Waitaki District deputy mayor Hugh Perkins acknowledged the efforts of politician Sir John McKenzie during the formal part of Palmerston’s 150th anniversary celebrations yesterday.
Mr McKenzie has long been a hero in the eyes of Palmerston residents and a cairn sits atop the town’s largest hill, Puketapu, to commemorate the former Minister of Lands and Agriculture 1981-1900.
Cr Perkins said Mr McKenzie was both a populist politician and a social engineer who helped put Palmerston and surrounding districts on the map.
‘Jock’ McKenzie had a vision for 320-640 acre farms or one man units, he said, to get as many people as possible with appropriate farm skills and reasonable capital into farm ownership through a ballot system.
“The Liberal government borrowed overseas funds to buy great estates, like Campbell Park Estate in North Otago, and helped smaller farmers to acquire land.
“They said these blocks shouldn’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder.”
Instead the government set up the ballot system and lent people the shortfall of funds required so that hardworking farming families, like those in the Waihemo ward, could farm their own land.
“He was the architect of a system which was still in place when I arrived in the seventies,” Cr Perkins said.
A plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of Palmerston was unveiled in front of about 20 people yesterday and was set amongst three newly-planted kowhai trees on the mainstreet.
A water fountain donated to the community by the Gateway to Gold Charitable Trust was also unveiled. The anniversary coincided with the Palmerston Playcentre 50th anniversary and the annual run to the top of Puketapu hill, Kelly’s Canter. Eighty-five entries were received for the race.
Cr Perkins used the opportunity to comment on the erosion of infrastructure in provincial towns like Palmerston. He said Palmerston and Kurow had lost their banks and now Oamaru have lost their courthouse.
“These things are important and yet they are being allowed to wither away.”
He said for places to be productive the ‘near liberal thing’ that the market will work it out was not good enough.
“You need rural infrastructure.”
By LINDA MCCARTHY
PHOTO: SUPPLIED – Kate Holland, of Sport Otago, and Waitaki district deputy mayor Hugh Perkins on top of Puketapu Hill, Palmerston.