Friday night, in any country town in Australia and New Zealand back in the 1960s and ’70s, was a time to dress up and impress, and perhaps do a few laps of the block, whether on foot or behind the wheel.
Motueka, on the top end of New Zealand’s South Island, was particularly famous for its Friday nights, when the seasonal workers would hit town ‘dressed to the nines’, ready to party.
My future wife, Marie Donnelly and fellow Aussies, Janelle Vidler and Michelle Gordon worked on ‘Mr Wilson’s’ tobacco and vegetable farm, south of Motueka in 1970, with Mr Wilson taking the lasses into town on a Friday, for their weekly grocery shopping.
He would transport the goods back to the farm, leaving the girls to have a night out at the Post Office Hotel, and to return by taxi, or perhaps in a local’s car. Sometimes they would stay in town, and get back to the farm the next day, or on the Sunday, ready for another week working in the tobacco drying sheds. In the fields, most of the workers were Fijian.
There were only one or two policemen in town in those days (Constable Bob Smith was there during the 1960s), and while they were kept busy, there was reportedly little serious trouble.
The tobacco industry was still big in New Zealand in 1970, but had just started to go into decline, with the last commercial crop harvested in 1995. The only tobacco I recall seeing in the fields in Australia, was around the Glass House Mountains area, north of Brisbane. And I recall a tobacco processing factory, or something similar, in Ipswich, Queensland. I think goal kicking rugby league winger, Len Chemello worked there. He played for Ipswich against Wales in 1975 and went on to play for Brothers in Brisbane.
Marie Donnelly and Janelle Vidler were childhood friends from the Richmond area of Northern New South Wales, while Michelle Gordon from Longreach, was a lass they met on the ship from Sydney to Auckland.
Marie remained in New Zealand until late 1974, when she returned to Lismore to live with her parents, Kevin and Mary Donnelly.
Marie and I returned to Motueka, during a 2005 South Island holiday.
We had started in Christchurch, spending a few nights there, before staying at Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown, and then embarking on an organised walk of the Milford Track.
After Queenstown, we had stayed at Franz Josef and Murchison, before booking into a basic cabin, in a caravan park, just outside Motueka.
We had driven to Motueka, via the Lakes of Nelson. From St Arnaud, we had walked the eastern side of Lake Rotoiti, enjoying a swim along the way.
On our first full day at Motueka, we drove to the southern end of the Abel Tasman National Park for a swim, at lovely Kaiteriteri Beach, a place Marie had told me about many times. We walked into the National Park and back, not realising we could have caught a water taxi.
The following day was huge – a massive walk at the northern end of Abel Tasman, including a nightmare climb up Gibbs Hill, as part of a 22km circuit. Marie and I skinny dipped at Whariwharangi Bay, thinking it was secluded, when in fact it was quite near some huts. We were almost sprung by two old dears and a bloke.
After our walk, we had drinks at the historic Telegraph Hotel, Takaka, before takeaway fish and chips. There was a great poster for DB (Dominion Bitter) beer in the pub, showing a bloke trimming a huge hedge.
There were so many milk tankers on the road, on our return journey to Motueka.
By comparison, day three was relaxing, with just a short drive to Riwaka Resurgency National Park, but it was too cold to swim. We also checked out Mr Wilson’s farm.
Back at Motueka, the ‘Dodgy Ref’ Sport Bar, had a poster proclaiming rugby union as ‘The Greatest Game of All’. The audacity of it all!
Kiwi rugby league star, Simon Mannering was a product of Motueka High, and made his Test debut in 2006.
A Lion Red truck caused chaos outside the Post Office Hotel, as the driver unpacked his precious cargo. I was left to ponder whether one truck would have been enough, back in the days of the seasonal farm hands.
1 Marie Donnelly, Janelle Vidler and Michelle Gordon at Motueka
2 Marie Donnelly at Mr Wilson’s home, Motueka
3 The Fijian tobacco workers
4 Friday night in Motueka, with ‘Banjo’
5 Marie Ricketts and the tobacco farm in 2005
6 Hops have replaced tobacco.