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No. 13 (December 1955)
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Progress in a Northland Community

A CAR GENTLY SLITHERS to a stop on a remote North Auckland dirt road. In gumboots and beret, a young man casually swings out, strides the fence, and walks across the paddock to yarn with a Maori farmer.

It may be a social chat or business. Probably it is both. For the young man is John Booth. Maori Affairs Department anthropologist and research officer.

For over a year now he has been working with the Maori people on the picturesque northern shores of the Hokianga harbour, on community development schemes. The project takes in four back-country Maori Catholic communities, spread around the base of Panguru mountain, thirty miles from the main road. Here, in Motuti, Panguru. Waihou and Mitimiti live 800 people of the Te Rarawa tribe.

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The Minister of Maori Affairs. Mr Corbett, chats to a local elder, Mr Matiu Witana. Mr Tame Anaru is on the left.

Community development is a new word for an extremely old activity. In pre-pakeha days, the more outstanding Maori chiefs practised it. In their wisdom, they saw solutions for the problems of their people, and their communities were the richer for their work, With the coming of the pakeha, many new problems grew up and again these were grappled with in the traditional way by the best of the Maori leaders who found techniques such as Maori land development to improve the lot of their people.

Yet the need to find new ways of meeting the challenge of modern life remained acute in many places. The more isolated Maori communities still do not find it easy to catch up with present-day economic and educational standards, not because they do not want to, but because they are far away from the more central parts of the country and because the techniques already worked out do not yet fully provide for their needs.

It is necessary to find further ways to improve their living conditions. It is necessary, in the economic sphere, to use the untapped resources—land not fully productive, additional occupations and industries, but it goes further than economics; it is also necessary to use fully the brains of the people, to make life in the community more interesting and stimulating.

Activities in the Panguru Project

At present, work undertaken in the Panguru project includes the setting up of investment societies; a small timber mill; a library; a monthly market-day; and a co-operative piggery. Vegetable growing is being encouraged; sporting activities are being supported and entertainments provided.

Said one of the Te Rarawa chiefs recently, “These schemes have brought us back to life.”

And no wonder, for the people have taken them to heart.

Mr Booth has provided the expert “know-how” on community development in the area but he is

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Inspecting plans of the new piggery. Left to right: Messrs Steve Ngaropo, John Samson, John Booth, Leon Ngaropo and Phillip Matthews.

there because the people asked to have him there. They wanted to have him work with them on their community development. Though he is the advisor, the community development schemes are truly the people's.

At present the major material difficulty facing these communities is the number of small uneconomic farms. Mr Booth sees this as a community development problem that the community—and this includes government representatives in the community—must tackle. This means government and people moving together as one community.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that family holdings do not provide economic farms. It has been found though that many of the farmers in the area would welcome an attempt at a wholesale readjustment of boundaries, aimed at providing economic farms rather than keeping family lands intact.

To provide sufficient economic farms, existing holdings would have to be amalgamated. Some of the older people have already made their holdings available to younger people and others would do the same, if alternative accommodation were provided.

Plans are already advanced for reducing the number of farms in the area. The consolidation and conversion officer. Mr N. P. K. Puriri, the field supervisor, Mr D. Wright, and Mr Booth have all been active in this work.

Long before community development was suggested in the area, the Maori Affairs Department had done much work on land development, consolidation of land titles, housing and welfare. Now the research officer is seeking ways of co-ordinating these activities, and always the central idea is that the activities become community ones, not departmental, the department's officers fitting into the scheme as advisors.

The theory of this is that improvements arbitrarily imposed on the people from outside will not have lasting value. The aim is to pin-point their needs, and show the people how they can meet them through their own efforts.

The government started land development in the Panguru area back in 1935. With Sir Apirana Ngata behind it, development went with a swing. It provided employment, housing and more economic security, and generally gave the community an uplift. It was partly because of the land development history of the area that Mr Booth was sent there in the first place to do research into the effect of the department's policy.

Another fact making the district a particularly good one for research was that the settlements were all-Maori, and had to face most of the problems common to North Auckland and many other rural Maori areas.

Warmly-Human Work

Though research work may sound cold and not very human it was in this case rather, ordinary, warmly-human work—time spent stumping over paddocks and beaches, living with the people, talking to them, getting to know them and their problems. Mr Booth stayed at the home of Mr and Mrs Aperahama Witana, well-known Panguru people, for nine months.

He found the local people extremely hospitable and helpful. Though his purpose, for a start, may not have been clearly understood he was accepted.

It had been known before he was sent to Panguru that the early enthusiasm for land development was lagging. He found there was, in fact, a lack of any long-range view behind community activities. Economically, the people were at subsistence level only. Plainly they needed more

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money if they were to be able to lead a fuller and more satisfying life.

Following his painstaking research, Mr Booth made recommendations designed to help the area.

The main recommendations were:—

  • An investment society, to provide additional credit source, locally controlled.

  • A co-operative piggery, to give additional economic help and to demonstrate modern methods of pig-rearing.

  • Vegetable growing.

  • The organisation of fishing, to provide a steady income.

  • A library.

  • Adult education classes.

  • Better facilities for recreation and entertainments.

Most of these recommendations and some others, have now been acted on. A year after completing the nine months research period Mr Booth went back to the area to see if the people wanted, with him, to put the recommendations into effect. A meeting was held, and the people said: “Yes, come back to us”. He has now been back there for over a year. In that time many new community schemes have been undertaken. The list is a wide one and the schemes may seem unrelated, but of course, anything going on in the community has an effect on its development. Though the activities start in different ways they are therefore all part of community development. All the activities are the people's though, where needed, they get guidance from outside.

Some of the community development activities which the people are operating at present are as follows:—

A library has been established. Books were provided by the Country Library Service. Mr William Noa gave the use of a room in his house as a library. His sister-in-law. Mrs Susan Noa, is librarian. The library is especially useful in furthering community development—providing books on farming, bookkeeping, dressmaking and other useful crafts, as well as providing light reading.

Probably the most important work undertaken in the community development project has been the successful establishment of investment societies in three of the settlements. The aim of these is to encourage saving, and to make loans available for productive purposes. Society members contribute regularly. Under the overall supervision of the organiser, each society is controlled by an elected committee which is responsible for granting loans and ensuring repayment. It is hoped to be able to make use of local financial resources for such purposes as helping people to improve their housing and their farms, to clear their title to their land, and to educate their children.

It is felt, too, that running investment societies will be an education experience that will give a better appreciation of the value of money and its uses.

Preparing of a co-operative piggery at Waihou is another of the community development projects. Work done so far in the preparation of the site—draining and fencing—has been done by volunteer labour, but a tally has been kept of hours worked, and workers will be credited with that amount as their share in the enterprise on which they will get interest from profits. The piggery will be of the most modern type, and should serve to demonstrate the best pig-raising methods. Profits, after deduction of reserves and interest on shares, will be disbursed in proportion to the amount of pig food supplied.

Matiu Witana and Raphael Parker, with technical assistance from Alex Peri, are setting up a small sawmill that will be able to meet some of the local demand for timber.

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Father Wanders, local cutholic priest, greets the minister.

Vegetable growing is expanding. A few more people from Mitimiti coastal settlement, notably George Leef and Akata Tahana, put potatoes in early to catch the best of the early market. Given enough shelter, the coast provides good vegetable-growing conditions throughout the year.

Recreation, too, is a vital factor in community development. As part of the project, physical education experts from the Education Department attended a dance where they demonstrated new dances. Next day was given over to sports at Motuti.

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Regular picture shows are held, the profits going to benefit the community.

Market has been held every family benefit day and has been of special interest to the women folk who bring eggs, vegetables, cakes, fruits and nuts for sale to those who may have none of their own.

Women from the Lower Waihou and Panguru branches of the Maori Women's Welfare League during the winter provided mid-day soup for the children attending Panguru convent.

Many of these activities are important not only in the obvious aims but because of the fact that the people are interested and are responsible for such prograssive schemes.

But after all, community development came to these people because they asked for it, it continues with them because they continue to want it.

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Mr William Noa inspects a new batch of library books.

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Librarian Susan Noa at work.

During the recent visit to Panguru of the Minister of Maori Affairs, Mr Corbett, a local chief, Pakihi Peita, asked the Minister to ensure that Mr Booth was not shifted in undue haste, and the matter was referred to in a memorandum submitted to the Minister.

Progress in the project has come well up to the expectations. But the project is still an experiment—an experiment undertaken on the advice of a qualified social scientist, as a tryout of a new pattern of work for the department and to gain knowledge to help the department in its work. After allowing sufficient time it is intended to estimate its worth and success in helping a community provide its members with a full and satisfying life. On that basis, a decision will be made as to whether the department should encourage community development schemes in other areas.