Brian James – Wrightsons
Joyce Barry: Tonight it’s my pleasure to introduce Brian James; he’s an old Dunedinite like myself. He will refer to all these amazing firms that absolutely dictated the sway of New Zealand, especially the rural bit – Wright Stephenson and Company; the National Mortgage and Agency Company Limited, going on to then combining; going on to the Challenge Corporation; going on to the Fletcher Challenge Corporation with multiple dozens of subsidiaries. And also tonight, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Stock and Station Association, so it’s a rich, rich history that had a huge input into Hawke’s Bay as well. Brian, welcome.
Brian: Thank you, Joyce. Ladies and gentlemen – I was enjoying this challenge until half an hour ago, when half my old team turned up, [chuckles] and I know that they will criticise everything that I say and will blame me for exaggerating, but there you go; I’ll have to accept that.
When Joyce rang me some weeks ago and asked me to talk about Wrightsons, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve had sixty years in and around that company; it shouldn’t be too tough.’ But what I forgot of course, is that the company’s a hundred and fifty years old and there’s a hell of a lot of history before I ever became part of it. And that’s what we’ll try and work through today from ‘go’ to today, when our company as many of you know, is called PGG Wrightsons.
[Slides shown throughout presentation]
That’s a picture of Gabriel’s Gully which we discovered gold in, in 1862; and coincidentally, that was the same year as Wright Stephensons came into being. Seven other firms came into existence within a year or two of the gold rush, and predominantly in Otago and Canterbury. But that was the start of the industry, not the start of the Association; that came some years later. But we do regard the stock and station industry as having started in 1862, so in fact it is a hundred and fifty years old this year.  There were in fact, when I look at my notes, fourteen stock firms in place before 1870, so it is a very old industry; it’s an industry that’s grown up with New Zealand. I guess the early companies reflected the wealth of gold, and that’s why they were in the south.
But the farmer-squatters of those days had very tough times. At the very best they got sixpence a pound [6d lb] for their top fleece, and basically that was their only income. They looked to their firms to provide them with their wire, and fertiliser, and stock, and … rams, bulls, whatever … with the intention of clearing that debt at the end of the year with the sale of their wool. That didn’t always happen; and that really was the start of the rural finance in New Zealand, which as years went by, became huge. I want to talk about that later on, but basically there are forty-two stock and station firms on that chart, and now there’s only one. And what’s happened to those forty-two companies we’re talking about this evening, as we go through. But I did touch a bit about wool, because that really was the only income of consequence to the farmers of those days; and there’s one in 1868 bringing the wool in in flax bales. The flax industry we’ll touch on shortly, but it was in fact a very important part of early New Zealand, and there were flax mills all over New Zealand, and it was that that provided the wool packs, the grain sacks, etcetera.
If we turn closer to today – just to show how quickly the industry built up – in 1900 … oh – well, that’s not today, it’s a hundred and twelve years ago … but in 1900 in Waipukurau there were seven stock firms. Those seven stock firms employed … and I can’t find out for sure, but at least a hundred and fifty to two hundred people. When you consider the size of Waipuk – Waipawa in 1900, that was a big proportion of that town. If we come closer to home … and these are figures I know … in 1960 there were seven stock firms operating in Hawke’s Bay. They employed just under two thousand people. If you expand that through their families, you’re talking eight to ten thousand people employed in the stock and station industry, when Hawke’s Bay – I don’t know – had a population of about eighty thousand in 1960. So I guess I’m trying to use that as an example of how much the rural population of New Zealand was associated to [with] the stock and station industry. In fact I doubt … and there’s no-one here to prove it … but I doubt that anyone under forty really knows what the stock and station industry is. It is unique to New Zealand; nowhere else in the world do we have a stock and station industry like we do here. In Australia they have big companies that handle wool and stock, but none of them have the diversification of what the stock and station industry has in New Zealand. [Cough]
The Association came into being early last century and that was a body formed by the forty-two stock firms to represent them to Government; and there were some mighty rows in those early days between the Association representing all the strong stock firms, and the Government. They also were responsible to oversee the sale yards. Today there are many auctioneers here, ready to have a shot at me, but [chuckles] the Association was the body that tried to keep seven very competitive stock firms together – united. And if we look through the sale yards and the wool, the administration of it was done by the Association, and that’s been going on until only about five years ago when the Association ceased to exist because there was only one firm, and it was logical that they did their own work. It was huge.
And here’s a wool sale in Napier. Bear in mind that Napier in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, was the largest cross-bred wool-selling centre in the world. Am I right? There’s a wool man at the back there, I can see him watching everything I say. But it was recognised as the largest cross-bred wool-selling centre in the world, and in fact one of the previous mayors in Napier was dead keen to build a great big ram in the middle of the street somewhere in Napier [chuckles] to signify that. Probably lucky he didn’t, because the whole wool industry [coughing] hasn’t disappeared, but it’s lost all the shine that was there early last century.
As I said earlier, there were forty-two stock firms and they were very competitive. The Association had its own independent staff and they were needed to make sure that we handled the marketing of our product professionally. And the sale yards, of which there‘s several of them here, were huge. These ones, barely at the turn of the previous century, were the big sales that came about when the government forced the breaking up of the big stations down south; and here[‘s] Moa Flat. And you farmers that are here will notice the beautiful clean faces of those Romneys. I wish we could have them today, but you know, they became very woolly in the face; they were beautiful sheep in those days.
But these sales, and there’s another one. And look at the hats of the old boys … there’s even a few bowlers. [Chuckles] Look at this farmer there with the bowler hat – [chuckles] it was an important occasion. And that was at Darfield in Canterbury, and again it was as the result of the chopping up of big stations. All the stock came on the market and the successful new lessees of that land bought their stock there.
Many of you might [cough] remember these fellows; these were the old auctioneers of Hawke’s Bay in 1928. Well actually, I suppose not many will. [Laughter] But you’ll know the names, [chuckles] because they were famous old identities, representing all the firms – Williams and Kettle, Murray Roberts, Hawke’s Bay Farmers, de Pelichets; [de Pelichet McLeod] Hoadley Son & Stewart – pass on that; it’d gone long before I came to Hawke’s Bay. But they’re there, celebrating the retirement of one of the auctioneers; real identities in those days. The young agents were scared stiff of them, but that’s what it was.
And then we have pictures of different sale yards round the country, and the old cattle yards at Burnside in Dunedin where you stood; and sometimes you had a bullock big enough that the horns were inclined to nudge you off the rail. And I remember as a young stock agent being shoved down below to sex a mixed mob of big cows, [chuckles] which I wasn’t very keen on [chuckles] bearing in mind I was a townie, and they used to love to put townies into those sort of situations. [Chuckles] I don’t think that’s changed has it, you stock agents here? [Chuckles]
Again, there’s a local one in the sale yard; there’s Howard Glazebrook, Gary and Derek’s father; and there’s Frank Twigg, who many of us will remember – he was our stock manager very early on. We heard a bit about him quite recently when he went to Greece as one of the soldiers that fought in Greece; but he’s now upstairs listening to us … Frank Twigg. Oh, well they’re all upstairs listening to us. [Chuckles]
I’m still trying to explain how the Association administered these sales and helped the agents of the various firms. Every agent wanted his client’s sheep in the best pen, and there used to be hell deciding who got what pens. And there was many a time when the Association tried to mediate between these aggressive firms as to where stock went. To give an indication of the size of these sales, in 1973 we sold seventy-two thousand two-tooths at Waipuk [Waipukurau] in one day. There’s a few here that would’ve been auctioning; they probably didn’t know that I was sent out with one or two others to try and untangle the traffic jam in Waipuk. [Chuckles] It came to a complete stop. There were lorry-loads of sheep still coming in at three o’clock; there were loads of sheep that had been sold five hours earlier still trying to get out. The industry was massive in those days. Interesting by-product of that is that [the] next year the firms decided to split the sale into two – Romneys one day and the cross-breds the next.
Farming changed. And before we touch on the Boards, Waipuk sale yards are no longer there – they’ve gone. Sure, seventy-two million sheep dropped to less than forty million sheep; but it was the style of farming … their pattern of farming … that meant that that massive yards and those huge sales ceased to exist. Rather sad.
The traffic jam in Waipuk that day was spectacular. I don’t know, John McKinnon, but I reckon that there would’ve been at least a hundred and fifty trucks bringing in that seventy-two thousand sheep, and another a hundred and fifty trucks taking them away, and they were going back and forth. But you can picture, in a wee town like Waipuk with really only two exits and entrances, the size of the traffic jam. But that’s a bit of history that’s now gone, and it’s sad; but it’s gone.
We also, as an Association, had the responsibility of maintaining a contact with the Boards … the Meat Board and the Wool Board. If you look at some of the earlier Boards, in fact W D Hunt, who was a director of Wright Stephensons, was on the Board; and J Fraser had been in the stock and station industry before he switched to General Manager of the Meat Producing [Producers’] Board. And if we go to the Wool Board, you’ve got his son who was also part of Wright Stephensons here in Hastings – some might remember – who left and became the General Manager of the Wool Board. It doesn’t say the year, but my guess’d be in the 1950s. So that really was trying to describe the Association.
I find it rather sad, and I’m sure many of you do too, that if you were driving round the country in the 1950s, the 1960s, and most of you would’ve been, in every rural town in New Zealand, whether it was Otautau or Wyndham in Southland, or Wairoa or Levin or something in the north – every town had five, six or seven stock firms; mainly in the Main Street; all employing a few people; all very profitable in those days, and very competitive. And that was part of rural New Zealand; a part that is now gone.
There were some times – and I’m still touching on the Association, but I must get on to the company otherwise the Chairman will be growling at me. As I say, I have to admit that in many cases the stock firms hid behind the Association. And if I took an example of that, in the early seventies Stortford [Lodge] yards was [were] under attack by all the residents that surrounded the yards. They hated the trucks, they hated the smell, they hated the noise. They wanted us out. In 1970 we went out and bought a hundred acres of shingle on Highway 50. No one had heard of Gimblett Gravels. [Chuckles] And we drew up plans to shift Stortford out there, ready to go. And the Catchment Board – and there’s one of them here in the audience – said, “Hell, you can’t do that! You’re right over the aquifer!” [Chuckles] The Highway Board said, “No, you can’t do that! You’re right on Highway 50!” So we had to pull back, and we stayed at Stortford. That was fine for a year or two until more pressure came on from the surrounding people, even though the yards were there long before any of the houses that surrounded the yards. We went looking again, and we bought, subject, the block of land behind the Gun Club in Maraekakaho Road. And that’s where we were going to shift Stortford. City said, “Okay – there’s still aquifer problems. If you go there, you’re going to have to concrete the entire yards.” And remembering we had to build yards big enough to carry forty or fifty thousand sheep; and not only that, you had to capture the effluent and take it all the way to Tomoana. The cost of that was three times more than with the Countdown, who offered us some money to buy Stortford; Countdown were going to go there instead of where they are now.
But that cost was such that we had to say, “Sorry … ” As I say, we hid behind the Association. They told all the people around Stortford, “Sorry, we’re staying.” I must admit that we had total support from the Mick Thompsons and the Jones boys and Blackmore and co [company] – they didn’t want us to go. They knew that the farmers came in on Mondays and Wednesdays, and their wives came into town shopping, and the last thing they wanted us [was] to be going ten, twenty miles out of town. [Cough]
Then we had a row with the City; the City said, “Stock and Station Association, we want to put Southampton Street right through to Maraekakaho [Road], and in doing so we acknowledge that we’re going to have to wipe all your loading ramps. Not only that, but there’s going to be a bit of land on the other side of the road which …” you know, we knew was going to be useless to us, and in fact that’s where Farmlands are now. But that’s what they wanted to do and we wanted to be good citizens, so we said, “Okay. You can gun Southampton right through and we’ll shift the loading ramps around the other side.” All that was done at considerable cost.
And then [chuckle] we received a bill from the City called ‘Betterment’. I looked at Philip Giblin; he looked at Athol Hutton; he looked at … de Pelichets … Owen Mudgway; and none of us knew what ‘Betterment’ was. [Chuckles] I admit that. So we went hunting and we found that ‘Betterment’ was that the road that had gone through had improved the value of our sale yards – [chuckles] after we’d spent thousands rebuilding all the loading ramps and losing some land on the other side, making the place smaller than it was – they wanted us to pay the City. So we had quite a battle, and the Association on behalf of the firms, won that, and ‘Betterment’ disappeared. [Chuckles]
Another issue, just to sort of convey to you how the Association and the firms were part and parcel of Hawke’s Bay before I go back to the early history down south. In those days, in the early seventies, a lot of farmers were growing maize; huge crops of maize and other grain. It needed to be dry. We needed a dryer. Dalgetys had just purchased a grain dryer for Waikato so we said, “Okay, Dalgetys – would you on behalf of the Association, buy one for Hawke’s Bay from Canada?” So they bought that huge grain dryer which you see at the end of Orchard Road. We put it on land that was owned by Wilson Whineray’s company … UEB? Doesn’t matter; and he had that lucerne factory at [?]. It failed, and that’s why we got the land. There were two fifteen hundred ton silos there too, which we negotiated and bought; all set up ready to go for the next crop.
At that time I happened to be chairman of the Association and one evening I got a ring from a government person in Wellington who said that the ladies of a [an] old people’s home somewhere near there, had rung them to complain about the noise of the trucks all night dropping their tailboards as they unloaded their grain; and, you know, “What can you do about it?” And I had to explain to the government that there was millions tied up in this operation; it only went for a month; that you could not stop it – it would be disastrous for the farmers of Hawke’s Bay. And the Government agreed, although we did everything possible to make the trucks quieter, which was not easy.
When you dry maize, there’s what’s called the ‘bee’s wings’, come off the maize; fine, fine bee’s wings. And there is a system that catches those bee’s wings and shoots them down and they become bales of good cattle feed. We started having problems when the engineering company right next door went to work next morning and found the whole place covered in about a centimetre of bee’s wings – all in his electrical machinery, and of course he was furious. We didn’t know what was happening. What was worse is that some of the bee’s wings that got caught were catching fire, and we were getting fire in the top of that big grain dryer. Pandemonium! So we had to bring the Canadian owners over to try and find out what had gone wrong. He was only with us for half a day, and he said, “The answer is easy. Your New Zealand diesel has a far higher sulphur content than the Canadian.” And it was the sulphur that was burning through these grilles that were meant to capture the bee’s wings. So we had to pull all the grilles out and replace them with stainless steel grilles, at a considerable cost, just to keep everything happy in the district. But they were issues that the Association, on behalf of the six firms, successfully kept us all as good citizens for Hawke’s Bay.
Finally, and I’ve never said this before, but in the late 1970s when government restrictions had tight control on all expenditure, the stock firms’ commission on livestock was three per cent, and there are many here that know that. The Association worked hard on the government and got the opportunity to lift it to four per cent. We met, our Association and firms, just to confirm that we were going to take that opportunity. And really we needed it because the stock side of the industry was not making any money. Any rate, Athol Hutton stood up and said, “Hawke’s Bay Farmers are not going to shift their commission.” Philip Giblin immediately stood up … “And nor is Williams and Kettle.” Owen Mudgway said, “Nor is de Pelichet McLeod.” Alan Smith and I as Regional Managers – we had no choice but to go out of the room to our phones to ring Wellington. And we weren’t very popular, but of course no-one could do anything about it – we had to adhere to what those two companies … and so, although I’ve never said it to Athol and it’s too late to tell it to Philip, they changed the commission rate for the whole of New Zealand, which showed the strength of those two local companies. I acknowledge it now; I would never have acknowledged it then; [chuckles] nor would we have told our clients why the three per cent remained.
I said that the stock firms really expanded their traditional operations hugely, from – ooh, way back after the war, really. We of course had the livestock divisions, and the wool division and the merchandise division, but if I use my own branch here in Hawke’s Bay, we also had insurance, shipping, wine and spirits, grocery, white goods, urban real estate, rural real estate, rural finance, grain and seed dressing, administration – huge diversification. And that applied to all the firms; I recall Dalgetys in fact, had a big travel department. We didn’t have that, but that’s what they had. You can see how diversified all those stock and station firms were thirty, forty, fifty years ago. Now they’ve all gone – completely gone, except for the one firm, who [which] certainly doesn’t have anything like the spread of divisions that we used to have in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s.
Now if I may, I want to go right back to ‘go’ again, and talk about Wrightsons. And in talking about Wrightsons I’ve got to talk about the two firms that came all the way through and merged in 1971, and that’s [coughing] Wright Stephensons and National Mortgage. National Mortgage was the firm that I started with in Dunedin in 1953 – which when you think about it was sixty years ago in a few weeks – a bit frightening. The two companies started in Dunedin. They had Wright Stephensons’ head office in Wellington; NMA in Dunedin. The National Mortgage was a [an] English company. It had started in England and remained in England right up until 1971. And these are some of the old Chairmen, and there’s some real identities. Following that one – ‘cause that was getting close to my time – following him was Lord Glenconner, and following him was Lord Denman; and so the Board in England was a very powerful group of people, and for a long time they dictated the policy of National Mortgage. It was only later on with G R Ritchie and Jim Ritchie that they started telling the Board to suck eggs. [Chuckles] I’m sure they didn’t say that, but …
There were disadvantages for National Mortgage having the Board in England, but there were also advantages and one of them was that the dividends were paid in sterling. Now, all of you will remember how bloody hard it was to buy a car in the 1950s, 1960s, unless you had sterling; and if you had thirty per cent of the purchase price of a new car in sterling you had no trouble getting one. The NMA shareholders had sterling dividends and [chuckle] they were worth gold, particularly if you were thinking about buying a new car.
NMA which I’m talking about first – but all the other stock firms were the same – were really trying to find ways to help farmers export their product, and this I believe was one of the most exciting things that happened in our history. In 1882, [cough] National Mortgage in conjunction with the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, whom [which] I’ll talk about shortly, organised the shipment of the very first frozen meat to England. They chartered a half-sail/half-power boat [ship] and installed refrigeration gear, and brought that ship, which happened to be called the ‘Dunedin’, a Shaw Savill boat, [ship] out to Port Chalmers with the intention of exporting frozen mutton.
Let me tell you how they did that. The Land Company had many properties; but they had a property south of Oamaru, and it was from there that the sheep were drawn. If I jump ahead a wee bit, whilst the enterprise ran at a loss, the NMA Chair of the time remarked, “It could become a reasonable trade.” [Chuckles] ‘Totara’ was the property south of Oamaru, and the Land Company built a killing facility; hired six butchers; killed two hundred and forty muttons per day; put them into a bin with huge blocks of ice where they stayed all night; and then in their stiff form next morning, railed them to Port Chalmers. That was done every day. They had six hundred frozen mutton on the ‘Dunedin’ when the refrigeration equipment broke down, so the six hundred mutton were very quickly marketed in Dunedin. [Chuckles] And so those Dunedin people tasted the very first frozen mutton in the history.
They kept on going, and they eventually put seven and a half thousand sheep on that ship, plus some pigs, and off it went to England. It took ninety-eight days. Halfway across the … Pacific, I think, doesn’t matter … sparks off the refrigeration machinery caught fire on the sails, and that slowed the whole thing down because they lost their sail power. However, in ninety-eight days the meat arrived at the Tilbury docks in surprisingly good order, according to one of the Lords.
Just as a sideline, [aside] at that time in 1881 there were twelve million sheep already in New Zealand. In 1886 there were fifteen million. At the turn of the century there were twenty-four million.
A further steamer fitted with refrigeration was sent out that year and they picked up ten thousand carcasses at two and a quarter pence per pound, [02.25d per lb] FOB, [Free on Board] frozen. Two and a quarter pence a pound. What would a mutton weigh, John? In pounds, not in kilos?
John McKinnon (audience): Oh, eighty pounds …
Brian: Eighty pounds? That’s $1.60.
The New Zealand and Australia Land Company that was part of that transaction was a Scottish company who had been in New Zealand for well over a hundred years, and during that hundred years the National Mortgage were the supervisors of all those big stations.
I, as I said earlier, as a townie – after a year as office boy, I was sent off to Hakataramea, which was one of the biggest Land Company properties, to learn how to drive a D4 Caterpillar – until I flattened a couple of strainer posts and then I wasn’t allowed to do that again; to do a bit of crutching and anything else that a townie had no idea about; before I went out on the road. But the New Zealand and Australia Land Company was really a massive operation, and if I had more time I would list all the stations, and I’m sure that many of them you would know.
In the 1980s the Land Company … the Scottish company … sold to Dalgetys UK, and they in turn instructed Dalgetys New Zealand to chop up, and most of those Stations like Haka, [Hakataramea] and Mount Possession and Macdonald Downs – many of them became four, five, six, ten smaller farms.
Now this is … well, it says Ranfurly, but that’s certainly not Ranfurly, so it must be out in the sticks somewhere; but here’s Bill Crawford as a young agent in his brand new Clement Bayard car. [Chuckles] Now the interesting thing is that when I started exactly forty years later, Bill Crawford was the real estate manager in Dunedin; so if you went backwards he can’t have been any more than twenty-odd in that photo. It was interesting; everyone came out – this is a pub somewhere near Ranfurly – they all came out to see this little fellow in the vehicle.
All the stock firms were involved in grocery, and that was our van at Waimate. And I don’t know how many of you remember, but one of the main things that National Mortgage imported was Desford Fanning tea, in little five pound [5lb] wooden boxes. And that was awful popular; that gave us entry into the opposition farms, because they wanted these boxes of Desford Fanning. But that’s what they were carting around then in those days.
As I said earlier, the flax industry was important at the two hundred and forty mills throughout New Zealand. It was the earliest type of material for a thousand and one uses. But at the turn of the century… in 1900… National Mortgage began to import jute. For a hundred years they were the only importers of jute in New Zealand. Every wool pack from 1900 to 1980; every bale of grain, one stripe or three striped jute, came through the import from the National Mortgage, and the making of the bags in their bag factory. I remember very well, because as office boy in Dunedin, every week envelopes would arrive from India or Ceylon smothered in stamps. And if anyone collects stamps they will know that the Indian stamps were triangles, oblong, beautiful colours … spectacular stamps. Old G R Ritchie, who you saw a while ago, although he was retired, still had an office up top, and it was to him that those stamps went. One particular envelope … and I know I’m diverting a bit here … one particular envelope was so smothered in stamps, well, I thought, ‘Bugger, the old fellow wouldn’t remember them all’, and I wisely enough popped it in a drawer at the office boy’s desk. I didn’t take it home. About a day later, ‘Hrmph, hrmph!’ I looked up and there was G R Ritchie – and I’d never seen him in Dunedin branch in my working life – looking for this missing envelope. [Chuckles] “Mr Ritchie, I’m sorry, I put it in the drawer and forgot all about it”, [chuckles] and handed it back to him.
Now, there’s an amazing coincidence here, because the Ritchie boys here in Hawke’s Bay – David and Jim and Alan and George – sons of David Ritchie Senior, who’s long gone; a Ritchie married a Ritchie, and all these boys were great-grandsons of G R Ritchie. And I was telling Alan Ritchie about this when we first came oh … nearly forty years ago. He said, “Wait a minute”, and he went away and he brought this damn collection; and that’s where they’d finished, here in Hawke’s Bay; [chuckles] that I nearly got the sack over. [Chuckles]
But the jute was vital to New Zealand. And during the war we still had to have jute; it still had to come from Ceylon or India, but no insurer would insure those boats. And so the company had to carry the insurance of those boats during the war, to get the continued supply of jute into New Zealand.
That’s Jim Ritchie. The captain of the ‘Dunedin’ obviously died just two years after the trip, ‘cause he died at forty-five in 1886. And this was seventy-five years later that they were putting a thing on his stone.
Talking to Ian Cameron just a few minutes ago, who was the CEO of Whakatu for many, many years – he went down to Dunedin for the centennial of the shipping of the first lot of frozen meat. End of May he lent Longburn, which was in financial trouble, quite a lot of money, and in the end had to take the company over. And there’s G R as Chairman of the company; and there’s a lot of names … there’s Warsnop – I assume that’s our mate’s father; and McGilvray, and Campbell; a lot of Hawke’s Bay names. The company got out of it quite early; it was bought by today’s owners of Longburn.
Levin & Co, which – forty-seven per cent was owned way back in 1896; and Levin & Co really started off [?] as a major importer of spirits. They had marvellous agencies of whiskies and gins and things, and then expanded from there into a stock and station industry, particularly in Wellington/Wanganui area. And here is the old Board getting together at the time in 63, when National Mortgage bought the balance of Levin & Co.
They were also exporters … National Mortgage … of crayfish. They built a very large factory in the Chatham Islands, which is still there, and they were the very first company to export crayfish to New York. The whole lot went straight to New York. The only time we ever saw them was our annual dinner of the company – the tables used to be laden with crayfish. And that was an industry that went for a long, long time; it is no longer. Again, at the time of the merger the crayfish division was sold off.
Here’s the Managers in ’57, a year or two after I started. Denny Wise was my first boss, and he was an All Black, and he coached Christ’s College, didn’t he, Gus?
Gus: (audience) Before my time.
Brian: Oh hell, yeah! [Laughter] And there’s Jack Manchester who was my second boss, and Jack was the 1935 All Black captain to England. So obviously if you were an All Black you had a better show of getting into the industry. [Chuckles] I did my best, but other than playing for, I don’t know, Kurow … I did, I played for Kurow.
Just touching on this for a moment, and the agents of the time. There are many of us here who were agents in the fifties and sixties, and what a marvellous time it was! And with the stock firms in their peak it was a very important time. If we lost a client, it was bloody terrible; if we won a client it was a bottle of [coughing] champagne [from] the boss. Farmers stayed with their firm; they did everything with their firm. If they wanted to buy some crystal glasses for their niece’s wedding, they would go to their firm and there would be crystal glasses for them.
But at that time, or just a year or two later, I was a [an] agent in Cromwell. And I don’t know, I guess most of you have driven down the West Coast at some time, but Haast and all that area around Haast, was totally isolated – there was no road in from the Wanaka side; there was no road in from the Greymouth side – it was totally isolated. There were a marvellous group of farmers there; one of the Nolans was the New Zealand axe chopping champion for many years. It was a very powerful Catholic community. A lot of the wives were colleens that’d been brought from Ireland. They had wealth because they had whitebait, and they had control of the whitebait. They had permanent catchments halfway across all those rivers that came out of the mountains; and they had their own planes – they had no roads but they had their own planes to fly the whitebait into Christchurch. Why I’m telling you about this story is that in 1962 – I was agent in Cromwell – the road which had started in the Depression, pushed through from the Wanaka side to the Haast. Up until then, every farmer in the Haast with their magnificent horned Hereford cattle – there was nothing else – walked those cattle for five days to Whataroa, which was the railhead. That was the nearest communication … and the cattle would be railed to Christchurch. I went in there, literally behind the last bulldozer, and I knew them all because I used to fly in; they were clients. And I said, “Look, instead of five days, let’s put them on trucks and we’ll have a special Haast Cattle Sale in Cromwell.” And I’m talking exactly fifty years ago. There was no TV in those days, but every media in Otago and Southland were intrigued by this prospect, and on this particular Monday was going to be the Haast Cattle Sale, the first in Central Otago. And there were people from all over the country. We sent in twenty-seven lorries on the Saturday. On the Saturday night or early Sunday morning, I got a radio telephone [call] all the way back to Cromwell; one of the truckies had had a fight with one of the bushmen there and broken his leg, and so at about two on Sunday morning I had to organise for another driver to be taken into the Haast to man that truck.
Monday lunchtime sale; everyone was there – the media, the buyers, my boss, everything; and there wasn’t a cattle … it’s not [?]. [Chuckles] And it was getting awful close to twelve o’clock, and I was getting concerned and they were all looking at me. [Chuckles] And then you could hear twenty-seven lorries coming down Wanaka Road – you could hear them, there was a convoy of them. And they all swooped in, and the cattle had been pre-sorted and they went straight into their pens. No-one realised how bloody wild they were. [Laughter] They’d come straight out of the bush, they hadn’t had the five days of walking to Whataroa and then the rail to … Anyway, they were hot! There were three big, five-year old horned Hereford bullocks – the horns were way above where we were standing on the rail. Magnificent cattle … three of them. In those days, and you’ll all remember it, every little town had its own butcher and that butcher had his own abattoir. Because there was so much media there, every butcher was bidding on those three magnificent bullocks. Good publicity. A fellow … Luke Carlyon … who had his abattoir at Loburn, which is now sixty feet under the water – but that wasn’t then – won the deal. And I can remember so vividly these three bullocks rushing on to the old truck with the flap down and the truck going like … [chuckles] And off he went to Loburn. I wasn’t at the other end, but I’ve heard the story since; he backed into his cattle yards which were all wooden – had been there for years and had always been good; dropped the back, and these three bullocks came straight out and they went through the wall as if it was paper, and headed back up the Pisa Range, [chuckles] never to be seen again. [Laughter] Someone said it was quite likely [cough] if they kept going they would’ve finished up back [cough] on the West Coast where they came from. [Chuckles]
But they were the exciting times that we had in those days. If I may, again briefly, you will remember, many of you, that we were limited as to how far you could carry an animal on a truck. You couldn’t compete with the railway, and in the south it was forty miles. If the stock had to go more than forty miles, they had to go by rail. When we had our big half-breed and merino hogget sales in Cromwell, generally they all went into Canterbury, into the dry lands of Canterbury, because they could handle dry lands and they did well. And so because of that, you had to pre-order your J & Jc wagons. I remember going to see the stationmaster at Cromwell and saying that we’re going to need twenty-six, or twenty-eight – it doesn’t matter the number – J & Jc wagons. And they are the wagons that carry sheep, and he would have to pull them up from Dunedin or Christchurch or whatever so that they were ready for the sale next day, and the stock would be taken straight from the yards into rail and packed in. This particular year, Central Otago had more grass than it ever had before; Canterbury was drier than it ever had [been] before, and funnily enough all the hoggets were bought locally. I never thought anything about it, until three days later the stationmaster rang me and he said, “Here! When are you going to use these wagons?” [Chuckles] But that was the life in the fifties and sixties.
Almost right back to the 1870s – and I’m running out of time, aren’t I? Ooh hell! I am running out of time – I haven’t even started! [Laughter] Can you give me an extra five minutes?
In the 1870s, the banking role started. We haven’t even started on Wright Stephenson yet. The banking role started and it built and built until the stock firms had a huge banking role. Some of the firms did not handle that banking role well, and invariably, they were the firms that got gobbled up. They could no longer protect their own clients; their debt structure built up so high, one of the firms I remember that we took over in the eighties up in Gisborne, had eleven million out to the Māori farmers north of Gisborne. That’s fine, except that you cannot secure Māori land, so their security was stock – an IWS … an Instrument By Way of Security … stock. When we went to find the stock, [chuckles] it wasn’t there. And there were two or three firms that got into real problems because of the banking role, and those firms disappeared.
Can we with a few minutes, pick up Challenge, and I’ll go through it as quickly as possible. Challenge is the corporate name for Wright Stephensons, and as I said earlier, they started in 1862 – or it’s 1861 here; that’s interesting. And one of their first major industries was the auction and sale of horses. The bazaar that they built in Dunedin sold a thousand horses every month. When you think about it, in the 1870s that was the only way one could go from one point to the other … horseback … whether it was a farmer or a townie or whatever, it was horses; that was all that was there. And they sold a thousand of them every month. In 1870 they shipped four thousand horses to the Indian Army. During the Boer War they sent hundreds of horses to South Africa. As a matter of interest, over a two year period during the Boer War they sent seven hundred thousand sacks of oats. So the horse industry and the feed that horses needed was a very important part, and particularly of Wright Stephensons. And the issue is that they’ve kept to the horses; and in 1927 as many of you will know, they’ve become major auctioneers of thoroughbreds. And that thoroughbred went right through until 2000 when they sold Karaka, and got out of the industry altogether.
Now in 1900, thereabouts, a lot of the big stations were sold – got chopped up – and buyers had to be on site. Here’s a picture where all of these buyers have come to railhead at Lumsden, and then they all piled on all these drays and were taken to Te Anau to bid on the subdivision of the big stations at Mararoa. And here’s another big land sale in Gore, and Mr Hunt there, the auctioneer, was the director that you saw in later years on the Meat Board. That’s going to Moa Flat for the same thing – for the subdivision sale of Moa Flat, Central Otago; all the buyers being brought in by horseback or drays.
Interesting[ly] enough, that ballot system started again with our young farmers and their marbles, in the 1970s, when the Lands and Survey [Department] started chopping off blocks, and all the young farmers had a go at trying to get a block. The stock firms knew that every farmer that applied had to identify his seasonal lender – the stock firm, in other words. And so we all really … you know, played up to these young farmers to put our stock firm in as the seasonal lender. And it was very important; there were big chops in Taupō, and up in Wairoa, and seven or eight or nine farms coming out of the big blocks of Lands and Survey. And all the stock firms were keen to get access to those keen young farmers.
If we just touch on rabbits for a minute, we know rabbits were a major issue very early on, and in Dunedin in 1876 they were selling three hundred thousand skins, every sale. In 1876, nine million skins were marketed. It was good for the stock firms to auction those skins, but of course it was a disaster for the farmers. And those skins were auctioned right through ‘til after the war; in fact there’s one young fellow here who can recall stretching his rabbit skins and sending them off to Dunedin at the time of the war. That was a huge industry. Unfortunately, some of the farmers started farming for the values, [chuckles] and so the government had to step in and say, “That’s the finish! You can’t sell meat; you can’t sell skins. All that’s doing is encouraging different farmers to build up their rabbit herds.” But it was massive.
Wright Stephensons became involved in cars very early on, and it went right through, here in Hawke’s Bay, when they bought Barclay Motors and pulled it down, and replaced it with Wrightcars. And Wyn Craven, who was still with us, who was Manager of Barclays became Manager of Wrightcars in Karamu. But they were very involved in the car industry. Can I tell one little story?
Joyce: I want the joke about the …
Brian: Righto. Oh, have I told you?
Joyce: I know about it.
Brian: Oh, really. [Chuckles] Well, I’m going back again, but in the late 1950s, early 1960s, I was assistant manager in Dunedin. And having been in Cromwell in earlier years, I knew all the high country farmers. There were a couple of old bachelor farmers who farmed on the Cardrona Range, between Wanaka and Queenstown. They were over the creek; they had a bridge and they had a little garage on the road and they lived there. They’d never spent a penny in their life [lives]. I’m not joking – whenever you saw them they were wearing their pink woolly singlets, and if they went to town they had braces over their pink woolly singlets. [Laughter] But they were lovely old gentlemen. Although they called me Mr James, they were fifty years older. They had an A40 car stuck in their little garage. And I was sitting in the office one day and they rang me and said, “Oh, Mr James, we think we really have to change our car, it’s simply not working. Would it be all right?” They had, in today’s language, damn near a million dollars in credit; they had over £500,000 sitting in credit; they never spent a penny all their lives, and they had all the booms of the forties and fifties in their wool; they had a beautiful property. And I said, “Look, I’m sure that’s okay, I think it’s a damn good idea. You’d better come to town and get yourself a car.” And forgot about it.
A week or so later, I had a ring from the manager of City Motors, whom I knew. He said, “Look, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve got a couple of funny old fellows in pink singlets [laughter] who want to buy one of my new Super Snipes”, [chuckles] “and I didn’t know what to do and they told me to” [cough] “ring you.” And I said, “How many do they want?” [Laughter] And he was quiet for a minute; he said, “Oh, is that the story?” And I said, “Well, yes – if they want to buy City Motors you’d be [??].” [Laughter] “Thank you very much.” About a quarter of an hour later these two old fellows came into my office with a beam on their face[s] and a new car outside, and they said, “Mr James, I don’t know what you said to that fellow when he was on the phone, but when he came back he was a different fellow altogether.” [Laughter] But those were the times – there was a lot of real wealth in that old farming group.
If I could … again very briefly … the same old fellows – this is years earlier – they came into Cromwell, and it was the time when the government were [was] putting a ban on Dieldrin, the spray on sheep. And the merino people – they used a Dieldrin powder that was shot into the wool, and they believed, and I sort of supported them, that it really didn’t harm that sort of … I mean the government were concerned that Dieldrin was getting into the meat. I said, “Well, we’ve still got two drums of Dieldrin powder.” “Aw! Can we have that? We’ll just keep it quiet.” And I said, “Yes, I’m sure that’s all right. I’ll send it up with the local truck” … the local carriers. About a fortnight later I got a ring from these old fellows. “Here! Where’s the Dieldrin?” I said, “Oh – I sent it up weeks ago.”
What happened was that the truck, as it always had, dropped the Dieldrin at the road side of the swing bridge. Unbeknown to us until a bit later, the Department of Ag [Agriculture] came putting through; saw them there; assumed that these were good farmers handing in their Dieldrin; [laughter] picked them up and took them home. And a few days later or weeks later they got a letter: ‘Thank you from the Department of Ag [chuckles] for releasing their Dieldrin.’ [Chuckles]
In 1971 National Mortgage and Wright Stephenson merged, and it became Wrightson NMA. It was the largest merger in any business in New Zealand [cough] at the time. Unbeknown to us, there was a corporate raider called Vavasour in England who was using the advantage of the English register of shares to buy up; and he was buying up fast. And he walked into the Board and he said, “I’m stopping this merger.” “How can you do that?” He said, “Well, I’ve got twelve per cent of the shares already, and I’ve got contracts out in New Zealand for another twelve per cent, and that will block the whole sale.” Pandemonium! Rob Muldoon was [cough] Minister of Finance; he knew the importance of this merger. He knew how much asset and cash those companies had. The last thing he wanted was an English ‘Brierley’, if you want to call it that way, taking over and selling off everything. And so he immediately stopped the sale of shares in New Zealand. Not only did he stop them, but he cancelled shares for the last forty-eight hours. The sharebrokers were furious! [Laughter] But Muldoon – whether you liked him or not – saved that merger, and it came about.
As Joyce said at the very beginning, as the years went by, Ron Trotter and Jim Ritchie succeeded in bringing these companies together. The government liked the way that Trotter worked, and asked him to take over Tasman Pulp and Paper – which they did – and a couple of years later merged with Fletchers to become Fletcher Challenge. And some of you might have read … and I haven’t got time … but I could go on for another hour or two on the debate or argument between Fletcher and Trotter. Two totally different people – [cough] one who’d been brought up in the stock and station old-fashioned industry and knew how it worked, and how difficult these farmers were; and the other, a Harvard graduate; fairly successful businessman who really didn’t want Wrightsons, and I think having said that openly, it was confirmed in my mind when they hived Wrightsons off. And at that time Wrightsons had taken over Dalgety Crown, which the year before had taken over Hawke’s Bay Farmers – I’ve got a lot of notes here on all this, but I haven’t got time; and they all came together, and it finished up one.
I’m sorry that I’ve cut half my story – I had no idea I was going to ramble so much. [Chuckles] But Wrightsons, NMA, Dalgetys, Crown, Williams & Kettle, Reid Farmers, and Pyne, Gould & Guinness – they all built up their own empires. National Mortgage took over Murray Roberts, which was very much a Hawke’s Bay company, and then became Fletcher Challenge and then Wrightson NMA, and then Dalgety Crown, who overstretched themselves – there’s no question about that. And they took over HBF, [Hawke’s Bay Farmers] and HBF in my mind made a lot of silly mistakes; they were the biggest company in Hawke’s Bay by far. They should never have got into silk stockings or whatever you like to call it. [ Chuckles] Take Adairs in Gisborne, Farmers in Napier, whatyoucall’em here in Hastings …
Audience member: Westermans.
Brian: Yeah – all those businesses that Colin Kirkpatrick and Athol Hutton got involved in; way outside what stock and station firms should do, and they became very vulnerable and that’s when they teamed up with de Pelichets and Crown. And then Dalgety took them over to become Dalgety Crown; they were stretched to hell and came to Ron Trotter, and he agreed to take them over. And then eight years ago they took over W&K, [Williams & Kettle] and you can ask Selwyn Cushing about that one. [Chuckles] And then because they had already been working with Pyne, Gould & Guinness, three or four years ago the two companies merged and we now have PGG Wrightsons. And I’ve got twenty pages here we haven’t talked about. [Laughter and applause]
Joyce: Could I have a vote, who would come back and hear Part 2?
Joyce: Honestly, Brian, we’ve got our money’s worth again and again, and I think it’s worth seeing the modern history because it was quite torturous, and quite upsetting in parts, wasn’t it?
Joyce: You heard the first half of Brian’s talk. This is very much, deservedly, a request ‘cause we didn’t even touch on this last controversial bit of the stock and station industry. So welcome, Brian.
Brian: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us again as many of you did a month ago. I do want to very quickly précis a little of what we talked about a month ago, and that was basically that in 1862 gold was found in Central Otago; and in the same year the first stock and station firm was developed or established, and that was Wright Stephensons, in 1862. Within ten years National Mortgage, Dalgetys, Freeman Jackson, Hoadley Son & Stewart, Alfred Butlin, Levin & Co, and Murray Roberts all came into being. So by 1870 the stock and station industry, as most of us have grown up all our life [lives] to understand, was well and truly in place.
By 1900, and again we talked about it last time, there were forty-two stock and station firms throughout New Zealand. And at that time the industry decided that they needed a single voice to represent them in Parliament and on the Meat and Wool Boards; and thus in 1900 the New Zealand Stock & Station Association came into being, and it had a head office with a general manager and staff in Wellington, and for the next hundred and five years it was in existence. It unfortunately no longer exists, because there in fact is only one stock and station firm as we all understand that industry, still in existence.
It’s interesting – the Meat Board in 1922, there was [were] three people there directly involved with the stock and station industry. There was W D Hunt, a high country farmer and director of Wright Stephensons; J Fraser over there, started with Wright Stephensons and then became the general manager of the Meat Board. And the next one, the Wool Board – again a bit later – but here’s Doug Fraser, who was with Wright Stephensons for a while in Hawke’s Bay, and left to become general manager of the Wool Board. But I use those as an example of how our industry was very involved in government matters and in farm Board matters.
Why did forty-two firms, in the space of less than fifty years, disappear? This is part of what we’re going to be talking about today. We all know, looking at our age group, about the industry; we all remember when there were five or six or seven stock firms in every town and rural city in New Zealand -generally in the main road. So if you drove through any town you would see all those stock firms there, so vital to the profitability of those towns and cities. I used quickly as an example last time, Hawke’s Bay, where in 1960 there were seven firms employing just under two thousand people. If you extend that to their families, that could be ten thousand people when Hawke’s Bay’s population then was certainly no more than eighty thousand. It was a significant part of the business factor of our cities throughout the country. If we use the A&P Show, which we’ve just seen recently – there were seven huge marquees representing the seven stock firms. The farmers went there to have their morning tea, and a whisky round the back. But it was a big part of the A&P Show, and there are A&P people here today who will acknowledge how important the stock and station industry was to the success of the A&P Society.
We were the one-stop shop for farmers, whether it was for their stock, or their merchandise, or their banking, or even their groceries – they got everything they wanted from their firm. The firms were hugely competitive and for most of their history, very profitable. And as I did last time, I’m way out of my notes. But really, the Wright Stephenson and NMA aspect of that industry is what we’re going to be talking through, because that’s where we finished when all those other forty-two stock and station firms disappeared.
Wright Stephensons – let’s touch on that for a moment. I tried to identify how substantial our primary export was away back at 1900, or 1906. I don’t know whether you can see those figures from the distance, but it’s interesting, and I did some maths somewhere if I can find it. The wool in 1906, the export value of the wool – and they talk in pounds – was fivepence per pound [5d lb] in value, if you did that mathematics. Meat was two and a halfpence per pound [21/2d lb], so the wool return was twice that of meat in those early days. But the wool was so very important to the whole primary industry.
I also mentioned previously, and I don’t want to underestimate this, that Wright Stephensons developed in the 1870s, 1880s, very much through the horse industry. They were selling ten thousand horses a week around the provinces of New Zealand. It was a vital part of New Zealand; horses – [chuckle] none of us old enough to remember, but they’re the firms.
[Shows a series of slides]
Now, here’s one of the horse sales in Dunedin in this particular case, away back in the 1880s, and every week they had those sales dotted around the country; and the next three all show the importance of horses. Here they are up at Ruatoria crossing one of the rivers there, but you can see the number of horses. And the next one, bringing oats in in Southland. And oats was by far the major crop – I mentioned last time we were together how nine hundred thousand bags of oats was exported out of New Zealand up to India and Africa, and Australia. It was a huge industry but I’ve done that to again show the involvement of horses. And the next one – here the buyers are, going to where the government is selling huge blocks of land at Mararoa, and this is Lumsden which was the railhead. And they’ve all come by rail to this point, and then they get into these marvellous old wagons and drays or whatever their real names are, with their big teams of horses, and they go way into the back of Te Anau where all that land was being subdivided in 1904. I’ve used those to emphasise how important the bloodstock or the horse industry was, and of course in Wright Stephensons’ case, that moved into bloodstock; and for sixty years they were the auctioneers for bloodstock, right up until 1900.
They also, very early on were involved in the import of cars – de Dion, those cars in the early days, and of course their involvement in the cars went through to Wrightcars, and Wrightcars of course had the New Zealand agency for Toyota. So that was a very important part of the Wright Stephenson side of the merged companies.
National Mortgage, as I explained earlier, was an English company and remained an English company right up until 1971 when National Mortgage and Wright Stephenson merged. It was an English company with an English Board and some famous old lords and viscounts as chairmen over a hundred years. Lord Glenconnor was the chairman during my years with National Mortgage, G R Ritchie was the Chief Executive – he retired during my early years and Jim Ritchie took over as Chief Executive of the National Mortgage. Following Lord Glenconnor was Lord Denman, and Lord Denman was the Chair of the National Mortgage Board right up to the merger between National Mortgage and Dalgetys. Now Lord Denman is ninety-two years old. He was in Hawke’s Bay a month or two ago; my wife and I had dinner with him. He’s still very active. He still has a major export company in England, and remained on the Fletcher Challenge Board as one of the very few representatives from the old stock and station industry. As I say, I’ve gone miles away from my notes.
In the 1920s, Wright Stephensons started acquiring other stock and station firms. They purchased Turnbull & Co, Gunsen & Co, Abraham & Williams, Wairarapa Farmers, and Buxton & Co as some of the larger companies. National Mortgage, away back in the early 1900s, purchased forty-seven per cent of Levin & Co, and sixty-five years later they completed the purchase in 1963. And that’s the old Levin & Co Board with old J D Duncan, a well known name in the North Island; and a lot of the other names – [?Hughes?] there was General Manager of the National Mortgage prior to the merger – not Chief Executive, General Manager, and that was the last meeting of the Levin Board before they came totally under National Mortgage name.
In the 1950s and 1960s National Mortgage purchased J R Wills & Sons, Alfred Buckland – that’s in Auckland, G W Vercoe in Hamilton, Robertson Brothers, J G Ward & Co in Southland, Henderson & Co, Murray Roberts, Stronach Morris, together with the Longburn Freezing Company. And that’s the old Longburn Board; there’s G R Ritchie as Chair. There are some well known names there. McGilvray and Warsnop and Nelson, all directors of the old Longburn Freezing Company which the National Mortgage owned for some years.
In 1960, Murray Roberts became the face of National Mortgage in Hawke’s Bay. Murray Roberts was founded by Sir John Roberts there, who came from a wealthy family in England to Dunedin where he established a fellmongery. In 1868 he formed a recognised stock and station firm, ie Murray Roberts & Co, in 1868. Now, this is interesting. In 1870, he married Louisa Kettle, whose brother, Nat Kettle, joined Murray Roberts in Dunedin, transferred to Hawke’s Bay, met one Williams and formed Williams & Kettle. It’s interesting that a hundred and twenty years later, the companies have merged.
The next one is Sir Alec Roberts who took over from Sir John Roberts and then, following him, was Tony Roberts who was my predecessor when I came to Hawke’s Bay in 1973. In fact, I’ve just suddenly spotted that we have a great, great-granddaughter of Sir John Roberts here listening to me and will no doubt criticise or correct me if I’ve done something wrong afterwards. Welcome, great, great-granddaughter.
This is also very interesting – Murray Roberts in the 1870s and 1880s became very large land holders throughout New Zealand. They purchased Lauder Station and Gladstone Station [Gladbrook Station] in the south; they purchased Hawkestone Station in Hawke’s Bay and of considerable interest, in 1878 they purchased Tautane Station. They purchased it from one M S Bell, and of course I’m sure that most of you realise that right now, Tautane’s on the market. Murray Roberts sold to the Herrick Brothers in 1902, a hundred and ten years ago; the Herricks have been there a hundred and ten … if one assumes that the sale will be complete in the next few weeks, the family will have been on that property for a hundred and ten years. I doubt many would’ve realised that Murray Roberts owned it prior to that. There were a lot of other stations throughout New Zealand that they owned, and I guess a lot of it was as a result of the wealth of Sir John Roberts and his family in England.
Of interest, shortly after the Herricks purchased they complained to John Roberts that there was considerable loss of ewe hoggets during the first winter. To which Roberts replied, “Everyone knows that hoggets die in the winter.” [Chuckles] Not much love there, but they were tough times, I guess. Tautane would’ve been serviced only by the sea; there would’ve been no access in by road, everything would’ve been done via the sea. But there, 1878, they purchased. Someone here might be able to expand on who M S Bell is; but certainly it’s a well-known Hawke’s Bay name.
You can see from what I’ve been talking, how the stock and station firms started disappearing and I guess the first major one was in 1962, when Dalgety’s purchased New Zealand Loan and Merc. [NZ Loan & Mercantile Agency Company Limited] They were all here in Hawke’s Bay. I was Assistant Manager in Dunedin at the time, and the Loan and Merc was the building right next door to us, and I can remember looking out the window shortly after I’d heard about the merger, to see four young fellows coming out of the front door of the Loan and Merc carrying a coffin. They were clearly indicating their dissatisfaction that their company had disappeared. But that was the start of many. When Wright Stephenson purchased they invariably changed the name overnight, so next day Wright Stephenson’s name was on the wall; that was their policy. When NMA purchased, they left the companies that they had purchased to continue trading in their own name. I doubt that many would realise that it was nearly sixty years ago that Murray Roberts was purchased by National Mortgage. It continued with its name, Murray Roberts. And I remember, even when I came in 1973, I would get a ring from one or two of the old farming identities, “Is that the Manager of Murray Roberts?”, which I had to answer, “Yes.” It was no good trying to explain that it wasn’t. It was the same with Bucklands in Auckland; it was purchased in 1957 but it retained its name right through until the ’72 merger, and Vercoes in Hamilton, purchased in 1958.
The largest merger of them all, we discussed quite fully last time, was the merger of National Mortgage and Wright Stephenson in December 1971. There were a lot of problems arose – we discussed that, I don’t want to bring it back again. Not the least of the problems was that NMA was a UK [United Kingdom] owned company, and it introduced a lot of tricky problems that required the government’s assistance to see that merger through. Nevertheless it did come through, and the new merger of Challenge became one of the largest companies in New Zealand; in fact, the largest in turnover.
Again, why did – in the last forty, fifty years of a hundred and fifty year history – did forty-two stock firms disappear? I talked last time about the rapport between the firms and their clients in the early and not-so-early days, right through 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, 80s – the years that I recall – how close all the stock firms were with their clients. Their clients were loyal to the stock firm; the firms leant over backwards for their clients. It was most unusual for a client to change firm.
[Shows series of slides]
These were sales that related to the Murray Roberts purchase of high country … this is Bangor in Darfield … high country properties that they took ownership of right through in this case in 1910, when they were chopping it up and selling the stock and that was that sale there. And that’s down in Moa Flat in 1905, and again it was the distribution of the stock when the big station was chopped up into four or five farms. And here I’ve come right up to – well, 1969 when as most of you will recall, the Waipukurau sales, by then huge sales.
But what I wanted to talk briefly about – and I rather freely talked of memories of the associations last time – was some of the real characters of the farming industry, and I want to touch on one or two more now because I think those stories convey the association between farmer and firm.
You’ve just seen recently where the steamship ‘Earnslaw’ in Queenstown turned a hundred. I have to tell you that fifty-two years ago it nearly ceased to exist. And I’ll tell you why; in those days, when I was a young agent in Cromwell, there were no roads to Glenorchy; there were no roads to any of those big Stations around the lake, of which there were many – famous Stations like Walter Peak and Cecil Peak, Eltham Bay, Greenstone, Mount Earnslaw, Temple Peak – a whole lot of them. To get access, as an agent, I would take my old car to Queenstown, they would lift my old Mark II Zephyr onto the boat, and off we would go. They’d lift me off at Glenorchy and I’d spend three days going around all the clients and then back on the boat. Now if I was taking clients to buy stock, we would have to go by boat. We would go to the farm and we’d buy stock and have it arranged to be shipped out, and head home. This particular winter day, I had two well-known farmers from Central Otago, two brothers, and we’d been buying cattle. And because I knew the skipper well – I’d been on the boat a hundred times – he allowed me and whoever I had with me down into a little cabin two floors down in the bow, and we would go there on our way home. This particular night it was getting quite rough. Anyway, as always, someone produced a bottle of whisky. It was never Speight’s beer which you see on TV; it was always a bottle of whisky. Had no water. Farmer John said, “Oh, that’s easy.” If you looked at [through] the porthole you could see the wa[ter] under the butterflies; three butterflies. He had the two undone and the third half undone when the old Earnslaw went into a trough, and suddenly we were [??] and the thing slammed open and a sheet of water came in and nearly covered the lot; it soaked us all in a foot of water on the bottom of the cabin in a few seconds. Luckily the boat came back up again and we were able to shut it. But those sort of things happen, and I know any of the agents or retired agents here will have similar stories of their association with clients.
We’ve got an old wool man over there, Selwyn, and he’ll confirm what I’m saying here now. As a young staff member in the National Mortgage, one of my jobs was to clerk the wool sales. And in those days, wool, as it was earlier – vital to farmers, and they all went to their sales. Huge gallery of farmers, thirty-plus wool buyers, all regarding themselves as little gods, lined up, row after row, and my job as a clerk was to put the price down – which could be right into farthings in those days – and the buyer. Now the buyers, and Selwyn will remember, had different ways of bidding – some of them squawked, some of them squealed, some of them grunted, some of them whistled. The old auctioneer that [who] had been doing it for years, they knew who it was that put their head down. I didn’t, and I couldn’t stop him to ask who the buyer was. But it was a marvellous education on the importance of wool to the farmers of New Zealand in those ’50s and ’60s.
Go forward a year or two when I was agent in Cromwell, all the clients up there were merino growers; ninety-five per cent of their income was wool, so when their clip was being sold they of course expected to be delivered to Dunedin for the sale. So at five-thirty in the morning I would get five farmers into my bench front seat Mark II Zephyr – many of you will know – and the six of us would head off at five-thirty in the morning to Dunedin. We’d get there three and a half hours later; we would go and inspect the wool; their wool … it’d be what … one in every five bales opened? Where one in every five bales was opened and all the wool was out for the buyers to fiddle with, and look at and stretch and put their price on paper. Then we would go and have a meal, then we’d go to the sale, and then hopefully with happy farmers we’d go back to the store. And the bottle of whisky would be out and we’d have a great …. And about ten-thirty at night I’d get the five of them into the car and we’d go three and a half hours back to Cromwell and get there about two or three next morning. Damn near twenty-four hours, but that was the relationship between the stock firm and the farmers in those days. I’ve never seen a farmer … well, they don’t have auctions like that now, so I guess it’s very different.
Again, if I may, one more little story. As clerk at the wool sale, after the sale all the account sales were drawn up that evening. And it was my job, for a year or two when I was doing that job, was to get on my bike and go round all the hotels in Dunedin and give to the wool buyers their account sales. And there could be ten different hotels, and I’d bike on to the first one and the wool buyer – as I said, they’re all little gods, the whole lot of them – would say, “Thank you’ for it, and “here, you’d better have a snort or a spot before you go.” And they’d give me a whisky, which of course you couldn’t turn down and you … [laughter] and then you’d go to the next pub and the next hotel, and after about five or six hotels I thought, “Well I’d better leave my bike somewhere; it was starting to wobble.” So I’d tuck the bike in the back of one of the hotels and continue my job of delivering the account sales, then got on the old cable car up the hill, back home. Next morning, I couldn’t remember where my bike was, [laughter] so I came down the hill in the cable car and I had to go round all the pubs until I eventually found my bike quite happily sitting behind, I think it was Wayne’s Hotel. But those were the days when the wool industry and the stock firms and the farmers were so closely and importantly related to each other. They’re little stories; I know others could tell a hundred stories similarly, but that was the association that was there right up until the firms started disappearing in the 1960s, ’70s. The reason – and [chuckle] [you] must appreciate this is my opinion, and I was very involved in it but it’s still only my opinion – Rural Finance. Now, let me go back again now and talk Rural Finance.
Just … before we go, finish our association – this is a bunch of old auctioneers in 1928, and I bet you you know the names when I read them out: Joe Wedd, Bill Wellwood, both of Murray Roberts; Alf Reid, Roy O’Donoghue, Loan & Merc; Norman Stewart from Hoadley Son & Stewart, Sid Dixon from Williams & Kettle, B. Halps from Hawke’s Bay Farmers, and Roy Bousefield From Williams & Kettle. A lot of those names you’ll know, and there they were at the retirement of Alf Reid. You know, look at the old characters. They were competitors; they were bitter competitors, but out of their environment they were great friends and you can see the friendship there of those famous old Hawke’s Bay auctioneers.
Again, 1955; there’s a Bellaby, a Glazebrook, an Allen, Frank Twigg. Now, when I arrived here in ’72, Frank Twigg was the head auctioneer of Murray Roberts; a great old fellow, very good to me, showed me Hawke’s Bay, pointed out where Te Mata lay on the top of Te Mata Peak, and all the sort of things that I was meant to know about Hawke’s Bay. He was a soldier; very proud of going back to Crete for the reunion. He’s only been dead a year or two; but great rapport between them all. And that bloke was meant to come up while I was telling my wool stories. But these were the gallery of buyers, row after row after row; as I say, they all made different noises to attract the auctioneer to their bid. And if you’re buying a big line of sixty bales of wool, a farthing extra bid is a lot of money.
Anyway, Rural Finance. So it started in those very early days with the firms supplying wire, fertiliser, seed, stock to the farmer, expecting the revenue from the farm at the end of the year to clear the debt. And that was seasonal, and that worked for many years. Unfortunately, there were a lot of farmers that were, in the North Island on Māori land, in the South Island on pastoral lease. The banks, the AMPs and the like, were very loathe to lend on that sort of land. So if the farmer couldn’t get vendor finance when he purchased, he turned to the stock firms, and the stock firms generally held an IWS, an Instrument by Way of Security, which secured the stock and plant. That was all we had and yet we were lending on the capital investment, and suddenly that seasonal lending became what was known as “hard core”. It got greater and greater as the years went by, so much so that some of the firms, profitable within themselves, marvellous loyal clients, good management and good staff, but an inability to meet the demand that the farmer needed. As farming expanded and, as an example, he needed a new tractor, he just bought it and charged it to the firm. That’s fine, but if there were ten farmers did it all at the same time, the demand on the stock firm to meet the clients’ requirements became increasingly difficult. And I use as an example, in 1960 – I was in Southland – J G Ward & Co was a Southland company, very like Williams and Kettle – strong, independent; approached Jim Ritchie, my boss, and asked to be taken over. And the only reason of [for] that was that they were very nervous that they would get to a point where they could not meet their farming clients’ requirement of [for] funds.
This went on to the level where Rod Weir approached Ron Trotter and said, “Look, Dalgety Crown – which included HBF – has got the same problem.” Much bigger, but the same problem. And if you look through all the takeovers and mergers, invariably it was that issue – the firms wanting to make sure that their clients were protected, that necessitated them approaching either Wright Stephensons or National Mortgage. An example: a well-known Hawke’s Bay farmer – he’s up there at the moment – approached my predecessor quite some years ago and said, “Mr Roberts, I’ve just purchased such and such a station.” And if I told you the Station, you’d know who I’m talking about. “Oh, that’s great Mr … that’s great. How did you pay for it?” “With your order book!” [Laughter] I forgot to mention of course that the stock firms didn’t have cheque books, they had order books. And all our good clients had an order book, and if they wanted to buy a new tractor or, in this case, this old farmer, another farm, he just filled in the order book. Now, these orders arrived in many cases without any notice whatsoever. And even our Wrightson NMA after our merger – sometimes the pressure was huge when Ewan McGregor and all these tough farmers went out to buy a thousand hoggets and suddenly a bill for a hundred thousand or fifty thousand turned up, and the stock firm had to find it. If we hadn’t, he would have buggered off to another stock firm who would’ve only too happy [happily] tried to find it. That pressure on funding was the criteria that meant the disappearance of so many stock firms. I’ll talk about it briefly later, but Dalgetys up in Gisborne was a huge example of that; with their Māori lands, they had been very proud for a hundred years in their lending to Māori north of Gisborne, but the securities they had were basically worthless, and that all came about when we took over Dalgety Crown.
So, as I said earlier, it was not through management, or profitability of the companies or disloyalty of clients that these firms disappeared; it was their wish to protect their clients in Rural Finance. As I said a minute ago, Rod Weir approached Ron Trotter in 1986 and admitted they had extended themselves far too much. And as I said that included HBF and de Pelichet [McLeod]. If by then we weren’t part of Fletcher Challenge – and I’m about to touch on this – there was no way we could’ve taken over a like-sized company, so we have to acknowledge at that early stage that Fletcher Challenge involvement then was very important for the success of that merger. And that now brings me to our Fletcher Challenge association.
As I mentioned earlier, Ron Trotter was very vital in [to] the success of our merger of National Mortgage and Wright Stephenson. He was a well-liked fellow, big bugger, a lot of Hawke’s Bay people knew him. I learnt very quickly as Branch Manager you didn’t want to get off-side with him, but he was very important to the success of Challenge at the time. That was acknowledged by Muldoon, and I touched on this at our last meeting, when Muldoon approached Trotter and said, “Here, I want you to take over Tasman Pulp and Paper. Bring it under the arm of Challenge.” At that stage Hugh Fletcher was back from Harvard [Stanford]; he was still only just thirty, but was having a big input into Fletchers, and he argued, I suppose probably quite rightly, that Fletchers had a much closer association with Tasman than Challenge had. But somehow he got on the wrong side of Muldoon – I guess that’s not hard – and Muldoon stuck and said, “No; Trotter. And Challenge is going to take it over.” So Tasman became part of Challenge; this was in 1977. I believe that the row that developed then between Hugh Fletcher and Ron Trotter was probably the beginning of the well-known animosity between those two great industrial leaders. I’m way down the chain, but we had that feeling. However, it was logical that Fletchers should eventually merge with Challenge, and in 1981 after considerable debate with Government, and quite clear debate between Trotter and Fletcher as to seniority, the merger of Fletchers and Challenge came about. That company expanded until it had over thirty thousand employees around the country.
Now, [shows slides] that was the initial Board of Fletcher Challenge. I’m showing it really for two reasons; Trotter became Chair; Sir John [James] Fletcher – they had to find a home for him so he became President; and Hugh Fletcher became Ron’s off-sider. But of interest in this early stage, there were nine of those people out of Wrightsons, ie Challenge; and within two years, seven of those nine were dropped off as the Board reduced in si[ze] and Hugh Fletcher’s belief that, “What in the hell is the conservative old stock and station firm doing in Fletcher Challenge?” There was twenty-five years difference in age between the two; very different in education and very different in their style of management. But, as I say, Trotter became CEO and was very much involved in the considerable growth through the 1980s, particularly in the pulp and paper with the big operations in Canada.
But again, where did the old, conservative stock firm sit? Whilst Ron Trotter was CEO there was a continued rapport with Wrightsons, although even then as I say here, I believe Fletcher wondered what we were doing there. But he did support Trotter in taking over Dalgety Crown/HBF, and at the same time the Canterbury firm of New Zealand Farmers Co-op. [Co-operative] It was interesting that at the merger with Dalgety Crown, one [John] Elliott [from] Elders from Australia came over, keen to buy Dalgety Crown; really caused a rumpus about the loss of competition etcetera, and the Government took a long time to decide whether to allow the merger with Dalgety Crown. In the end they agreed to it providing Wanganui, Manawatu and Wairarapa were left out and made available for Elliott of Elders Australia to purchase, which is exactly what happened. I don’t think they did very well out of it, because a lot of the good people of Dalgetys wanted to stay with their colleagues and shifted to Hawke’s Bay or other branches that had completed the merger.
In 1987 Ron Trotter retired as CEO [Chief Executive Officer] of FCL [Fletcher Challenge Limited] and became Chairman, and Hugh Fletcher became CEO. In 1989, again at government’s request, Fletcher Challenge purchased the Rural Bank. It’s interesting to note, particularly today with all the debate on asset sales, that the National Government arranged for the sale of Tasman to FCL, and the Labour Government allowed the sale of Rural Bank to FCL – both major assets, government owned. Jim Bolger was heard to quip, “The government will have to consider giving corporate giant FCL naming rights to New Zealand if the group acquires any more state assets.” And really that same argument is building up again right now.
Wrightsons already owned Broadbank and Marac [Finance] and were in the process, and I was involved in that, in [of] applying for a banking licence. The criteria for forming a bank was, and still is, huge, and in the end we decided to get out of that … well, I think we were more or less told by Hugh Fletcher to forget it. It’s interesting that Pyne Corp [Corporation] in Christchurch – their Heartland Bank I think is having exactly the same problems in their final decision as to whether they apply for a bank or not.
By then, in the late ’80s, 1990, FCL was in considerable trouble with their overseas purchases, particularly pulp and paper, and under bank pressure, Hugh Fletcher had to decide to start selling some of their assets. And interestingly enough, the very first asset in 1992 they sold was the Rural Bank, to the National Bank. I think … two things; Hugh was very pleased to get out of rural banking; and I guess this is not something you should praise, but he made a great profit out of the sale to the National Bank. Nevertheless, it didn’t reduce the pressure that FCL was in, and so in 1993 Wrightsons was spun off, and we became a [an] independent stock firm as we had been before all this started. We had lost the name ‘Challenge’, and we were then simply Wrightson NMA, which of course included all the firms that had come aboard over the previous twenty or thirty years including Dalgety Crown and HBF.
Fletcher at this stage started replacing the old-school CEOs with very new, young, very clever people out of Fletchers, and clearly they had a directive to try and change our conservative hundred and fifty year old way of doing business. What I believe they didn’t know was the inherent conservativeness of the New Zealand farmer – they didn’t, and I think still, don’t like change. Luckily I was retired by then, but the young generation found it very difficult to adhere to the instructions coming out of Wellington and still keeping on side with their farmers. I mean, one of those instructions was that there doesn’t need to be a Branch Manager; and all the Branch Managers throughout New Zealand – as I said, thank God I was retired – were made redundant. All the expertise that they’d all built up, their client relationship over thirty or forty years, was all dropped because, in the wisdom of these people, they were an unnecessary position within the authority arm of Wrightsons.
In 1997 the Wrightson Board and/or management – as I say, I was out of it then so I don’t know from where it came – made what I believe was a very bad decision of selling [to sell] their profitable finance division. They sold to Rabobank, including all the financial team. Financial officers from every branch in New Zealand transferred to Rabobank with our lending and our securities. Rabobank, who had been relatively small up until then, suddenly became and is now probably the major rural bank in New Zealand. I mean they were a Dutch company; they’re the largest rural bank in the world, but their holding in New Zealand was relatively small until they purchased Wrightson Farmers Finance, which I believe was crazy. It’s interesting that PGG Wrightsons today is again trying to build up a financial arm, but I doubt they will ever again have the good securities that we had held and built up, literally over a hundred years.
In 2005 Wrightsons acquired W&K … Williams & Kettle. I’ve got here, ‘Why? I don’t know!’ [Chuckles] I had always admired W&K and their CEOs have always been good friends of mine – Philip Giblin, Bob [?], John Knott – worked with them a lot over the years. I guess you’ve got to ask Selwyn Cushing why it happened, because certainly he was the catalyst that made it happen.
By now there were only two stock and station firms in New Zealand – Wrightsons here, and PGG in the South Island. Rather naturally they’d already got together in the very important grains and seed research, and they’d got together in the storing and handling and marketing of wool. And so four, five years ago … I’m not exactly sure when … it was decided that the two should merge, and thus, as you see down the road, PGG Wrightsons came into being; still with its stock, its wool, its grain and seed, its merchandise, its insurance, its real estate, its horticultural research operations and its finance; still a stock and station firm, but the last. Its future, I hope, is strong, but with a substantial Chinese ownership it is difficult to predict what direction the company will take. Certainly the share market reflects that uncertainty, or maybe their shares today are a good buy. I certainly hope so.
Thanks for your attention.
Joyce: Is there two questions that someone would really like to ask? Or even one?
Question: At the moment there’s a world wide tendency for horticulturalists and farmers to go back to the original cooperative idea. The cooperative idea was unselfishness, and the result, the big ones playing the first fiddle. You’re dealing now with people who have … ‘bout fifty years ago when fruit growers and farmers, if they need[ed] things, they were dictated to; and advisers, politicians, they know what to do … what’s best for you. Now we’ve got a young generation who are not putting up with that any more. They’ve studied, they’ve got degrees, they’ve travelled the world, and their response now … with Farmlands, for example, increasing business. Farmlands – is that a direct response to the large stock and station agencies, as an anti action?
Brian: I’m sure it is. There are co-ops, and there are co-ops. And I mean, Hawke’s Bay Farmers was a co-op, but it disappeared. Farmlands is a co-op and it hasn’t disappeared, and if I can tell you a very quick little story on that very issue … in the mid-1970s we had a meeting – the CEOs of the various stock firms; Philip Giblin, Alan Smith of Dalgetys, myself, Owen Mudgway of de Pelichets, and Athol Hutton. And Farmlands was starting to really have an effect, and we thought, ‘Okay. We charge $4 a ton for our clients to put their fertiliser orders through us. Farmlands don’t’ – and clearly a lot of fertiliser was being diverted to Farmlands. We said, “Okay, we’ll wipe our $4.” It made no bloody difference; Farmlands kept expanding. Good management, because a lot of co-ops don’t continue to expand. I am worried when Farmlands now start talking about merging with the big company in the South Island, because their skilful Hawke’s Bay management of Farmlands could be watered down quite a bit. But no, you’re quite right – the co-ops have become increasingly important, a) because of the farmer wanting his independence; b) because the farmer honestly believes, even if it’s not right, that when he buys a drum of chemicals it’s cheaper at Farmlands than at PGG Wrightsons. And it’s very hard to tell the farmer that that’s not always the case, but there we are; that’s how it goes.
Can I … one more minute, because you’re also touching on single [?death?] marketing as against multiple marketing, and I use the kiwifruit industry as an example of that, and I was quite involved in it. In the 1980s there were seven licences to export kiwifruit. Every firm that had that licence was fighting like hell for market share. And there was no doubt we were paying the farmer, the grower, over market value to get market share. Anyway, in their wisdom the growers said, “No; we want to do our own thing.” So they went to government, and the government cancelled the seven licensed exporters. And we had one sole … the farmer co-op. Immediately they found out how much they were being subsidised by the seven firms, and the prices went down like that; and a lot of them went out of kiwifruit, back into dairying. But now it’s built back up again, and so you’ve got the continual argument of single death marketing as against a range of companies. And those changes are happening all the time. And I hear what you’re saying and I’m sure you’re dead right; that the young farmer wonders why his old man was so loyal to a stock firm. He wants independence; he doesn’t want to borrow a penny from the stock firm – he’ll borrow from Rabobank or something; he wants the independence, wants to buy his chemical wherever he decides, and his stock from whomever he decides. And I guess that’s clearly one of the reasons for the disappearance of the stock and station industry.
Joyce: I’m going to call on Ewan McGregor, who‘s a Landmarks member …
Brian: A difficult farmer. [Chuckles]
… to pass a vote of thanks.
Ewan: Well good evening, everyone. I’m delighted to be able to thank Brian. I unfortunately missed the first talk. Cynthia and I hate missing these talks ‘cause they’re so interesting.
I’ve known Brian since the late ’70s when I was involved with Federated Farmers – he hadn’t been in Hawke’s Bay very long; he was a complete outsider – he came from another country, [chuckles] from the deep south. But it wasn’t long before he’d stamped his personality on the farming fraternity of Hawke’s Bay, and he’s always good for a good story. I’ve dined out on a few; I’m just going to briefly mention one that stuck in my mind for the past thirty or so years. He told a story about … it was back in the fifties, and there was always a big demand from farmers for American cars ‘cause they were so suitable for the back country roads; but they were in short supply, and there were great fights about rationing out American cars. He told the story about how a bloke in Invercargill got a brand new big Ford V8, and he put it on a vacant lot [in] the middle of Invercargill. And he put a big sign up saying, ‘£100 deposit will secure a model like this in the next shipment’. And Brian says he collected £1000, and neither he nor the car have been seen since. [Laughter] You had to be pretty quick to put that across the farmers.
I think you summed up the change in your very last comments; and the culture of the stock and station firms, which was a tremendous thing in the farming infrastructure, and the whole culture of farming, and the loyalty that farmers had. Now I’m seeing it from the other side. My father was a Dalgetys’ client, and every Friday afternoon we went to Waipukurau, and every Friday afternoon my father went to the Dalgety’s store and office and met with the agents and the manager there, who was always there. And it was this great fraternity and great loyalty, and for two of us the relationship was always symbolised by a bottle of whisky and a box of chocolates for Mum, and boy! [Chuckles] If you didn’t get it – well, you just about left the stock firm.
But anyway Brian, thank you very much. I’ve enjoyed it and this is what these talks are all about; it’s the history of Hawke’s Bay, and you’ve talked about an era that we’re never going to see again.
Brian: I’m sorry, I’ve got to … Ewan’s getting old … I’ve got to correct the story because it’s absolutely true; in the late 1950s, a person turned up in Southland with a brand new de Soto car. “I am the New Zealand agent for de Soto.” You all remember how bloody hard it was to buy a car in the 1950s, ’60s. He said to these wealthy – and it was not long after the boom in wool prices – these wealthy Southland farmers, “£1,000 down, and a new de Soto will be delivered to you with the remaining £400 within a month.” Forty-two Southland farmers put that thousand pounds down. He was never seen again. [Chuckles] The whole story – I don’t know how far the papers go here, but if you went back to the Southland Times in 1958, ’59, that whole story was there. He was never seen again. Forty-two embarrassed farmers who never owned up [chuckles] had lost £1,000; so that was the story that Ewan had half of. [Chuckles]
Joyce: Thank you everyone.
[Recorded in 2012]
Original digital file
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Landmarks talk 19 August 2012