THE FUTURE OF
A recent news item in a Bay of Plenty newspaper drew attention to a problem that, whatever its economic aspects, is one of great human interest to the country in general. It concerned the future of the satellite town of Mangakino, which came into existence as a measure to house and cater for the labour force employed on Government hydro-electric schemes.
It was, until recently, just taken for granted that the bulk of the population would be moved elsewhere when the present project was completed, but now there is a growing demand for the establishment of a permanent township, and the Maori Tribal Committee representing the owners have already been approached regarding granting of long tenure. Earnest efforts are being made to gain the permanency of the present shopping-centre, which will serve an ever-increasing farm district, and to try to establish light industries which will absorb the present, or a new, labour force.
At the moment, there is little point in issuing statements about the future of the town, since no one is in the position to foretell even the most probable events. Anything can happen in the 21 years before the original lease expires, and there is nothing to indicate definitely that Mangakino will either expand considerably or vanish from the face of the earth. The development of the Pouakani block, however, on which the town now stands, is a different matter altogether, and it may yet prove to be that the futures of both are inextricably bound together for the common good. Together they have shared an interesting past, as we shall see, and in the light of that past the abandonment of Mangakino may not be treated lightly.
Up to the days of Richard John Seddon, the Wairarapa Maoris had owned from time immemorial a lake to which they had given their name, and from whose waters they wrested a meagre living by catching eels. The lake emptied into the sea through a narrow channel at its southernmost tip, and it was the Maori custom of blocking this up that first led to trouble. Once a year, at a time the water's level had risen anything up to ten feet, the Maoris opened up the channel and allowed the lake to flood out, with the result that the eels became sluggish on contact with salt water, and were easily caught.
Unfortunately for all concerned, many of the adjacent paddocks belonging to pakeha farmers were flooded also, and as can be imagined, some pretty strong words were bandied around between homestead and marae before
the Government was called in to investigate. It must have been an embarrassing moment when, after due investigation, it was found that the land didn't belong to the settlers, anyway. It was, and always had been Maori land, and no proof existed that it had been lent, leased or sold to the pakehas. The main point under discussion, however, was that the annual flooding of productive land could not be tolerated, and the Government cast around for something to give the Maoris in exchange for the lake. A block of land called Pouakani, in the centre of the North Island was offered and accepted.
It was typical of the people and the times that a great hui, which the Prime Minister attended in person, should follow on the heels of the agreement, and many speeches were made to glorify this eventful occasion in the history of the Wairarapa; for it was naturally intended that they should immediately migrate to the north, and settle on the new land. It was impressed on them that this was to be a real heke, a migration, and not spasmodic infiltration or a visit like the swallows in the spring. They would have to bury some of their dead there, and thus hallow the ground, and sink their roots. But nothing happened for many years, and it began to look as though the Wairarapa didn't want Pouakani, in which case there were plenty of other people around who did.
The Lands Department, for one, had ideas about taking it over; and the Waikato people, seeing it neglected for so long, were beginning to cast envious eyes over its rich, rolling pastures. Not that anyone could blame them.
It wasn't until after the war, when the Morningside Timber Co. became interested in, and eventually bought about 6,000 acres' worth of saleable timber that Pouakani got the attention it deserved. Then the Wairarapa Maoris, in consultation with a judge and officers of the Maori Land Board, set about forming a committee of owners to organise the agricultural development of the block under the most favourable conditions of tenure.
The State Hydro-electric Department began its friendly and successful negotiations with the owners, which resulted in 600 acres being leased for use as a temporary township, as well as a further area for the dam site and the area that was to be flooded. Regarding the township site, which is now Mangakino, the understanding is that the Works Department will hand it back to the Maoris after 21 years. Out of a total of just over 30,000 acres, therefore, there was still a considerable amount of land available for farming, even discounting the bush area, that never would be suitable for agricultural purposes.