Between 1895 and the First World War several developments made for increasing diversity in the rural landscape and slightly modified the pattern of settlement. The heavily forested lands of the Catlins in South Otago and the Longwood-Waiau Valley area in western Southland were opened for sawmilling and farm settlement, branch railways reaching Tahakopa in 1915 and Tuatapere in 1909. By 1914 most of Otago's large freehold estates had been subdivided by Government action or private sale into small- and medium-scale farms; grain cultivation declined in favour of dairying and fat-lamb rearing. In North Otago the 15 estates purchased by the Crown were subdivided into 540 holdings; 1,500 people were living on them in 1912. The gold-dredging boom about the turn of the century gave temporary stimulus to mining in Central Otago and to the engineering industries of Dunedin. In 1900, the peak year of the speculative frenzy, over 180 dredges worked on the Clutha River and its tributaries and in the Waikaia Valley. With the decline of dredging there was a boom in orchard planting in the middle Clutha Valley, and in 1912 work began in the Ida Valley on the first Government-sponsored irrigation scheme in New Zealand.
Orcharding, with an increasing emphasis on apricots, peaches, and cherries, and irrigation farming have subsequently been the mainstay of settlement in Central Otago although the construction of the giant Roxburgh power station on the Clutha brought a temporary influx of population after the Second World War. The wholesale destruction of the rabbit in the early 1950s has effected a slow and steady transformation of the denuded hillsides and flats. Coastal and South Otago have had stable or declining populations since the First World War and the agricultural pattern there has undergone little change, although some deteriorated hill lands have been given over to exotic forests. On the Southland lowlands, on the other hand, there has been marked growth of rural prosperity based on intensive fat-lamb production and a high standard of grassland farming which has made good use of the abundant local resources of limestone. In the 40 years from 1919 to 1959 the sheep flock in the Southland Land District increased from 1·7 million to 5.4 million, whereas in Otago the increase was from 3·0 to 5.6 million.
The rates of growth of the urban areas of Dunedin and Invercargill reflect the contrasted conditions of their respective hinterlands. Since 1901 the Dunedin urban area has lagged well behind the other main centres of New Zealand. Its early start in manufacturing has not been maintained and, despite the advantage of its port, its remoteness from the growing areas of New Zealand has tended to deter the establishment of new industries serving a national or even a South Island market. Dunedin's population has grown very slowly from 89,000 in 1926 to 105,000 in 1961, as compared with Invercargill's 22,000 to 41,000 in the same period. Between the 1956 and 1961 censuses Dunedin grew by only 5·7 per cent, whereas Invercargill's rate was 17 per cent, the highest for any urban area south of Napier. In the 1950s Southland, by any objective measure, was the wealthiest community in New Zealand. The Invercargill tax district returned the highest average assessable income and the rise in average incomes between 1947 and 1957 was 134 per cent, as compared with 108 per cent for the whole country.
The population of Otago was 83,700 in 1874, 191,100 in 1911, 252,700 in 1956, and 267,900 in 1961. Since the early twentieth century the provincial district experienced a continued outwards migration of people, but Southland had a slight net inwards migration between 1951 and 1961. The Southland section of the provincial district has recorded a high rate of natural increase of population, whereas the Otago section has long had one of the lowest rates of natural increase in New Zealand. A large proportion of the population is descended from people who arrived in the first two decades of settlement, a factor which has preserved the pattern of religious adherence with remarkably little change since the gold rushes. In 1871, 46 per cent of the population of Otago and 51 per cent of Southland were Presbyterian, while in 1956 the proportions were respectively 44 and 49 per cent. The Scottish inheritance has probably been stronger in Southland than elsewhere, and the burred Scots “r”, which has persisted to the third generation of rural Southlanders, is one of the few regional variations in New Zealand speech.
by Murray McCaskill, M.A., PH.D., Reader in Geography, University of Canterbury.
- The Face of Otago, Garnier, B. J. (ed.) (1948)
- Historical Southland, Hall-Jones, F. G. (1945)
- Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand (Otago), Hocken, T. M. (1898)
- The History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
- History of the Early Gold Discoveries in Otago, Pyke, V. (1887)
- Port of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1951).