LIFE RETURNS TO POUTO
A long narrow strip of land hangs like a whale's tooth from the upper jaw of Kaipara Harbour. It stretches from just south of Dargaville straight down for almost fifty miles, narrow, low-lying and sandy, but surprisingly fertile. Scientists say that the fertility of this land is due to the cirradella grass that became established over the ages and gradually converted the top layer of land into humus. The land was settled by the Ngati Whatua.
Almost at the bottom is Pouto, one of the latest land development schemes of the Department of Maori Affairs. To the traveller, the place is distinguished by the strikingly new houses, the obviously new grass, the new fences and the half-built school.
Pouto is interesting as an example of the sort of land development scheme which it is the government policy nowadays to establish for Maoris. Like most other modern schemes, Pouto is a large one, 9153 acres (3585 in grass, 2315 under development, rest unsuitable). Ultimately it will settle 35 farmers and produce 500,000lbs of butterfat per year. Each farm is to have a milking herd of 60 cows, a good house and shed and enough land in grass to feed the herd comfortably. (The areas already settled average 124 acres in grass, varying from 109 to 140). Settlers will hold their land under 42 year leases to which the owners agreed in principle before settlement began; no man is selected for settlement without the owners' agreement. Leases are not signed before occupiers have shown their ability to get good production from the land.
These are conditions very different from the older settlements developed before the war. The advantages are obvious, but balanced against these, there is always the difficulty that farms of the Pouto type are expensive to develop. Unless production is really efficient, settlers on these farms find it hard to keep going.
Before settlement started five years ago, only few people were living at Pouto. Their source of income was gum digging. Most of the people had gradually scattered to areas on the other side of Kaipara harbour or even further afield.
The Pouto school committee, left to right: Messrs Wright, Kapa and Baker and Mrs Thompson. (Photo: Peter Blank.)
The person who first turned the minds of the people towards land development was Brown Kena, of the prominent local Kena family, who was a consolidation officer with the Department of Maori Affairs in the eary thirties. On his advice, Pouto was gazetted in 1933, although at that time the people hardly understood the significance of the great changes that were suggested to them. In 1939 the road went through; by 1954 2,500 acres were in grass. In that year, the owners of the land agreed to a scheme of sub-division and to the establishment of Maori dairy farmers on leasehold tenure.
Today, these scattered families are returning to their ancestral land as houses are built and areas become available for settlement. A new community is forming, but with the same tribal affiliations as the previous inhabitants. In this community some of the stories of the Ngati Whatua ancestors are still known. The visitor is told that Kaipara Harbour was first settled by two birds which came from Waikato—Reitu and Reipai, Reitu being the older. One of these birds stayed behind, the other flew farther north. The people of Pouto say that it was Reitu who stayed behind, but further north they say it was Reipai. In any case it was from these birds that the tribe descended.
Another ancestor was the whale Pokopoko. He was the youngest of three brothers. The two older ones drove him away from Hokianga Harbour which used to be their habitat; they pursued him to Kaipara where he fought back and drove them off. Whenever a chief of the district died these whales were seen off Kaipara Harbour—one black, one black and white and the third spotted; and the spotted one was always behind. I was told that since the Ratana movement started, the whales have never shown up.
The people still own an old marae at Waikaretu, eight miles from Pouto, at the southern tip of the peninsula. Nobody lives there now, but important tangis are still held there, although the meeting house is becoming rather old.
Since the new settlement began, various modern institutions have grown up, such as a tribal committee(Chairman, Mr Henare Kapa, secretary, Mrs A. W. Thompson), a school committee (Chairman, Mrs Wiki Wright, secretary, Mrs A. W. Thompson), a Maori Women's Welfare League (Chairman, Mrs A. W. Thompson, secretary Mrs Mary Taylor) and a youth club. The latter has been particularly active lately, and occasionally uses the old meeting house. It organises sports, horse events, athletics, socials and dances. The chairman is Mr Maurice Kena and
Headmaster of the Pouto school is Mr Edward Baker, originally from Whirinaki, who some years ago was chosen out of many aspiring actors to play a part in the film The Seekers. However, since then he has given up the film world and settled down to school teaching.
Meanwhile, the farmers are settling down to the production of butterfat. There are now 13 dairy units; six of them are farmed by Maori settlers under leaseholds while the other seven are farmed by milkers on wages, on the understanding that when these milkers have proved themselves they too will be offered leases. All the lessees produced over 12,000lbs of butterfat over the last farming season, one of them as much as 17,607lbs. Four of the milkers also exceeded the 12,000 mark.
Can we say therefore that from a farming viewpoint Pouto is already a success? Not entirely. What has been produced so far is a hopeful beginning but no more. One has to recognize that the Pouto farmers do not merely enjoy better conditions, but that the demands upon them are much heavier. On the older Maori farms, a settler doing 200lbs per cow is a little above average; probably, his debt is not very high and he can live without too much worry on his present level of production.
However, at Pouto and other modern schemes most farmers will owe a total of £11,000 on settlement. That is for improvements, stock and chattels. Repayments and interest on this figure, for at least the first ten years, would be over £800 per year. After that it would drop to below £600. To this, one must add all the usual farming costs. It follows that a man producing 12,000lbs of butterfat can keep alive but not much more.
Experts say that the Pouto farms can yield 15,000lbs to 17,000lbs of butterfat under good management. Of course it takes a while until the new settlers learn how to get that yield. However, if they get close to that figure, there is no doubt that they will be financially very comfortable.
The majority of the farmers are already showing a pride and an absorbing interest in their calling. There have been visits by the instructor of the Department of Agriculture, as well as by the supervisors of the Department of Maori Affairs. Such visits have led to much discussion