Foxton, its site and changing function.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
To understand the present geographic character of Foxton, some knowledge of its history is essential, and it is therefore regrettable that no history of the town has ever been published. Many of the pioneer records have now been lost and so the historical section of this work is far from exhaustive. But with the material available the main periods have been outlined, and in studying the town's changing function the importance of the historical factors has been developed. It is one of the oldest settlements on the New Zealand west coast and yet, in spite of its relatively long history, the Foxton region is poorly roaded and the only existing map is a provisional wartime sheet. Consequently, certain of the illustrations lack detail and their boundaries are approximations based largely on field work, but they portray most of the salient features of the region.
The pioneer settlement at Foxton was colloquially known throughout the North Island as the town of "flax, fires and fleas”. It was a crude, solitary trading station at a river crossing forty miles from the nearest settlement, and in it pakeha and Maori mixed indiscriminately. The Manawatu River gave access to large flax producing areas, and it was this that attracted the traders and led to its early prominence. Even today Foxton to most New Zealanders means only one thing - flax. This is a recognition of the fact that since 1840 Foxton has been the centre of flax trading 1n New Zealand, and, because of its present national importance, a description of' the industry is given in Appendix 1.
Another less obvious but vitally important feature in a study of Foxton is the story of its Maori population. Today the younger Maori has no interest in his racial history and only a few old chiefs know anything of the story of the early Maori people, but only in their history can be found the reasons for the present serious native problem. Because of its special significance an appendix on the Maori lands is included in this work, for in a very definite way the future of Foxton is bound up with the future of the Maori and this land.
However, the Foxton of 1947 is more than a centre of Maoris and the flax processing; it is a town, the function of which has slowly but inevitably been changed by the geographic factors of location and changing transport routes and methods. The two factors which made Foxton pre-eminent in its early history have gradually reacted against it and altered its character completely. So in this brief study the salient features are outlined in a description of the site and changing function of what is one of the most interesting areas in New Zealand.