The response to depression : Rangitikei County, 1928-1935 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at Massey University

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This thesis examines the effect of the depression of 1929-35 on one rural area - Rangitikei County - and its interior boroughs. First, it deals briefly with the history of the county and second, identifies and evaluates the various local responses made to the depression by Government, local bodies, charitable organizations, farmers and the spokesmen of political parties. The predominant response to the depression within Rangitikei was conservative and introspective. Local bodies, faced with the responsibility of administering relief schemes used relief labour to help subsidise their own operations, particularly the maintenance of roading. Many of the Unemployment Board schemes were unsuited to rural areas, a fact that irked local bodies who were called on to administer them. Other schemes were not always administered in accordance with the directives of the Unemployment Board due to varying interpretations and local needs. During the depression there developed an undercurrent of distrust and antagonism between local bodies and the Unemployment Board, adversely affecting the crucial relationship between local and central government. Local bodies in Rangitikei responded to the depression by making drastic cuts in capital works and by using the Unemployment Fund to subsidise their own labour costs. Although local rates were substantially reduced, most local bodies increased the amounts they held in credit. By refusing to maintain their capital works programme, particularly in regards roading, and by their reluctance to use relief labour for developmental work, many of the local bodies left a legacy of incomplete work to their successors. Although unemployment in Rangitikei was less of a problem than in larger urban areas, local groups and organisations provided substantial amounts of relief for distressed families. But the longer the depression went on the less generous people became. Some charitable groups did accumulate substantial amounts of relief but were unsure how to disperse it, or were seemingly reluctant to do so. Consequently, several groups ended 1935 still holding funds accumulated for the purpose of unemployment relief. The response of the farmers echoed the mood of introspection and retrenchment. Many farmers saw the relief schemes as a way out of their financial difficulties and used them as sources of cheap labour. Few used them for the developmental works for which they were intended. Although the recipients of much of the Government's attention, many farmers were increasingly disgruntled both with the nature and timing of legislation and the criticism they received over their use of relief labour. M.P.'s for Rangitikei electorate, from 1928 to 1938 varied considerably in their attitudes to social and economic problems. More-over the electorate throughout was volatile resulting in the defeat of the sitting Member at each successive election. Dissatisfaction with the handling of national problems particularly unemployment, was to be the main factor in accounting for political change rather than the personalities of the candidates.
Depression, Economic conditions, Rangitikei County, New Zealand, History