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Petone's First 100 Years (1940)

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An Appreciation by
Hon. Walter Nash.

Minister of Finance and Member for the District.
Petone is to celebrate its hundredth year of settlement. A simple—an unimpressive statement—but what a crowded story of development it unfolds. A story of the transformation of a forest valley into one of the foremost industrial centres of the Dominion. A story of hope and failure, of tragedy and humour, of racial contact both friendly and unfriendly; of spectacular achievement and slow, solid work, of all the tiresome humdrum alongside the heroic striving and perseverance which must always play so large a part in successful pioneering effort. Progress is essentially a relative term, to be judged in the light of the standards, the values and the ideals of the society in which we live. If extensive engineering workshops, modern assembly plants, large woollen, tobacco, soap, and other factories, to mention only a few of Petone's many industrial enterprises—if these, together with busy shops, a rapidly growing population, efficient municipal services, and all manner of social and recreational amenities—are a sign of progress, and in this age of industrialisation who can deny it—then Petone's advancement has surely been remarkable.
It is interesting to speculate on what the feelings must have been of those enterprising souls who disembarked from the Tory, at the end of the beach at 'Pito-one,' on September 20th, 1839. What would be their feelings to-day if they could gaze upon the results of their endeavours? It is a question that must remain unanswered. But at least we can appreciate the achievements of the past and pay homage to those who first took up the task.
In 1878 the population of Petone was only a few hundreds. That year saw the establishment of the Railway Workshops alongside the Petone Station, and of the Gear Slaughterhouse which, for many years, was the largest south of the Line. It is not without significance that from then onwards the population showed a steady increase. In 1885 came the erection of the Petone Woollen Mills, followed by other industries too numerous to mention. In 1901 the population had reached 3,780. In subsequent years the rate of increase has been greatly accelerated until to-day the population stands at the impressive figure of over 11,000. Petone's progress during the present century is largely the story of quiet and efficient municipal activity. Gasworks were established, recreation grounds purchased, drainage and water schemes planned,
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a stopbank built to protect the town from flooding, roads made, footpaths kerbed and channelled—in short all the work necessary to make the Borough a healthy and attractive place for people to live and work in, was energetically undertaken.
The history of Petone, as a Borough, dates only from 1888, when a Borough Council, as it is at present constituted, came into being. From 1882 to 1888 a Town Board had administered the affairs of the township, while up to 1882 the Hutt County Council was the responsible authority. On an occasion such as this it is fitting that a special tribute should be paid to the many Petone citizens whose past public services have contributed in such large measure to Petone's present-day prosperity as a centre of industry and civic achievement equalled only by its wealth of historical associations and pioneering traditions.
As Member for Hutt in the House of Representatives I have necessarily had particularly close associations with Petone for the past ten years. To me, these associations have been consistently happy ones. In watching the progress made even in this comparatively brief time, I have been privileged to share in that feeling of pride and satisfaction which all—and they are many— who have sought to give some measure of personal service to the district must surely have experienced.
To-day the Karaka trees along the beach, under which the first church service was held, are no longer there; the wide, hard, sandy foreshore, the scene of many a colourful race meeting, has greatly changed. The Pas are gone, and with them such picturesque figures as Wharepouri and Te Puni; floods no longer come down the Valley causing panic and destruction, toll bridges no longer span the river and its branches; the journey from Petone to Thorndon no longer has to be made by whaleboat or canoe. The environment has been transformed; the pioneers have passed on. But it is to be hoped that the spirit of pioneering has remained. Petone would be paying poor tribute to her pioneers if her men and women merely accepted what their forbears had achieved without themselves striving for something better. The way to honour the past is to work for the future. Let this be the keynote of our Petone Centennial.
W. Nash.

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