However interesting historically are the towns of the Coast, at best they appear unattractive places in which to live and their appearance mirrors the relative stagnation of the economy and the slow growth of population. During the decade 1951–61 the urban population of the West Coast declined by 0·8 per cent and only two towns, Greymouth and Hokitika, showed an increase – 16 and 18 respectively. Only one county, Murchison, showed an increase of population; all the others registered a decline, so that the total rural population decreased by 10·3 per cent. Overall, the regional population fell by 5·2 per cent so that in 1961 the West Coast contained only 1,704 more persons than it did in 1911. In the period April 1953 to April 1961, although the labour force engaged in manufacturing increased by 5 per cent, which is well below the national level of increase, the total labour force declined by 7·43 per cent. In response to the challenge of these rather depressing figures, a number of investigating bodies have put forward a variety of proposals designed to stimulate growth and diversify the economy. A recommendation for the establishment of a large-scale integrated forest-product industry has initially received the warmest reception.
Despite the exceedingly low percentage of the total population contained in the region, it has been able to exercise an extraordinary influence in national affairs, due partly to the historical importance of the area, partly to the importance of the West Coast seats in the politics of the Labour Party, and to the strength of the coalminers' trade unions. The resentment of the West Coasters at the treatment they were supposedly receiving was expressed in the 1962 by-elections when, in a safe seat, the Labour candidate's majority fell to 294. But the issue goes deeper than party politics. Technological developments are against the coal industry and alternative sources of fuel are welcomed by sorely tried consumers. Where science, technology, or affluence favours West Coast industries, as with timber and tourism, the old traditions of the exploitative economies are inhibitory. A number of new industries have been suggested for the area, but before the tide can be turned–and in a period of rapid national demographic growth an overall decline of 5 per cent indicates a strongly adverse tide–the whole economy of the region, the pattern of its urban settlements, and its demographic structure need remoulding to the requirements of the twentieth century.
by Samuel Harvey Franklin, B.COM.GEOG., M.A.(BIRMINGHAM), Senior Lecturer, Geography Department, Victoria University of Wellington.
- New Zealand Geographer, Vol. 10, Oct 1954, “The Poutini Coast–a Geography of Maori Settlement in Westland”, McCaskill, M.
- Ibid., Vol. 12, Apr 1956, “The Gold Rush Population of Westland”, McCaskill, M.; Ibid., Vol. 12, Oct 1956. “Westland's Forests and the Future”, McCaskill, M.; Ibid., Vol. 17, Apr 1961, “Rehabilitating the West Coast”, McCaskill, M.;Proceedings of the Second New Zealand Geography Conference, Christchurch, 1958, “Miner, Merchant, and Mountain – a Study in the Political Geography of Goldrush Westland, 1865–76”
- Report on Land Utilisation Survey–West Coast Region (1959)
- Report on the West Coast, West Coast Committee of Inquiry (1960)
- Supplementary Report on the West Coast, West Coast Committee of Inquiry (1960)
- West Coast Region – National Resources Survey, Part I, Town and Country Planning Branch, Ministry of Works (1959). The West Coast Gold Rushes, May, P. R. (1962).