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No. 40 (September 1962)
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Farming

A Battle in Northland

Great fighters in earlier times, Maori people of Northland are today winning another battle—the battle of the land.

In a region rich in history but poorer until now in its output of primary products, Maori farmers are showing that given the opportunity and the finance to make a start they can wield the ploughshare as before they wielded the mere.

Today the grass is growing on Maori farms in Northland. Today, with phosphate, lime and trace elements, the fertility of poorer soils is being lifted and the butterfat yield is mounting.

Success at Kaipara

One who has given a lead is Mr Ross Wright, a 42-year-old-ex-Maori Battalion major who in 1946 became a rehabilitation settler on the Okahukura block fringing the Kaipara Harbour. Some 23 miles west of Wellsford, this block takes in part of the sandy strip that runs from Helensville to the Waipoua forest. Part of the block is hilly clay country destined for sheep farming. The rest is sandy loam which is providing a good living for dairymen like Ross Wright.

When I visited Mr Wright's farm early last year he described the property as a little bit of the Waikato transplanted to Northland. This may have been a fairly accurate assessment but the fact that the farm can now be likened to the Waikato has a good deal to do with the calibre of the man who is farming it. True, he has not had to contend with some of the problems of men on the heavy clay country but this detracts little from a fine achievement.

As a rehabilitation settler, Ross Wright was given a decent start but in his 15 years on the property he has improved it out of all recognition. He has cropped and resown his pastures to better grass. He has fenced and drained and top-dressed and bred good stock. He and his East Coast wife have worked and saved and saved and worked.

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Mr Ross Wright farms near Kaipara Harbour.

The result is that from his 111 acres Ross Wright is producing nearly 30,000 pounds of butterfat in a season. He has found the time and the cash to build two haybarns, a garage and a piggery and to begin planting belts of gums and hedges.

Yes, the Wright family now has a car but that is only a recent acquisition and when there are six children in a family a car is not really an extravagance.

Further North

Recently, on another North Island walkabout, I journeyed to Parengarenga, 15 miles from Cape Reinga on the Aopouri Peninsula. This is different country from Okahukura. Most of it is gumland clay and it is swept by the winds from the sea but here 29,000 acres of Maori land are being developed for Maori settlement.

Heavy dressings of phosphate and lime are being applied by the Lands and Survey Department and judging by the way the new grass has come in, this land will indeed be an asset by the time it is handed back to the Maori Affairs Department for settlement.

The development of such land as Parengarenga augurs well for the future of Maori farming in Northland, as does the effort being made by those farmers already settled at Te Kao and Ngataki, two areas immediately to the south.

As I looked at some of the farms at Te Kao and Ngataki in the Far North I thought again of Ross Wright and his progress in lower Northland.

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Could these far-northern settlers emulate their lower-northern cousin? I think that with encouragement and perserverance on their own part they can, but in the face of greater difficulties of soil and climate, their way may be harder and longer.

The Aopouri have shown themselves to be a progressive community whose proud boast at one time was that they had a man in nearly every Government department. And the Te Kao District High School was one of the first Maori schools of its type established.

Te Kao is 40 miles from the dairy factory at Awanui and the Northland wanderer reaches it along a fiercely corrugated road from which his tyres churn a pall of dust. This is rugged territory where many European refinements have yet to make their mark. The people are a happy group, augmenting their diet with a multitude of home-grown vegetables and fishing in such bountiful waters as those of the Parengarenga harbour.

Farmed for 30 years or more, the Te Kao district was one of the first areas of Maori land development in New Zealand. The area was a mass of multiple titles which were gradually straightened out when the Department of Maori Affairs advanced money for approved men to buy out other owners.

In the Ngataki area, which is Crown land, 11 farms were specifically developed as a block for settlement. Development here started during the Second World War, and most of the Ngataki settlers are people who came originally from Te Hapua.

The two settlements are almost exclusively devoted to dairying and the objective of the Department of Maori Affairs is to set up a man and his family on an economic unit. The Department provides mortgage finance for both freehold and leasehold tenures, loans for further development by the occupier and technical supervision to encourage progressive techniques.

Two Problems

Settlers in both areas face two major problems—the high cost of fertiliser necessary to raise fertility and the winds which rapidly dry out the sandy soil and shorten the production season.

Progress, however, has been steady if not spectacular. Some years ago one of the Te Kao settlers received a congratulatory telegram when he became the first to reach a target of 10,000 pounds of butterfat. Since then others have exceeded this figure and the aim now is to get farms producing 15,000 pounds in a season.

Mr Griggs, a departmental field officer, has embarked on an ambitious programme aimed at improving the kikuyu-dominant pastures, providing reserves of supplementary feed and lengthening the production season. Judging from the enthusiastic response he is getting from the settlers, his methods should yield very worthwhile results.

Something has been heard from time to time of Maori farming difficulties both in Northland and on the East Coast. These difficulties revolve mainly round the problem of multiple ownership but if this problem can be resolved the future for Maori farming in Northland at any rate is one which seems rich with promise.

The Rev. Father A. Venning, S.M., died in Hastings on June 21st after a brief illness, at the age of 78.

Father Venning was well-known to the Maori people, especially in Wanganui. From 1914 to 1936 he was the superior Maori missionary at Jerusalem, the first New Zealander to take up that position. Up until that time all Roman Catholic missionaries had been Frenchmen.

In 1936 Father Venning was transferred to Otaki where he stayed until 1945. He then spent 17 years at Waitara, before going to Paki Paki, where he was stationed at the time of his death.

Father Venning's district was a wide one. He used to ride a horse to Taranaki to visit parishioners, and often travelled as far as Taihape and Owhango using both rail and horse transport on these journeys.

At Greenmeadows in 1959, he celebrated his 50 years of priesthood.

A distinction in the law relating to adoptions as in affects Maoris and Europeans is made by the Adoptions Amendment Bill introduced to the House of Representatives.

At present where an applicant for an adoption order is a Maori and the child is a Maori, the application is made to the Maori Land Court and any appeals which may result are made to the Maori Appellate Court. European adoptions are handled by the Magistrates' Court.

With the passing of this Bill, all applications, Maori or European, would be made to the Magistrates' Court and appeals would be to the Supreme Court.

The only provision remaining which distinguishes between Maoris and Europeans permits a magistrate, at his discretion, to direct that in cases affecting Maoris, the functions of the child welfare officer may be exercised by a Maori welfare officer.