The 1920s was a decade of numerous ‘firsts’ in the rapidly developing field of aviation. Pioneer aviator George Bolt had flown New Zealand’s first experimental airmail flight in 1919, and the first scheduled services began in 1921. On 31 January the first flight of the Canterbury Aviation Company’s new airmail service took off from Christchurch, bound for Ashburton and Timaru. On 9 May Bolt himself launched an Auckland–Whāngārei service. But neither venture proved profitable, and they were soon discontinued.
Anzac Day (25 April) was first marked in 1916, on the anniversary of the previous year’s Gallipoli landings. But the staus of this half-day holiday was unclear. In 1920 the government responded to lobbying by the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA) by declaring Anzac Day a full-day public holiday, which was observed for the first time on 25 April 1921. This legislation closed banks and hotels and banned race meetings, but the RSA still wasn’t satisfied. The following year 25 April was effectively ‘Sundayised’, further emphasising its sacred place in the New Zealand calendar.
After the First World War and the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918, Waikato leader Te Puea Hērangi resolved to rebuild a centre for the Māori King movement at Ngāruawāhia, its original home before the land confiscations of the 1860s. Waikato leaders purchased 4 ha of riverside land opposite the township in 1920. The following year Te Puea began moving her people from Mangatāwhiri to build a new marae, called Tūrangawaewae. Years of hard work followed, draining and filling swampy, scrub-covered land and fundraising for buildings. They also had to overcome opposition from Ngāruawāhia’s Pākehā citizens, who initially tried to have them removed from the borough.
A post-war economic boom came to a shuddering halt in late 1921, when the end of Britain’s wartime commandeer of New Zealand farm exports and a worldwide glut of primary produce sparked a short, sharp recession. Income from wool exports tumbled from £19.6 million in 1919 to just £5.2 million in 1921; meat returns slumped from £11.6 million in 1920 to £8.4 million in 1922.
As unemployment soared and industrial unrest mounted, the Reform government responded by slashing state spending, cutting public servants’ wages by up to 10%. Among the worst affected by the recession were discharged soldiers recently settled on farms, many of whom were struggling with large debts, reduced income and often marginal land.