This year marks the centenary of the first soldiers from the First World War settling in the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka Valleys as part a government rehabilitation scheme for returned soldiers. Land in the Mangapurua and the nearby Kaiwhakauka Valleys was offered to soldiers returning from military service during the First World War under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act of 1915. At the height of settlement, almost forty returned servicemen and their families resided in the these valleys.
It has become enshrined in New Zealand folklore that the soldier settlers could not cope with the environmental and economic conditions of the day and just walked off their farms. However there is evidence that shows significant aspects of the soldier settlers' stories have been misunderstood and misrepresented for many reasons. This traditional notion of failure is also closely tied to assumptions about the high cost and poor quality of land involved and the inexperience and under-capitalisation of the settlers.
The distribution of the land and the on-going support for settlers by the Government was the result of a deliberate policy in response to uncertain economic conditions during that period. That the farming experience was not as the soldiers expected, the dominating image to have survived is that the soldiers were betrayed and this was based upon the strength of their moral claims to recognition and recompense from the community for which they had fought.
Given some of the intriguing decisions made by the governments of the day, including the building of the iconic concrete bridge now universally known as “The Bridge to Nowhere”, (that when finished served no farms and was seldom used), it’s little wonder that the valleys prosperity waned. However with everything that was aligned against the settlers, some did manage to survive reasonably well and in the end it was not any ineptitude on their part that the scheme was destined to collapse, but from factors very much outside their control.
An ongoing feature of the valleys is that they are now being frequented far more regularly than they were during their farming heydays. Now part of New Zealand’s 3000km Te Araroa trail, stretching from Cape Reinga in the north of to Bluff in the south, these valleys see thousands of walkers and cyclists every year, experiencing the remoteness and tranquility of this area that is now part of the Whanganui River National Park.
Today large tracts of the valley have become overgrown with ponga ferns and regenerating native bush and only a few remains of the abandoned scheme exist. These include the Mangapurua Road, stands of exotic trees, culverts and some scattered evidence of bridges and the soldiers' residences and farming development work. Our society takes a keen interest in the ongoing development taking place in the valleys by many members of our society.