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Revisiting the:

Report
Of
The Committee of Inquiry
Into
The Treatment of Timber by
the Borax Boric-acid rocess!
resented to
The "on# The $inister in Charge of the
%tate &dvances Corporation
'e( )ea*and
on +, 'ovember +-./
0122I'3TO'
R# 1# O01'! 3O41R'$1'T RI'T1R
+-.5
rice ,s#
There has been much understandab*e unhappiness and confusion (ithin 'e( )ea*and
as regards the state of many comp*eted but *ea6ing homes# %ubsequent to these *ea6s!
there (as damage to the interna* framing timbers used in these homes and varieties of
rot then set in#
One a*arming misnomer that (as f*ying about cou*d not pass (ithout comment then#
This is that Boric treatment may *itera**y mean Borer treatment# 7o not get these
fami*iar sounding (ords mixed up (ith each other though8 9rom the ear*y +-.:s and
up unti* the mid +--:s! the requirement for the use of inus radiata! for framing
timber! (as ;ust that it be <treated= (ith Boric acid! a mi*d! (ater so*ub*e! antiseptic
derived from the chemica* e*ement Boron that occurs natura**y and in abundance in the
earth=s crust# &nd amongst its uses >in the form of Boric acid? it can be used as an
externa* agent to treat bacteria* and funga* infections notab*y eye infections and
mouth u*cers# It (as a*so once c*aimed to re*ieve the symptoms of arthritis! but the
evidence for that apparent*y is not very compe**ing# &pp*ied as a treatment to timber it
a*so has fire-retardant properties###
The fo**o(ing is a brief history into the introduction of the Borax - Boric-acid process
for the treatment of timber in 'e( )ea*and# $igration is a*so pertinent here# 'ot
because there is some concern about this! but because it is migration that provides!
and a*(ays has done! much of the impetus in the bui*ding industry a very important
industry in so far as emp*oyment is concerned! at that8

On*y once in 'e( )ea*and=s short 1uropean history has migration ever sta**ed! and the
need for housing remained static! and that (as in the ear*y +-5:s! not that *ong bac6#
'ot that 'e( )ea*and (as an attractive destination then any(ay though# The 'e(
)ea*and historian! rofessor @eith %inc*air! (riting about this period! reca**ed that by
+-5/ 'e( )ea*and had reached its <nadir= its *o(est! most c*oudy moment in time:
A&ssisted migration (as cut off! (hi*e the birth rate dec*ined# 0as the young nation to have a
stunted gro(thB 0as it to be! in 0a6efie*d=s scornfu* (ords! <rotten before it (as ripe=BA
1d(ard 3ibbon 0a6efie*d >his scorn above?! (as the first 1ng*ishman to attempt to
sett*e 'e( )ea*and (ith innumerab*e numbers (hi*e not having made proper
arrangements for the sett*ement of them there# 'or (ith the $aori peop*e a*ready
sett*ed there# "is (ords (ere a cha**enge to the British authorities then to turn a <b*ind
eye= to specu*ative activity of (hich there (ou*d be more# The Treaty of 0aitangi (as
in part agreed to by many $aori tribes so as to afford them some protection from
these activities! and a*so some redress# In the *ong run it didn=t and so this is sti** being
paid for! but by a** of us no(#
The ear*y +-5:s sa( 'e( )ea*and! as every(here! severe*y affected by (or*d
depression# 1xport earnings from an increasing vo*ume of exports >up ti** then? had
fa**en by some forty percent# &nd a high proportion of those earnings >one quarter of
them? (ere servicing debt to foreign o(ned ban6s >the very same?# By +-5/ there (as
near +::!::: unemp*oyed that figure up from ++!::: as in +-5:# ub*ic grumb*es#
7espite gro(ing pub*ic disorder orthodox economic princip*es sti** prevai*ed and (ou*d
prevai* unti* the e*ection of the first 2abour 3overnment in +-5. though# The boo6s sti**
had to ba*ance and there (ou*d be no re*ief provided to the unemp*oyed un*ess they
(or6ed for it# Types of <re*ief (or6= insisted upon during this period invo*ved road
bui*ding! the p*anting of *arge forests of the fast gro(ing inus Radiata! s(amp
c*earing and a*so the c*earing of *and for the odd go*f course or t(o# These types of
(or6s required a heavy input of *abour rather than of materia* content and 6ept many
of the <men= out of the to(ns# The grumb*es do(n then#
The first 2abour 3overnment arrived unexpected*y into office in +-5.# $ichae* Coseph
%avage ><$ic6=?! the first 2abour *eader! had p*edged that he (anted to! DEabo*ish
poverty and its fo**o(ers! anxiety and humi*iationEF In office! they (ou*d embar6 on a
programme of ensuring <socia* security= then# %ome! as many sa( by then! (ere not so
responsib*e for their misfortunes after a**#
In office! unexpected*y! *abour sought first to restore norma* economic activity#
%ufficient reserves >money he*d on to?! they a*so discovered unexpected*y >bui*t up
prior to the e*ection?! they (ere then ab*e to underta6e a number of pub*ic (or6s
programmes! one of (hich (as to be a %tate housing programme# One of <poverties
fo**o(ers= of course! being poor housing#
2abour had no sooner arrived into office than Cames 9*etcher! of 9*etcher Construction!
offered to he*p (ith this housing p*an# *ans for bui*ding houses in *arge numbers! and
quic6*y as (e**! (ere soon dra(n up and *arge numbers of state houses! avai*ab*e for
rent depending on means! (ere bui*t during 2abours first +, years in office! ti** +-,-#
7uring the (ar! +-5--,.! 'e( )ea*and=s ne( found sense of security (as! of course!
threatened# Over t(o thirds of the ma*e popu*ation! and some +:!::: (omen! aged
bet(een +G and ,. had served in the armed forces! both in 'e( )ea*and and
overseas#
In so far as popu*ation gro(th in 'e( )ea*and (as concerned! it (as a story different
from that of +-5/! after the (ar ended in +-,.### &nd this (as despite the consequent
*oss forever of some ++!H/. servicemen during the (ar# Those servicemen and (omen
that did return home contributed to a <marriage boom=! (hich *ed to the consequent
arriva* of +I.!::: chi*dren in the four years bet(een +-,H and +-,- the <baby-
boomers= these (ere#
In so far as migration (as concerned >sta**ed a*so in the ear*y +-5:s? there had been
migration during the (ar of refugees! and of chi*dren from Britain sent by their parents
to get them a(ay from the (ar as (e**# Bet(een +-,H and +-,- migration had added
near*y /.!::: to the tota* popu*ation# &nd by +-,- assisted migration (as under (ay
again#
&** of this! of course! (hen the first 'ationa* 3overnment (as e*ected in +-,-! added
to an a*ready acute housing shortage# 2abour had not been ab*e to 6eep up# By +-,-!
those (ho qua*ified for! and (ere in *ine for %tate houses! numbered ,.!::: or more#
$any more! not e*igib*e for a %tate house! (ere *iving in substandard accommodation#
2abour and 'ationa* had some ideo*ogica* differences you cou*d say as to (ho shou*d
o(n houses any(ay# 2abour had constructed houses! as part you cou*d say! of its
overa** socia* re-construction pac6age# "ouses (ere bui*t during their first period in
office >+-5.-+-,-? not ;ust to provide a roof over peop*e=s heads but a*so! as an
investment in productive activity that (ou*d *ead to further activity### %ubsequent rent
from housing! (hi*e not set at a high *eve*! (as to be conso*idated and put to further
use to the same ends#
&nother stance that tru*y mar6ed 'ationa* out from 2abour concerned the sa*e of the
%tate houses 2abour had bui*t# 'ationa* too6 exception to tenure of the %tate houses
being ab*e to be passed on by nomination before death of the sitting tenant# "ere (as
property then! bui*t by the state! that cou*dn=t be bought and so*d! and effective*y
remained the property of the tenant in perpetuity# This (as very much against a
'ationa* tenet - that from <3ent*eman Cac6= $arsha** >the first 'ationa* $inister p*aced
in Charge of the %tate &dvances Corporation! (ith responsibi*ity for the 3overnments
housing po*icies! and the minister (ho (ou*d eventua**y precede Robert $u*doon as
rime $inister? and in his memoirs pub*ished in +-G5:
AOur po*icy (as based on the be*ief in private o(nership# Our e*ection s*ogan (as DO(n your
o(nFJ our ob;ective! D& property-o(ning democracy#F
AThe emphasis (as on providing the opportunity for peop*e to bui*d or buy their o(n homes#
0e recognised that! in some circumstances! renting a house (as the best and! in some cases!
the on*y (ay in (hich a fami*y co*d be housed# But (e be*ieved >as I sti** do? that home
o(nership (as to be preferred for the great ma;ority of fami*ies! giving! as it does! a permanent
and secure base for the fami*y! a sense of socia* stabi*ity (ithin the community! a pride of
o(nership! an incentive to maintain and improve the house and grounds! the means to save
through the regu*ar payment of mortgage insta*ments! and! as events have turned out! a good
hedge against inf*ation as property va*ues rise###A
In order that those on a *o( income cou*d become property o(ners 'ationa* (ou*d
improve the *ending po*icies of the %tate &dvance Corporation# By 6eeping rates of
interest *o(! and by increasing *oan *imits! and by a**o(ing a *onger period of time for
repayment! they (ou*d in that (ay ma6e repayments affordab*e# $ortgage protection
insurance (ou*d a*so be introduced! so that on the death of the person repaying the
mortgage! the mortgage (ou*d automatica**y be repaid#
0hat 'ationa* >or shou*d (e say the Rt "onourab*e Cohn $arsha**? found though (hen
they entered office! (as that po*icy had to be fi*tered do(n and that this (ou*d ta6e
time# &nd at the same time there (as sti** an urgent need for housing and much of
(hat needed to be bui*t (ou*d sti** have to be made avai*ab*e in the (ay that it had
been during 2abour=s tenure# There (as simp*y no other (ay then# In constituency
offices! inc*uding the Rt "onourab*e Cohn $arsha**=s! there (as many a sad ta*e
re*ated#
&fter their first year in office the Rt "onourab*e Cohn $arsha** summarised in his report
to the 'ationa* arty caucus! this:
AThe first year of the 'ationa* 3overnment in housing is a story of record achievementJ more
house have been bui*t! more state houses *et! more house bought and so*d! more housing
materia*s produced! than in any previous year in the history of the country# In addition! an
extensive bui*ding programme for hospita*s is under (ay and more commercia* bui*ding and
a*teration (or6 is being done###A
2ater! admitting to some discomfort (ith his summary of the situation then! %ir Cohn
$arsha** >he had been 6nighted by then?! out*ined some of the very rea* prob*ems that
a*so existed then in the bui*ding industry#
"e had on*y been ab*e to oversee the bui*ding of H:: more houses than the +H!,::
that *abour had overseen the bui*ding of the year before# >2oo6ing bac6 this seems a
not inconsiderab*e achievement none the *ess#? &nd in order to improve on this they
needed more trained <men= than (ere avai*ab*e# &dded to this there (as fast
deve*oping a shortage of the native heart timbers that had been used <Eso *avish*y in
the past=# &nd subsequent*y (ith their scarcity! an increasing cost attached to the
purchase of that type of timber# Ta(a! the heart of (hich is not particu*ar*y suitab*e for
anything except dunnage >for shipping sheepB?! (as fast becoming the on*y hard (ood
suitab*e for f*ooring *eft that (as (ide*y avai*ab*e# Ta(a! though! had on*y been *eft
standing >(hi*e the natives around them had not been?! because of its susceptibi*ity to
borer# &nd inus radiata! a*so susceptib*e to borer! (as too soft for f*ooring in any
case#
&t the end of +-./! after their first three year term in office! 'ationa* found that they
had on*y been ab*e to maintain the *eve* of house bui*ding at around +H!:::
d(e**ings a year# %ir Cohn $arsha** said that they found that they (ere <running hard!
but not getting very far=# On top of this there (as sti** the prob*em of advancing
'ationa*As po*icy in so far as home o(nership (as concerned# The idea of a "ousing
Conference! at the end of 'ationa*As first three-year period! appea*ed! as it seemed
such a conference! as (e** as e*iciting the vie(s of every interest group as to the
prob*ems for the bui*ding industry >as they sa( them?! the 'ationa* 3overnment (ou*d
further gain an opportunity to air its po*icy on home-o(nership! this property o(ning
aim again###
&fter an extensive period of preparation! the 'ationa* "ousing Conference +-.5 (as
convened to meet from the ,th of &ugust unti* the Ith# %ome one hundred and sixty-
eight de*egates and observers from forty-t(o separate organisations attended# In the
afternoons and up unti* quite *ate in the evenings those attending the conference
divided into three committees# 9rom t(enty-three recommendations of the
committees! housing po*icies (ere revised! put to the 3overnment Caucus! and then
proceeded (ith#
In his memoirs %ir Cohn $arsha** commented on the frustration he fe*t (hen! (hi*e
trying to get cheaper houses bui*t and more of them! he had a*so to face the:
AEconservative and restrictive attitude of the Board of the %tate &dvances Corporation to the
use of both inus radiata and ta(a timber in houses on (hich they (ere spending money###A
This (as a situation that (ou*d have affected one of the recommendations that had
come out of the "ousing Conference had it not a*ready been dea*t (ith# Brief*y! one of
the conferences recommendations had been that the %tate &dvances Corporation be
compe**ed to buy for %tate stoc6 any house! (hich! if bui*t from approved p*ans! cou*d
not be so*d by its bui*der# &*so the %tate &dvances Corporation cou*d be required! if
finance (as needed! to provide a mortgage to an approved purchaser# It (as
measures *i6e these! that %ir Cohn $arsha** in his memoirs said! sa( <'e( housesE
spring up *i6e mushroomsE= as you cou*d imagine8
0hi*e! on the one hand $arsha** had had to consider the opinions of his departmenta*
advisorsJ he had a*so had to face the continua* representations from timber mi**ers and
bui*ding industry representatives as6ing that Ta(a be a**o(ed to be used for f*ooring#
9urther there (as the question of (hether inus radiata might a*so be put to useB %ir
Cohn $arsha** said he ended up (ith no choice but to set up a committee of enquiry:
A%pecifica**y the inquiry (as into the efficacy of the treatment of these timbers by borax-boric
acid! and the extent to (hich they cou*d be used (hen so treated# The committee found that
these timbers! so treated! cou*d be used in houses for f*ooring and other interna* uses# I
instructed the corporation according*yEThe committee KhadL a*so recommended the
estab*ishment of a Timber reservation &uthority to test! approve and supervise the severa*
methods of timber treatment and the numerous treatment p*ants (hich (ere being set up# The
&uthority (as du*y formed in +-.. under the ;urisdiction of the 7epartment of Industries and
Commerce###A
The scientific evidence prepared for the enquiry (as presented by $r "arro( of the
7epartment of %cientific and Industria* Research! &uc6*and# "is position there (as as
%enior 0ood Techno*ogist! *ant 7iseases 7ivision# "e (as assisted in his presentation
by an associate! 2#0# Ti**er! 7eputy &ssistant %ecretary >&gricu*ture and Bio*ogy?# $uch
of the (or6 on &nobium! the common house borer! had been continued (ith by 7on
%pi**er! the 1ntomo*ogist at the 7%IR! (hi*e $r "arro( had been overseas during the
(ar# Their (or6 comparing the effects of differing treatments to different types of
timber had begun in +-5G# &t the time of the enquiry $r %pi**er (as overseas#
$r "arro(! advocating the borax boric acid process! presented his evidence on the
first morning of the enquiry# The enquiry (as then ad;ourned unti* the next morning#
Then for the fo**o(ing one and a ha*f days $r "arro( (as cross-examined by any!
inc*uding the parties (ho opposed the introduction of the borax boric acid process!
(ho (ished to# "e *ater said that he found the experience <harro(ing=# 7uring cross-
examination he found that the interested parties (ere ta6ing the opportunity of getting
at each other through him#
&nd yet fina**y! as a resu*t of this evidence the use of Ta(a for f*ooring (as accepted
and the use of inus radiata a*so became (idespread in the bui*ding industryJ and
gave no prob*ems either unti* >*ea6s to one side? the borax boric acid process of
treatment for timber (as no *onger required by *a( to be app*ied to a** inus radiata
used interna**y for housing framing#
The core resu*ts of scientific investigation carried out in 'e( )ea*and by $r "arro(
and his co**eagues at The 7epartment of %cientific Research! $t &*bert:
A>+? That boric acid is toxic to &nobium Kcommon house borer or furniture beet*eL! the
toxicity *ying bet(een :#:,5 per cent and :#:// per cent#
>/? That boric acid is toxic to &mbeodontus Kt(o tooth *onghornL! the toxicity *ying bet(een
:#:- per cent and :#:,H per cent#
>5? That boric acid at a concentration of approximate*y :#. per cent is comp*ete*y toxic to a
range of (ood -destroying fungi#
>,? That to achieve a minimum core retention of :#/ per cent (hich (ou*d give an amp*e
safety margin against attac6 by the t(o ma;or 'e( )ea*and (ood-boring insects K&nobium and
&mbeodontusL! it is necessary in the diffusion treatment to aim at an over-a** concentration of
bet(een :#H per cent and + per cent! giving a surface concentration that is toxic to fungi#A
%upport for these resu*ts (as derived by the 7epartment of %cientific Research! from the (or6
of the Common(ea*th %cientific and Industria* Research Organisation in $e*bourne# The main
concern for the &ustra*ians (as (ith infestation! due to their more voracious pests! rather than
(ith decay due to dampness and thence bacteria* and funga* gro(th# The main &ustra*ian
concentration on the process (as not so much on the <efficacy= of the treatment >they (ere
happy that that (as estab*ished?! but (ith the *eaching! or (eeping! of the treatment from the
timber after the treatment process# They had decided that <an average *oading some(hat *o(er
than :#. per cent of boric acid shou*d give reasonab*e protection against termites provided the
timber (as protected from *eaching=# >%ee report p# +H?
Concerned about *eaching the Committee of Inquiry in 'e( )ea*and in their report
>+-./? had this to say:
A%inceE the ce**u*ar structure of (ood offers great resistance to the passage of (ater! *eaching
of preservative due to the passage of (ater through the (ood can be ru*ed out as a possibi*ity
occurring in house timberE the committee does not therefore regard *eaching as a ris6 (hen
the surface of treated (ood is (etted for a short time! or (hen! due to i**-venti*ated conditions!
(ater vapour condensesEA
9ina**y in 'e( )ea*and the *oading decided upon in +-./ (as the minimum core
retention of :#/ per cent achieved by the over-a** concentration of bet(een :#H per
cent and + per cent the surface concentration that is a*so toxic to fungi#
&ny argument ever that attempts to estab*ish that! as the timber in many comp*eted
but *ea6ing homes is not being sub;ect to attac6 by borer - therefore the treatment of
timber is not a*so at issue - is specious# 0orse it adds to the confusion of those
affected#
If the +-./ Committee of 1nquiry had decided that it (as on*y necessary to protect
against infestation they cou*d have set the minimum core retention *eve* some four
times *o(er than they did#
It remains but to comment on modern c*addings >(hy not then?:
Inadvertent venti*ation! such as that obtained (hen (eatherboards are fixed
over*apping each other! prevai*ed before the advent of modern c*addings# It may (e**
be that the coatings that are being app*ied to the modern houses are so effective
>*ea6s from crac6s in the c*adding aside?! that the d(e**ings are a*so <s(eating= in the
framing cavities from the heat of human habitation in effect humans are producing
the moisture upon (hich fungi and bacteria thrive# One commentator *i6ened *iving in
some modern d(e**ings as to be <*i6e *iving in a p*astic bag= >donAt as6 (ho thoughB?#
>%ection de*eted?#
Origina**y (hen this interested party undertoo6 to comment on the *ea6y bui*ding
syndrome this party (as going to finish by as6ing (hat %ir Cohn $arsha** might have
had to say about the *ea6y bui*ding syndrome and the subsequent damage to the
framing timber# &nd (e sti** imagine he (ou*d have said something *i6e this no(:
D'o( *oo6! the framing timber affected (ou*d never have been ab*e to have even been used if
it had not been for the advent the Borax Boric acid rocess# 0e (ou*d have ;ust had to bui*d
out of stone or somethingE anything but that###F
0e find ourse*ves more interested no( though! in the response of a 'ationa*
government once to a housing shortage# &t that point the point (as to bui*d more
houses! to innovate even! but t(o pronged! a*so to ensure that ordinary citiMens had a
sta6e in 'e( )ea*and then! through that sort of sta6e! property o(nership again###
>$oving on again?#
%pea6ing of things set in stone once! (e cou*d have! if Ta(a had been p*anted as
free*y as inus! continued to have used Ta(a for f*ooring rather than partic*e board
a*so# %ti** cou*d# Ta(a! an attractive! durab*e timber! is one native hard (ood that does
gro( quite quic6*y - though not as fast as inus radiata of course8 But nothing *i6e
bang for your bar6# &nd if you (ou*d *i6e to see (hat a Ta(a f*oor might have *oo6ed
*i6e in your home! you can visit the o*d 'e( $ar6et Borough Counci* Offices no(
0hitcou**s >(e** it (as (hen this (as first penned?! on Broad(ay! in 'e( $ar6et *ast#