The importance of rural services
European settlement of the countryside took place over a long period of time – from before the start of large-scale immigration in 1840 until well into the 20th century.
From early on it was clear that farming would be central to New Zealand’s economy, and the development of the frozen meat and dairy export industries from the 1880s confirmed this. Extending services to rural areas became critical for a number of reasons.
Settling the land
Transport routes were essential for settling remote areas. They made it possible to bring in machinery, building materials and other supplies to develop farms. When roads and railways were built they attracted more settlers to an area.
Time and motion
H. C. D. Somerset explained how life in a Canterbury rural community was easier by the 1930s. ‘The first settlers … were a long day’s journey by bullock wagon from the capital of the province. Horse-drawn vehicles across the scrublands made the journey only slightly less …The coming of the railways and the telephone brought the Great Society nearer. To-day the city capital can be reached by motor bus in two hours and the radio has brought the once isolated settlement into continuous touch with the world.’ 1
Boosting the farming economy
Road and rail links were needed to take farm produce to factories or abattoirs for processing, and to markets. They also increased the value of nearby land. The demand for more or better roads and railways often came from farmers, but was echoed by other locals, who would benefit from the prosperity of an area.
Post and telephone helped rural people stay in touch with other parts of New Zealand and the world. Newspapers, books, radio and television allowed them to keep up with current events and ideas, and overcome the barrier of distance.
The isolation of farm life could be difficult in times of trouble or sickness. Local community support, and a range of health and welfare services, helped farming families in need.
Lobbying for better services
From 1901 the New Zealand Farmers’ Union lobbied for better services for country people. One of the union’s first objectives was ‘to encourage the formation and improvement of the means of communication’. 2 The Women’s Division of the Farmers’ Union focused on improving medical and welfare services. Their primary aim was ‘to better the conditions of women and children living on the land, and to improve the conditions of rural life generally’. 3
In the 2000s, the successors of these organisations, Federated Farmers of New Zealand and Rural Women New Zealand, continue to argue for improved rural services.