Drown, Bruce Leslie Interview

Erica Tenquist, and I’m interviewing Bruce Drown who lives in Hastings, and the date today is 26th November 2018. Over to you Bruce.

Good morning, Erica. I just want to talk about the Drown family in Hawke’s Bay for a start.

The Drown family in Hawke’s Bay was started by my grandfather, Matthew Thomas Drown, who emigrated from the village of Pillaton and St Mellion, Cornwall, about 1876, and went to Australia and then to New Zealand. His father Richard Drown, my great-grandfather, was a blacksmith and a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, horse drawn implements of the day. Just as a matter of interest, the Royal coach used for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation was renovated by the Drown Brothers of London, so that must have been part of my great-grandfather’s family … emigrated [moved] from Cornwall to London.

Matthew Drown – Matthew Thomas he was, and was known as Tom – Matthew Drown married Eva Joll and they had two sons, Leslie and Ronald. Each of them had three sons, and Leslie also had one daughter, my sister Glenda. I am the second son of Leslie Herbert and Marie (née Hughes) Drown, and I was born on 3rd November 1937.

My father, Les left the New Zealand Post Office, and contracted with steam engine and threshing mills before purchasing twelve-and-a-half acres of land in Park Road South and working it as a market garden and orchard.

His father, Tom, retired from his handily located five-and-a-half-acre block in 1941 aged eighty-five, and came to live with us. And he passed away in 1950 when I was fourteen years old. So I grew up with my grandad, who arrived when I was four and passed away when I was fourteen. So I remember him well. So that’s the start of …

How did he adapt to New Zealand?

Very well. When he went to Australia he worked as a manservant for a wealthy landowner, and he told me the story; one of his duties was to feed the master’s dogs. And on this occasion one of the maids inadvertently fed the dogs and my grandfather reprimanded her, and she reported him to the master who called him into his office and said, ‘“Matthew, did you or did you not say this to the maid?” And I said, “Yes sir, I did.” “Well,” the master said, “I must ask you to leave.” And I said, “Well sir, the sooner I leave, the better I shall be pleased.” And I packed my bags and I came to New Zealand.’ And that’s how he started.

When Matthew Thomas arrived in New Zealand he went out to the coast and worked as a cowman/gardener on a big station and then later on bought this land in Tollemache Road, Hastings; the five-and-a-half acres is where he reared his children, Les and Ron.

He was a wonderful old man; he was very religious. He was part of the Open Brethren in Nelson Street in Hastings. And when he came to live with us, my mother took him into her care, really; she was wonderful to him, and about once a month she would ask him to invite some of his friends to come and have dinner with us.

Did you have a telephone then or not?

We were one of the early telephones – we had the only telephone in Park Road South. We were two miles out of Hastings, and all the neighbours used our phone. And we got to know the neighbours for that reason, they came and used the phone. Grandad – in my memory he worked at least half a day every day of his life; he’d go down and spit on his hands, and pick up the hoe and work away until lunch time, then take the afternoon off, which you’re quite entitled to do when you’re eighty-five.

And was he a smoker?

Never smoked. He didn’t drink. He wouldn’t listen to the radio – only when the war was on; he listened to the war news, so that was quite interesting. The two sons, Leslie and Ron … my uncle Ron lived until he was a hundred and two … he and his brother, my father, were quite different in their philosophy in life. My father was a bit of a rebel; he did like a drink and he didn’t mind an argument. Ron was a bank manager and finished up as the Chief Accountant in the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. And he had three sons and my father had three sons. The youngest son of Ron’s, Alan, was taken from us in the Tangiwai disaster in the early fifties.

’51. [53]

’51. So I mentioned my sister, Glenda, who was the only daughter for some generations with Les and Ron having three sons each. And in turn I have three sons and my eldest son has three sons, so there have been no girls. My younger brother, Trevor, who passed away recently – he has daughters, but they disappear from the Drown name after they were married. So that’s sort of the history of how the name got started in New Zealand.

I started school at the Central School in Hastings when I was five years of age in 1942, and went through that school and then on to the Hastings High School. In those days it was co-educational, and I started there in 1950 and left there at the end of 1953 having gained my School Certificate. My wife, Robin, whom I met as a member of the Heretaunga Swimming Club, arrived from Christchurch about 1950. She was born in the 1940s, and we met and became cobbers and friends and competitors, and we married as a young couple; I was twenty-two and Robin was nineteen years of age when I went to Wairoa as a young stock agent. Now we have three sons.

Were they all born up in Wairoa?

No – two were born in Wairoa, Christopher and Tim … Timothy. And Peter was born – we decided that ten years later, we were still pretty young – we decided if we didn’t have some more children we’d be left totally on our own, so Peter arrived ten years later. He lives in Wellington as a surveyor. My eldest boy, Chris, is a nursing teacher or tutor at the EIT [Eastern Institute of Technology] in Hawke’s Bay; and my second boy works in a large company driving trucks and merchandise things; and they have no children. The second boy and my third son have no children of their own, which is a shame; but this male thing is carried on by Chris who has his three boys. The second boy is at university in Christchurch; he’s going into his fifth year next year. My eldest grandson, Finbar – they’re lovely Irish names – Finbar, he is in Australia training to be a chef; and Seamus in his fifth year, is doing civil engineering as a study. And my youngest grandson, Rory, he’s just leaving school this year.

Bruce is now going to give the talk that he gave to the Summerset Village two years ago, I think.

Thank you, Erica. As I grew up and going through high school, I found a great affinity with livestock. And I worked in my spare time with a very good friend, Gordon Nowell-Usticke, who is now deceased. And he took me under his wing and introduced me to the duties on [of] farming. In the August holidays I did a lambing beat on a farm out at Fernhill, and … got my driver’s licence at that time … and was called into the Vocational Guidance Officer’s rooms, Mr [???], at high school. And [he] said, “Bruce, you don’t seem to know what you want to do in your life but I think you should follow what your interests are; and perhaps stock and station agency might be your forte.”

Well that’s what I did; so in January 1954 at the tender age of sixteen with my School Certificate qualification, I was offered an office junior’s position in the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ head office by the late Sir Ronald Trotter, who was then the chief accountant; with the ambition to reach the Stock department and later to represent the company on the road.

The mercantile firms of the day – and in 1954 there were seven of them – offered young people like myself a very thorough and formal training while they found their niche as they were moving around the various departments. In 1956 I found myself in the Stock department under the late Tom Kyle and Trevor Smith; and was allowed to attend and help at the Wednesday weekly stock sales provided my work was up to date – and it was, even if it meant going back on a Tuesday evening ‘til ten o’clock, to make sure it was. Those weekly sojourns confirmed to me the attraction of a lifestyle involving livestock and the camarade [camaraderie] of the personnel in there. And when Mr D H Grieve, Livestock Company Manager and Auctioneer, called me into his office and declared, “There is an opening for a junior livestock agent in Wairoa – are you interested?” “Yes”, I replied. “The job’s yours”, he said.

I had recently been given a £50 rise above the award for good service, taking me to £350 annually; and now a further [£]200 for my promotion. £550 a year and a company car … said, “Oh, I’m on my way”.

That was very good for that era, wasn’t it?

It was; it was. So I arrived in Wairoa on 3 November 1957, my twentieth birthday, with great expectations, little knowledge, and lots of enthusiasm to make my mark or not, under the guidance of my immediate boss, Barry Williams; and Cyril Howard, the manager; Jack Mulhern who took me under his wing like a son he never had; Jack Coffey, a senior and lovable raconteur; and twelve months later an eighteen-year-old Laurence Redshaw, recently deceased, and Principal of Allied Redshaw Livestock, an independent and successful company. And I canvassed in my second-hand early model Holden company car, and called on all farmers, clients and opposition alike, to make myself and my company noticed. And it paid off. I remember three months later when Mr Howard, the manager, called me into his office. “Bruce”, he said, “I don’t want you to regard yourself as a junior agent; I want you to be part of our team, and that’s what you should be.” I thanked him for his confidence and suggested that if that was the case, surely I should be paid accordingly. [Chuckle] Cyril shrugged his shoulders and lifted my salary to £750 a year – a £200 rise.

And this is in 1957?

“Let’s go!” I said to myself. The Wairoa County is unique in its isolation; five or six arterial roads south and north, Cricklewood and Ruakituri; Mahia through Nuhaka; Lake Waikaremoana and Ohuka. None joined the other, but needed backtracking and re-starting out again. My canvassing and work averaged two thousand five hundred miles a month or thirty thousand miles a year, and we changed cars at about a hundred thousand, or three to four years of time. My early model Holden was repainted in two tones of my choice; unique, and the only two-tone Holden in Wairoa.

So they’d see you coming?

Yes, they [chuckles] … they noticed.

The Mahia Peninsula was predominantly farmed by the Ormond family, and history tells me that an Ormond from Central Hawke’s Bay and Wallingford, left the Wallingford nest and established himself with a Māori princess from Mahia, and between them they produced a large parcel of offspring; the seniors and their children whom I met and dealt with in my time in Wairoa. There was Dan, Joe, George, Gordon, Willie and Guy, each farming independently, some better than others. Mahia today has modernised, and there is a good golf course and hotel with accommodation; sections and beach houses in demand.

So, five years later, 1962, on promotion back to Hastings I left Wairoa with my wife, Robin, and two young boys, Chris and Tim, who are now fifty-seven and fifty-six years respectively – no longer a novice, but a member of the stock agents’ fraternity.

Wairoa was a founding group for me and the friends I made from my work and social life, including rugby and cricket, and kept me in good stead. Stock and station agencies – their background is one of service to their clients. Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Co-op in my early days was a truly co-operative company. £5 worth of shares gave the smallest shareholder the same privileges as the one with £5,000 holding. Relinquished shares could only be sold back to the company. Services provided included stock, seed and grain, motor, grocery, china and footwear etcetera, finance – clients could deposit to interest bearing accounts with the company; which funds were then on-loaned to other clients who needed seasonal finance.

Stock reps [representatives] – as a stock rep in a given area, my job with approximately a hundred clients was to know their farming policy, and to assist with marketing stock to best advantage; and to assist with replacement stock including rams and bull requirements. The advantage, I found, of calling on all farmers and knowing their farming practice, I would often marry up stock available within the area as a private sale, one to another. Good stock agents were often included in family activities, weddings and birthdays, 21st birthdays etcetera.

In 1966 I replaced Mr Wils van Asch as Murray Roberts’ senior auctioneer, and I sold at Stortford Lodge, Waipukurau, Dannevirke, and managed the Waipukurau branch in 1969 until we moved to Wright Stephenson in 1972.

How did you learn to be an auctioneer?

That’s a good question. I’ll tell you how it happened; it was a sudden thing that happened. My boss, Barney Williams … one day at the sale, “Sell this pen, boy.” Well, I sold the pen. I didn’t see any bids; the tears were rolling down my cheeks. Any rate, that was a start, and I did a little selling after that. And I said to my boss, Barney, one day, “How am I getting on, Mr Williams, as an auctioneer?” He said, “You’ll never be an auctioneer as long as your arse is pointing towards the ground, boy!” [Chuckle] Well that was a challenge, so I practised; I took bids off the lamp post as I went past as I drove round the countryside; and that’s how I got started and went on from there. And I became quite good.

So that was getting started in auctioneering and as I’ve said, all the areas I’ve sold in over the next few years. And when we moved with Wright Stephenson in 1972 I joined Kelvin Tremain and Ralph Greentree as a real estate Hastings partner. I was qualified by examination. And later I went back to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers again until my appointment as Federated Farmers’ Hawke’s Bay Provincial Secretary in 1981, which went on until 1987.

Now I’ll talk a bit about Federated Farmers. My brief with the … we’ll call them the Feds … was to encourage other rurally-based industries under our watch, and we successfully became Secretaries to the Hawke’s Bay Vegetable Growers and the Hawke’s Bay Asparagus Growers; the New Zealand Sheepdog Trial Association; and ran a cadet scheme of thirty-two young cadets on different first to five [fifth] year duration, and place them on farms.

At Farmers’ request I represented them on the Hastings District Chamber of Commerce, and chaired the District Affairs Committee. I represented Federated Farmers on the high-powered Regional Committee comprising the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries – Bill Crawford and Noel Congdon; politicians – Sir Richard Harrison; meat companies – Gordon Ansford; and the Rural Bank – Brian Neilson.

The Federated Farmers and this group made submissions to government and hosted unions and politicians, and remained apolitical. Totally apolitical.

Yes.

That period in the eighties was dramatically poised for farming. Roger Douglas and David Lange – David Lange’s government – rearranged the New Zealand economy and farming future as stand-alone and non-subsidised. Federated Farmers, while supporting the direction of their policy, criticised its only part-way policy; it never went right to the end. As land values halved and interest rates doubled combined with low commodity prices, many farms became uneconomic. For example: a half-a-million-dollar farm, costing half a million with a $250,000 mortgage at 7.5%, became valued at only $250,000 with an interest rate of 15%. So they were mortgaging the whole of their farm at a high interest rate, and it was untenable. Lots of reconstruction took place with all parties combining to assist.

After resigning from Federated Farmers in 1988 I acted as a field officer for a local horticultural export company, including squash to Japan, venison to the United Kingdom and stone-fruit to Australia, at the same time retaining the New Zealand Secretaryship of the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association until 2007, and being appointed as the New Zealand Secretary to the South Devon Cattle Society for a period until they changed their venue of operation in 1996 to Feilding.

At about that time I commenced on my own account, and [a] winter grazing regime of lambs in orchards and vineyards.

You didn’t own them, you just …

Just grazed them.

grazed your sheep on those farms.

[That’s] right – and I sometimes had to pay grazing rates – most times.

In the Wairarapa at that stage, that was quite beneficial for all the farmers that didn’t have enough grazing land on their own places.

Exactly right. There was a period of time when you couldn’t graze orchards because of the spraying – DDT sprays and those sort of things. In fact where we’re living, Erica, now, we’re not supposed to plant anything in the ground that you can eat, because of the arrangement with the spraying from years ago.

And yet they’re still spraying over the fence.

Exactly. I had two government appointments; one as a drought co-ordinator for Hawke’s Bay and one with Federated Farmers; the other as an individual in the late 1990s. I was also contracted as a commission agent and auctioneer to Central Hawke’s Bay Stock Buyers from 2003 to 2006. I was appointed as a livestock procurement manager for Napier-based Fresh Meats New Zealand Limited. These mixed but closely related activities kept me in touch with the personnel within the stock world which I loved then, and still do.

Now looking out of lounge and kitchen windows, we have an unrestricted view of the Te Mata Peak which I leased from the Board for six years – for an income near to nil but a deal of personal pleasure – to honour those hills with an interest in their future.

So what do you think about the track?

I think the track – it was a wonderful idea. I think if people had been involved early in talking to the Māori people … told [them] about it … I don’t think there would’ve been any trouble at all. However, let’s see what happens.

I’m going back to auctioneering, Erica, if I can. Can I talk about that?

Yes.

You asked me how I got started earlier on. The art of auctioneering is fascinating and has a number of requirements: firstly, with livestock a sense of values – so important, in that you have to be confident which improves with experience; a voice that’s not necessarily loud but pleasant to listen to and gain the buyer’s attention; a touch of humour when it’s appropriate, and the gaining of your vendors’ support; and a bit of homework on the farm to let people know what stock’s coming in before it actually arrives.

The sale yards is the life of the industry. A typical day is as follows: up at four to four-thirty in the morning to be at the sale yards by five to six am; arrive at the yards. Agents putting boots on; complete silence except for cattle being driven from the holding paddocks. Then the trucks of sheep and cattle at drafting yards, penning up; the laughter, sometimes arguments. Co-operation between all the companies to feed the stock up; morning tea or breakfast; the auction starts; vendors discussing results with each other; buyers taking delivery from the agents; trucks re-loading, and drovers to the holding paddocks with stock.

I must tell you a story about Alec Shewan who was one of nature’s gentlemen, but known as a hard case. Lovely person; became a friend of mine, and he told the story at one of our parties at the sale yards, and it went something like this: “There I was in my inimitable manner, seeking a payload at the ewe fair. Finally I got a payload to take to Tutira, so off I went. As I was going through Napier I called in to see my old friend, whose name is Russell Pettigrew, and he got the whisky bottle out and we had a couple of drinks. He said, ‘Alec, you go on to Tutira, get rid of the sheep, come on back down, call in again and we’ll finish the bottle.’ Well, what an incentive! Off I went, got to the property, unloaded the sheep; back down to Napier I went, pulled into the yard. As I got out of the truck I heard ‘baaaa’, and I hadn’t unloaded the bloody cab pen [chuckle] – there were still twelve sheep under the truck. [Chuckles] And I had to go all the way back to Tutira to deliver them.” So that was Alec.

So going back to the sale yards … then we went back after the sale to the office – we had to write up the sale. Clients of the day coming in, sometimes to have a beer or a talk or a whisky shared; then back home for tea and canvassing on the telephone.

We had a lot of drovers in those days, Erica. These men with their horses and dogs were an integral part of stock movement through the 1960s. The county was interspersed with holding paddocks and drovers’ huts at intervals of a day’s drive, say ten miles. Initially they would ride out to a job for a day’s pay, but latterly were taken by local transport to start the drive and were picked up by junior agents in the evening, and returned before daylight the following day to proceed for another stage. Companies had holding paddocks handy to the sale yards where they were fed hay overnight and driven to the sale in the morning. Mobs may’ve been mixed together; stock had individual farmer’s ear marks, and were drafted by agents to separate them. Drovers I remember have all gone now and their names were Donald Struthers, Harry Roil, Mason Herries, Alec Walker, Arthur Pritchard, Bill Taylor, Joe Green and Spencer Dillon, who actually drew a ballot in a Lands & Survey ballot, later on.

Bill Taylor, the drover, was a horse whisperer. On one occasion – perhaps more than one – he purchased horses at a horse fair, changed their appearance by grooming, plaiting, cutting and reselling at the same sale for a profit. [Chuckles]

Arthur Pritchard was a dear old boy that [who] I knew well. He was sitting in the water table with the stock going backwards and forwards, and when the local stock agent who told me the story pulled up and said, “What’s happening here, Mr Pritchard?” And as he was sitting there this dog ran past, and Arthur pinged him with a stone. As he went back the other way he pinged him again with a pebble. And the stock agent said, “Why are you annoying that dog, Mr Pritchard? Why are you pestering him with pebbles?” “Well” he said, “he’s annoying me, so I’m annoying him.” [Chuckle]

There was Harry Roil, always with a waistcoat, a lovely hat, a pocket watch; and a lovely old gentlemen.

The Railways were most important in those days. They were protected by legislation in those early years, from road transport; and they were restricted to running fifty miles against the rail – that’s the road transport. That meant, for example, that stock destined for a Stortford Lodge sale from Wairoa on trucks to go to Waikare, had to be loaded onto another truck coming up from Hastings to go to the destination. What a nonsense! Absolute nonsense. The Railway always had an intermittent destination requiring another option – say a truck or a drover, to complete the trip.

So you mean that they could be driven part of the way and then trucked the rest of the way, or they could be changed from one truck to another?

Because of the fifty-mile limit [for] transport, you couldn’t put stock on a truck in Wairoa and take them to the Stortford Lodge sale. They had to go on …

In two stages?

… yeah. But if they went by rail they’d go to say, just south of Hastings, and they’d still have to be picked up by a truck with a drover to get them back to the sale when they could’ve gone straight from the farm in Wairoa to the sale yards in Stortford Lodge. That happened eventually; however, that’s what happened in those days.

For instance – in my early years in Wairoa during a long period of drought we in the company had twelve hundred cattle sold on the Mahia Peninsula in drought conditions, but the Railways couldn’t supply the …

The rolling stock …

… railway wagons. No, they couldn’t supply them for ten days. And I said to them – I was only young – and I said, “Listen, I’m going to send transport up there; you can do what you like about it ‘cause you can’t supply the trucks.” And I did that, and they didn’t prosecute; good sense prevailed.

But road transport … when sense had prevailed regarding the mileage restrictions – fifty miles against Railway – a major transformation over time took place. No more meeting deadlines for trains – they were generally late anyway; and waiting for wagons to be placed for unloading at two thirty in the morning. We had sixty thousand ewes at one sale at Waipuk [Waipukurau] I remember, in the late 1990s, carted in and out to new surroundings and farms, all by road transport. They ran a very efficient organisation, and they held their prices well. Sheep and cattle to two major freezing works on a five to six day basis; lambs were drafted in daylight in those days, until eleven am, and then trucked and killed on the same day at the freezing works.

Which is what it should be.

Yes, quite right. Major companies included the following: Roy Sherwood, David Walker, Cyril Wilkie, J Shewan & Son – and Alec was the man I told you about – Attwood & Reid, Nockall’s Transport, Clive Cassidy, Pat Foley, Powdrell’s Transport, Bridgeman’s, Murray Torr, Bambry Brothers, Stephenson’s Transport, the Hall Brothers of Wairoa, Roy Dooley, and Bill Reeves in Pettigrew’s.

Most have been swallowed up with mergers and takeovers, leaving large fleets doing a great job. The co-ordinators of the firms were the secret of their success, and the person who most impressed me in Hastings in those days, the late Mr Keith Sturrock, who represented Sherwood’s Transport for many years.

Now, local trade butchers, Erica …

Yes.

Most of you will remember your local butcher; there were lots of them. We, the livestock people, provided the raw product at the weekly fat stock sales; they personally or their agents including us, operating on their behalf. Do you remember Watson & Lang; the Dawn Meat Company; Leach & Jones; Wall Brothers; J B Fletcher; K N Porter; L J Lloyd; T J Thompson; Hawke’s Bay Co-operative Butchery – that was Sir Lew Harris’ baby – Downey’s Butchers in Raureka and Napier City; R D Allen; Colin Bartlett; and many others. All of their product was processed at the Napier City Abattoirs, and lately at the Tomoana Works. Now the butchers’ shops with sawdust floors and huge chipping blocks and roof top fans are no longer there. Do you remember the butcher who cut your meat to your requirements, and gave the saveloy to your son or your granddaughter? They’re mostly gone and been replaced by pre-packaged supermarket product.

I still buy my meat, most of it, from Downey’s in McHardy Street in Napier.

Well I procured stock for Bill Downey for many years – he’s a top butcher.

Yes, yes. His meat is always great.

His son would be the …

Yes, his son’s there now.

Yeah, that’s right.

Stock and station agents, Erica; in the late 1950s there were seven mercantile companies who were in various stages established in Hawke’s Bay, each in competition with each other; each with a staff dedicated to servicing their clients; and all of them believed they were the best company. They were essentially correct in that belief, and were encouraged by their employers to be so. They all operated with a sense of team spirit. The two co-operatives within them – that was W&K [Williams & Kettle] and Hawke’s Bay Farmers – had a little different philosophy from the national companies in that their equation, provided a dividend could be struck and rebates paid and staff awarded a bonus, their aim was to annually set aside some funds, and to provide a service. The co-ops kept the others honest in a truly competitive sense, covering all the farming inputs, needs, and catering for the marketing of pastoral production while providing appropriate advice on the selling and buying at auctions. That sort of concept created a pretty tidy working environment in an industry surrounded by a periphery of servicing arms, all doing well and on-spending into towns like Hastings, Napier, Wairoa, Waipukurau, Dannevirke and Gisborne.

So that’s it. The following resume of a career of rural orientation is mostly one of satisfaction. It is interspersed with some disappointments, mainly because of others’ decisions, sometimes my own, but I wouldn’t want to change much. My life membership of the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Association – a rarity for a non-dog trialist – and the Havelock North Squash Racquets Club in its formative years, are two life memberships that I’m proud of.

And so you deserve to be too.

Thank you. And Robin, my wife, has shared and supported me over fifty-seven years of our marriage, and I thank her for that. In summary I have enjoyed the chance to pen some thoughts; doing so has brought back to me memories forgotten but dear to me, particularly those icons of the industry whom I and others in my era remember for various reasons; the men who went before me and had different talents, and are remembered with respect. I would like to think some areas of my contribution are ongoing in the memories of others. I would like to share my love of working dogs and family with you.

Thank you. Bruce is going to tell us a story about his particular pet.

Thank you, Erica. I explained to you when you asked me whether I’d been a dog trialist that I had working dogs, and I had one in particular that I loved. With my wife, we were living at Maraekakaho in [on] a small lifestyle block, and I went to feed this dog – his name was Nig – and he ran onto the road and he was killed on the road. And we had been planning to go into town for a meal, and I said to Robin, “I’ll just look after Nig; let’s go to town and have that meal.” So we went, and I had a few drinks, Erica, and I was worried about things. I got home and I sat in my office and I wrote a poem. And here it is – it’s just a narrative poem:

‘Come down’, said Trev, ‘the bitch has whelped
And pick a pup; sire unknown
We think they’re Ben’s – Ron Phillips’ dog by Dan
And if they are they’ll work real well
But if they’re not, well what the hell?’
So there I went, and I’m no judge
But I do have a feel for stock
And using that, good bones, strong head; he wasn’t that big
But he was black as the ace of spades
And I named him Nig

Nig was one of two that were kept that day
And when weaning came about I took him home
And Robin took over his rearing
A mind of his own, but willing
And an outlook that was bold
He thought Rob’s chickens were for killing
No matter what he was told

Too tough, as he grew, for our little place
His potential would never be reached
It was clear what he wanted was to give him some space
So to Kereru with Bullard, Anne’s husband, he went
Not in disgrace but for experience and discipline
Unknown barriers to be reached

And back to the Trust Road he came
When the shearing muster was done
He was grown by then, still a baby by age
‘but maturing’, said Bullard, ‘day by day;
I’d love to keep him, he’s a good one’

Now if you have had children
And loved them as we have, all three
And gone through the stages of growing with them
And wondering as to what they’ll eventually be
And you have hopes and ambitions on their behalf
While they wander through youth with a grin
And they discount your worries and concerns with a laugh
As though worry and concerns were a sin

Well Nig was like that; he was a kid with a talent
He thought when you growl you were mad
And he’d cock his head to one side
Lolling tongue and mouth wide
As if saying ‘They yard it – it can’t be that bad’
And I wanted more for him and from him

And Murray Cranswick, my mate from the Feds
Took him home to his hill country property
To instil some strong sense into his head
And Murray soon found, as I had explained
That Nig was no ordinary dog
But a personality all of his own

With strengths that were natural with stock
And as time went by when Murray and I
In the course of our farming endeavours
But perhaps on the phone, and I’d say, ‘How is Nig going?’
He’d say, ‘Great, really well’
And one night that became ‘Would you sell?’

Now I had to be fair to them both
To Murray, who trained him, and to Nig, who adored him
But to lose him forever was loathe
So we struck up a deal
$200 for his hill country life
‘Til it became just too hard for him
At which time he would come back to flat land and home
To retire and to keep in his hands no strife

And come home he did, earlier than arranged
It was the highlight of my year
Murray rang to confirm that our deal was still on
He had had a change of career
It was an opportune time, I was back in the game
Selling livestock for a firm
And with Nig and the team
No task it would seem
Was a problem now that he was in charge

For five years we teamed up in harness, hard work
But far as we went mustering hill country, orchards
Maraekakaho lifestyle and sale yards
There was no idle time to be spent
‘He was the best’, so said the rest of the agents and farmers who saw him
A dog who could head without noises and did it
And who hunted with punch and a din

I knew he was good, far better than me when it came to completing a task
Once he knew what was wanted he was away in a flash and was working before I could ask
But just as we take for granted our loved ones
Our wives, children, family and friends
And think that they will always be there
With a dog like Nig it’s the same
To not have theirs or his company to share is unthinkable
Not possible; a thing not to enter your head

But one night at dusk, at feed time
Onto the highway he strayed
And with screeching brakes and a bang he was dead.
Nig is buried at home – only I know exactly where
I grieved him; I still do
And I want any who read this to share
As a lesson in life, one to carry out is to make sure they know, those loved ones
Wives, children, family and friends, of whom Nig was a part
That you love them, respect them and enjoy them while they are still with us.

That’s absolutely lovely. Thank you. So how old was Nig?

Oh, he was eight when he died, I think. 1984 to 1985 [1995], so he was nine.

Pretty good life though.

Oh, great dog; he was great.

But it is quite amazing isn’t it, don’t you think Bruce, that you find a dog or a cat, but mostly dog or a horse, that just reacts with you and knows what you mean and what you say and everything?

Sure. We’ve got a little dog in the bedroom; I put her in there because I didn’t want her to annoy you, and she’s Rob’s … I bought her for Robin for our fiftieth wedding anniversary, so she’s coming up ten. She’s such a delight. Robin’s taken … two walks today; I go when I can. About three thirty she’ll be sitting over there, and she’ll come up to Robin and she [demonstrates] [chuckle] … ‘It’s about time?’ [Chuckles] It’s quite funny, she talks away.

In the meantime when you’d been working with all these different farming and animal activities, Robin had been working for a TAB agency; was that in Hastings?

Yeah.

For fifteen years.

She worked for the bank too. Well, she worked for the bank and then she worked for the TAB. And then when she was offered the agency in Clive she said, “Will you come as my partner?” So I gave up …

Doing any farming …

… for five years.

That was a complete change.

It was an absolute complete change. [Chuckle] And some lovely stories could be told there too.

Well we’ll leave that for another day.

Yeah, we will.

So we’re going to sign off on that note; that was the end of your working life per se, so thank you, Bruce.

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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