Social relations and class divisions in the Te Aroha district
Hart, P. (2016). Social relations and class divisions in the Te Aroha district. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 118). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
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Although the nature of mining encouraged mateship amongst miners, this ideal was weakened as companies increasingly dominated mining districts. As miners liked to work for themselves to obtain the highest possible financial return and the more proficient ones became managers, should they be regarded as working class or as middle class? But although there were class distinctions, blatant divisions and delusions of grandeur were discouraged, and mining fields displayed at worst a superficial egalitarianism and at best genuine social unity on at least some occasions and issues. Te Aroha, unlike Waiorongomai, was not a typical mining township because of the residents’ close involvement with farmers and tourists, mingling with the latter in the hot pools and when they visited the goldfield. Examples are given of tourists being actively involved in the social life of Te Aroha. Class divisions increased as mining faded, as illustrated by the clothing and jewellery sported by the ‘upper ten’ of Te Aroha compared with their poorer neighbours, a contrast also apparent at the more lower-class settlement of Waiorongomai. But despite sartorial distinctions, all sections of Pakeha society mingled at dances, concerts, entertainments, church, and sport; some Maori participated also, especially in rugby, but remained basically separated from the new society that had taken over their district. Although some younger residents may have admired the antics of ‘new chums’ and remittance men playing at being miners and generally enlivening social life, those who understood that a new field required serious miners disapproved of those who treated mining as a game. Some highly respectable people were on friendly terms with other residents, and some workers with pretensions liked to describe themselves as ‘gentlemen’, but such snobs were liable to be deflated by those who did not regard them as their betters. As was usual, the less respectable people at the bottom of the social scale were looked down upon. There was general resistance to a ‘clique’ of elite members of the community attempting to control the latter and, in particular, the mines for their own benefit. In elections for local bodies, some men stood explicitly as representatives of working men. But all involved in the industry, whether miners, managers, owners, or investors, were united in trying to uphold its interests.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart
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