Sunday, March 27, 2016

The tales to tell of "Kernel Bell"

These days if I, as a townie Aucklander, say the phrase "Winterless North" to my Northland friends, they'll likely roll their eyes and give me that "Oh yeah?" look. Because yes, there is such a thing as a cold, wet, muddy winter in Northland. 

The blame, if it could be called that, for the cliche still being used today seems to rest with one Col. Allen Bell (c.1860-1936), born in Leeston, Canterbury, who had served with Bechuanaland Border Police during the Matabele and Boer Wars in South Africa, before returning here in 1902. Perhaps it was the Waikato winters on his farm there that really brought home to him the climate difference between there and his new home from 1914 up in Kaitaia and the Far North. 

He didn't come up with "winterless north", by the way. T Mandeno Jackson was using that phrase in the Dominion to flog off sections in Dargaville and the Northern Wairoa to Wellingtonians from 1912. But Bell certainly popularised it. 

President of the North Auckland Development Board, Kaitaia Chamber of Commerce and organiser of the first meeting of the Government Roads Movement, he encouraged MPs to venture north to try out the abysmal roads for themselves, and constantly pushed for better connections for the North with the rest of the country. He won the Bay of Islands seat in 1922, and set up a newspaper shortly after, the "Northland Age", running it for 11 years. He died at Parengarenga on the night of 14 October 1936. 

What piqued my interest was this paragraph from Neva Clarke McKenna's book Mangonui: Gateway to the Far North (1990), writing about a local Mangonui paper called "On Guard": 
"Now and then a good-natured jibe was printed at Colonel Allen Bell of Kaitaia, who coined the phrase 'the Winterless North'. One such jibe read: "Oh, Kernel Bell, oh Kernel Bell, how many a tale he has to tell. Of acres broad and winterless, and sunny climes and loveliness. His joyous smile and pushing way has made Kaitaia's heart feel gay. And while he's sections still to sell, we'll hear some more of Kernel Bell. And so 'twill be when he is gone -- we'll have a job to carry on. But one thing sure, where'er he dwell, he'll advertise, will Kernel Bell."
Image: NZ Truth 4 February 1926