This page is about the rural community I grew up in, Mataura Island. When I have mentioned to anyone that I grew up in Mataura Island I am usually asked; Where is Mataura Island? Why is Mataura Island called Mataura Island and is Mataura Island actually an Island? So I am here to answer some of those questions to the best of my knowledge and provide some information about Mataura Island.
The source of my information comes from both my own personal knowledge of living in Mataura Island for 18 years, information passed on to me from my parents and other Mataura Island locals I have talked to. For reference I also used the book 'Life at the Island' which was published by the Mataura Island Centennial Committee in 1990 as part of the Mataura Island School Centennial Celebrations. I have also provided later information since 1990, however, as I left the region in 1997 this has made it harder to provide any information as to what has gone on in the region in more recent years. Older images have been scanned from 'Life at the Island,' others are photos I have personally taken and some from 'Google Street View.'
Where is Mataura Island?
Mataura Island is a rural community in Southland at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. The exact location of the township area is at 46.42746 latitude, 168.78266 longitude. The nearest towns are Edendale and Wyndham which are both around 15km north of Mataura Island. Mataura Island is 42km east of Invercargill and neighbouring communities are Seaward Downs, Titoroa, Menzies Ferry and Glenham.
Why is Mataura Island called Mataura Island?
This is the question that is most commonly asked about Mataura Island. Anyone who looks at a map of Mataura Island at first glance will see that really Mataura Island looks nothing like an Island at all. Prior to 1878 the actual Mataura River used to flow down the present backwaters closer to the hills in the region. A creek known as Stewarts Creek was made into a channel by early settler, Thomas Ayson. In 1878 a large flood in the Mataura River overflowed and ran into this channel making it bigger and scouring out a new bed. When the flood subsided part of the river flowed down the new channel and part down the old bed forming the Island. Today the top end has been closed by a floodbank and the water all goes down the existing riverbed leaving the backwater completely springfed.
So Mataura Island is not an Island located anywhere near sea and you do not need a boat to get there, access to Mataura Island is done by crossing the bridge leading into to the community. The township area (where the School, Church, Dairy Factory and Hall are located) is not actually on the Island but right next to the edge of the Island.
This is a map of Mataura Island taken from Google Maps. As you can see this looks nothing like an Island at first glance. Much of the land surrounding the river is flat land but the rest of the area is quite hilly.
This map was scanned out of "Life at the Island" and does not mention any dates, just that it is an early map of Mataura Island. If you look at this and the other map you will see the river flows a different course. This map certainly shows more of an Island. This map does mention the school so has to be after 1890 but the main road has not been formed in this map.
What's in Mataura Island today?
Dairy and Sheep Farms:
Mataura Island is a farming community mostly made up of Dairy and Sheep farms. Some farms in the region have been farmed by several family generations, the Dairy Farm I grew up on was farmed by both my Grandma & Grandpa for 30 years and my Mum & Dad for 16 years. Our neighbouring farm was first purchased by William Rule in 1866 and this farm still remains with the Rule family today. The Mataura Island region saw an increase in the number of Sheep Farms in the 1960's with some Dairy Farmers actually converting their farms to Sheep, since the 1990's as with the rest of New Zealand many farms have been converted to Dairy.
This is the farm I grew up on, the image was taken from the road in 2004, 7 years after we left Mataura Island. If you look at the Google Map up on this page and look for a green patch near the river this is where those hills are in the background.
A quarry first established by local farmer David Mckenzie in 1994. The quarry was established on land already owned by the Mckenzie family.
Q&M Magazine - Story of a Small Player
Mataura Island Hall:
When I lived in Mataura Island the hall was used as a place for the community to get together, the Mataura Island School concert was held here at the end of the school year and when locals moved to the region or left the region a welcoming or farewell party was usually held in the hall. The Mataura Island Hall was also used by the Mataura Island Rifle Club as their rifle range, underneath the stage could be opened up and the targets were located under the stage. Today the hall is still used by the Mataura Island Rifle Club but the hall does not have any other use.
An image of the Mataura Island Hall in 2009.
Mataura Island Bridge:
Access to Mataura Island from the north is via the Mataura Island bridge, this was originally a single lane bridge but following a flood in 1968 this bridge was badly damaged. Piles for the new bridge were laid in 1971 and the bridge was completed in 1972. The bridge was originally blue but around 1990 for some reason the bridge was painted brown.
The Matuara Island bridge, the Mataura Island community starts here.
What used to be in Mataura Island?
The Hillside Gardens are located on the Mataura Island-Titoroa Road, this is on David and Eileen McKenzie's farm. The Gardens were in the past open to the public during the spring months of the year.
Mataura Island School:
Mataura Island School was the hub of the community when the school was open and certainly brought the locals in the community together. Mataura Island School was a primary school with pupils ranging from New Entrants up to Standard 4 (Year 1 - 6) and up to 1971 the school also took Form 1 and 2 students (Year 7 & 8). Older students would usually catch a bus to Wyndham to attend Menzies College (known as Wyndham District High School prior to 1971). Mataura Island school was first opened in 1890 with the first teacher being Mary Gallatly. The school role peaked at nearly 100 pupils in the 1960's with the school taking on three teachers at the time. Around this time a new classroom was built as well as a new school house for the principal. Tennis courts were added to the school in the 1950's, the swimming pool was added in 1963, covered in 1980 and heated in 1993. A picnic area and school playground were constructed in 1980 with further modifications made to this in later years including a BBQ and shaded area in the playground.
The school role started to drop in the 1970's after many of the farms were merged to create larger farms resulting in fewer families in the region and also with Wyndham District High School becoming Menzies College and taking on Form 1 and 2 students this contributed to a drop in the school role. In the late seventies the school dropped to a sole teacher school but in 1982 the school role increased again allowing the school to take on a second teacher. During the time I was at Mataura Island School the school often struggled to reach the required 26 pupils for the school to receive funding for a second teacher, I know one year one family had a relatives child stay with them for a week around July 1, when the school role was reviewed, just so the role would be high enough to keep the second teacher. In 1996 the school role fell to a level where it was impossible for the school role to be high enough for the school to continue to receive funding for a second teacher as a result in 1997 the school became a sole teacher school again. At the end of 1998 a decision was made by the school Board of Trustees to close down the school. While the school role was still high enough to justify being open it was felt that it was a matter of time before the school would be closed as much larger schools in Southland were being closed. Choosing to close the school by the Board of Trustees meant they could close the school their way. Today Mataura Island school children usually bus Glenham, Wyndham or Edendale to attend the local schools, the Mataura Island school house was relocated to Wyndham school and used as additional teaching space as with much of the school resources. The school grounds were left abandoned following the closure of the school. The land is now in private ownership and as at 2018 the current owner is in the process of converting the senior classroom block into a private residence, the junior block will be relocated to Makarewa in the near future and the pool is used as a workshop.
Mataura Island School as seen from the road. This image was taken in 2004 just over 5 years after the school closed down, the Mataura Island school Sign has since been removed.
This was the newer classroom at Mataura Island School built in the 1960's and was used as the Senior Classroom.
The original classroom for Mataura Island school. This classroom block was turned around in the 1950s, the classroom on the left was used as the library from the 1970s onwards and the classroom on the right was the junior classroom. This building will be relocated to Makarewa (just out of Invercargill) in the near future.
The school senior room in 2018, currently in the process of being converted to a house.
This is the school as seen from the car park in 2009.
This is the pupils who attended Mataura Island School in 1988, this photo is the entire school. There were 24 pupils at Mataura Island school in 1988, 26 was the required number to receive funding for the second teacher but since the 5 year olds counted as 1.5 pupils the school had enough students to receive funding for the second teacher that year.
The names of the students and teachers were:
Back Row: Wendy Henry (Junior Teacher), Neroli Howden, Keith Marshall, Francis Webber, Amelia Duthie, Robert Hunter, Kate Rule, Rachael Todd, Tony Hunter (Principal)
Middle Row: Nathan Rumbler, Blair Howden, Daniel Rule, Callum McLeary, Katrina Howden, Kaycee Telfer, Kelda Hunter, Arlo Gibb.
Front Row: Fraser Hunter, Amy Braithwaite, Scott Hunter, Tareena Telfer, Alan Webber, Anna McKenzie, Ryan Hunter, Blake Marshall, Hannah Robinson.
Mataura Island Dairy Factory:
Up until the 1970's Mataura Island had it's own Cheese Dairy Factory. The Dairy Factory was first built in 1892 and was named as 'Island Dairy Factory', back then it was common for every small community to have a Dairy Factory as the only mode of transport for transporting the farmers milk to the factory was by horse driven vehicles, milk was carried in milk cans. The are some stories in 'Life At The Island' of Mataura Island School children taking the milk cans to the factory on their way to school. In 1957 a new Dairy Factory was built, and around that time most farmers started transporting their milk in milk holding tanks fixed to the farm truck deck instead of using milk cans. In 1966 the factory started collecting farmers milk using a milk tanker. At this time Farmers had refrigerated milk tanks installed in their milking sheds for storage of milk until the milk is collected by tanker. In the 1960's the many farmers around New Zealand started converting their farms to Sheep farms, this may seem a surprise move today where most farmers are doing the opposite but back then wool was actually worth something. As a result with a reduction in the number of Dairy Farms many factories in the Southland region closed down. A decision was made in 1971 to merge the Island Dairy Factory with the neighbouring Seaward Downs Dairy Factory. The Mataura Island Factory actually continued to produce milk during the peak production months for the next 3 seasons. In 1976 the remaining Dairy Factories in Southland were merged to create the "Southland Dairy Co-op. Dairy Factory Co Ltd" with all milk production at Edendale. Today local Mataura Island residents continue to supply their milk to the Edendale Dairy Factory. The Southland Dairy Co-op was merged with a larger milk company and after several other mergers the Edendale Dairy factory is today operated by Fonterra.
This is a sketch of the Island Dairy Factory scanned from 'Life At The Island' not sure what time period this was supposed to be sketched from.
This is the Island Dairy Factory as seen today. As you can see a section of the factory has been demolished, I am uncertain as to when this part was actually demolished.
Mataura Island Pet Food Factory:
Following the closure of the Dairy Factory the building was then converted into a Pet Food Factory branded as 'Island Pet Foods.' I am uncertain as to when the Pet Food Factory was actually opened but it remained in operation until 1996 when the owners were forced to close the factory after MAF deemed it not suitable to produce foods fit for human consumption in. Really a bit stupid if you ask me because the owners weren't producing foods for human consumption.
Mataura Island Presbyterian Church:
The Mataura Island Church was built in 1900 and was originally part of the Fortrose Parish but in 1904 became part of the Edendale Parish. I am not sure exactly how many the church could seat but I would say over 100, whenever I attended this church as a child only about 1/4 of the church was actually used with the back half of the church sectioned off with a curtain. My dad could have told you the number of nails in the ceiling prior to 1979 when the ceiling was lowered (since my dad was also made to attend there as a child). The church had an electric organ installed in 1980 as well as heating and carpet was laid in 1986, this was thanks to a bequest from the late Mr Alex Simpson.
Over the later years the church was often closed down for a period of time due to a lack of interest from the community but then later reopened. In 1994 the church was finally closed down permanently with the final service being held on the 20th of November 1994, this final service saw the church filled up for the first time in a long time following the final service photos were taken outside the church of everyone who attended the final service followed by refreshments at the hall. In March 1995 the church was finally demolished, from what I understand it was actually relocated to Queenstown. Today a stone has been laid on the site of the church to commemerate the church.
A sketch of the Mataura Island Church scanned from 'Life At The Island.'
Photograph of those who attended the final service at Mataura Island Church, 20th November 1994.
The site of where the Mataura Island Church once stood.
Details on the plaque laid to commemerate the church.
Mataura Island Store:
Prior to the 1960's Mataura Island had it's own local store, this was the only shop in Mataura Island. Supplies were brought to the store via train to Titiroa and then to Mataura Island by wagon, bread was brought in from bakeries in Wyndham, Edendale and Waimahaka and for a while the store had it's own butcher shop. There was a time when this store sold bicycles and parts too. Part of the store was used as the local Post Office this was until the rural mail service was introduced in 1949. The store had several changes of ownership but with the arrival of supermarkets business was affected and in 1969 the store finally closed down. In 1982 the store was purchased by local residents and demolished with the land being reverted to farmland.
The Mataura Island Store, image scanned from 'Life At The Island' not sure when this was taken but I am guessing the 1920's. The part of the building on the left was the local Post Office.
Mataura Island Blacksmith:
A Blacksmith was set up in Mataura Island in the 1930's by J Dunlop. Around this time the Blacksmith was kept busy shoeing horses and carrying out repair work for local farmers. Around the 1950's the smithy was sold and the new owner Jim Grieve carried it on as an engineering workshop. The smithy was closed in 1981 and the buildings are now used as farm buildings.
The building that was once the Mataura Island Blacksmith as seen today on 'Google Street View.' Further in the background is the Mataura Island Hall and between the old BlackSmith and the Hall is where the Mataura Island Backwaters are, this is where the river originally flowed. So really at this point the end of the Island even though the School, Church, Dairy Factory and Hall are all one the other side.
About the surrounding communities
Seaward Downs is a rural community located to the East of Mataura Island, the boundry between the two regions is the Mataura river. Seaward Downs had it's own school which opened in 1892 and remained open until the early 1970's. The school was used by the Seaward Downs Playgroup from 1980 until 2016, the Playgroup was moved to the hall due to the condition of the old school building. As mentioned above, there was a Dairy Factory in Seaward Downs and this factory merged with the Mataura Island factory. The Presbyterian Church in Seaward Downs remained open some time after the Mataura Island church closed but was demolished in 1999, however part of the frontage remains as the War Memorial was attached to this. There was also a Joinery Factory built in the 1980s however is no longer operating today. Like Mataura Island, Seaward Downs has a mixture of Dairy and Sheep farms, there is also a Tulip Farm here and a Potato farm.
Glenham is rural community located to the north west of Mataura Island not exactly sure where you draw the line here. The Glenham School remains open and in 2015 the school had 19 pupils. There used to be a store in the region and the church still stands but has been sold privately and converted into a house. There is also a modern Community Centre. One of the bigger attractions here is the Maple Glen Gardens. The Glenham region is quite hilly.
Edendale is small town located 15km North West of Mataura Island. The town had a population of 555 residents according to the 2013 census. Edendale school had 131 students in 2015. Businesses include a local pub, grocery store, dairy, Fish and Chip shop, Hair Dresser, a garage and Vet. There was a Westpac Bank until Westpac and Trustbank merged in 1997 with all services going to Wyndham. The local Post Office here closed down in 1987 and later became the dairy. Industry includes two Engineering Companies, a Potato Barn and Poultry Farm but the biggest industry here is the Edendale Dairy Factory. The Edendale Dairy Factory which started out just processing cheese expanded to Milk Powder Production in 1994 and has been expanded in size several times since making it one of the largest Dairy Factorys in New Zealand.
Wyndham is small town located 15km North of Matuara Island. Wyndham has a population of 534 people according to the 2013 census. Wyndham has a Primary School with 114 students and a High School, Menzies College, with 303 students in 2015. Year 7-13 Students from regions surrounding Wyndham (including Mataura Island) attend Menzies College. Wyndham has a Race Course, Show Grounds, Golf Course, Bowling Club, Rugby Club and Tennis/Netball Courts. The town still has a few businesses such as 2 Garages, a Pub, Grocery Store, a couple of Farming Stores and a chemist to name a few. The town did have 2 banks but these were closed down in the nineties, there also used to be a Hardware Store, Drapery, Electrical Store, Shoe Shop, Furniture Shop, Book Shop/Toy Shop but these all closed down in the 1980's or 90's.