This coming November, MTG Hawke's Bay will open an exhibition about the Hawke's Bay freezing works industry – a chronological history from the arrival of the works industry to the closure of Whakatu and Tomoana.
The New Zealand freezing industry started when the first shipment of frozen meat left Port Chalmers on the Dunedin, February 1882 and reached London in excellent condition three months later.
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Our ties with Britain opened up a market for meat production supply to feed the growing population of the United Kingdom.
Already well into the planning, the freezing works exhibition looks at the history of works in Hawke's Bay, technological advancements that enabled carcasses to be shipped frozen across the world and the close-knit sense of family among workers.
The exhibition tells of an economic base the industry introduced into Hawke's Bay, providing opportunities for employees to earn a good living, become home owners and cement growing communities and towns. The freezing works industry became the life-force for families down the generations.
Eventually the demise of Whakatu and Tomoana freezing works impacted on the lives of the workers. The closures reflected changing overseas market requirements, outdated technologies versus automated work methods, and the introduction of chilling meat rather than freezing along with other factors.
A large component of the exhibition will be told through film interviews of freezing workers, who will give a personal history of their experiences.
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Many of those that remain with us today are ageing and the numbers of those that have passed on are increasing. Sadly, today it is often at funerals that ex-freezing workers cross paths. Gone are the days where people met by socialising within the extended family, on the sports fields, in the churches, or in town.
These ex-workers yarn of the glory days and of sadness felt at the breaking up of communities left behind. They tell of individual hardships for many but also the achievements of those that have flourished with new career paths, challenges and blessings.
The emotive stories are of deep-rooted kinship ties which are still woven together in the minds and hearts of ex-workers and their families. Children growing up in freezing works communities were surrounded by adults they called aunty and uncle, roaming in and out of each other's houses, were fed, cared for and taken on trips – they were raised by a village.
This exhibition on freezing works will be a collection of stories about Hawke's Bay and the families tied to the industry. There are stories of the beauty that surrounded the communities and the love enveloped within and also the trauma of the closures and the life-long impact of this for many.
While the exhibition is shaping up nicely we would love to have more material relating to the time of the closures – photographs, letters of redundancy, anything from that time. If you have anything along these lines that you would be willing to lend for our exhibition please get in touch with me.
• Te Hira Henderson is curator of taonga Maori at MTG.