Following Merville’s Footsteps

Following Merville’s Footsteps To Pangatotara

Do you sometimes do something really stupid – or not do something sensible – and live to regret your crass thoughtlessness? That’s where I am right now. Kicking myself. I had this great plan of following Merville’s footsteps to where she worked many years ago.

During World War II my mother worked on a tobacco farm in or around Pangatotara. I have no idea exactly where this farm might be, so I visited to Motueka Museum for help. Of course, the first thing they asked me was the name of the tobacco farmer. Sorry I didn’t know. They reeled off a few names, and while one was familiar I discredited it because the name features in our extended family tree and I thought that was why it had rung a bell with me.

The Museum had a video of the tobacco industry running and I watched it, but unfortunately, most of it was centred on the period after the war. The two volunteers there were very willing, but with my lack of detail, I gained little. While at the museum, I did enjoy looking at their display of animals used in World War I. In fact reading the story about Caeser the bulldog was enough to bring tears to the eye.

Motueka Museum

Motueka Museum


It was drizzling rain as we went to find Pangatotara. Just a few miles from Motueka along the Moutere Valley Pangatotara is a district rather than a town. We searched for an area fitting a photo Mum displayed in her kitchen. We did find something which I decided could fit the bill. It was land close to the Motueka River, but also close to the road. There was a bend in the road, and a bend in the river, just like Mum’s photo. There was even the remains of two kilns which would have been used to dry the tobacco leaves all those years ago. It also fitted the mileage she quoted as being to distance from Motueka. I stopped and took some photos, not absolutely sure I had the right place, but figured I was pretty close.

Now comes my stupidity.

On the way back into Motueka, I was wishing I had checked Mum’s writings before we left Auckland. I couldn’t be sure if she’d mentioned farmers names or not but at least I would have known.

It never occurred to me until later that I had transcribed all her writings onto my blog!

Saturday evening found me scrolling through all my posts and finding the one about her time in Motueka. Sure enough, there were the names of the people she had worked for for three seasons. Of course, the Museum is closed and we were leaving town before it would open again. We really didn’t have time to go back out to Pangatotara again. And anyway, what would I have done, started knocking on doors to see if any of that family still lived and worked the land?

You can be sure, I am really kicking myself for letting the opportunity of imagining her working here as a young woman go by.


Following Merville’s Footsteps — 2 Comments

  1. We headed for the West Coast on Sunday so never managed to get back, but oh well. Now I have a reason to return one day. No tobacco isn’t grown commercially any more, but I understand it can be grown for personal use

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