1908: Wellington State Monopoly, Chinks Only!
January 28, 2019
For over a century the Chinese have secured a special place in the New Zealand marketplace. In the C19th most, not all, of our Chinamen were peasants grubbing for gold others couldn’t even be bothered re-working to extract. Most of these returned to the Orient and were made very unwelcome by Liberals politicians such as Seddon and Reeves who exploited and abused them to signal to their bigoted working-class electorate.
It all changed at the turn of the century when shop-keeper Chinese in Wellington were given an anchor into New Zealand- our fruit retail market…
“Many of us remember well the daily or weekly trip to the local shops to buy our food supplies – meat, bread, milk, fruit and veges. Often, the fruit and vege shop was run by a Chinese family, all working together to provide the customer with the freshest fruit and produce, always accompanied by personalised service.”- Text From: The Fruits of Our Labours: Chinese Fruit Shops in New Zealand; Old Auckland
Killing the Kiwi Villiage
Auckland’s and Wellington’s green grocer shops were almost always Chinese. It was an era of specialist stores that came to an end with the rise of the supermarkets and malls of the 1970s. Specific green grocer and butchers and bakeries and fishmongers, once common specialities in every New Zealand town, withered. The new supermarkets were self-service: Customers just walk isles and tracks loading into a wheeled trolly. Shopping became an unromantic and un-communal drive-through business rather than part of our social fabric.
As to why? My answer is that American culture won WW2 and they imposed their mass production and mass consumption models on the subjugated. Our Baby Boomers, near-sociopathic, didn’t miss anything by exchanging a village community delivery system of goods and services for an impersonal lower-quality bulk version. They didn’t care anyway, did not attach. Their parents, on the other hand, had their hearts broken because shopping to them was a very personal and community task.Their beloved Four Square had risen serving them but now Four Square fell as the new generation turned away. What used to be warehouse work, picking orders into trollys from among bulk cargo, has been successfully transferred to the consumer himself. Isn’t that exactly your experience shopping at Pak’nSave or The Warehouse? And don’t those names give it all away? A totally different proposition to your great grandmas’ shopping quests into town.
An Anchor into New Zealand- our fruit retail market
The Chinese fruit shop, like Four Square, had had its day from about the 1970s. That was OK. Like everyone else they adapted to the new economic conditions. By this point in time there was big insider network of Chinese to do business with. Most of them seem to live in Howick and Botany. After the 1930s Chinese woman and children were not disallowed into New Zealand. The Chinese had farming, the restaurant business, and teaching each other to play the piano.
In particular, the modern equivalent to the ubiquitous Chinese Fruit Shop of yesteryear is the bakery. Specifically, for those with the right clan sign, The Hollywood Bakery est. 1995. These are all over Auckland now and frequently staffed by new immigrant Chinese beginning to learn English. So, it’s much the same as always but remember the ‘underground rail road’ of Chinese started out with the political favours for their fruit shops…
Me sellie fluit at any plice now!
In February 1908 Wellington City Council regulated the age-old street hawkers, installing stands controlled by themselves and banning stalls from the city completely. This was utterly to the benefit of Chinese greengrocers; “Me sellie fluit at any plice now, ha ha!” they are quoted as thinking.
Wellington was now finally dependent on Chinese for buying their fruit and vegitables. The Europeans who had tried to make a buck with their hand carts in the street were before part of city life in New Zealand and in our culture back to antiquity and beyond. Willing buyers were now out of luck, the state had shut them down forever.
Christchurch appears, as you would expect, to have had no truck with Chinese during this time. English for English; No dealing with Asiatics.
As for Auckland,
We take the Chinese vegitables in future; he is so much cheaper than you.- ref. Observer
Auckland’s fruit and vegetable market, almost as much as Wellington’s, was dominated by the Chinese. The free market competition from hawkers had long since been kicked out here before the Chinese had fully consolidated the marketplace. I cannot detect any political interference here so the Chinese success seems to be owed to their willingness to work hard for huge turnover at small profits- but enough to give these families that essential foothold to make a go of New Zealand.
ref. William Tullibardine Murray vs. the Chinese Growers; Timespanner
Image ref. Competitive Chinese in Auckland; Observer, 1896
Image ref. Wellington City grants monopoly rights to Chinese; Freelance; Papers Past
Image ref. Bakery, gartshore.co.nz
Image ref. NZ modern supermarket; Speedracer
Image ref. Woman picking orders; Food Logistics