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Story: Rural services

Country people depend on a range of vital services: radio, newspapers and the internet for information; roads and railways for transport; and mail and telephones for communication. But isolation has often limited rural people’s access to services.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Firefighting practice

Story Summary

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Roads and railways

Roads and railways made it possible to settle remote areas. People could bring in building materials to develop farms, and then send their produce to factories or markets.

Building roads

Mountains, swamps and forests made it a tough job to build roads. Settlers pushed for the government to pay, but often there wasn’t enough money. At first, fords and ferries were used to cross rivers. Later, bridges were built. From the early 1900s, cars made it easier for farmers to get into town, and school buses took children to school.

Building railways

Railways were built from the 1860s. Trains carried animals, dairy products and other produce, as well as frozen meat in special insulated wagons. But from the 1950s, trucks took over. Many small railway lines closed down.

Electricity

Electricity made farm work much easier – especially on dairy farms, for running milking machines, lighting sheds and heating water. It was also used for shearing machines and water pumps, and in the house.

Post

The rural delivery service was set up in 1905. Mail was dropped off and picked up from a box or bag at the farm gate. Newspapers, groceries and other goods were also delivered. At post offices in small towns, you could bank money and enrol to vote as well as send letters. People protested when many were closed in the 1980s.

Telegraph and telephone

By the 1890s the telegraph reached many small towns. Later, telephones became essential for farmers. Most had party lines, with up to 10 customers, who shared a single connection and could listen to each other’s conversations if they wished.

News and information

People got news by word of mouth, and from small local newspapers. From the 1930s, book vans brought library services to country areas. Radio and television have always been important to rural people – but sometimes coverage is poor in remote places. Today, the internet is a major source of information for farmers.

Health

Country people’s isolation means access to health services can be difficult. From early times, country GPs (doctors) and nurses travelled long distances to visit patients. Today, doctors carry out operations on patients in a surgical bus, and helicopters fly sick people to hospital.

Fire and police

Fire was used to clear bush, and sometimes got out of control. Today, rural firefighters are volunteers. Police often have to travel a long way to reach country areas.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Rural services', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/rural-services (accessed 27 June 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Nov 2008