Dasent, Jeremy Interview

The date is the 20th August 2018, and I’m sitting with Jeremy Dasent, who I think has a pretty good story to tell. Jeremy would you like to fire off now?

Well, I’ve been living here, Aorangi, which is the farm I live [I’ve lived] on for all my life. My parents have lived here, and my great grandparents have lived here all the time as well. The property was originally acquired by my great uncle Cecil, and Beurie, back in 1907 when the government brought in the Absentee Landowners Act which was to break up some of the big stations around and give land to some of the other people. The farm was broken off Olrig Station which was owned by the Smith family and you had to go into a ballot of it and one of the boys – there was Cecil and Beurie Dasent – and one of them was working at Olrig, so they put in for the ballot. And you had to have £20 I think it was, to enter the ballot and the two of them won the ballot for this block of land which they called Aorangi because the Aorangi yards were here. Now this was in 1907, and the poor guy Smith had gone home to England to get a wife and had contracted glandular fever and couldn’t get back in time before it became law; so he was back six months too late, so it’d all been sold. So a lot of these farms around in this Mangatahi district and Maraekakaho district have come from there.

So they got the place in 1907, and it was basically six hundred and fifty odd acres and it was pretty much in secondary scrub and flax in those days. So they came here, and the block that I’m actually on was won by a guy called Russell, and after three or four years with no water or anything he decided to sell. So Cecil and Beurie rang their other brother, Gerald, who at that stage was a bookkeeper down at Te Apati Station down Waimarama way – he was a bookkeeper down there. So he came and bought the other block, so we ended up with one thousand, one hundred and nineteen acres, I think it was from memory, and they came and started farming here as Dasent Brothers.

Now Cecil and Beurie never married, and Gerald married Elizabeth … Wilson was her surname … and lived in the house that I’m currently living in, and had three children. The eldest was Loseley, the second was Anthony, who’s known as Tony, and then another one called John. So Loseley married Anne, [who] was a raging alcoholic to be honest, and abandoned her children basically, and my grandmother ended up looking after them and rearing them.

So John and my father [Tony] went off to the Second World War and were both pilots. Tony was transporter; and John was a fighter pilot and test pilot. And he actually died testing a water suit that they were wearing to try and keep the pilots warm; so he had a rubber suit on and it had a film of water in it that was heated by the exhausts. And his plane had an engine failure over the North Sea, and of course he went down into the North Sea; and you had something like five minutes or something survival, so he died in the Second World War. And my grandmother actually received the news on Christmas Eve apparently, and wouldn’t tell anybody until after Christmas. But as I’ve heard, she spent the whole of Christmas Day lying on the couch.

So my father came back from the war; and before the war he’d actually got married. He’d married a Lila Warren, and the day he got married – she was in Wanganui – the day he got married they were shearing here, and he had to go over to the wedding and back in the same day to carry on shearing the next day. And from here to Wanganui in the 1930s would’ve been a fairly large journey; so he was there and back in a day.

So he got married, and then my brother Grant was their first born; and then my father went off to war and came back, and there was my sister, Wendy, and then Jonathan and Susan and then myself. And I am now sixty-four and my eldest brother is seventy-six, I think, from memory; so they all fitted in that gap. And Grant was conceived – basically my father always says Grant was conceived on the wedding night; Wendy was conceived on the night before he went to war; Jonathan was conceived on the night he got back from war; [chuckle] my sister Susan was conceived on holiday; and I was a complete and utter accident. So there were five the family and the three brothers ended up with the farm between us, and I’m the only one left farming here now, but I don’t have as big an area as we used to have.

So it’s been fairly tough farming here over the years. Been through the droughts and the Depression. My grandfather, Gerald, was a bookkeeper, so he kept meticulous records; and the property was originally an LIP [lease in perpetuity] which is the ninehundred and ninety-nine year lease off the government. And during the Depression the wool cheques, which was the main source of income, were less than the rental for the property, or the lease for the property, which was about $360-odd [£360-odd] a year from memory. So times were pretty tough in those days, or at that stage. The family has struggled to keep the property; has managed to keep the property from then, and I am the current resident or caretaker of it, I suppose you’d call, but I might be the last, ‘cause neither of my children seem that interested in farming. But you never know, they might just change their minds one day. [Chuckle]

So the farm was originally all scrub and flax, so they had to break it in; and the last of it was broken in in the early sixties. And I have very vague recollections of the last of the scrub getting crushed out the back and cut down by some Fijian, I think they were, scrub cutters.

And my father was given a shopping order one day, that they needed some new boots. But there was no size of the boots or anything written on it. So he went to town and he thought, ‘Well’, you know, ‘the big tall guy needs new boots’; so he bought a great big pair of boots and came back and issued them to the guys, and went out the next day and here’s the little wee guy with his boots on that are about four times too big for him. And a couple of weeks later he gets another shopping order for boots again, so he thinks, ‘Well I’ve got the boots for the little chap and they were far too big; I’ll go and buy some little boots for the big chap and they’ll swap their boots.’ But he goes out the next day and the big chap had the little boots on with the toes cut out, [laugh] and the other fellow was still stomping around in boots four times too big for him. [Laugh]

And they managed to start a fire as well, way out the back, which ran for about … all the way down to Maraekakaho, which’d be about five, six kilometres away, I suppose. And the guy came in, panting away into the house, and told my father there [was a] fire; then my father hopped on his horse and went out, and the fire was travelling at the speed of a horse cantering. And he arrived at the boundary fence, and the neighbour there who was Paul Ashby in those days, was leaning on the fence, and says, “Well this paddock’ll stop it because there’s just nothing to burn.” But the fire went under the fence, under the mob of sheep that was pushed up against the fence, and burnt on the sheep shit; and just travelled across the paddock and carried on going. [Chuckle] And it got all the way to Maraekakaho down there, and where the two creeks meet actually stopped it eventually, but [it] didn’t cause much damage.

So the house survived the 1931 earthquake. All that happened was the chimney fell down. And my father was in the garage apparently, with his father, and they had to crawl out from the garage, it was that rough. And of course they had no services for ages. The original telephone line went from here to Maraekakaho via cabbage trees, and it’d break down every so often. And the chap who lived next door was a guy Tessmaker; and my grandfather, Gerald, and old Tessmaker would have to go and check the telephone to see if it was still going. So off they’d go and even if they found the wire and the fault half a k [kilometre] down the road, they had to go to town to ring up to check … to make sure it was working. So there’d be a three or four day blank in the diary while they got back from town. [Chuckle] Yeah.

And then we survived those and we survived the Depression, somehow. And I took over the property in the mid-seventies, it would’ve been, when farming was earning a fortune. And I seem to remember reading the books one day: 1974 we employed five people on a thousand acres; we bought a brand new Ford Fairmont car; a brand new Ford Falcon car; a brand new Ford 3600 tractor; a truck and trailer load of posts; and still went through balance date in credit – and paid tax on $130,000, which means you were earning about half a million dollars in today’s money, back in 1974. So yeah, they were good days, those days.

And I took over just after that; and Mother actually got cancer, and I was told I had to come home or else the farm’d get sold. So farming was earning that much money, you would’ve been a mug not to’ve taken it on. So I came back; and had about three of the good years.

And then Roger Douglas came along, and [David] Lange, and they brought in livestock tax and took away SMPs. The SMPs were the, you know, supplementary minimum payments, which were paid to all farmers. And everyone thought that was the big piece of the farmers’ cheques; but we were selling lambs for $25, $30 a lamb in those days, and it suddenly went down to getting $8 to $10. So that was about three years into my farming career, so it was very, very difficult for a long time. And I spent years lying on the couch because it was the cheapest place to be. I went and did everything I could out on the farm, and then just sat down and did nothing. [Chuckle] My wife went out to work, Janice … I married Janice in 1974, I think it was from memory, and we’ve been living here ever since and farming and struggling through those days of course.

And they brought in livestock tax as well – that was another interesting one. They brought in this livestock tax or changed the livestock tax, and I had to borrow $30,000 I think it was, to pay livestock tax. And the bank manager came out and asked me why I wanted to borrow the money, and I said I had to pay the tax. “Well you should’ve earnt [earned] the money”, he says. I says, “I’ve never earnt [earned] the money, I’m never going to earn that money.” So he looked at me and he says, “What could you do to improve your situation?” And I looked at him in the eye and I says, “Well, my father could die.” He said, “Oh, that’s a bit tough.” Went through the books, came back and says, “Well you’re right – it’s about [chuckle] the only solution.” Finally lent me the money, and I managed to survive through those days even though I was told I was too small and I shouldn’t be in business any more.

We have two children, Rhea and Selby. Rhea was born in those days that were very tough, so I became the nine to four caregiver a lot of the time when my wife went to work as a radiologist; Janice, my wife’s name is – who went to work as a radiographer in Hastings. And then several years later we had Selby, who now is living in Wellington. Rhea has got married and has two children – she married Ryan Paulik; has two children, Althea and Leveson. So I am a grandfather of two at the tender age of sixty-five … or sixty-four … and the other one isn’t married as yet. I don’t know whether there’s much else to say to be honest about the farm.

What about yourself? For example, you and your wife, have you had overseas trips? Have you chosen to do things like that?

Oh yeah, we went overseas. I was living with Auckland with Janice in those days and doing casual work – I was a welder for a while, and I was a floor sander, a landscape gardener; and what else did I do up there? Some other job that was unmentionable. And I was rung up and told my mother had cancer and I had six months to get back or else the farm would be sold basically. So we shot off overseas for those six months, Janice and I, and came back to a very ill mother. And we got married – I think it was about three weeks before she died. So we just got that in in time.

Community work and things like that?

No.

Do you do volunteering or anything like that?

No, I don’t do that. I’ve just been … I’ve been on the local hall board committee down there which I finally got off – local Maraekakaho Hall. But no, I haven’t spent a lot of time doing those things. I’ve spent most of my time struggling to be a farmer to be honest.

We always hear, supposedly, that the farmers are having a good time, and yet we also know that for some it has been a struggle. And it’s quite interesting for me to hear from you that yes, you’re still on the property but it hasn’t been easy.

No; at times it’s been very, very tough. Small property … I’m only four hundred and sixty-odd acres, or a hundred and ninety hectares … which during all those tough times was actually deemed to be too small to be in business. Because my debt ratios were fairly low I managed to survive then, but I spent a lot of years running square books where I lived off my wife’s wages, and the farm was only just covering its bills. So there were some very, very tough years in amongst it. Lamb prices went from $25 to about $8; wool went from $6-odd a kilo down to about $2, and [is] still probably down about $2; and yeah it was very very tough.

And then I had a bad back as well, and I actually got round to the point of almost having an operation on it, but the odds weren’t that good – it was twenty-five percent of getting better, twenty-five percent of being worse, and fifty percent of being the same. So I said to the doctor there’s no point in that. So he basically told me either change what I did, or change my farming style, so I changed my farming style and I went bull farming, and I’ve been bull farming ever since. And I actually got into bull farming just before it really started to do quite well, so I’ve done reasonably well at that. Still I haven’t earned enough money to retire, but we keep living in hope and I suppose that’s something all farmers do – they live in hope.

And your future – you talk about retiring for example, and you are coming up for retirement age, so any plans there?

I now lease the neighbour’s property, Rosehill. So I was going to give up leasing that, but I’m going to carry on leasing that … or I hope to carry on leasing that … and actually just take on a worker so that I can free myself up. I’ve been a solo worker all my life. I was in partnership with my brother for about five years, but like brothers we didn’t get on – my brother, Jonathan – so we called it quits and I’ve been farming on my own account since early 1980s. The most tough times actually, when the partnership split up; so that was extremely difficult.

Retirement? Yes, we’d like to do a bit more travelling around again. It won’t be in the back of a Kombi van this time of course, it’ll be a bit more comfortable. [Chuckle] So if all goes well we’ll do a little bit more travelling; I won’t have to work quite so much, but hopefully we’ll keep all ends met.

A very good interview, and I thank you for that. We’ll call it to a close.

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Interviewer:  Kevin Anand

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