WANTED, GUM DIGGERS.
Observer, Rōrahi XI, Putanga 746, 15 Paengawhāwhā 1893, Page 3
WANTED, GUM DIGGERS.
A TEMPTING PEOSPECT. (Fbom Sydney 'Tbuth.') Effobts have been reoently made to induce New South Wales workers to go to Auckland province for the purpose of digging kauri gum. An advertisement also appeared in last Saturday's Herald, asking for twenty men to ' make up a party ' for this purpose. Truth would solemnly warn working men against being led away on such a fool's errand. Always a precarious acd most arduous mode of making a living, gumdigging has become of late years a bare existence for the alltoo-many engaged in the thankless toil. During the season of cruel depression hundreds of the better class of young city men were driven to fall back on the pursuit by their inability to find employment in their own sphere. This alone overcrowded the thrice-worked fields, but to add to the disadvantages of the occupation, of late years numbers of Italian and Hungarian aliens have been induced to immigrate to Maoriland, and have further assisted in working out the extremely limited area where this 'vegetable mineral' is found. The kauri tree only grows, or grew, from the North Cape to the Waikato Biver, and of the available area large tracts have been long ago worked out, even private lands having been leased again and again till there is scarcely a ti-tree or fern waste in the whole province, which is not one grey sheet under the light growth of overturned sods, the mark of the gumdigger's spade. The life would be a wretched one even if the returns were good, but as things are, the many wretched people employed only just exist and no more. They are always in debt to the storekeeper, and must perforce turn in their gum to him at whatever price he chooses to allow. HOW THE BACKET IS WOBKED. A correspondent, writing with reference to the advertisement above-mentioned, says : — ' Anyone who has searched the papers day after day, and has followed the ignis fatuvs to some distant suburb only to return weary and footsore from a fruitless tramp, can appreciate the welcome reception accorded a bait like the following : — WANTED— 20 Respectable Men to make up a party going Gumdigging on private field, New Zealand. Apply N.Z. Labour Agency, 19, Macquarie-place, Sydney. Head Office, Auckland. The above appeared in last Saturday's isaue of the aforesaid journal, and was supplemented in the morning paper of the following Monday by an additional call for ' ten more men— steamer sailing Saturday.' Your humble servant immediately called at the office in Macquarie Place, and found a score or more of applicants eager to ' dig gum.' As soon as the official ear could be borrowed, the following facts were elicited : Victim : ' I called in reference to, etc.' Official : ' Yes, yes, one moment, &c.' Victim : ' Please explain your programme. I take it for granted you pay passage to the gold (beg pardon, gum) fields ?' Official : ' Oh, no ! you Bee it's like this. You pay your own passage to Auckland by steamer, 30s. Then it costs 10s more to reach thegumfields, and £1 for right to dig. Then you must have enough to keep yourself the first week, and after that you should be able to knock out from £2 10s to £3 a week. In fact I know one man (there's always a sample of thiß sort kept in stock at these places) who is making his £4 a week, but (mark this) of course we don't guarantee this.' A Bystander: 'Strikes me a bloke wants a ten-pound note for this racket !' Official : ' Oh, no, by no means ; £4, a Bpade and spear, and you're all right.' Victim : • Yes, but anyone can go to New Zealand and dig gum without your valuable aid if he has this amount of coin.' Official : ' Well, you see, we take the party over ' (sort of Cook's tour business), ' and put you right on the gentleman's land, and he is an M.P., etc., etc., and you sell your gum to him.' Victim ; ' Oh, I see, you mmt sell the gum to him, and not elsewhere, if you can get a better price?' Official : ' Well (hesitating), you might arrange with him, etc., but you will find it better to let him take it.'
By this time the*writer> was ' full up.' He is not going to the gumfields of N.Z. Truth strongly advises the men of New South Wales to look before they leap ' oat of the frying-pan' into the fire.' Apropos of what we have written, the republication of the following verses, which appeared in an Auckland paper some 22 years ago, when gum could be got, will bear out our remarks: — THE GUM DIGGER. Away o'er the gloomy hills, Away from the city's hum, Away over river, and swamp and range, Where white feet seldom come, A figure so lone May be daily seen Engaged in digging gam. Away o'er the dreary hills You'll follow the wild pig's track, Away over river, and swamp and range, Through forests of supple-jack, There he toils till he fags A figure in rags That are rotting on his back. Away o'er the cold, bleak hills, His refuge from the storm A nikau hut, with a bed of fern, A blanket to keep him warm, An outcast of hope And beyond the scope Of friendship in any form. Away o'er the silent hills. Where all seems dead or dumb ; Away over river, and swamp and range, Where white feet seldom come, The skeleton gray May be found some day Of him who was digging gum.