“No place more I’d like to bring you …”

Soft focus, colour shot of Langholm Hotel building, Mangaweka New Zealand. Shot by Su Leslie 2019

Langholm Hotel (now apparently closed), Mangaweka, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie 2019

No place more I’d like to bring you than
this one-pub town
approached in low gear down
the gorges through the hills.

Now they’ve built the bypass
the drinkers left are locals
& odd commercial travellers.
Quiet afternoons like this you hear the falls.

On the post office corner
a blue flag floats. I bought
a hot meat pie at the store
a new harmonica.

A public bar drinker
tells me what I want to hear.
I play for him later
songs on my harmonica.

We know each other now
I buy my round of beers,
I catch up on the news
in small-town public bars.

They ask me why I travel
and never settle down
I lose two games of pool
and hitchhike out of town.

A Mangaweka Road Song — Sam Hunt (1971)

Mangaweka is a tiny place, home to around two hundred people these days. There is a school, a post office, an art gallery and a cafe, but seldom have these been open as I’ve travelled through.

State Highway One runs parallel to the main street (Broadway). The buildings are old; mostly single-storey timber shops and service buildings. Husks of a once thriving town.

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Main street, Mangaweka. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Main street, Mangaweka. Image: Su Leslie 2019

It is a strangely beautiful place; a little slice of the New Zealand Sam Hunt was writing about in 1971, and which I remember from a road-trip in about 1980. Our reason for going was to see the old Mangaweka Viaduct before it was pulled down; having been replaced with a new section of rail line through slightly less unstable land.

Even then, it was as if Mangaweka was defined by loss.

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Post Office, hairdresser and perhaps a shop. I’m not sure as it never seems to be open. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Two years after Hunt’s poem was published his friend, artist Robin White, painted one of the town’s buildings.

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Robin White, Mangaweka, 1973. Image: Christchurch Art Gallery.

It remains:

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Image: Su Leslie 2019.

Every now and then, buildings in Mangaweka come up for sale. The latest is the old Bank of New Zealand. I mentioned it to the Big T and we looked at the online real estate listing. He was excited. I wish I could be, but I’m struggling to share his optimism that the town’s fortunes will turn (at least in a time-frame that would work for us).

That’s because last week I drove through a lot of small New Zealand towns that are struggling; unable to provide sufficient jobs for young people or compete with online retailers and the chain stores in larger towns. Throw in a raft of government regulations requiring expensive earthquake strengthening of many older buildings, and the outlook seems a bit grim.

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Bank of New Zealand building, Mangaweka, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

For such a tiny place, Mangaweka has captured the imagination of many; including me. Each time I set off to visit my dad, I secretly hope for signs of new life in the town; a reason to stop and do more than feel nostalgic for a New Zealand that I fear will disappear.

Ragtag Daily Prompt | nostalgia

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on ““No place more I’d like to bring you …”

    • Thanks Tracy.
      I have no idea about the coffee. The one cafe looks pretty grungy, but doesn’t seem to ever be open. The woman who ran another cafe there now has a coffee cart in the nearest (slightly larger) town. The coffee there is fab.
      The pub was a pub until a couple of years ago, but it now looks like a private home — so another nail in the community coffin.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Oh, Su, So beautifully caught, this small town. I feel so sorry for this so called development, where lovely old places slowly disappear into the mist of remembrance only. We have them in Sweden too, but try different solutions to help. Mostly the government try to move out departments or other, even factories, to help people stay. Many people work from home – computers are a blessing then. I find some young couples do move out to these places and start a new life “far from the madding crowd”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you πŸ™‚
      We have regional regeneration initiatives here too — though the central government is not so active as in Sweden. But it tends to focus on regional cities, rather than these tiny villages. I guess the hope is that if there is work in the regional towns, people will live in the surrounding villages and commute. But the distances are huge — and environmentally damaging. Home-working certainly does help, but as someone who has done that for years, I know that I still need a local community (at least a good cafe) so I can get out and talk to actual people every day.

      Like

  2. The part of town I live in was dying for many years and has finally (after heavy investment by the city, landlords and developers) shown renewed life but some businesses and restaurants still struggle and often don’t make it. But then, that is true of businesses in thriving spaces, I guess. Love the art deco lines of the hotel, and the bank building resonates with me as well as I live in/own a downtown corner property with the same basic lines.

    Liked by 1 person

    • T loves the bank building, and from the real estate photos we saw, it is rather grand inside (although in serious need of work). πŸ™‚
      I think it’s probably easier (though not easy) to attract investment in parts of a larger town than in a whole, tiny village. There is a real danger of it being turned into little more than a theme park. And given that one of the key businesses — which was actually on the State Highway — has closed, I think others would really struggle too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It looks as if it has a lot of character, but these dying towns and villages are not easy to live in as amenities close and public transport ceases. No doctors, no banks, no village shop. As I get older I realise that being close to a thriving community is becoming a priority. Fab photos though and a lovely poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same way Jude. So many of the pretty little towns I visited last week must be a huge struggle to live in. I know that communities themselves often organise on a voluntary basis, but as you say, so many amenities are lacking. My dad and step-mother sold up in a small town because they needed to be nearer a hospital, and other amenities. It was the best thing they could have done.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I sadly tend to agree with you; this town looks like something out of a picture book of the 50th…. don’t invest there – it will not be florishing again. Just this morning, I discussed the sale of empty chapels and churches, the re-use of former banks and their closure only months or max years later. Without jobs and functionning schools, those places are doomed. Same in France with vast parts literally left to die a slow death.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I lost very quickly looked up that bank; YES, it would be perfectly wonderful to do up such a lovely place, it’s truly heartbreakingly beautiful. But it won’t shift – it will detoriate more and more because there is no life in the village. It does break one’s heart though….. We had, when living in UK, South Devon, an equally beautiful bank building, converted to a restaurant, brilliant centrally located, lovely feel about it, it had to close 18 months after opening, then it became for about 2 years a party place with much noise and action on the weekends and rather subdued during the week – closed – since then it hosted a gelateria cum coffee shop and gallery. Closed….. And that not in a one-horse-town but a great little town at the shore of the sea. YET, there is no money around, the industry has been moved out to China, the old people haven’t got the money to go out, young people move to ‘where the action is’, lousy bus services, far from the airports…. death in instalments!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s so sad watching such a beautiful place becoming more and more deserted. The bank building looks fabulous! I can imagine opening an art gallery and pottery atelier in one wing and a coffee shop and bistro in the other. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

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