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Frontier Of Dreams

Sundays 6.40am | TV ONE

Episode Nine: The Rise and Fall of Happy Homes 1918-1935

This episode tells the story of New Zealand in the years immediately following the First World War.  For a while the country recovered and prospered, only to face collapse when the Great Depression began.  It was a time of hope and despair, a period marked by "the rise and fall of happy homes."

The tragic loss of life in the First World War was compounded by a worldwide pandemic in 1918.  Our soldiers came home, bringing the "Spanish flu" with them, which then killed thousands of New Zealanders.  Maori suffered particularly badly, with Te Puea Herangi struggling to keep her Waikato people alive.

We see how the disaster wrought by the flu was a forerunner of postwar social and political unrest and economic recession.  But in the 1920s things improved.  The economy expanded, exports grew and the government, led by Bill Massey, introduced education and pension reforms.

The smartest thing the government did was to provide loans for ordinary people to buy their own homes.  Suburbs spread out, as the California bungalow with its "mod cons" became the house of choice.  Cars, radios and vacuum cleaners were popular consumer items.  People enjoyed sport, gardening and the movies.  It was a time of "happy homes."

We meet charismatic Gordon Coates, who became Prime Minister in 1925.  He was a man of action, getting roads and railways built and more dams for hydro-electric power.  He also worked with the experienced Maori MP, Apirana Ngata, to promote Maori culture and land development.

But in 1929 the world economy collapsed and New Zealand was dragged into the Great Depression.  The unpopular, conservative government struggled to cope.  Its cuts to wages and pensions increased the misery of the growing army of the poor and unemployed.  We see people losing their homes and being forced into demeaning, useless work schemes.

Their frustration and anger exploded in 1932, with riots in all our major cities.  We watch ordinary people smashing windows and looting shops along Auckland's Queen Street.  It was a desperate time.

New Zealanders were looking for a radical change and waiting in the wings was the resurgent Labour Party, under its likeable new leader, Michael Joseph Savage.