The Empire and the century/New Zealand To-day
NEW ZEALAND TO-DAY
By THE HON. W. P. REEVES
Imagine Italy and Sicily lying out in mid-Atlantic; give them a cooler midsummer and a scanty Anglo-Saxon population; indent the long, boot-shaped outline of their coasts deeply here and there with gulfs and fiords; banish beggary, ignorance, malaria, and the sirocco, but deprive them also of the glories and colour of history, architecture, painting, sculpture, and Latin speech and taste, and you may conceive of a country not unlike New Zealand. The ocean archipelago has the same slim shape, the same long spinal mountain chains, the same contrast between Alpine snows towards one extremity and high volcanic cones towards the other; and the brilliant New Zealand atmosphere and blue seas are Italian also, though in colouring and shape the lofty shores more resemble parts of Greece. To the landscape artist they seem almost too romantic a theatre for the sober, matter-of-fact British colonists, who are planting and ploughing plains, hewing farms out of forests, and turning silent valleys into green dairy pastures, and bleak hillsides into sheep-walks. For the Anglo-Saxon settler is a man of business; Romance does not trouble him. When natural beauty stands in the way of settlement it has to go; and the artistic mind must comfort itself as best it can with the reflection that much of the peculiar beauty of New Zealand is indestructible, and that some more of it will be saved for the prosaic reason that it does not 'pay' to destroy it
Not that all New Zealanders are indifferent to the beauty of their land; many of them admire and enjoy it. Large State reserves protect some of the more charming landscapes; in certain places societies guard their local scenery. The Government Tourist Department advertises the country's scenic attractions, and smooths the path of the visitor or holiday-maker in a score of ways. But to the typical colonist all such things are merely by-play. His pride is in 'progress.' The traveller from England is curious about what the islands were in their natural state—about the solemn Alps, the delightful fiords, the untouched forest, the astonishing volcanic forces, the picturesque savages who dwelt among these sights. The heart of the colonist is in the transformation which is turning the stem or beautiful wilderness into a flourishing and civilized State. The bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle are sweeter music in his ears than the roar of waterfalls. To the European visitor a colonial city of fifty thousand inhabitants is just a third-rate town and nothing more. To the pioneer who has seen it grow from a handful of tents and shanties, the prosperous streets, roomy villas, and comfortable cottages represent victory—the triumph of his race in their battle with emptiness and desolation. So in the country: every new road, bridge, line of railway, every additional homestead, plantation, hedgerow, has a meaning to the settler, in whose eyes it spells advance and the conquest of obstacles. So traveller and colonist sometimes find themselves at cross-purposes. The former may occasionally seem to the latter an aesthetic butterfly. The European in his haste now and then sets down the colonial farmer or tradesman as a bit of a vandal.
First and last, then, the dominating idea of the New Zealander is Colony-making. This is his work. Touch that chord, and you will always find him responsive. Why, then, with all this passion for colonization, has the archipelago not filled up faster, and been more completely settled? Sixty-five years—the age of the Colony—seem long enough in the eyes of some English onlookers to have shown results, not better, perhaps, but on a larger scale. At the moment of writing the whites in the islands number considerably less than a million—just 864,000, in fact—and as the coloured inhabitants are scarcely 46,000, the population is under nine to the square mile. Thirty-six million acres of land are now in occupation by whites, and turned to some sort of productive use; but that leaves rather more than thirty million acres still to be accounted for. As only one-sixth of the country's surface need finally be quite useless to the grazier, it might be thought that the acres aforesaid should have attracted a greater stream of settlers happy to make their homes in what a comparison of death-rates shows to be precisely the healthiest spot on earth.
The explanatory reasons of their steady rather than sensational pace at which the Colony has grown are briefly these:
The first is found in the resisting power of the native race, and in the humane policy which has required that the soil of the island should be acquired only tract by tract, by slow bargaining and peaceful purchase. Next, as a retarding influence, must be counted the loneliness and distance of position. Again, now that the power of the Maori tribes has been broken, and all their possessions, save some five million reserved acres, have passed to the Crown and private owners, the physical configuration of the islands still confronts the settlers with many obstacles. Their surface is broken, often mountainous; it is seamed and divided by ravines, and, to an extraordinary degree, by the beds of streams and mountain torrents of all sizes. Huge swamps demand patient and costly draining. Half the country was originally of a peculiarly dense and difficult forest. The soil towards the northern end is often a stiff clay, which yields good results only after much painful tilling. Nature has fitted New Zealand healthy and fertile, successful rather than for rapid occupation. Bad land laws, too, leading to monopoly, have been obstructive in the past, and have left a legacy of evil. And the fall of prices of raw products, felt so severely between 1820 and 1895, embarrassed New Zealand as it embarrassed other young countries. Moreover, the New Zealander's ambition for progress, above referred to, must be taken with one important qualification. The march must not be of Progress and Poverty. The growth of population must not be any ugly rush that will lower the standard of comfort. The New Zealander is a worker—a hard and intelligent worker; but, whatever his class, he expects a liberal return for his labour. His ideal is the golden mean: a land without material misery, where there shall be something for everyone and not too much for anybody; a land where life shall not be a lottery with a few great prizes and a vast number of blanks. Hence the exclusion laws, which almost bar out Asiatics. Hence the land laws, which aim at preventing any but small or middling farmers from acquiring agricultural land from the Crown; the progressive land tax, the absentee tax, and the rates levied on unimproved values. Hence the Industrial Arbitration Act and a whole code of labour laws stipulating for fair working conditions not only in factories, workshops, and mines, but in open-air industries. Hence the statutory encouragement given to the formation not only of trade unions, but of associations of masters, with the levelling influence which such associations have. Hence the deliberate throwing of old-age pensions for the aged poor, and the whole burden of charity (outdoor relief, hospitals, lunatic asylums) upon the public in almost complete indifference to its effect upon private alms-giving. Hence the construction and management of railways, telegraphs, and telephones by the State, with the immense reduction which this implies of the field of enterprise left open to the capitalists. The New Zealander is not such a materialist as to fancy that a decent share of comfort all round—to be earned by hard work—will insure human happiness. But he is the reverse of an Oriental ascetic, and he does most steadfastly believe that healthful surroundings, good food, good pay, and a fair margin of leisure, give the best chance of happiness to the common workaday person. The notion that New Zealanders, as a people, have as an ideal some elaborate State Socialism may be dismissed. They are not enthusiastically steering towards a Cooperative Commonwealth. They are not even—consciously—Fabian Socialists. But they find in practice that by collective action they can do many things which they wish to do. They are, so far, satisfied with the chief experiments they have tried, and are unconsciously coming to look upon themselves as members of a cooperative company with unlimited liability, but practically limited risks.
As a democracy their Colony is sometimes compared with democratic Switzerland. There is, however, this material social difference: the yearly sum which the average New Zealander is able to spend is more than twice the annual outlay of the Swiss; it is more than four times that of the average Russian. Yet scarcely 6 per cent. of the male bread-winners in New Zealand enjoy incomes exceeding £200 a year. And among this favoured 6 per cent. the average of income is barely £600. Such a handful are the very wealthy; indeed, the annuity does not claim to possess a single millionaire. This aurea mediocritas does not mean that there is neither poverty nor anxiety, any more than the fact that the death-rate is the lowest in the world means that there is no mortality. What it does mean is that the competent farmer, skilled mechanic, and able-bodied labourer have usually a more hopeful life than in other countries. Generally, the diffusion of comfort in all classes is a pleasant sight, and, as there is no luxury on a large scale, the contentment of the man of small means is nowhere disturbed by the contrast of flaunting wealth.
The wooden cottage, which is the ordinary abode of the manual or clerical labourer, may be a small enough edifice, but, like Goldsmith's Swiss, the householder
'Sees no contiguous palace rear its head
To shame the meanness of his humble shed.'
Moreover, except in Wellington, the cottage is more likely than not to be surrounded by a garden. Indeed, it chiefly is the gardens which are the saving clause of the towns and suburbs; the less said about the architecture the better. But the gardens, helped by the bright skies, fresh air, and general look of spaciousness and cleanliness, redeem most of the streets and squares. New Zealanders bid fair to be great gardeners, as, indeed, they should be in such a climate. There is still room even in most of the settled districts for man to turn round in. Though monopoly has already done him much mischief, he is not divorced from the soil. The number of distinct land-holdings is 116,000. Of these 66,000 are of more than 1 acre apiece, so may be set down as something larger than sites for buildings, yards, and cottage gardens. The remainder are nearly all urban, and their number shows that the process of packing humanity into courts, alleys, and slums has scarcely yet begun. It would, indeed, be monstrous if it had, seeing that the islands are as large as the kingdom of Italy.
Nor do you find in New Zealand the peculiarity which strikes the visitor to Australia—namely, disproportionately large cities. It is the most decentralized of colonies: there is no overshadowing centre; instead you find four towns—Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington. The largest of these, Auckland, has, with its suburbs, about 70,000 people, and the smallest of the four, Wellington, about 53,000. Wellington, too, though the seat of Government, exercises no special political influence. The cities, indeed, do not dictate to the Colony, though intellectually they may influence it For instance, no representative of any of the four centres sits in the Cabinet. The farmers are the most influential class. This is but natural in a country where there are no less than 48,000 freeholders, each occupying more than 5 acres of land, to say nothing of many thousands State tenants. Only one-tenth of the occupied soil is held by the tenants of private owners, so that rural landlordism has not yet made much headway. The farmers, therefore, are their own masters, especially in these latter years in which State mortgage loans on easy terms, together with prosperous seasons, have loosened the once tight grip of money-lenders and financial institutions. The policy by which the New Zealanders endeavour to promote the subdivision of their soil has come in for some criticism among Utopians as well as Conservatives. Conservatives see the premature extinction of a class of wealthy country gentlemen whose homes might be a refining influence. The scientific Utopian fears that the multiplication of small holdings must people the country with a race of ignorant, inefficient, thick-headed peasants without machinery, capital, or initiative. But the New Zealand farmer is by no means a boor. He is educated, keen-witted, handy. Where capital and expensive machinery are wanted he and his neighbours will use cooperation, as in the case of dairy factories. Moreover, the Government Department of Agriculture is the farmers' friend—a powerful educating and stimulating force.
Next to the farmers in influence come the work-people. These, as a class, let the trade unions speak for them in politics, though most of them are not enrolled in unions. Many, though by no means all, of the manual workers, are keen politicians, and the class has more voice in practical politics than their fellows in North America or Europe. This is the more noteworthy because no specific Labour party exists, and no workman has ever held office in any Ministry. All adult women may, and most of them do, exercise the franchise. But there is no feminine party. Social position and industrial interests are the chief determining factors of party divisions. It must be obvious that, in a country without an aristocracy or House of Peers, without a State Church or denominational school system, without a standing army, a navy, a foreign policy, or a millionaire class, politics must concern themselves chiefly with economic questions, matters of administration, and reforms aiming at some improvement of public morals. Under this last-named head a powerful cross-issue in the shape of the temperance movement has in the last decade cut across class and ordinary party lines. Started by the petite bourgeoisie, and heavily recruited from the work-people and smaller farmers, the temperance or prohibition agitation is the strongest united force at work in New Zealand politics to-day. Its strength, together with the devoted attachment of the people to their national system of education, and the practical daily interest they take in their schools, go to negative the suggestion that the New Zealander is a mere gloss materialist. Artistic he is not, ascetic he is not, but moral ideals and religious speculation have their share of attention. Above all, the colonist is a reader, and not of novels only. It is often his ambition to be a writer. The books written in or about the islands would fill many shelves. A severe critic might say that only two of them—Maning's 'Old New Zealand' and Domett's 'Ranolf and Amohia'—show unquestionable distinction. There has been, however, a fair amount of meritorious writing done by others, and the newspapers, though they make public life disagreeable enough, are, on the whole, a credit to the country.
As yet the little nascent island race has done nothing in art, and hardly anything in literature. In practical statesmanship its name is linked with some bold experiments, rumours of which have gone abroad and which are much disliked by the educated and wealthy classes everywhere. So far its contribution to the world's intellectual stock has been nought. It seems, therefore, a daring, almost absurd, suggestion to hint that certain aspects of the New Zealand character show some signs of a likeness to the Greek. The sunny, mountainous islands themselves are Greek in contour and atmosphere. You may see there the outlines of the Cretan coast and the colouring of Corfu. And the people, subdivided by sea-straits and mountain ranges, have the local life, keen local jealousies, particularist politics, and restless hypercritical interest in public affairs which history associates with the Greek democracies. With their hundreds of newspapers and elective local councils, their adult suffrage, their extraordinary proportion of actual voters—more than one-third of the total population—they make a nearer approach to being a nation of politicians than any other community I know of. The darker complexion, quicker speech, livelier manner, sociable disposition, and argumentative turn, already differentiates them from the English. Greek, too, is their love of light and amusement. The description given by Antoninus to Ulysses of the chosen sports of the Phæacians would apply with little change to the Antipodean islanders, for athletics, boating, music, and dancing are among their favourite diversions. Music, indeed, is the one art from which a resident in their islands need not be divorced.
At present New Zealand sport does not differ much from English. Apart from some wild-cattle shooting and from the rather adventurous pastime of hunting wild pigs on foot with dogs, there is little recreation in the islands which is not a fairly faithful copy of something in the Mother Country. The pioneer colonists found themselves in a land without large native game, for the pigs aforesaid—the poaka of the Maori—were descendants of the tame importations turned loose by kind-hearted navigators like Captain Cook. Nor had the Maori invented any athletic sport attractive to white men, for the one great game of the Maori was war. All the colonists could do, therefore, was to naturalize British amusements. There were no freshwater fish worth mentioning, so they imported the trout, and have seen them grow to a size unknown in Britain, and furnish excellent sport for fishers with fly and minnow. In the same way, red-deer and fallow-deer thrive, increase in bulk, and show heads which excite the admiration of English stalkers. Good wildfowl shooting is not at all difficult to get. In several districts packs of harriers are kept, and gentleman riders follow them over fences, live or other, which do not lack for stiffness. There is a legend that all New Zealand horses jump wire fences as though to the manner born. This is not the case; but some of them are trained to negotiate wire, and do so very cleverly. Moifaa is evidence that our horses can jump, and the many persons who think flat racing sport can enjoy abundance of it in the islands. Betting on horse racing is carried on through the 'totalizator,' and though there is a great deal too much of it, the amounts staked by individuals are seldom ruinous. The 'totalizator' has levelled betting if it has widened it, and. the system pay a heavy tax to the State. Even in gambling, therefore, the democratic and governmental spirit is visible. Among athletic games football easily takes first place, for the cricket is lamentably inferior to Australian. Cycling, bowling, golf, rowing, and sailing are pursued with much energy, and even polo is played here and there. But the national pastime is football, and in the Rugby Union game the New Zealand players have earned a considerable reputation. They have been too strong for the Australians and for various visiting English teams, and are now measuring themselves with success against the best skill of the United Kingdom.
Passing from sports, there is a recreation which to New Zealanders is something more than a pastime. Foreign travel is to them a sheer necessity if they are to escape from the narrowing influence of insular life in little provincial coteries. To do them justice, they seldom miss an opportunity of seeing something of the world. And here a noteworthy thing is to be observed. Their nearest, indeed their only, neighbour is Australia. Next in point of accessibility come the lovely islets of Polynesia. After these North America and the Far East of Asia are the easiest countries to be reached. Yet it is not to these that the New Zealand mind turns. The colouring of India and Java and the art of Japan are not what it longs for. The one ambition of every holiday-making man, woman, and child is a trip 'Home.' The New Zealand born wish to see the old country; the emigrants from it wish to see it again. Expense and distance do not prevent some hundreds of them from finding their way to London every year. To listen to some of them, when, after an absence of twenty, thirty, or forty years they look round once more on the great city is an experience sometimes not without a touch of romance or pathos.
To return to the question of material well-being, a glance at the figures giving the details of the Colony's wealth reveals an interesting and unusual position. Hardly anywhere else can be found a community so collectively wealthy, but whose members are individually of such modest means. How few are wealthy in a large way I have already pointed out. Yet, after making full allowance for debts, the net private wealth of the white New Zealanders is estimated at about two hundred and seventy million pounds. To this may fairly be added some millions representing the value of the native lands.
The public estate and assets of the Government are also large, but against these has to be set the very considerable debt to foreign creditors. The best-known proof of the Colony's wealth and productive energy is the volume of the external commerce. This has now attained to an annual total of a little over twenty-eight million pounds, of which some nineteen million pounds is trade with the Mother Country. The growth, too, of this trade with the United Kingdom is satisfactory. Between the years 1896 and 1904 it increased by seven millions sterling. Most of the remaining commerce is with Australia, India, and other parts of the Empire. All of it, too, is carried in ships which are wholly or chiefly British owned. As in other places, the United States and Germany have pushed for business, and the former managed in 1908 to export over a million's worth of goods to the Colony, while taking nothing like an equivalent value of colonial produce in, return. The New Zealand Parliament has, however, passed a Preferential Trade Act, which has increased many duties on non-British imports to an extent certain to handicap both American and German merchants. It must be added that the unfriendly navigation laws of the United States, which virtually shut out our steamers from Californian ports, have roused no small feeling in the Colony. Good and cheap steam and telegraphic communication with the outside world is a prime necessity of New Zealand. In the way of cargo-boats there are few countries of her size which are better served. Thanks, too, to the All-red Pacific Cable, the cost of cable messages has lately been lowered to 8s. a word. But letters still take a minimum of thirty-one days to reach London, and passengers, unless prepared to scurry across from San Francisco to New York with the mail-bags, must spend from forty to fifty days in the journey.
The trade above mentioned still consists almost wholly of the export of food and raw material, and the import of manufactured goods. Wool, frozen meat, gold, butter, kauri gum, hemp, cheese, oats, hides, and tallow are the chief articles shipped outwards. Wheat and barley are only grown for home consumption; indeed, the entire area devoted to cereals now only equals one-sixteenth of the land laid down in English—i.e., artificial—grasses.
There is almost no transit trade: the exports are the produce of the Colony; the imports are for local use. In some cases the exports undergo processes which, like the refrigeration of meat and butter, the scouring of wool, tanning of skins, and sawing of timber, may be termed the first rough processes of manufacture.
Generally, however, the manufacturing of the Colony is for home use. It is probable that the yearly output of the factories will be shown by next year's census to be about twenty million sterling. They turn out good work, honest, unadulterated stuff, and employ some seventy thousand hands, whose pay is higher than English rates, though not so high as American.
The encouragement of these local industries is one of the chief colonial articles of faith. They are protected against dumping, and the competition of cheap labour and giant, old-established industrialism by Customs duties of from 10 to 25 per cent. Over and above this it is considered good form to buy home-made goods rather than imported. The average New Zealander thinks and asserts that his own manufacturers have a first claim, and British imports a second. If he patronizes German or American goods, he does not draw any unnecessary attention to the practice. This preference for British over foreign goods—which has always been something more than mere profession, and which has lately been emphasized by statute—is nothing extraordinary. The open ports of England are the Colony's one great market; and for many years England's treatment of her Colonies has been kindly and just—in one respect even more than just.
When we try to forecast the future of the New Zealanders, and estimate the possible development in them of national ambitions and foreign policy, we are at once brought up sharply by the dominating geographical fact of their extraordinary isolation. It is inevitable that their characteristics as a community in all that pertains to dealings with their fellow-men will be modified by this striking peculiarity. Australia, as already stated, is their nearest neighbour, and at present it takes them more than four days of steaming to reach an Australian port.
A voyage to the South Sea Islands consumes a week, and to cross the Valparaiso, the nearest large harbour in South America, involves a passage of twenty days, passed without sighting land. In sum, New Zealand is one of the loveliest civilized lands of the globe. Already this affects the temper and policy of her colonists, and it must continue to do so. As evidence, we may analyze their attitude at the three points where alone at present they come into political contact with the outside world. I mean their attitude, first, towards the Australian Federation; second, towards the expansion in the South Seas; third, towards the Mother Country and what is termed Imperialism.
Under the first of these three heads it is now understood that they have tacitly but definitely decided to stand aloof from the Commonwealth. This generation cannot bind its children, but this generation, at any rate, is quite unlikely to change its mind. The Australian had one—and only one—temptation to hold out: that—which was, indeed, a considerable inducement—was admission within the ring-fence of the Federal Customs tariff. So soon as it was plain that New Zealand was likely to stay outside, the Australians proceeded to aim specific duties at their neighbours' chief exports. But the neighbours, though no more indifferent than other people to bread-and-butter considerations, did not flinch. They are islanders, and, like all islanders, they have an especial objection to interference by outsiders in their own affairs, an absorption in these, an entire indifference to the internal politics of other countries, and an excellent conceit of themselves. Nine-tenths of them know almost as little about ordinary Australian politics as do Englishmen. They have no animosity towards, or jealousy of, the big Island-Continent. But their interest, their pride, their hopes, are centred in their own islands. Within their boundaries there is ample scope and verge enough for the statesmanship and industry of the New Zealanders of to-day. Australia's future may be greater—so be it! New Zealand's, at any rate, will be bright and great enough for them, so they think. Were you to ask one of them 'how wide the limits stand between a splendid and a happy land,' he might reply, 'As wide as the breadth of the Tasman Sea.'
The same insular, self-contained temper is seen when we note their dealings with the tropic inlets of the South Seas. Favourably placed as New Zealand is for trade with these, large enough as she is to dominate these tiny coral or volcanic specks, a Polynesian hegemony has been from the first the natural dream of some of her more imaginative public men. Sir George Grey sketched such an island confederation nearly sixty years ago. Sir Julius Vogel, more suo, planned a gigantic Polynesian trading company. State-subsidized and territorial. Sir Robert Stout tried to annex Samoa. Mr. Seddon has actually obtained a transfer of the Hervey group and certain other islands, and has his eyes now on greater things in the direction of Fiji and Tonga. But to the main body of New Zealanders these schemes and annexations appeal as yet scarcely at all. They form their little South Sea dependencies very well. The trade of these Liliputs has increased by about 80 per cent. in New Zealand hands, and their ten or twelve thousand natives are better off than formerly. But the average New Zealander still takes but the mildest interest in Polynesia. It has always been so. When at the height of the Boer War the Imperial Government requited their patriotism by handing over Samoa to Germany and America, they shrugged their shoulders, and did not even murmur. Yet the Navigators' were then the only really valuable tropical, south of the line, which New Zealand could hope to possess. Silently she saw her last serious chance of a South Sea dominion slip away. Tonga may some day be willingly linked to her; but Tonga is a small matter. Fiji is not small, but there Australian influence is certain to be exerted against New Zealand. Any field, therefore, left for a Polynesian overlordship must be of very modest dimensions. Yet the gradual fading away of chance after chance, as group after group has passed into the hands of France, Germany, or the United States has not disturbed my countrymen. They have been so few, and the development of their own Colony has taxed their energies so fully, that they have had no time as yet to dream of Empire.
Yet—and here comes the seeming paradox—they are Imperialists; not Imperialists in the sense of men whose vision is to dominate inferior races, rule subject territory, and maintain powerful fleets and armies with which to assert mastery, nor is any very large share of their time and attention devoted to Imperial politics. They are capable of intense outbursts of feeling, as when they despatched ten contingents to South Africa. But the Boer War once over, they turned to their island's affairs. They are Imperialists not because Imperialism tempts them with chances of meddling with other peoples' affairs, but because Imperialism protects them from any interference by outsiders, and safeguards them in the quiet exercise of self-government.
Their Imperial sentiment may be defined as an intense attachment to the Mother Country, and a pride in the Empire to which they belong, though they have no share in its government. The Imperial ideal of the more thoughtful of them is an ultimate confederation of all branches of the Anglo-Celtic race under the British flag. Members of other white races dwelling within the Empire will, they trust, either blend altogether with the British (as do German and Scandinavian settlers in the Colonies), or will be absolutely reconciled to the British Imperialism by justice and liberty, as the French-Canadians have been reconciled.
It may be said the ideals of a community of less than a million whites far away in the South Pacific do not matter to anyone. This article, however, is written on the assumption that the opinions of no division of her Colonies are quite unimportant to England. For her Colonies have a future.