My story begins in the small Southland town of Mataura. I grew up there, my parents and both sets of my grandparents lived there, and for the first 18 years of my life, this was my world.
The mighty Mataura River roared through the middle of town. Standing proudly on it's banks on either side were the large industrial factories of the paper mill and the freezing works, which in their day employed thousands of local workers. Mataura was often thought of as the poor-relation to the much-larger neighbouring town of Gore. Mataura was a relatively small town, it wasn't pretty and it wasn't wealthy, but to me it was home. It was the home of the working-class people; people who worked hard and often played hard, whether it be on the rugby field or the bowling green. Townsfolk of Mataura enjoyed living there. They took pride in their homes and tended their gardens with care.
But time hasn't been kind to Mataura. Over two decades have passed since I moved away. I haven't gone far, and on most days of the week I still travel through the town, but other than to pop into the butcher or the petrol station, I rarely now stop. The paper mill closed down in the 90's and now sits as a sad, decaying reminder of what used to be. And the freezing works, whilst still operating, has downsized enormously and large parts of it are currently being demolished. The large buildings that once welcomed travellers passing through town on SH 1 (and also dominated the view from the street where I lived), are now all but gone. Just another sad reminder of happier times now long ago.
And while some of the familiar faces that I grew up surrounded by are still there, the majority of the townsfolk are now strangers to me. Some houses still stand as proud and as beautiful as they ever where. But many others are now showing their age, and the families that once loved them and cared for them are gone. I doubt there would be many places in New Zealand where you could buy a cosy 3 bedroom home in good condition for under $80,000 or even under $65,000. You can in Mataura. Yet not ten minutes up the road in the township of Gore, the same house would sell for triple that price.
I take my hat off to the Mataura Community Board who are always looking at ways of attracting people and businesses back to the town. At times it seems like they are fighting an up-hill battle and I don't envy the job they do. I do hope that some day in the not-too-distant future Mataura will once again be the bustling, happy town that it once was and that once again people will find it an attractive place to bring up their families. How this might come about in the immediate future I am not sure and I certainly don't know what the long-term answer is to bring Mataura back to life.
My dad and all four of my grandparents are buried in the cemetery on the hill over-looking Mataura. Someday I may join them there as although I no longer live in Mataura, it will always hold some of my fondest memories and to me it will always be home.
(Please note; these two photos aren't mine and were "borrowed" online from www.nzmuseums.co.nz)