Topic: Sister Olga Meston by Etheljoy Smith

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Sister Olga Meston by Etheljoy Smith was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Born in the year 1907 at Waihao Downs near Waimate Olga was christened Ann Olga Steffens, known always by her middle name.

It was 1993 when I had the privilege of meeting her in Athenree where she lived with her husband, Vic.  A softly spoken woman, small of stature, she imparted the great inner strength which had been required of her in the Mission Field 

Olga was the ideal respondent.  An organised person, she told me about her life in chronological order.

She also passed me a small book with a soft blue, but strong cover.  The book was the Bible.  Within, Olga had recorded her service in the New Zealand Mission Field from 1935 to 1954.  There was also a small photograph of her when she was ordained as a deaconess.

The days of Olga Meston’s life were condensed within two pages of that, now frail, Bible.

Olga’s father was a farmer and a lay preacher in the Anglican Church

“His example gave me the desire to become a missionary.  And reading books about missionaries when I was growing up, I imagined I would be in Africa, doing wonderful things. . .”   Olga reminisced with a smile.

But, when Olga left school, age sixteen, she was apprenticed to dressmaking, working in an establishment until she was qualified to teach.  When her sister went to the Maori Mission it inspired Olga.

Her minister helped her to go for the entrance exam at the Presbyterian Women’s Training Institute in Dunedin.  She was at Deaconess College from 1929 to 1931; then offered her services in the mission field.

But, at that time missionaries were being called back because of lack of money.  Olga made up her mind to go anywhere there was an opening.  The opening came; a joint appointment for Olga and her father for Home Mission work in the South Island.  From 1932 to 1936 Olga did youth work in Granity, north of Westport. 

“It was during the depression and we weren’t paid in full.  Most of the time we received only half our salary.  We suffered, as did the out of work miners.  Those men were mainly from the old country:  Irish, Scots and English.  They washed the sand for gold.  Some took on sweet making to sell to school children.  Others did knitting to get a few pence together.  Dad married two couples.  The bridegrooms only had half a crown in their pockets.  It was a hard time for everyone.   “Living was difficult but you could get a whole truckload of coal for five shillings, so we had plenty of warmth.  We only had bicycles to get around to people.  But, on Sundays a hired car drove us to distant church services.  I cycled 68 miles to recruit girls for Bible class camp. “

When talking about her father, Olga’s respect and love for him was evident.  But, she could remember little about her mother who died early.  The few memories she had of being with her mother were painful.

“My mother was born in London.  Although my father was born in New Zealand and always lived here, it was known he was of German descent.  In World War I our family was ostracised.  The ladies used to gather up their long skirts so they would not touch my mother’s skirts as they passed her in the street.”

In 1936 Olga’s father retired and Olga was called to the Maori Mission in Waimana.  She taught at Tanata Mission School from 1936 to 1941 and was head of the station from 1939 to 1940.

“At one time the pa had been the school.  Kerosene boxes substituted for seats and Maori boys attended wearing sugar bags for clothing.  The Mission School at Waiman was initially established when Rua Kenana, Maori prophet and leader, approached the Mission Superintendent to start a school, promising the children would belong to the Presbytery.  Rua later took his people to Gisborne.”

When Sister Olga arrived at Waimana there were two fine school buildings.  Being a Deaconess encompassed many skills other than taking church services.

“The little Maori children were a delight to teach.  Anything learned by rote was more or less sung.  No matter how young they were, right from the start, they could sing in beautiful, four part harmony.  And they would look up at me with such sweet smiles.   Up till then I’d had no contact with Maori.

Weddings did not usually take place.  The couple just asked permission from parents before living together.  But, a wedding was arranged while I was there.  The bride and groom dressed in the usual finery.

But, I was amazed to see the pastor, the Ringatu Elder, in gum boots and dungarees.  It was the Maori way of making visitors feel more important than the hosts.

And when Maori people died, everything they had touched while they were dying was buried with them.  Beds, pots and pans, suitcases: everything   Possessions were not so important to them.  One boy had a good leather jacket.  But, all the boys wore it “

“And the Maori staying with us always used our toothbrushes!   I learned quite a lot from Maori people.  They always look on the bright side and they really love their children.”

From 1942, Sister Olga served for two years in Matahi, a beautiful but isolated area.

“I was the only white person there.  A milk truck called once or twice a week.  I biked for my stores over the rough road.  Once there was a wild bull asleep in the middle of the road.

I settled in at Matahi with one Maori girl to help me.   The first year went very well.

But, in the second year I had a bad experience.”  Olga stopped speaking, once again reluctant to expand on the bigotry within her birth country, a country for whose people, Maori, Pakeha of whatever colour or creed, she and her family had worked so faithfully

“Someone said I was a German.  In Maori land news is passed around.  Children stopped coming to school.  There was a threat I would be shot because of my German ancestry.  I was very upset and feeling I was only a hindrance, offered to resign.”

Hounded by the harassment against her family lasting from one world war to another twenty years later, Olga left but continued to serve wherever she was needed. 

In 1944 she helped out at the Maori Boys Farm.  There Olga met Vic Meston, an artisan missionary.

“It was love at first sight.  In 1994 we married in Rotorua.  We had ten days off for our honeymoon, so we hired a couple of bikes and cycled all round Rotorua. “

She and Vic travelled around the Mission field in a caravan nicknamed ‘The Pumpkin.’  In 1947 Olga and Vic adopted a two week old baby they named Adrian: and in 1949 they adopted ten days old Fiona.  The family lived in The Pumpkin while Vic was building a home left unfinished because of their mission work.  They had returned to find the house half eaten by rats.  Vic had to re-start building.

Vic and Olga worked in Taumaranui, Tui, Te Teko, Turangi, Ohope Beach, Whakatane and finally, Nuhaka.  There Vic became ill with a diseased kidney.

“The Maori loved Vic and prayed and prayed for him.  But, Vic was very unwell and we could see the end of the work was in sight.  So, we left Nuhaka in 1954.”

Vic then taught woodwork, mathematics and social studies at Murupara.  Olga taught clothing skills, and the Maori language.  Eleven years later they retired.

But, in 1968 Olga was appointed Matron of Hereford House. 18th Avenue Tauranga for crippled children   Caring for successive groups of handicapped children is not a retirement lifestyle many persons would tackle in their sixties.  But Olga and Vic found the work very rewarding.  But, the work was very heavy with big, helpless children requiring constant lifting.  She finally retired in 1971 after hurting her back.

When I met Olga in 1993 the pretty blue of her eyes was clouded by macular degeneration.  At 85 years of age, classified as blind, she could no longer read easily.  But, her little Bible was still by her side.

Olga Meston’s spiritual vision remained clear, undimmed by time.



Olga Meston became a Deaconess to my knowledge. Therefore perhaps this should be her title.



This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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