Newspaper Article 2016 - Land holds family tight

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Land holds family tight

Cape Country
by Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow with Angus Gordon
Penguin Random House, $50
Reviewed by Linda Hall

This is a beautiful book full of history and amazing photos.

Anyone who has ever ventured out to Clifton will recognise the scenery in the photos.

The book tells the story of seven generations of Gordons at Clifton, Cape Kidnappers.

It's obvious from the beginning that the family love the land they farm and live on.

There have been times of hardship through droughts, floods and economic downturn and times of success and prosperity.

But through it all this family endures because of the love of their land.

A great book to put on your coffee table and delve into at your leisure.


Angus Gordon is the fifth generation or his family to farm Clifton Station in Hawke's Bay. His son, Tom, who farms it with him, is the sixth. Originally the farm was 5260ha of wild, rugged, isolated country that included the magnificent Cape Kidnappers headland.

Over the years, that acreage has gradually decreased as blocks were carved off for family members: Taurapa went to Charlie Gordon in 1895, and Haupouri to his brother Edward in 1906. Then in 1924, Angus' grandfather Frank sold the vast Cape block to the Neilson family, who renamed it Summerlee.

This land is now known as Cape Kidnappers Station.

Angus takes pride in having retained the core of the Clifton property, some 810ha. The farm has changed and adapted over the years, but still provides both an income and a rewarding way of life. For Angus, being part of an ongoing family story on this particular piece of land is central to his identity and wellbeing.

As I walk out the kitchen door at seven each morning - earlier if we have a big day on - to take the little dogs Cliff and Kate for a walk, the day takes on a dimension that is new and unique to that day, and yet comfortingly the same every day.

The sea is always there.

The view across the bay to Napier and around to Mahia, or along the cliffs to Black Reef, is always there. The cafe is always there. The old red woolshed and the old station buildings tucked under the hill are still there. The dogs barking in their kennels are still there. The cheeky pukeko in the woolshed paddock are always there.

As I reach down to pick up the morning paper, I look up the long drive lined with the Moreton Bay fig trees that my father planted, and I see the wood pigeons swooping low and hear the tui gorging themselves in the giant gums beside Tom's house. This is the beginning of my day come rain or shine, and as I walk back up the drive I lose myself in a reverie so intense that the dogs recognise their moment and set off at a fast run into the hills for a day of rabbit hunting, followed by my curses that once again I've let them get the better of me.

I meet Tom at eight unless we are doing an early-morning muster - usually at his house now so I can see Francesca, my adorable new blue-eyed granddaughter, and the seventh generation of Gordons at Clifton. Eventually I leave her in the capable hands of her doting mother, and Tom and I head off.

Getting into my Can-Am side-by-side, we go down and let off our five sheepdogs, Storm, Grizz, Bounce, Tink and Ruff. After they've all relieved themselves on the same piece of long grass, my two, Storm and Grizz, leap on the back of the Can-Am; Tom’s jump on to the back of his four-wheeler.

Off we go through the cutting in the hill, alongside the river, and up the hill to the plateau country we call the Cultivation.

Going past the new woolshed and yards, we drop down Into the amphitheatre known as the Basin, where the river has carved a circular cliff for itself.

Climbing out of another gorge, we come to Round Hill, at the top of which are the pine trees my grandfather Frank planted. In this place, with a view across the wide expanse of the bay, my father John’s ashes were scattered.

Then on we drive, round the base of this hill, into the paddock we call the Hermit. Travelling alongside the wooded gorge known as Pigeon Gully, we eventually come to the Shallow Creek yards.

This will be our base for the day after we've mustered the cows and calves out of the steep paddock known as Deep Creek.

At the back boundary with Taurapa, perched on a razorback ridge above the Maraetotara Falls, we begin pushing the cattle down the river past the rapids. The kowhai are in spectacular bloom this year. The cows form a long line along the narrow track that takes them past the cabbage-tree grove to the end of the paddock before they begin the long, slow climb up into the Bluffs paddock. By the time they reach the yards, some of the cows with younger calves are getting cranky, so we yard them and then make ourselves a cup of tea.

We begin to draft the cows off the calves in readiness for marking and castrating the calves. Tom’s shins and toes will be the worse for wear at the end of the day after he has been stood on and kicked by the frisky little critters. But we return home well satisfied with our day's work, if exhausted.

Some of the happiest times of my farming life have been working with my son. In 2012 he and I formed a farming company called Gordon Farming Ltd, and we've enjoyed working together ever since. I've always had a great sense of the history and the beauty of Clifton. My whole working life has been with the one aim of making sure that I can pass the place on to my children in as good, if not better, condition than I received it.

I consider that we are custodians only, and have a great privilege in being a part of such a wonderful environment. With this in mind, I have had to meet the challenges that farming threw at us in the early 1980s. With three massive droughts and plunging commodity prices, we had to change direction away from a reliance on, firstly, the wool and then the meat that had been the staple earners of this property for years.

By diversifying into cropping and irrigation in the late 1980s, building the cafe in the late 1990s, renovating some of the old farm buildings such as the shearers quarters and old cottage into rental properties, and starting a tourist attraction in the old historic woolshed, we've managed to carry on.

We've also changed the emphasis of the farm away from its weaknesses, which are summer-related, to its autumn and spring strengths. By fattening lambs, then at a premium, we have managed to create a more stable and secure environment, which I hope Tom and Lucia will be able to build on.

Already they have other plans for the place, such as high-end camping called "glamping" on spectacular sites around the farm; taking the shearing tourism to the Lodge on Cape Kidnappers Station, and renting some of our land for orcharding and organic cropping ventures.

Looking back, there have been a great many hurdles to overcome and quite a bit of luck - I've managed to survive a total of four serious accidents in the course of my farming life to date, but miraculously have lived to tell the tale each time.

We've also experienced some extreme weather events, from terrible droughts to one slip that seriously threatened to destroy the house itself, and we've watched the impact of continual erosion to the beachfront.

The next generation will face problems and other challenges; one being the huge responsibility of eventually taking on the running of this old and very large house and garden.

My wife Dinah has performed this job with great diligence since she was thrust into the role in 1989. At that time, my parents moved to a smaller house on Gordon Rd in Te Awanga, and we moved from the very manageable and pretty house where Tom and Lucia now live into this wonderful house, where I'd been brought up.

Dinah has always understood the historical significance and responsibilities that come with such a beautiful old place. As with all her predecessors, my mother and grandmother included, the garden has always been one of her passions, and over the years she's changed and expanded the flower beds, the most notable being the round garden at the front and the extra gardens on the west side.

We both feel every confidence in the future management of Clifton because Tom feels as passionate about the place as I do, and has always loved helping me on the farm since he was a kid.

As a result, he has turned into an extremely competent farmer who won't be reliant on others as he can perform all the basic tasks a farmer still has to be able to do. And now he has a wife in Lucia, who also loves the place.

Hawke's Bay Today has five copies of Cape Country by Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow with Angus Gordon to give away.
To be in with a chance to win email competitions[@] with cape country in the subject line.
Entries close on October 12.

Photo caption - FAMILY TIES: Angus (second from left) and the Gordon family on the front porch at Clifton.


Richard Brimer
Jenny Carlyon
Angus Gordon
Charlie Gordon
Dinah Gordon
Edward Gordon
Francesca Gordon
Frank Gordon
Lucia Gordon
Tom Gordon
Linda Hall
Diana Morrow
Format of the original: 
Newspaper article
Hawke's Bay Today
Date published: 
8 October 2016
Original digital file: 
Image icon NE08102016HBT_Land.jpg856.35 KB
Accession Number: 

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