IV. A MODERN NEW ZEALAND
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A MODERN NEW ZEALAND
THE passage of over a quarter of a century has of course made a great change all over the world in the matter of education, but probably nowhere would that change be more apparent than in New Zealand. Even in less than ten years after I had left the Colony, two thousand schools had been started under a new law, with a roll of two hundred thousand scholars. What must they number now? There are Schools for natives and Schools for the deaf and dumb and for the blind, Schools of Mines and Schools of Science, Technical Schools, and a fine Agricultural College in Canterbury.
But in my day very few of the working men I came across, as our shepherds, shearers, and so forth, could read at all. One can hardly realise it, but so it was, and one of the first things I did was to start a sort of night school for these stalwart Empire-builders, in which, alas! I was the only teacher. The population was so thin and so scattered in those distant days that these men's lives were necessarily very lonely, and those who
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could read at all eagerly joined a little lending library, or rather a Book and Magazine Club, which I set going. At first I had only thought of providing literature for our neighbours--any one within fifty miles was a neighbour--but the shepherds begged to join, and of course I was delighted to enrol them.
Looking back on those days, I fear the comic side of that educational attempt chiefly asserts itself. My pupils--only four or five at a time-- were so big and so desperately shy. One gigantic Yorkshireman would only read, or rather attempt to read, with his broad back turned to me. Others almost wept over their difficulties. It really involved far more trouble on their part than on mine, for they had often some distance to ride, and over such trackless hills and swamps. It was found almost impracticable to have any set evening for the lessons, as sometimes weather, and sometimes their duties interfered; so at last it was settled that they should come any evening they could spare, and I would be ready for them by eight o'clock (so primitive was our dinner-hour!) in the little dining-room. Certainly the seeds of knowledge are very difficult to plant in later life, for intelligent as these men evidently were, and most eager to learn to read and write, they made but little progress under my tuition. Perhaps I was a bad teacher, for I had only the experience
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of my own little boys' very first lessons to guide me.
Some of the incidental difficulties were very absurd. Two men lived in a hut up a lonely and distant river-gorge, who were among my earliest pupils, and they also came regularly on Sunday to the little afternoon service. But they never came together, and their brand-new suit of shepherd's plaid had always a strange effect. First they tried my gravity by invariably stepping up to me with their prayer-books to find their places for them, and saying loudly each time, "Thank you kindly, Mum." I dared not say a word for fear of frightening them away. But one day I ventured to ask why they could not come together, either to the lessons or the service, and was informed that the clothes were the difficulty.
"You see, it's this way, Mum. We've only got one suit, and we got it a between-size on purpose. Joe, he's too tall, and I'm too short, so I turns it up, and Joe he wears leggin's and such like, and so we makes it do till after shearin'."
But I do not want to laugh when I think of the last time I met my bearded pupils. My own face was set towards England then, and I had to say good-bye to the happy valley and to my scholars. They were made shyer than ever by my shaking hands with them, and only one said a farewell word. "To England, home and beauty, of course,
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Mum, you'd be glad to go, but it's rough on us." This cryptic utterance seemed quite to express his and his "mate's" meaning, though it still remains dark to me.
The Canterbury Plains are now covered with fields of wheat and all kinds of agricultural produce. The rare "English grass" of my day is almost universal. Except in the very back-country stations, the little hardy merino sheep has given way to the more substantial Southdown, whose frozen carcase comes back to us in the shape of excellent mutton. Comfortable homesteads are within hailing distance of each other. Railways, telegraphs, telephones, and all the latest scientific annihilators of time and space are thickly planted everywhere. I used to look down the valley on to certain white cliffs which seemed to bound my view in that direction, and, speaking of it the other day, some one said, "Oh, the terminus of the nearest railway to your old 'run' stands there now." I cannot realise that the whistle of an engine has taken the place of the shrill scream of a huge hawk--more like an eagle than a hawk--which haunted that lonely spot.
But perhaps the greatest difference of all would be found in the sport.
In my day there was absolutely nothing except the wild boars, and the difficulties of introducing game seemed at first insurmountable. Mr. Frank
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Buckland sent out quantities of salmon ova packed in ice, of which hardly a single specimen survived the long voyage. Then people told me that the New Zealand rivers were impossible to stock, owing to a bad habit they had of constantly changing their beds without warning. It is true that I saw that happen at those very white cliffs I have just spoken of, where, after an unusually violent hot north-west gale which melted the snows in the mountains, the river running beneath those cliffs changed its course entirely during one night, cutting another wide and deep channel for itself over very good grazing ground, and leaving the owner of that particular spot with a vast extent of shingle-covered river-bed in exchange, on which, as he pathetically said, "a grasshopper could not find enough green meat."
One can easily understand that respectable stay-at-home English fish would not be able to shift their quarters at such short notice, but yet I am now assured that a good basket of trout can be landed from almost any New Zealand stream. They must have become very "mobile"! I wonder if any of these same fish are the descendants of what I always regarded as my trout!
This was the way of it. Not long before we left New Zealand, one of our squatter neighbours, who was anxious to stock a fine stream running through his property, offered to give a home and
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a chance to some of the newly-imported trout ova. I happened to meet him on one of my rare visits to Christchurch, and inquired as to the progress of his trout plans. I suppose that put the idea into his head, for he first asked when we were returning to our station, and then earnestly entreated to be allowed to drive me back in a sort of buggy or gig he possessed. I greatly preferred riding, and told him so, but he seemed most anxious for my company, and finally said he would speak to F. about it. I felt quite willing to abide by his decision, which I flattered myself would be that I must certainly ride back with him. But to my dismay F. said, "I think you had better drive with -----." So there was no help for it, and at the appointed early hour Mr. ----- drove up. I was packed into the buggy, and then the whole villainous scheme revealed itself! I was wanted to carry a small pail full of trout ova, carefully, so that it should not be jolted or spill. My whole attention and my every thought were to be devoted to that sole object. I must not move or talk; I must think of nothing but that pail. Mr. ----- assured me later that his mind would be entirely fixed on avoiding every stone or even inequality on the road, so that the precious freight might not be jeopardised. And I had seventy-five miles before me! If we came to a really rough bit of road, I had to hold that pail out, on the
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principle of a swinging cot at sea. Fortunately, there was a halt in the middle of the day, but only for the benefit of the ova; however, my aching arms got just a little rest. To make my sense of hardship more acute, F. rode near us most of the way, and constantly added his entreaties to me to "be very careful." Later, I arrived at feeling a certain sense of pride in having conveyed those ova so carefully that they all survived the journey, but at the time I well remember my suppressed indignation and burning sense of injury at having been entrapped as a trout-carrier. But that only lasted so long as did the fatigue of my cramped position.
There has always been very good sea-fishing almost everywhere on the coast, but we lived too far off to enjoy it. When, however, we went to Christchurch it was always a great treat to have at every meal the whitebait the Maoris sold in pretty little baskets of woven flax-leaves.
I see in the latest accounts that our own familiar "Selwyn" is quite a favourite trout stream, but in the more distant big lakes, where the fish attain quite a large size, the water is so clear that a rod is useless, and netting is the only chance.
Some means must have been found of keeping down the "weeka," tamest and most impudent of apteryx. Very like a stout hen pheasant itself, only without the tail feathers, it used to be the
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sworn foe of pheasants in my day. It ate their eggs or killed the young birds. Many and doleful were the tales told of the wholesale massacre of the pioneer pheasant broods by the weekas, who seemed numerous as the sands of the sea-shore. Dogs hunted them, men shot them, but in both cases they were as elusive as the Boers, gliding from tussock to tussock, and when forced into the open, running almost faster than the eye could follow. To all my "bush" picnics the weekas invited themselves and cleared up every crumb. It would have needed a pack of terriers to keep them off, and although "Nettle" did his best he made no impression on the marauders. They were not good to eat, but the shepherds extracted an oil from the fat, which they declared made boots and leggings waterproof. Still, weekas had it very much their own way at that date. I see that hares and also Californian quail and plover flourish nowadays, and I know the wild-duck were always plentiful and delicious eating.
There was a talk of importing deer even thirty-five years ago, but the idea did not find favour in the eyes of the run-holders. The fences were only three or four wires high, and would of course be no protection to the sheep, whose feed would be at the mercy of the new-comer. It was known that two hinds and a stag had been turned out in some well-grassed and forested low ranges in the
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North Island as early as 1862, but one did not hear anything of them as either a danger or a pleasure. They were the only survivors of a batch sent from Windsor Forest by the late Prince Consort. The conditions must have been ideally favourable, for they have now spread all over the place, and afford excellent sport. Red deer seem to do well in our island (the Middle), though I do not fancy they have come at all near the part I knew. A few moose have been turned out on the West Coast of the same Island, and there is even a talk of importing wapiti and cariboo. But any one who wishes to know all about New Zealand --fur, fin, and feathers--cannot do better than study, as I have done with the greatest pleasure and profit, a delightful booklet by Mr. R. A. Loughman, of the Lands and Survey Department in Wellington, which no doubt can be procured at the Agent General for New Zealand's Office. It makes one wish to set off directly for that favoured though distant shore, and Mr. Loughman asserts that numbers of sportsmen arrive there every year.
I heard a great deal of modern New Zealand when the Imperial Representative Corps came back from their wonderful tour round Australia and New Zealand three years ago. It was most interesting and delightful to listen to the accounts of the progress everywhere; but as I had been so very much longer away from New Zealand, the mar-
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vellous changes there took more hold of my imagination, and I was delighted to be told by all that it was still the most English place they visited.
There was much to occupy the public mind at home just then, and I have often felt that we rather missed the value and significance of that tour, especially as it was somewhat overshadowed and crowded out by the rapture and magnificence of the welcome extended to their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York almost directly afterwards.
We were still in the midst of the war in South Africa, and then, just after the Imperial Contingent left Sydney, to which it first went to take part in the ceremonies marking the Inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth, the Empire had to mourn the loss of its beloved Queen, and nowhere was the grief more personal and profound than on those distant shores. As the Commandant 1 told me, although the sad news spoiled in a way the gaiety and eclat of the greeting provided for the troops, still it was far more impressive to see the genuine grief and regret which the width of the world could not weaken. Memorial services everywhere took the place of balls, and the "Soldiers of the Queen" shared, with the splendid Colonial forces who were just then springing to arms at the Empire's call, in honouring her dear memory.
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But by the time Invercargill, the most southern point of New Zealand, had been reached, the first dark days of sorrow had passed, and the people could better give free scope to their hospitable instincts, and they greeted the Contingent with the heartiest welcome. The last time British troops had touched New Zealand shores it was to fight the Maoris, who now stood first and foremost in the cheering crowd, and delivered addresses of welcome with the best.
The straight run down from the extreme south of Middle Island brought them in due time, through those great Canterbury Plains where harvesting was in full swing, down to Christchurch, and so on to Lyttelton. But there was always time, apparently, for delightful little picturesque episodes, such as stopping the train to let the detachment of Seaforth Highlanders march, with pipes playing, to visit one of the most prominent Scotch settlers, a man who had given his life's work to the beautiful new land. Fancy what a dramatic moment! To hear the war-pipes skirl, and the old tunes played, all in one's own honour and in recognition of splendid service!
Then the thousand troops were taken on by sea to Wellington and shown everything in the length and breadth of all the fair land; up to the wonderful hot springs at Rotarua, down to the deer-stocked islands off Auckland. Everywhere, not
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only did they receive a rapturous welcome from the cheering crowds, but there were many historic and picturesque moments in which the Maoris formed the central figures. I should like to have seen the old Maori chieftain, after the "haka" or native dance, fling his tasselled spear at the Commandant's feet, saying, "For four hundred years this taiaha has been handed down from father to son, from son to grandson. But you and I alike are sons of our King, who rules in the place of the Queen we have lost. Take it, and let it descend to your children's children."
Thrilling also must have been the sight of the veterans of former wars, now peaceful citizens, ending their days in comfort in these distant lands, yet, like the war-horse of Bible story, pricking up their ears and joining their new comrades. At all the reviews there the veteran sailors and soldiers were, marshalled in the old form and given prominent places; they themselves, with their medal-covered breasts, being objects of honour to the gorgeous visitors. And quite as thrilling must have been the ranks of cadets who lined the streets here and there. My own heart has often gone out to these chubby boy-soldiers when I have seen them --first at Adelaide in 1883, later in Western Australia, where the youthful corps bore my name, and was known as my "Own"--so it was with a peculiar interest that I read part of a speech of the
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Commandant's when he was leaving Brisbane, but it applies equally well to the cadet corps of all the large New Zealand towns.
"What pleased me most in the march through your streets to-day, more than even the enthusiastic greetings of the Queenslanders, was nearly a mile of boys lining the road by the railway station. Hundreds of sturdy youngsters, every one of them devouring our men with his eyes and doing his best to look like a soldier himself. I thought as I looked at their bright, keen young faces, 'there are our future Australian contingents.'"
At Auckland there was one newly-raised detachment which had not yet got its uniform, but turned out in white shirts with black arm-bands and Panama hats. These sinewy, workmanlike "bush-men" had ridden in from the country district on their own horses--as workmanlike as themselves-- not to take part in the big parade which every one was talking about, and which would be remembered for years, but in order to lend the Contingent their horses. Such stories--stories which I know to be true--show me that after all the lapse of years New Zealand still remains in heart the Old New Zealand of my day.
But, speaking of medals, I was much amused at hearing that the youthful volunteers turned out sometimes quite covered with medals, extending as far back as the first Cape war and going on to the
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Crimea and the Mutiny. On its being remarked that they looked very young to have taken part in such distant campaigns, they admitted that the medals had belonged to their grandfathers and fathers, but that they conceived themselves entitled did many others who were not even volunteers--to wear them, and could see nothing at all laughable in doing so. It seemed to me a very wise concession on the part of the Colonial authorities to permit this, as a recognition of the natural pride of the sons of such men in their ancestors having fought for the Empire in bygone days, for they evidently regarded the medals as a link binding them to the dear old Mother-land. However, the present generation will proudly wear medals of their own winning, even if they do so side by side with those gained by their forefathers. Yes, those thousand picked men of that fine Imperial Contingent will have been so many Peace missionaries bringing back news of the loyalty as well as of the wealth and beauty of that fair England beyond the sea.
Not less emphatically will these tidings be endorsed by the welcome extended to their King's son and his gracious young wife when they too landed on those smiling shores a few months later. The message their Royal Highnesses brought was to the same effect, and received in the same spirit of love and gratitude. At all events it will not be
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our fault if our kinsmen beyond the sea, especially in the Islands of New Zealand, do not understand how we valued the splendid help they gave the Empire in its hour of need, and how grateful we are for it. I was reading a little while ago some of the evidence taken before the War Commission last year, and saw that one of the Generals was asked if he had, at any time, any of the many New Zealand Contingents under his command. "I am sorry to say I had not," was the reply, and I felt just as personally proud of the answer as though I were a New Zealander myself, and all for the sake of those dear distant days and the good friends who helped to make them so happy.