England have not been transplanted to the New Zealand scene. Among these are brook, village, moor, heath, dale, copse, meadow, and glade. Mining terms from California and pastoral terms from Australia have been extensively adopted but, rather strangely, very few words have been borrowed from Maori. Mana, covering prestige, authority and personal magnetism, is perhaps the most useful of them. Reeves waxed eloquent about the manner in which New Zealanders murder beautiful Maori place names—Timaru becoming Timmeroo and Wakatipu anything from Wokkertip to Wackatipoo.

In another characteristic passage Reeves notes that the intellectual average of New Zealanders is good: “Thanks in great part to Gibbon Wakefield's much-abused Company, New Zealand was fortunate in the mental calibre of her pioneer settlers, and in their determined efforts to save their children from degenerating into loutish half-educated provincials. Looking around in the Dominion at the sons of these pioneers, one finds them on all sides doing useful and honourable work.” He noted that between the first and third editions of The Long White Cloud the first signs of “artistic, poetic or scientific talent” had arrived with the great names of Rutherford, Marris, the Indian administrator and translator of Catullus, Salmond, the jurist, and Katherine Mansfield. “Give the country time,” he said, “and it will achieve its share and make its contribution to intellectual things and the higher side of life. The rarity of local prizes and the need of European training force some of the imaginative young New Zealanders to quit their country; that should be less inevitable in days to come.” There are signs that the exodus from New Zealand has passed its peak, though there is still much to be done to give scientists and engineers adequate inducement to return to their own land after they have gained valuable experience abroad. There has also been an encouraging rise in the level of artistic achievement in the Dominion and a great improvement in standards of book production.

New Zealand's system of free secular and compulsory page 370 education has made the path from the primary school to the university comparatively easy for any child with the kind of ability necessary for the passing of examinations. Truby King was one of those who inveighed against the cramming of youngsters made inevitable by the struggle for scholarships. In recent years much controversy has been caused by the scrapping of some of New Zealand's time-honoured examinaions and substituting for them a system of accrediting based on the pupil's work for the whole year rather than what he can put down in a few hours in the examination hall. It is a legitimate subject for controversy and it is a healthy sign that so much interest can be aroused in educational topics.

The “new education” was strongly defended by the Acting Director of Education, A. F. McMurtrie, in an address at Dunedin in 1948. He asserted that the curriculum of the schools was much wider, more real and more practical than in the past. Their discipline was also more effective, because it was founded on a better understanding of child nature. “I claim that the pupils of to-day read more, understand more easily, express themselves more clearly in writing and speech, know more of literature, and have more poise and confidence than those taught in schools of earlier years.” With 85 per cent of pupils, instead of 35 per cent as formerly, going to post-primary school, greater provision had naturally to be made in the curriculum for the less academically-inclined boys and girls.

University education in New Zealand has made considerable progress since 1935, thanks mainly to the sympathetic interest taken in the subject by the Government. As in other countries the six constituent colleges of the University of New Zealand were overcrowded after the second world war, but conditions for the staff, previously almost intolerable, have been to some extent ameliorated by increases of pay. There is still not enough time for heads of departments to continue research in their own subjects and there is no uniform system of sabbatical years to allow for travel and contact with other workers in the same spheres. Appointment of full-time academic heads of Otago University, Canterbury, Victoria and Auckland University Colleges is a progressive move, as is the provision of a University Grants committee on the lines of the British body to advise on the allocation of finance for University purposes. With such a page 371 body and with the new impetus given to the colleges by the appointment of full-time academic heads, there seems little reason to perpetuate the University of New Zealand, a purely examining body, and still less to add to this superstructure a full-time vice-chancellor whose vested interest in his job and strategic position in Wellington would be likely to hinder the normal evolution of the colleges towards independence.

If New Zealanders can get heated about education, it takes a good controversy about sport to make them really excited. Rugby football has been called the national religion. The picking of an “All Black” team is as serious an undertaking as a general election. South Africa's stipulation that Maoris should not be included in New Zealand's team to tour the Union in 1949 caused repercussions that filled columns of the newspapers. Since Reeves dismissed New Zealand cricket with a line in 1924 four tours of England have been made—in 1927, 1931, 1937 and 1949—and on one historic occasion New Zealand dismissed a strong M.C.C. side twice in one day at Lord's. On another, two New Zealanders scored centuries and a third 96 in one innings against England. On yet another occasion Reeves was himself the central figure when at a gathering in honour of the New Zealand team he gave this label to Anglo-Australian test matches—“Grim, Grimmer, Grimmett,” the last figure in the comparison being a New Zealander who migrated to Australia to become the bane of English batsmen. In the first match of the 1949 tour, New Zealand declared twice against Yorkshire.

Gambling—legal and illegal—reached such proportions in the Dominion and the laws controlling it were so confused that a Royal Commission investigated the subject and recommended that a referendum should be held on the question whether off the course betting on horse races should be legalized. The referendum resulted in favour of this course. Vast sums pass through the totalisator each year and considerable amounts are invested in overseas lotteries. But the New Zealander likes to take an active part in sport and nearly all branches of athletics have their quota of enthusiasts. Yachting, angling and shooting are almost as popular as tennis, golf and bowls.

New Zealand newspapers reflect fairly accurately the tastes page 372 of the community, giving ample space to racing and other sport, but providing also a survey of world affairs which grows more interpretative and less a mere catalogue of events as the years go by. Many newspapers provide Saturday literary supplements which have considerable influence in encouraging local authors and in raising the standard of reading of the community.

“Compared with the races from which they have sprung,” wrote Reeves, “the Islanders seem more even, less on their guard, and more neighbourly and sympathetic in minor matters. In politics they are fonder of change and experiment, more venturesome, more empirical, law-abiding, but readier to make and alter laws. Hypercritical and eaten up by local and personal jealousies in public life, they have nevertheless some understanding of compromise and a respectable gift of cooperation. They can more readily band themselves together to work for one reform, like Prohibition, than for a general advance along the line of progress. In politics their pride is that they are practical, and, indeed, they are perhaps less ready than Europeans to deify theories and catchwords. Their pet weakness is the deification of the commonplace. They are heavily suspicious of wit and humour in public men, and just as prone to mistake dullness for solidarity. To their credit may be set down a useful impatience of grime, gloom, injustice, and public discomfort and bungling…. It would be absurd to pretend that social distinctions are unknown. Each town with its rural district has its own ‘society.’ The best that can be said for this institution is that it is not, as a rule, dictated to by mere money.”

Several recent observers have selected complacency as the outstanding characteristic of New Zealanders to-day. So much has been done in the country in so short a time that some self-satisfaction in this generation may be excused, though it did not bear the full burden of pioneering. But it would be more suitable and more salutary to draw up a list of desirable changes and reforms rather than end this volume with any suggestion that New Zealand is entitled to rest on her oars. Though the Dominion has attained some success and reputation in dealing with the Maori race, there is nevertheless a racial problem. R. L. Meek, in a lecture at Wellington, said: “We page 373 are by no means inoculated against racial disease.” He pointed out that some hotels and boarding-houses excluded Maoris. The worst districts in the slums of Auckland were largely occupied by Maoris and the position was rapidly becoming very bad in Wellington. The problem of housing, though important, is part of the larger one of preserving all that is best in the Maori way of life, and while it must be solved mainly by Maori efforts, the pakeha community must take a more positive attitude than it has done in the past. Brief reference has been made to the population question and the artificial limitation of families. Criminal abortion has become a serious social evil.

The illogical licensing laws of New Zealand, long a subject for criticism, have been investigated by a Royal Commission. The system of six o'clock closing of bars, with consequent rushed drinking, affronts visitors from countries with more civilized regulations, but a referendum approved it in 1949.

Much has been done to promote the tourist traffic of the Dominion, but there are still not enough good hotels, notably in Auckland and Rotorua, to give visitors the comfort they are prepared to pay for.

The present generation has done something to restrain “The Passing of the Forest,” of which Reeves wrote with such feeling, but there is still much to be done. Soil erosion, a serious menace to the country's productivity, has been caused by the fire and grazing policy adopted for many years. To control erosion, catchment boards have been set up by the Soil Conservation and River Control established under an act of 1941.

Air transport has brought New Zealand so close to the rest of the world that the country cannot afford to spend too much of its time in internal bickering. The shrinking of the vast Pacific Ocean brought about by air travel gives New Zealand a keen interest in Russia's steady penetration of lands bordering that ocean. Russia, after her tardy war on Japan, which lasted for a matter of days, aims at spheres of influence in former Japanese areas of settlement and conquest. The advocates of the Russian version of Communism in New Zealand are more vocal than numerous but the Government has already had to ban them from positions of trust and the hard-hitting Minister of Public Works, Semple, has thought it worth while page 374 to fire off a pamphlet at them. New Zealand stands on the brink of the Atomic Era—an era ushered in, incidentally, by a New Zealander, Lord Rutherford—with every inducement to scrap the petty rivalries of the past and turn the united energies of the nation towards the goal of a peace worth preserving. The omnipotence of the State, the employment of secret police are ideas foreign to New Zealanders. They prefer the ideals of liberty brought to their land by the pioneers and fostered by progressive men of different parties. They hope there will be no third world war but they have learned the lessons of the past and are preparing to defend themselves. They are forced by the very chaos to which mankind has condemned itself to search for some different approach to world politics. If they turn from modern materialism to old truths and principles which animated their progenitors in trying to found new settlements on Christian principles, they may yet find a way to happiness and prosperity in the land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand design