Westland is the provincial region running down the west coast of the South Island from just north of Greymouth south to Awarua Bay, and back to the east as far as the main divide of the Southern Alps. The area was part of the Province of Canterbury until 1868, when it was given special status as a 'county' with headquarters in Hokitika, south of Greymouth, as the best of a bad lot of river ports on the coast.
The region was the source of greenstone, prized by Maori. Before European settlement, however, it was sparsely populated by groups of Maori estimated at fewer than 100 in total.
Gold was found near Greymouth in 1864 and miners flocked in for four years, to prospect and mine along the rivers of the Province. Most of the miners came from the crowded and failing goldfields in Victoria and Otago.
A substantial number of NZ settlers came in through the province, notably from Australia, either to mine gold, or later, coal; and a higher proportion of them were Irish Catholics than in any other part of the country.
For many years Westland was a fertile source of manpower for the political liberal and labour movements.
After the demise of gold mining, coal mining flourished until World War Two, and timber milling and dairy farming (on the south Westland plains) have been sources of work and wealth in the region.
The pioneering character of what was mostly known over the years as the West Coast lasted longer than in any other part of NZ.
It has always had more men than women, remaining isolated and undeveloped because of unsatisfactory harbours which silt up.
And perhaps the Irish and Irish/Australian stock that originally settled the area had fewer bourgeois pretensions than the Scottish and English settlers.