Time At Pangatotara
Merville’s time at the tobacco farms at Pangatotara where filled with long days, hard work and what sounds like a lot of fun in what Mum remembers as “beautiful weather”. Her and Iris worked the tobacco from spring to autumn for two years. During the tobacco “off season” they found casual work on farms around the Nelson/Marlborough area. Mum did go back to Winton once each year to visit her mother.
Work began in the spring with the planting of seedlings and then the nurturing and watering to ensure their growth. Plants required hoeing, topping and the removal of lateral growth. “Older men also worked on the farm, all over 60 and there was a young man who had a stiff leg after a motor cycle accident. The men picked the ripe tobacco leaves. We used to work in the shed, tying leaves onto sticks about 3 foot long.
“Then the men would climb up ladders and place the sticks up in the ceilings to dry. Sometimes the girls would hang the sticks on lower racks. The kiln doors would be shut when filled up and tobacco left. Later the dry leaves were sent to a factory.” Mum couldn’t remember the length of time leaves took to dry or where the factory might have been.
“We also worked at Knowles about two miles further up the valley and Mr Knowles and his son had a 12ft boat with one sail. Francis had a stiff leg from a motor bike accident so couldn’t go in the Army. They often went out fishing and sometimes we would go with them. Depending on how much blue cod we caught Mr Knowles might smoke some of it. If we had a particularly good catch we would share it with neighbours. Otherwise we would take the catch back to our huts and eat it for our dinner. I remember the blue cod being eaten off our lines. The girls had to stand of the seats while Mr Knowles and Francis caught these thieving fish, they were long and thin with sharp fins.” I’ve just asked a friend who’s a keen fisherman and he suggests these would have been barracuda.
“One year we had a break after harvesting the leaf and before the grading started. The Knowles had a crib at Torrent Bay down the coast from Kaiteriteri and took us four girls on a fishing trip with them. It was about Easter time and we stayed in their crib for two weeks. We really enjoyed it as it was no trouble catching blue cod. At lunch time we would go into another bay and Mr Knowles would cook the fish in a big pot in sea water and it tasted great. On one such outing the boat began to leak but Mr Knowles and Francis weren’t worried. But then they decided it was leaking too much to risk going back to the crib in the dark so we stayed at one of the bays. I remember Iris and I digging holes in the sand to get comfy enough to sleep on the beach. There were sandflies everywhere.
“It was a wonderful holiday as we were the only people around and the coast line was quite lovely and mostly covered with bush. We’d fish every day, going from bay to bay, stopping to light a fire on the beach and cook fish for lunch. One day we went to get fresh bread, then called to visit someone in the bay before Torrent Bay and night approached quicker than expected. The men weren’t worried, telling us, “its a full moon, no worries, we’ll get home all right.” But the waves were getting bigger as we approached the headland. I was told later that I sat staring at the waves. I could only think they were getting bigger and bigger. I was terrified, but Francis and his father knew what they were doing and got us back safely. The other girls laughed at me for being so scared. I’ve never forgotten the boat ride that night.
Then back again to grading the leaf. We used to have another break between then and planting started again.
After the second year Iris and I decided we would bike south for our break. We left at four am and reached a hotel on the Buller river by night. The next day we made it to Westport but reckoned the train would be a lot easier so travelled by train the rest of the way south.