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A suitable size of land
The quarter-acre section was established in the early years of European settlement as a suitable size for a New Zealand home. It soon became a feature of this country’s way of life, along with pavlova and six-o’clock (pub) closing.
A typical quarter-acre section had a street frontage of 66 feet (20.1m) – corresponding to the standard surveyor’s measuring “chain” – and a length of 165 ft (50.3m). Because many early sections were carved out of thick bush, owners may have pitched a tent in a clearing until something more substantial could be built.
Immigrants from Britain were used to rows of terrace houses with little land attached. By comparison, New Zealand’s quarter-acres allowed sizeable gaps between neighbouring houses. There was also room for a vegetable garden, a vital part of the domestic economy until the 1960s. Another useful feature of the quarter-acre section was that it had room for a septic tank to deal with toilet waste, before the days of the mains sewage system.
This standard-sized section came to represent the New Zealand dream – hence Austin Mitchell’s description of this country in 1972 as “The Half-Gallon, Quarter Acre, Pavlova Paradise”.
New Zealand in the mid 1960s was one of the best housed nations in the world with one dwelling for every four persons. The dream of home ownership could be realised by taking an advance on the family benefit, the weekly Government grant paid for dependent children. The typical house of the day was built of timber – a plentiful material and one suitable for a country prone to earthquakes. Such a house was weather boarded, on one level, of 1,000 sq. ft (93 sq. metres) and with three bedrooms and a corrugated iron roof.
The house was usually set back from the street, with a flower garden and a regularly mown lawn presenting a tidy image to the world. It was usually built at one side of the quarter-acre section with a concrete drive running down the other to the garage or car shed. The back section was the place for the more practical vege garden and fowl house and perhaps a tool shed for recreational tinkering and, of course, a kids’ hut or home cricket pitch. From the back door of the house a path led to a revolving clothesline.
The quarter-acre has become in cities and larger towns a thing of the past. While suburban sections have shrunk, fewer New Zealanders now have the time to maintain such large plots of land. As a result, vege gardens and fowl houses are no longer a regular feature of the New Zealand backyard.