The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1889. NEW ZEALAND FLAX.
Perhaps no product has experienced more remarkable vicissitudes than the fibre of the New Zealand flax (fhormium tenax). Years ago its preparation was an important industry, and it was believed that it would come into increasing and almost world-wide demand, not only for rope-making purposes, but also for themanufacture of the finer kinds of linen, of which, indeed, very beautiful specimens were woven. At the time of which we are writing flax mills were established on every hand, and the export of the dressed fibre began to assume large figures ; but soon a change occurred which wrought disaster to numbers of persons, the demand fell off and the price fell quickly to below a paying rate, causing the stoppage of machinery, the closing of mills and the absolute ruin of not a few of those who had been engaged m the industry. For several years past only a few mills (and these for the most part m the North Island) had carried on operations, and the output of fibre had fallen to very small dimensions, when, »lo>oßt suddenly, the conditions were totally changed and the price of the fibre began steadily to mount up until it now commands m the London market £41 per ton. Naturally, new mills began once more to bo established, for L the price quoted means a clear profit to the manfacturer of from £20 to £25 a ton, and if this can only be kept up the flax industry will yet become one of the mdst important pf the colony's resources. There is quite a boom m flax m the North Island. A correspondent of the N. Z " Times " writes :— " On visiting Foxton a few days ago I could not but remark the change that has come over the tone prevailing m the old town sinoe the opening of the flax industry. For the past three or four years all was gloom and depression ; now every one is bright and hopeful. 1 ' Then on looking down the grass-grown street, you would rarely see a vehicle of , any description, and scarcely a living soul, save perchance some melancholy looking individual at a loss to know what to do with himself. Now on the contrary, there are signs of life and activity m the shape of drpyg laden with machinery, coal, or provisions for the mills, or with bales of flax returning therefrom ; passengers on horse or foot trho evidently have business on hand, and tradesmen who instead of being hopelessly despondent and apparently weary of existence, now seem as if there waß something to live for. The change is very marked. There are now m the immediate neighborhood 28 mills either at work or within a few days of completion. Some of them are primitive affairs, it is true, but taking one with another the total monthly output cannot be much less than 400 tons of dressed fibre, and directly and indirectly 1 suppose not less than six hundred pairs of hands are finding employment, where so recently all was stagnation. Those who hold flax land are reaping a splendid harvest and many farmers are, for the time being, leaving the land to care for itself, as they are finding more profitable employment m connection with the mills, fcmall patches, which were almost worth* less, are now of value as drying grounds, and the white fibre spread over the paddocks, which is being diligently tossed and tedded, quite gives one the idea of harvesting operations m the'hay season ot Home. Some of the mills. are going night and day, - the great object being to take advantage of the high prices now ruling." This is a very pleasing state of things, and if the high pricas can be depended upon to continue, or anything like th.em, then, instead of clearing off flax out of the way of agriculture, wetßhall have to go m for planting it as one of the best paying of all possible crops — as we well recollect hearing an old settler predict many years ago would one day be the case. It is, therefore, a matter of great interest to ascertain whether the high rates now ruling are due to some temporary cause, such as the shortness of supply of other classes of fibre, or whether they are due to the good qualities of New Zealand flax haying at last established themselves and created an assured market. In order to this our Christchurch contemporary, the '* Lyttelton Times," suggests that the Government should, appoint a Commission to inquire
and report, and the suggestion, we think, is an admirable one which Bhould be acted upon without loss of time. Meantime we have come across a para- 1 graph m the " Bangitikei Advocate " ) which goes to show that the former '•ex- 1 planation of the rise in -value is the true J one, our contemporary stating that it J " has been informed on good authority that the flax is put to many uses that we scarcely dream of m this colony. It is dressed with great care until the fibre is as fine as silk. It is said that m Coventry a machine is m use by means of which the fibre is so prepared as to be made into Brussels carpet, and it is also being mixed with silk, m certain fabrics." Commenting upon this the " New Zealand Times " adds, " If these statements are, correct, and there is no reason at present to doubt them, then our flax millers have a bright future before them ; for when British manu facturers find out the true value of the fibre, there is practically no limit to. the uses to which it can be put, and the inventive genius of Great Britain will not be idle m devising new machinery to work up into many other forms oar useful plant. There is great scope for tbe noble army of inventors m this country to use their ingenuity m planning a machine that will subdivide and dress the fibre into filaments fine enough for the carpet or other worker. Buch an invention would advance the price of flax m this colony considerably, and give such a stimulus to the industry that it would rapidly become one of our most important exports."