When is a road a “line”? The curious case of Kairanga County

In keeping with the roading theme [see the last post], I have just finished reading The Line of the Road by M.H. Holcroft, a history of the Manawatu County from 1876 to 1976, published in 1977.

The book was published to commemorate 100 years of the Manawatu County Council (as it was at the time). One of the themes which is reflected strongly both in the book and its title, is the importance of roads and roading (and bridges) in the development of the fledgling county – they were critical to the linking of communities, the distribution of goods, food and building and construction materials, and to get people to schools, hospitals and other facilities (where they existed).

The book reveals that the phrase “the line of the road” appears repeatedly in council minutes. The phrase refers to the process of surveying, which produced the line of a road on plans. Apparently, in the Manawatu, even when roads materialised along these lines, people continued to call them “lines”. Holcroft surmises that this usage may have been common elsewhere in New Zealand, but the appellation persisted long after “lines” in other parts of the country had come to be known as “roads”. He suggests that it perhaps reflected a special need for people to connect with the past.

Indeed, he reveals, in the Manawatu, people were so attached to lines, that a cry of protest went up in 1967 when the Council decreed that lines should henceforeth be roads. Petitions were organised, with pleas for the retention of the old name in certain places. Even the Surveyor General waded in to the debate, suggesting that changes for the sake of uniformity were “hardly justified”, and that the term “line” should not be lightly discarded.

Eventually, all lines were changed to roads, except in what was Kairanga County (see map, right). Even today, a map of Palmerston North and surrounds reveals many lines – mainly to the north and west of the city – such as Rangitikei Line, Newbury Line, Maxwells Line, Gillespies Line, and the less than imaginatively named No. 1 Line.

Thus, this one word reveals not only the process by which roads were conceived, but also the particular way in which the people of this county connected with their history.

Photo: Roadmen working at Rangitikei Line, circa 1917. Looking west to the Mangone Stream workmen lay a concrete road on Rangitikei Line, near the corner of Boundary Road (now Tremaine Avenue). The railway now passes through the centre of this site and the concrete road has been replaced by the approach to the railway ramp. Palmerston North City Library, digitisation ID no.: 2007N_Ro30_WOR_0123

Map: Kairanga County, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, (1966) edited by A. H. McLintock.

Source: The Line of the Road (1977) by M.H. Holcroft,

2 thoughts on “When is a road a “line”? The curious case of Kairanga County

  1. Kirsty January 19, 2021 / 10:34 am

    Thank you for this! I asked as we were driving around Palmy and I am happy to now have an answer

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