Wednesday, 10 September 2008

What a Difference a Hundred Years Makes

I was trolling through PapersPast as I like to do and found this little entry in the Otago Witness from one hundred years ago this month.

The town was buzzing with live entertainment, good weather, great crops, a booming building trade and a desire to upgrade the appearance of the Otautau River (some things don't change). But many other things have. We are so reliant on tv, radio, videos and the internet for entertainment that live performances such as mentioned below are the exception not the rule. But rather than editorialise on the past, this is a peek at what life was like in Otautau in 1908.

OTAUTAU. September 18. — During the past month we have experienced lovely spring weather. Most of the surrounding farmers have their sowing well advanced, whilst some have quite finished, so we may reasonably anticipate early crops during the coming season. The entire absence of severe frost during the past winter has given the grass an early start, and the country looks green and pleasing to the eye.

Entertainments. — These have come in quick succession — balls, socials, soirees and minstrel performance. The patronage forms an index of the prosperity of Otautau. At the Presbyterian social, presided over by the Rev. A. Mocdonald, the Town Hall was packed. Mr Macdonald, who is universally esteemed by all denominations, has most acceptably held the charge for a period of 17 years. At his address he dwelt upon the progress and prosperity of the church, the Sunday school, and the Bible classes, and invoked God's blessing upon all during the coming year. The Rev. A. Kirkland gave an address on "Reading and Studying God's Word." The Rev. Cfc A. Gray spoke eloquently on "Church Work." The musical programme, under the accomplished management of Mrs Cupples, was much appreciated and heartily applauded. The demonstrations of approval were for a while unfortunately marred by hideous whistling on the part of a few unmannerly youths, but the scathing remonstrance from the chairman was effectual. The choir, which is both capable and efficient, gave two pleasing anthems. The vocalists were the Misses Gould, Scatter, Adams, and Coucher, the Rev. J. Kirkland, and Messrs Pram, Wilson, Glen, and Thompson. Miss Gow played a pianoforte solo very pleasingly. During an interval, refreshments were handed round by the young people of the congregation. At the close of the programme Mr J. Fisher moved a hearty vote of thanks to the speakers, singers, and all who had contributed towards the enjoyable gathering.

— On the 9th inst. the Winton Brass Band Minstrels gave a performance in the Town Hall. This was also well patronised, and met with general approbation. At the close a most enjoyable dance was held to music supplied by Briasco's Band. On the following evening, in the same place, the Anglican Church social was held. This was really a great treat. The hall, being artistically decorated, was packed with an eager audience, who heartily enjoyed a splendid programme, connoting of vocal and instrumental music, tableaux, recitations, and step-dancing. It was undoubtedly a most delightful entertainment, and reflects the utmost credit on those responsible for the programme and management.

— On the 11th the annual Oddfellows' ball in connection with Aparima Lodge came off in the hall, and proved a great success. Some 70 couples took part in the grand march, led off by Miss Scatter and Mr Blatch. The music in the capable hands of Miss Gardiner (piano), Messrs Egan Bros, (violins), and F. B. King (cornet), gave general satisfaction. The catering, in the hands of Mr T. A. Chilton, was all that could be desired. The floor, in splendid order, was under the management of Mr McFaden. Dancing was kept going with unflagging interest till early morning, when everyone left for home after a capital night's enjoyment.

The Church. — A course of addresses on popular subjects, given by the Rev. A. Macdonald in the Presbyterian Church during the past few months, have been much appreciated by unusually large congregations. On a recent Sunday, Mr Macdonald took for his text, "Fight the good fight of faith." During an eloquent sermon he drew a vivid contrast between the degrading exhibition of the recent fight between Burns and Squires and the Christian fight of faith constantly going on between good and evil. On a subsequent Sabbath, to an overflowing congregation, the preacher based his discourse on "Woman in the Home," in which he traced the condition and influence of woman from the earliest period, under various stages of bondage, up to her present high sphere of influence amongst civilised nations. The address made a deep impression for good, and no doubt will be long remembered by those privileged to listen to it.

Local Scenery. — A letter which appeared recently in the Otautau Standard drew attention to the wanton destruction of native trees and shrubs growing along the banks of the Otautau River. The writer deplored such silly, stupid conduct, and invoked the assistance of residents in efforts to conserve Nature's beauty spots. This letter brought out a very able leading article in the following number of the Standard, in which the writer suggests the formation of a society for systematically beautifying and improving both the river and the town surroundings generally. The Otautau River, which at present is a menace and danger to the safety of the town, might with systematic management at a small outlay be made into a source of beauty and pleasure. Fifty years ago the Avon in Christchurch was a mere ditch, overgrown with watercress, raupo, and aquatic weeds — a perfect eyesore. Now it is a thing of beauty and a joy to the citizens. It is earnestly to be hoped that the practical suggestions so ably and timely set forth in the leader may be the means of stirring up the townspeople to the importance of beautifying the Domain and the river, and thereby lend much additional attraction to the town.

New Buildings. — The building trade appears brisk. In the main street Mr Parmenter is extending his premises by the addition of two new shops. Mr F. Crawford also is putting up a new shop. Mr W. Scatter is busy with the addition to the school. New houses are being erected on Eton and Chester streets, whilst several buildings are under way in North Otautau. The contractor for the new courthouse is making very good progress with the building. Indeed, the boom in the building trade may be regarded as evidence of confidence in the future of the town.

Town Board. — At the biennial election seven members for the Otautau Town Board, held on the 16th inst., the following gentlemen were duly nominated: Messrs A. H. Officer, J. D. Salton, E. Matheson, senr., R. Scatter, R. Ford, F. B. King, M. O'Brien, G. M. Ross, T. A. Chilton, and R. Cupples, jun. The poll resulted in the election of the first-named seven respectively in order of votes polled, ranging from 232 votes recorded for Mr Officer, to 382 for Mr O'Brien. Keen interest was taken in the event by the ratepayers as evidenced by the number of votes recorded — namely, 1930. Of these, 17 were informal. Mr J. Fisher presided as returning officer.

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