Just under a million people lived in New Zealand in 1907, but cities such as Auckland and Wellington were growing rapidly. Suburbs were expanding, and electric trams, motor cars and cinemas were multiplying. Distinctive cultural and intellectual traditions were developing. Locally composed classical music was played at the Christchurch Exhibition of 1906/07. Novels and poetry about ‘Maoriland’ were enormously popular.
Maori remained a largely rural people, but, after decades of population decline, their numbers were rising. The term ‘Young Maori Party’ denoted a new generation of leaders, such as Apirana Ngata, who would make an enormous impact on the country.
Britain was still the main source of migrants. By 1907, most people living here had been born in New Zealand. Ties to the British Empire and Anglo-Saxon racial identity were strong. Through the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori too claimed a special relationship with the British Crown. It became increasingly difficult for non-white people to settle here.
The Liberal government, now led by Joseph Ward, had dominated the political scene since the 1890s. It promoted New Zealand as the world’s social laboratory, a ‘workingman’s paradise’ where hard work and thrift paid off. Reality did not always match rhetoric. The country was reasonably prosperous, but wealth trickled down haphazardly. The white-collar sector was growing, and more women were moving into paid work (before marriage, at least), but life could be precarious for the old, the sick, Maori, and the many who relied on seasonal work.
Transport and communication links were expanding. In 1907 the North Island main trunk railway line was nearing completion after more than two decades of construction; it would open in late 1908. The Union Steam Ship Company introduced the modern steamer Maori on the Wellington–Lyttelton route in 1907. The number of telephone subscribers rose by more than one-third in 1907 alone.
Extractive industries – timber, coal, gold, flax and kauri gum – remained important, but the agricultural economy was thriving. Britain absorbed most of New Zealand’s production, which centred on the processing and export of frozen meat and dairy products.
The adoption of dominion status was just one of many significant events in 1907. The Plunket Society came into being that year, heralding further improvement in child health. Two of the country’s best-loved publications, the Edmonds cookery book and the School Journal, appeared for the first time. The first issue of Wellington’s Dominion newspaper was published on 26 September. Cricket’s interprovincial Plunket Shield was first contested in the summer of 1906/07. Women’s basketball (netball) arrived in the country, and the first New Zealand rugby league team toured overseas. The first New Zealand Open golf championship was held, and in tennis, Anthony Wilding and his Australian partner defeated the mother country to win the Davis Cup for ‘Australasia’.