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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter XVII

The Bluff—Bleak and inhospitable view—Miserable railway arrangements—First impressions—Cheerless ride to Invercargill—Forestry neglected—Shameful waste— The timber industry—Necessity for reform—Pioneering —The usual Australian mode—The native method—A contrast—Invercargill—A large farm—Conservatism of the farming classes—Remenyi's anecdotes.

We have thus tracked the much-talked-of depression down to earth. We have followed the cry of "dull times" all through the islands; and here at last, in Dunedin, we have found some faint echoes with the ring of truth in them. Before entering into any inquiry or speculation as to causes and possible remedies, let me finish my descriptive remarks by detailing briefly what we saw at Invercargill and the Bluff, and then, with the reader's permission, we may devote a chapter or two, profitably, to a consideration of one or two deductions from what we have observed, and take a glance in closing at some of the moral, social, and intellectual phases of life in this land which is so rich in natural beauties and scenic marvels.

We drew up alongside the dreary wharf at the Bluff on May 29. It may be necessary to mention for the edification of my readers that this is the most southerly point of call for ocean-going steamers to New Zealand.

The Bluff is a good instance of what is at first so puzzling to a new arrival from the old country, namely, the antipodean order of things. He has been so accustomed all his life to associate cold weather, snowy hills, bleak moorlands, and wintry skies with the inhospitable north and warmth, colour, foliage, and all the delights of balmy summer with the "sunny south" that he gets "considerably mixed," as a Yankee would say, to find that in New Zealand the farther south he goes he gets the less sun ; and if he happens to experience the same weather as we did at the Bluff, he will begin to think that he has taken farewell of the sun altogether.

Now it does seem like a confession of weakness and want of straw, so to speak, to begin a chapter by a disquisition on the weather, and yet the elements cannot be left out in any description of the Bluff.

If there is any other place at the Antipodes where more piercing blasts are to be experienced, accompanied by gusts of sleet and rain; if there is anywhere else in the wide world, a more un­sheltered, forsaken, "waste-howling wilderness" than the Bluff, well, I don't want to see it; that's all. The Bluff is quite enough for me! I saw it in somewhat similar circumstances twenty years ago, and it does not seem to have altered much since then. There are possibly a few more houses, and bigger shops. The wharves are some­what more extensive, and the railway buildings have been added. There was a railway twenty years ago ; that I distinctly remember, because an enthusiastic Bluffite got a shovel, and dug a sort of pit in the drifted sand, and showed me the rails, but there was no train then. The line was blocked by the sanddrifts, and possibly also because the provincial treasury-chest was at ebb-tide.

There is a train now. It is the coldest, most comfortless train I ever rode in. The railway officials seem like the old rails, to have been dug out of a sanddrift too. One individual, who seemed to be invested with authority, was about the most sluggish in his movements of any official I remember to have ever met. He professed the most sublime ignorance of the time-table, or possibly was too lazy to give the asked-for infor­mation. Surely any fool, he evidently thought, coming to the Bluff, should know at what hours the trains ran. At any rate he acted as if such were his mental excogitations. The miserable pigeon-hole, or trapdoor, through which the bits of pasteboard are purveyed, was kept inexorably shut till exactly one minute after the train was timed to start. This, in spite of frequent knockings by a troop of fellow-passengers, who were already depressed enough by what they had seen of the Bluff. Of course, then, the guard began to fuss, the engine-driver to cuss, the solitary porter to "muss," and things rapidly got "wuss."

The first applicant for a ticket tendered a one- pound note.

"Ain't ye got no smaller change?" came queru­lously from the official. "No."

"Well, I can't change it. Ye'll have to wait."

The next man "planked" a half-sovereign, and received his ticket.

I put down a sovereign, and sharply demanded both tickets and change. Now, whether some subordinate had in the meantime been over to the public-house or store for change, or whether my attitude and tone signified that there might be trouble about, I know not, but there was no difficulty raised in my case. The poor second-class passenger, however, who had proffered his pound, was kept waiting in the cold for some minutes, until at length he managed to get an accommo­dating friend on the platform to negotiate the desired exchange for him.

Now "little straws show the drift of the current." We are all unconsciously influenced very much by first impressions. I can fancy a party of immi­grants coming out to New Zealand ; their hearts beating with ardent resolves, fond fancies, and high hopes, being at once chilled and disappointed by the bleak, wintry, inhospitable aspect of the Bluff; but if, in addition, they were doomed to a dose of that railway official, I can imagine the suicide statistics going up to a hitherto unapproached per­centage. The man deserves promotion. He would be invaluable as a Ministerial Under-Secretary to receive deputations, or answer questions in Par­liament. He merits much the sort of promotion Haman got.

At length we started for Invercargill. The wind howled dismally across the sandy dunes and flax- covered mounds. It screamed and whistled across the broad shallow bay, and dashed the blurring, blinding rain in at every crevice of the rattle-trap carriages. Far away over a dim, misty, flat expanse, we got one last peep of the distant snowy sierras. Then down again came the intensified veil of misty clearlessness and hissing sleet.

The ride to Invercargill was cheerless in the extreme. Here and there we pass a train track into the once plentiful bush, now getting sadly thinned. There are several saw-mills on the railway-line, and sidings,' piled high with planks and square timber. Every year sees the country denuded of its best timbers, and yet such is the Boeotian stupidity of the average Anglo-Saxon colonist that no organized scientific effort is made to fill the gaps, and ensure a continuity of the supply. Verily, the progress of humanity is a slow process.

How often do we hear the poor bewildered doubter ask, in an agony of vain regret, "If there be a God, why doth He yet permit this evil, or that abuse?" And yet the same doubter will wax eloquent as he expounds what he is pleased to call the Gospel of Humanity. He exalts the human intellect, and indulges in glowing anticipations of the unerring fate, which is working toward the time when "men shall be as gods, knowing good from evil." But it is the fashion nowadays to put all the blame on God. Our doubter quarrels with Omnipotence, and the All Wise, "whose ways are not as our ways," because the mysteries of being, the operations of spirit, the deep problems of man's moral nature are not all brought into harmony with his own crude, imperfect ideas of what should be, at once, by a mere fiat, by a creative instantaneous act. "And lo, man being in honour, abideth not. He is like the beasts that perish." Take this mat­ter of forest-felling, for instance, how short-sighted, how crass, how like "the beasts that perish." What amazing stupidity; what shameless greed ; what want of foresight, or criminal indifference to results! Has not the lesson been proclaimed over and over again that wholesale denudation of the forests of a country will exact its retribution in widespread ruin and desolation? Forest manage­ment has attained the rank almost of an exact science now. It has its literature, its schools, its laws; but they do seem to be as a dead letter to New Zealanders, and not, alas! to them alone. Occasionally a warning voice is raised, a mild protest appears spasmodically at intervals in some country journal; but who can touch the callous heart of the lumberer and timber contractor? Who can prick his seared conscience? "Let it last my time" is all the aspiration of his creed. "Let those that come after me shift for themselves " is the selfish cry that echoes in the emptiness of his inmost soul, and finds expression in his conduct. The legislator who would attempt a remedy ; the reformer who would stay the hand of the spoiler, and insist on construction and destruction proceed­ing simultaneously, is denounced as a dreamer, is hounded down as an obstructive. Vested interests stir up ignorance and fanaticism, and the spoiler has his way. There is no piercing the thick hide of self-interest. You cannot perforate the greedy man's armour.

Now the timber industry of New Zealand is a vast one. Millions of capital must be invested in it, and thousands are dependent on it for their sub­sistence. There is no need to stop timber-getting. There is no necessity to close a single saw-mill. But surely the plain lessons of experience and the monitions of common sense might be acted on.

If self-interest, or patriotism, or intelligence will not make individuals act, then the general intelli­gence should be roused to interfere. The State should frame its policy so that indiscriminate havoc should not be made with the forests. Replanting should be insisted on, of acre for acre corresponding to what is annually cut down. Waste should be punished. Strict supervision should be exercised. The classes in the commonwealth, other than those engaged or interested in the timber trade, should have their interests conserved; and forestry, in a word, should be taught and practised, and the in­dustry made subject to the same restrictions in kind, as have been found to be beneficial in India, Germany, and other countries, where public atten­tion has been awakened, and the subject scientifically studied. It has been found good for the common weal to legislate for factory workers, for miners, for mariners, for sportsmen, for farmers even, to impose certain restrictions and formulate rules; why should it not be done with lumberers and sawyers? It is no reply to say, "Oh, the forests will last our time." Surely we have a duty to posterity in this matter. I am so convinced of the evil that is being done, of the sinfulness of the wasteful methods that are allowed, that I cannot refrain from adding my feeble protest to that of others abler than myself, who have from time to time uplifted their testimony in favour of a reform in the present conditions of forest administration. And in a hundredfold greater degree is it neces­sary for New South Wales.

You speak on the subject with your fellow- tourists. They agree with you that "something should be done." You refer to it in your con­versations with farmers, theologians, legislators, merchants, squatters, hotel-keepers, and shop­keepers. Yes, they agree with you that the present state of matters is wrong ; that the best kinds of timber are fast becoming scarcer ; that the supply at this rate cannot last for ever; that there is enormous preventible waste; that even firewood near the towns is becoming dearer; that the present want of system is rotten; any­thing you like—excepting that it is any business of theirs to help forward public opinion, to check abuses, and institute reformed methods. Here in Southland vast areas, while they have not been made one whit more adapted for settlement, have simply been despoiled of all that made the land valuable to the State. Some few individuals have been enriched, but the country has been impove­rished to an extent that would appal the heavily- taxed farmer, and general consumer, could he be only made properly cognizant of the fact. In some parts where public roads had been made, or tele­graph-lines constructed through bush country, I have seen millions of magnificent logs, each of them containing hundreds of square feet of sound, merchantable timber, burnt like so much stubble, or tumbled together pell-mell to rot, to breed putridity, to become a loathsome eyesore, to raise one's gorge, at the reckless, sinful waste of God's good gifts to man.

I saw several such roads in the North Island. Had a portable saw-mill—or, for the matter of that, where one could go ten could go—had portable saw-mills accompanied the road party, enough timber might have been cut to go far toward defraying every penny of the expense of forming the highway. 'Tis true the road might have taken longer time to make, the initial expense might have been greater ; but in no country that I am acquainted with would the returns from sawn timber have been so absolutely ignored and con­temptuously rejected as an item of reimbursement as in New Zealand and, shall I say it, in Australia too.

Or take the average settler, pioneering in a bush district. All the timber he fells is indiscriminately .burned. That is so ! Is it not? It is un­doubtedly generally the case. Well, I, too, have been a pioneer, and have had my fair share of clearing to do. The method of my procedure, which was not different from the generaj custom there, was to cut down all useless undergrowth and small timber first. I next selected such trees as I intended to retain as permanent shelter. Of course, this would depend largely on the uses to which it was intended to put the land. My own experience and my reading have taught me that, whether you are clearing for pastoral or agricultural purposes, it is wise always to retain a few trees to the acre. In clumps to be preferred. Sometimes I would leave a pretty wide belt, and wherever the soil was light and poor, I would invariably retain the primal forest on such spots, until I could put in plantations of more useful trees.

Thus you provide for shelter, a most important desideratum, either for flocks or crops. You also cause less disturbance of atmospheric and climatic conditions; and there are other advantages, not to speak of the beauty, which accrue from this plan, but which, as this is not a treatise on land manage­ment, cannot be given here.

You next proceed to fell the forest trees. I used invariably to lop judiciously, burn what could not be used; but if bark was of any use, it was saved. If charcoal could be made from the loppings it was made, and the logs, barked and stripped of branches, were next cut into con­venient lengths, and stacked until such time as I could sell them or saw them up. In Germany the chemical products from the destructive dis­tillation of wood form a handsome source of revenue in themselves. The reserve stock of timber thus secured may serve the wants of generations. I do not think it relevant to say that such a mode might be all very fine for India, or France, or Germany, or Great Britain, but it would not pay in Australia. I say, give it a trial and see. "It wouldn't pay" is too often the cry of ignorance and sheer laziness.

The usual Australian mode, as my readers must know, is to cut and slash and burn indiscrimi­nately everything, and very often the timber that goes to build the settler's habitation has .to be bought actually from some foreign importa­tion. Surely in this vaunted age of enlighten­ment and utilitarianism such methods are worse than imbecile—they are sinful.

I have heard it said that "there are three things in this world which deserve no quarter: Hypocrisy, Pharisaism, and tyranny." To these I would add a fourth, "waste."

Instances might be indefinitely multiplied. Is a paling post wanted, or a log for a culvert, or a rail to stop a gap, the nearest forest king is straightway hacked down, leaving frequently three or four feet of the very primest stuff in the ground. One length is cut up, and possibly as much precious material left wantonly to rot as would suffice almost to keep a family for a month under better management.

It is true a few faint, but none the less laudable, beginnings have been made. I know one lover of his kind who has for years been making experi­mental plantings of the most likely trees in New South Wales. My brother, in his parish, has set an example which is happily being followed largely by his people. In South Australia, in Victoria— even in the sometime laggard New South Wales— some little is being done to stay ruthless waste; to improve forest administration and introduce new supplies of fresh kinds of timber. Near Wanganui I saw plantations, 'tis true, and the Government must be credited with good intentions in giving grants of land as a guerdon for tree-planting; and, yet, how much more might be done. Oh! surely if waste be sinful—as I believe it to be—might not preachers and teachers deviate occasionally from their sickening platitudes, to preach practical lessons of thrift and economy in such directions as I have been endeavouring to indicate? Surely it would be worthy of a patriot or statesman—yea even of a three-hundred pound a year hireling—to devote a little time to the elucidation of such economic problems as are contained in wise and prudent forest administration.

Or—let us look at the matter in yet one more light before we leave the subject. Here is a country so bountifully endowed with natural ad­vantages, that at Gisborne, at Warepa, at Auck­land, at Christchurch, out of a score of places, I have seen trees whose one year's growth has been twelve feet in height. We find in possession a savage, cannibal, tattooed race, who, if they wanted a canoe, would select the most suitable tree with care, and expend infinite toil in carving it for its required use. If they wanted to build a whare, the trees were as carefully selected, and as judiciously used. There was no wanton disfigure­ment of the grand gallery of illustration which the Great Architect had painted in such resplendent beauty and such magnificent variety on the fair face of hill and dale. But at last comes civilized man; the last greatest crowning effort of the "selection" of the ages ; the "fittest" inhabitant of this sublunary sphere. And what do we behold? Already the reckless devastation has been so great, that ruin impends over more than one deforested district. There are places where fire­wood actually costs as much as bread; and still we boast of our civilization, and hug ourselves in the intoxication of our self-worship, and "thank God that we are not as this poor Maori-" Let him that readeth, reflect.

Why, even in sleepy Tasmania, where the forests are much more dense than New Zealand, the re­markable Huon Pine, once so plentiful all over the West Coast, is all but exterminated; and a legislative enactment has recently been passed, so I am informed, forbidding farther cutting of Huon Pine for a period of fifty years. I cannot refrain from italics. Is not this a caustic commentary on what some of my readers may have been pooh- poohing at, and regarding me in their hearts as a garrulous "gowk," for presuming to speak as I have done.

Meantime, we are still shivering in the cheerless railway carriage on the slow road to Invercargill. The rain is plashing and dashing more determinedly than ever, and it is evident we are not to see Invercargill under favourable auspices.

And yet I was agreeably surprised at the extent of the town. It is well laid out on a great flat plain, with gravelly soil, and therefore healthy. The streets are rectangular, and of a regal width. It was most pleasing to note that the streets are being planted with shade trees, and some day they will be fine boulevards. The most enormous building in the city is Walter Guthrie's woodvvare factory. Surely in advance of the requirements of the place. There is a spacious crescent leading up from the railway station, some excellent hotels therein, and four handsome bank buildings where the main street intersects the crescent.

Of course on such a depressing day, the general appearance was not inspiriting; but there is a large surrounding country, for which Invercargill is the emporium, and as settlement increases a steady business must always be done. At present it has reached the nadir of its depression. A shal­low estuary from the sea reaches to the town. It is called the New River. Small craft can come up on a flood tide, but the sea outlet is, of course, at the Bluff.

The usual industries of a colonial town are carried on—brickworks, breweries, tanneries, soap-works, saw-mills, &c. The chief exports are sawn timber and grain, principally oats.

The New Zealand Agricultural Company has a splendid freehold estate in Southland, the pro­vince of which Invercargill is the capital; and some idea of the productive capacity of the soil, and the importance of the farming interest may be gathered from a bare recital of what that one estate has done this season. Mr. Valentine, the manager, a bright, intelligent Aberdonian, sowed over 6000 acres with oats, and did not lose an acre. It averaged about sixty bushels to the acre. In addition, he has 5000 acres sown with wheat, which usually averages forty bushels per acre. Mr. Valentine farms on scientific principles, not by " rule of thumb." The secret of his exemption from the vexatious losses that visit his neighbours, he attributes to his early autumn sowings. And yet his neighbours will not follow his lead.

How awfully conservative is the old farmer class! How terribly difficult to move out of the old routine! Even the gods fight in vain against stupidity.

Remenyi, the world-renowned violinist, with whom I had the good fortune to travel from the Bluff, gave me one or two admirable anecdotes bearing on this very point.

"Potatoes, for instance," said the maestro. "It is a plant that does delight in moisture; but the old-world farmers did always plant it on the top of the ridge. The American Farmer, he did notice that the best potatoes did grow in the hollow. JHe did reverse the old plan ; and now everybody will see how much better is the new plan." This told R 2 in his broken English was more entertaining than any reproduction I can give.

To illustrate the proverbial grumbling of the average bucolic swain, he told a good anecdote which he heard Francis Deak, the Hungarian patriot statesman, tell.

Deak, whose nobility of soul would allow him to accept of no return for his splendid and disinter­ested services to his country, used occasionally to spend a few weeks pleasant retirement from the cares of politics, at the farm of a well-to-do brother- in-law in the country.

On his arrival, on one occasion, he found his host and relative in a very bad humour—brow clouded, manner abrupt and unamiable; and on asking what was the matter, his query elicited a querulous burst of bewailing over his wretched bad fortune.

"Why, what's the matter?" queried the states­man; "potatoes failed?"

"Oh, no; potatoes are a good crop."

"Vines blighted, then?"

"No; the vineyards have borne well."

"Wheat a failure?"

"No; wheat and corn have given an abundant harvest."

"Well, what in the world are you bemoaning? Potatoes, vines, corn, wheat all excellent. What can have gone wrong? Are the cattle dying?"

"No, no!" responded the rich Hungarian; "but I tried a half acre of poppy this year, and it has turned out a dead failure."

"Ah, me!" said Deak. "How many of us think only of our half-acre of poppies, forgetful of the myriad good things which fall daily to our lot."

The closing note I find recorded about Southland is that it contains the finest herd of black-polled Angus cattle in the southern hemisphere. These form the famous Waimea herd, near Gore, which has taken the first prize for this class wherever shown in Australia.

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