As the well-greased hub is to the wheel so is Hastings to a very great area of sunny Hawke's Bay. There is the nostalgia of prosperity in the very air one breathes and smells, that says very clearly: here is no stagnation, no looking back, no vain regrets, but steady enlivening, exhilarating progress, and bright optimism is subtly manifested on every hand. Take a view from any convenient altitude in the widespread town, and one sees long, white, well-made roads, radiating north, south, east, and west, through the prosperous countryside, disappearing into thin white threads through the green velvety farm lands which are producing some of the most vital munitions of war—viz., mutton butter, cheese—for the feeding of our soldiers and the millions of good British folk depending on them, and wool which helps to make our valiant fighters the best clothed of all the belligerents. That, of course, is the dominant need of the present critical time in the history of the Empire, but before the dread ogre War showed its head, the products from the district, ever increasing as larger areas are thrown into cultivation, played an important role in bringing prosperity to New Zealand. Millions of pounds sterling have been garnered from the Hawke's Bay downs, and the circulation of such money far and wide must have had a farther reaching effect on the progress of the Dominion than may at a superficial thought be conceded. In the centre of this veritable garden is Hastings, the bright, busy, bustling, wide-awake town through which streams "the flood of many waters," leaving at least a proportion of its golden sediment in the hands of the business men, shopkeepers, and tradespeople of the town and district.
There is perhaps only one "fly in the amber" in this district, and that is the fact that the progress of settlement, satisfactory as it may be considered as far as Hastings itself is concerned, is retarded by the land being held in such large blocks. There has been a utile cutting up in some parts, but there remains the unalterable fact that there are farms of between 50,000 and 80,000 acres in the district, sacred to sheep that could be brought into profit by closer settlement, land of a quality that would support the population of the district a hundred times over. In the meantime King Wool is the popular god of the district, and while the war is on must be a very affable monarch indeed to have dealings with. The time may come when many broad acres will be comfortably dotted with smiling homes, but that time is not yet. At present as far as the eye can reach the fair domain is dotted, but the dots are sheep graduating toward the shearing-shed and meat works.
Hastings can claim one of the finest municipal theatres in New Zealand. It was erected in 1915-16, and opened in October, 1916, since when it has been in constant use. The council was fortunate in securing the services as architect of Mr. Henry E. White, of Sydney, Wellington, and Auckland, and the result is a theatre that would command attention in any city in the world. It is the first theatre to be designed externally in the Spanish mission style, a smooth, chrome-coloured finish, broken here and there with characteristic windows (each of which holds a box of scarlet geraniums), and overtopped by far-projecting eaves, that are, with the rest of the roof, heavily tiled with red Spanish tiles. The design is at once simple, yet striking, and is nicely in accord with the sunny climate of the place. The interior is as chaste and simple in design as it is efficient for every theatrical purpose. The lines of vision are perfect, the acoustics excellent, the seats comfortable, and the stage is large enough to accommodate the most elaborate productions. There are eight boxes, and seating accommodation for 3400 people. The Municipal Theatre only cost between £15,000 and £16,000, and is the cheapest and best in Australasia. Between lettings to touring companies, the council runs its own picture shows, always reserving Saturday evening as its own special perquisite.
17 December 1917