LONDON, January 10. It is good to find that at intervals during that vast and difficult operation of removing the beams from poor old England's eyes, Mr P. A. Vaile can occasionally spare time to consider the motes in the eyes of other countries. Alas, that it should be so, but Mr Vaile has discovered something wrong with New Zealand's vision. Whether it is a recent discovery or not I do not know, but though the New Zealander seems to have taken root in the heart of the Empire, he still maintains his interest in the Dominion's welfare, and he is troubled concerning certain motes in her eyes. What these motes are your readers may easily ascertain from an interview the writer had with Mr Vaile a few days ago.
"Do I ever want to be back in New Zealand?" he echoed, in answer to my question. "My dear fellow, there is only one thing wrong with New Zealand. She is too far from anywhere, and doesn't know it. The finest country in the world and the slowest in some ways. A land bigger than England, Scotland, and Wales together, with less than the population of a London suburb, and no third class passages available for months. If they knew their business they would be running steamboats and fast, cheap boats, too, instead of the things that are going now. The speed, the accommodation, the cuisine, and attention on some of them is a disgraceful joke, while the neglect of the cable service is a crying scandal to the Home Government. Fancy 3s a word to New Zealand in 1912, for the recent reductions are, by their conditions, merely farcical New Zealand," Mr Vaile went on, "is especially blessed in many ways. Its climate, scenery, and sport are magnificent assets, but poorly developed."
What do you think of the future of New Zealand, Mr Vaile?"
"The future of New Zealand will be great if we can only persuade the New Zealander to cultivate some ideals. At present he has none in art, literature, architecture, or I regret to say it in, if I may use the word, national pride. In a kind of way he is proud of his mutton, his butter, and his football, but he is dead to the higher appeal of culture in almost any form. New Zealand must try to raise some big men. She will never do that until she shows pride in and loyalty to her aspiring citizens. The habit of cheap depreciation is too prevalent. Let me give you an instance of what I mean. An Auckland candle-maker complained to an Auckland paper that his candles never got any notice in the local paper. The editor, who was seeing him by appointment, produced two samples. One was the 'Southern Sperm,' made in Dunedin, the other the 'Auckland Light.' These are not the names, but they will do. The editor explained to the candle manufacturer that so long as Dunedin could turn out such superior articles he could not conscientiously praise his wares. To cut a long story short, the old candle manufacturer, after he had played his fish for a time, told him that both candles were made in the same Auckland factory, and that if he would send down to his printing department he would find that he had an order in hand for 10,000 packets for 'Southern Sperms' made in Auckland. This perfectly expresses one of New Zealand's greatest weaknesses. There is too much of the spirit of the Southern Sperm about her. Unless she takes pride in her race, in her people, in their deeds, in their ideals, she will never be anything." "What exactly* do you mean by ideals?" I asked.
Well, you know that Lord Plunket told New Zealanders that they had no architecture. How do you encourage your architects? You give important work to outsiders, who are proved to be miserable plagiarists of contemptible edifices. Is it likely that this will produce architecture in New Zealand?"
"But that is only one instance," I objected.
"It is typical of much that goes on in public life," said Mr Vaile. "There is no looking ahead. Everything is of the little, and temporary, and mean order. Much of what l am saying is of general application, but let me be specific and tell you a few things about Auckland, the place of my birth, one of the most beautiful and desirable places on the earth in which to live, if those who are responsible for the management of it would give it a chance. I noticed recently that a town in America had appointed a business manager. Auckland might with advantage follow suit. "Now to my instances. When I was in Auckland the roads were a scandalous offence. They are still the same. I indicated then how they might be made good, as I did six years ago in the case of the Thames Embankment, which is now constructed as I suggested in my article in the 'Daily Mail.' I mentioned this in ‘Wake Up, England,' to put it on record, as I believe the possibilities of tarred natural macadam are not yet realised even in England. Then we have the cemetery bridge. I christened this the tight rope at the time it was mooted. Fancy such an artery of traffic about the width of a decent dining room. It is inconceivable. There is sheer blindness, littleness, futility in this no ideal, no glimpse into the future. Then we have our Town Hall, in charity the less I say of this the better. I christened it ‘The Flat Iron,' and as such it will hang about the necks of those responsible for it. A more complete instance of the absence of ideals and foresight it would be almost impossible to find. I fought it tooth and nail by article and plan and model, by word and deed. What has Auckland now for her £100,000? A flat iron, deposited in a hole, where it is not seen an uninspiring thing, which cannot evoke any sentiment, but amusement or sorrow. That which might have been a crown to the city and an inspiration is an eyesore.
“Auckland might be made a beautiful city, but she will want some ideals and some men. I was at Eastbourne recently on the magnificent front. Think of Auckland similarly treated, with a beautiful drive round the foreshore to St. Heliers Bay on the Tamaki, a bridge across to Northcote, and a drive round towards Takapuna Beach or beyond. What grander natural playground could be found than the Orakei basin? Why should not that marvellous health resort Rotorua be linked up with Auckland by a cycle track? If Rotorua were alive it would have it. My good friend Mr T. E. Donne, Rotorua's most able developer, has always been strongly with me in this. He asserts that it would be a solid investment for Rotorua. The fact is, the New Zealand public man is much too little, much too materialistic. He must be bigger. He must reach out into the future. He must feel for New Zealand, think for her, serve her, if he wants ever to make her felt amongst the nations. Mr Pierpont Morgan has given an eminent American professor an unlimited commission to prepare an illustrated history of the North American Indian. What is being done in New Zealand in this direction for the Maori, the noblest aboriginal race on earth? Very little. There is one man Mr Henry E. Partridge of Auckland whose collection of Maori portraits and pictures is unique. For 30 years he kept Herr Lindauer, an Austrian artist, painting them for him. But he has ideals. In time to come he will be known as one of New Zealand's big men. She sadly wants many more like him."
"New Zealand's Great Defect."
Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle,
27 February 1912, 2.