Pattullo, Brian Lindsay Interview

This is Caroline [Lowry] interviewing Brian Pattullo on 17th March 2020. Hi Brian, and looking forward to hearing your story.

Yeah, well hi, Caroline. Welcome, nice to have you here; cold and miserable out there, good day to be sitting inside and being interviewed.

So we’re going to go back, perhaps to the 1880s when my grandfather, who was I think the fourth of five sons living between Meigle and Forfar, east of Edinburgh in Scotland, decided that he would emigrate to New Zealand. And he did what they all did of course in those days, they headed to Dunedin, the Edinburgh of the south …

And your grandfather’s name was ..?

James; he was James Pattullo. And he did quite well down there, became involved with a large farming company called The Australian & New Zealand Land Company, based in Australia but with offices in Dunedin. And amongst other things they owned Hakataramea Station, which is one of the biggest station runs … high country runs … in the South Island; it probably still is very big. And after a period working for The Australian & New Zealand Land Company he went up and took over the running of Hakataramea, and they were there for probably fifteen or twenty years. And then for some reason unknown to us these days, they made the move up to Hawke’s Bay.

Now our property, which is called Newstead, and which is on the Taradale route inland through Rissington to Puketitiri – they bought that property; and this is interesting in that we are only the third owners. It was acquired by people called Bennett, English people, probably in the 1880s; they were there for a few years, sold it to another English family called Pharazyn, and the Pharazyns were there for a wee while. And then my grandfather arrived from the South Island and bought the property. I of course farmed it for many years after my father retired. Robert, my son, still farms it and my grandson, his son, who is currently farming in Australia, will eventually we hope, come over and take over the running of the property. So it’s nice to have a property that has been in the family for so long.

It’s interesting in that it’s just about twenty minutes west of the Napier Airport, and for travellers going in and out of Napier, you look towards the second row of hills and there you see a group of gum trees on the horizon – it’s known as One Gum Tree Hill … there’re actually about three of them. They were planted by the Bennett people, and what was interesting is that in the days when it was pretty necessary to miss the reef out east of Napier, they were lined up and used as a navigational daylight way where ships took their position. So they’re on all the maps, and they are a historical thing.

And I’m just looking at a photograph that we have here which is a very, very interesting one, and that’s a photograph of the Inner Harbour of Napier at tide; and you can see the bottom of the airstrip there with the windsock on it; the flats, which of course came in after the earthquake in the early 1930s; the lower hills, which are mostly farmed by the Holt family; and then the far away hills on the horizon, which have been farmed by my family for quite a long time.

Beautiful photo.

Yeah, well it just shows you … that photograph was taken from the railway bridge going out in the vicinity of Westshore, by … funnily enough, and this is a name that everyone knows … a photographer who was contracted to and working for Langley Twigg, the solicitors in Napier. And they are my solicitors, and when I walked in there to do business with them this photograph was hanging on the wall. And I said, “Well, wait on a moment – I’d like a copy of that”, and they said, “We’ll need to check with the photographer and see if it’s copyrighted.” It turned out it wasn’t; they gave me his name, and I rang him and explained what I wanted. And he said, “Yes”, he said, “I’ll send it to such and such a computer in town where they are capable of receiving these things”, her said, “it’ll be there in five minutes.” I went into town ten minutes later and there it was, waiting to be printed out and signed and hung on the wall. So that’s a nice mememto of the family, that we see every day.

And what sort of farm is Newstead?

Well, in my day Newstead was predominantly sheep. I was running quite a large-ish property with a lot of stock. In its heyday I was running six thousand ewes, which was a lot of sheep; probably close on a thousand cattle, and about a thousand deer. So you know, we were farming in quite a big way, and the fact that we were [in] proximity to town always made it interesting. The other part that is interesting is that … because remember, we’re in a relatively dry climate and subject to drying westerly winds through spring and into autumn sometimes … this property lies essentially to the east, out to Hawke Bay, so it has two advantages – it gets the morning sun in the winter time first of all, and it does grow grass even through the winter; and secondly, the bulk of it lies away from those burning westerly winds which are such a nuisance in terms of drying out country when you’re farming in a dry climate like Hawke’s Bay.

Interesting. And so tell me – any sort of clubs, or any of those sort of involvements that you had early on when you were farming?

Well, one of the earliest things of course was Young Farmers’ Club; and we had one … we incorporated both Eskdale and Bay View. There was one at Puketapu as well, but I belonged to the other one. And we had a very good Young Farmers’ Club. One of the things I do remember quite well – we had a Christmas Party at the Twyford Young Farmers’ Club just west of Hastings, probably in the late fifties, and the guest of honour was Sir James Wattie. And he talked to us, and we thought that he was going to tell us a lot about his canning and that sort of thing; but he explained to us just how valuable our lives were going to be farming in Hawke’s Bay; and to value our land, and to value the very good land. And one of the things I’ll never forget that he said, “I, Jim Wattie, should never have been allowed to build a canning factory on some of the most fertile land in New Zealand”. He said, “I should have been asked to put it out on the Havelock hills”. Yeah … [chuckle]

So … and that’s one of those things that over sixty years later, you still remember something like that.

Amazing! And what other interests did you have, Brian?

Well, my grandfather had been president on two occasions in the late 1880s – 1890s of the Agricultural & Pastoral Society of Otago, which is where he lived when he came out from Scotland; and this seemed to follow in the family. My father became president of the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society at the Showgrounds at Tomoana of course, in the fifties, and at that stage I was asked to join the committee as a very junior steward and I was given the responsibility of running the wool section. Now, in those days wool was a terrific thing; wool was absolutely terrific! Good wool was worth terrific money. And they had a special grade from the hoggett fleeces called ‘paper felt’; and we used to have classes for that. And in those days – and here’s a name that you’ll know in Hawke’s Bay – Jack Tucker, one of those wonderful fellows from the woolscouring works, Jack Tucker – and a chap called Lex Meek, who was the wool lecturer at Massey University, used to come up and do the judging at the Showgrounds in the wool thing. And we would have seventy or eighty entries in one class, and these fellows would start at seven o’clock in the morning of the first day of the Show and it would often be mid-afternoon before they’d finish the judging. But the beauty of all that from my point of view, was that I learnt so much about wool; and I would have junior stewards helping me, bringing the fleeces up to the wool table for judging. And at the end of the day these very nice men, these judges, would pull my junior stewards together, and they would put the champion fleeces out; and they would explain to them the merits of the fleece; why they had pointed it; why it was a winner, and all that sort of thing. I’ll never forget that experience; two senior members of [the] Society, very proficient in their careers and their chosen jobs, able to spend time passing their knowledge on to young people. It’s the sort of thing that I’ve attempted to do in my life, and I learnt it from those two fellows; and so I’m very grateful for that.

And this was the sixties and seventies?

Well it was through into the … started in the fifties, through the sixties. I became president in the eighties, and of course my son has been president, Robert, and he’s now retired and so forth; so we’ve had a lifelong involvement with the Hawkes Bay A&P Society which we’ve enjoyed thoroughly. As a past president I’m still ex officio on the ongoing committee along with a number of other vice [past] presidents; and we go to meetings and sometimes we make observations and even the new committees of young people take some notice of us, so [chuckles] … so it’s all a bit of fun. And it’s what one can do to foster agriculture and so forth in this lovely area we happen to live in.

So if we go back a little bit; your schooling for example ..?

Yes, well in those days there were no school buses or anything like that. I lived midway between the Puketapu and Rissington schools, and so it was about six or seven miles either way. It was considered too far to ride a horse – the schools all of course, had pony paddocks. So I had correspondence school at home on the verandah with my aunt until I was nine, and then I went to Hereworth in Havelock North. And that was a bit of a wrench … never been away from home; but there was [were] a few nice chaps there – Lowry people and all sorts of other people – and we got on very well. I had three years there and did okay; and then went to Whanganui Collegiate where my father had been before, and of course where my sons have been as well, and had a time there. Left there and did a couple of sort of agricultural courses at home, and then started shepherding, working with my father. And just carried on from there, developing the property.

At that stage one of the great things that’d happened was aerial topdressing – remember the planes came in after the war. And originally, when you think back … these little Tiger Moths … and I can remember we were dumping bags of super into the hopper of this little thing, and super was going over the poor unfortunate pilot; and away they’d go. But that was a very dramatic thing for hill country – it just improved the ability to fertilise the soils, because prior to that fertiliser had been put on by hand. We had people going around spreading it out from knapsack things in front of them, and that was very laborious, very hard on the knees. So in my time of farming aerial topdressing for hill country was the big breakthrough.


And then you know there were other developments. We used to grub thistles in those days, and then of course very soon after the topdressing, selective sprays came in when you could spray the thistles without damaging other things and that sort of thing. And of course probably one of the big things then, particularly on dry country, was the Australian subterranean clover. That was a clover developed in Australia … one of the good things that’s come out of Australia; probably plenty of others as well … and it was a clover that flourished under difficult, dry conditions because it had been developed in Australia. And so subclover we called it … subterranean clover; called that because it sort of wound its way – it had long tentacles, and sort of wound its way through the grasses and so forth above it. That was a very major breakthrough for farming at that time, along with aerial topdressing.

And tell me about the breed of sheep, Brian, that you ..?

Well, we were pretty traditional farmers, so we had Romney ewes. The older Romney ewes we mated to a Southdown ram to get early fat lambs away to the British market; there was a premium if you could get your lambs away off early country and get them into the British market before Christmas. But broadly speaking the flock was Romney, and they weren’t particularly fertile; if you got something over ninety per cent, you were pleased. As far as I was concerned that wasn’t good enough, so I went to my father one day and I said, “I think we should do some cross-breeding.” So we went out and bought Border Leicester rams, and that cross was finally called Coopworth; and it was called Coopworth after an agricultural scientist, Dr Coop, who was based at Massey University, and who again, was pretty keen to improve fertility.

From the wool section at the Show where I’d run for some time, I graduated into the sheep section, concentrating initially on Romneys. And we used to have terrific entries in those days – it was very competitive, and I had a team of young stewards helping me and helping with the judging and that sort of thing – enjoyed all that. But what eventually happened was that computers took over, the breeding ability and inheritance factors of animals like sheep became more important still; performance was required, and this is where the computers came in. And it’s interesting to note that Tony Parker, one of my great friends and still is after seventy-odd years, was the first person in New Zealand – possibly the first in the world – to put his livestock on a computer in early 1950. They’d only been around a very few years at that time, and that was an absolute breakthrough where we could assess the animals rather than eyeballing them; assess what their potential was to make us money. And making money was … and of course, those were the days of the wool boom when there was just [a] huge amount of money being made out of wool. It’s nice to think it could happen again and to hope that maybe one day wool will have the sort of resurgence that we all know; I think the problem that wool had when the second and third generation of synthetics came in and they really could create the very good factors of wool, and the advantages of wool that has led to the difficulties. But there are still people who insist on buying woollen carpets, so [chuckle] we keep our fingers …

As they should. [Chuckle]

Yeah. And of course New Zealand was the centre of cross-bred wool for the world, and within that Napier was the centre, and the Wool Exchange was built. And we used to go in when our wool was being sold and see these bidders from all over the world paying big money for our wool – it was all very exciting.

Yeah. So tell me, how did you get around on the farm in those days?

Well, it was horse and dog stuff; and I’ve never been a horsey person, but I became very keen on my horses. And with all the stock we had I had always four or five dogs – probably three senior dogs, and one or two youngsters that we were training up. One of the things I do remember quite clearly, and I’m not sure exactly when it was, but it was probably in the seventies; I was riding along the top of the ridge towards our gum trees and suddenly my horse started to shake; and suddenly the dogs started whining. And the dogs crowded in underneath this shaking horse, and I wondered what was going [on]; and suddenly we were hit by an earthquake, quite a severe earthquake. The animals had had the instinct and recognised what was happening long before I did – I was more or less sort of thrown off my horse and it bolted; the dogs stuck closely to me. The interesting thing about this was that it had been a dry summer, and I think it was probably about February … about the time of the Napier earthquake all those years previously. And the first thing I noticed was clouds of dust rising; the ground was moving and clouds of dust rising. After an hour or so they subsided and I found my horse and came home, and I think probably poured myself a strong drink.

And the house was okay?

Yeah. Yeah, houses [chuckle] were all okay. So yeah; no, that was just an interesting thing, but I suppose probably, the fear … I was born after the ‘quake, but people still talked about it so the fear was probably still there. [Chuckle] So I was pleased when it stopped.

I was one of the first people in Hawke’s Bay to farm deer on [in] a reasonably extensive manner, and that was an interesting one. We had to build high fences to keep them in. And we did velveting … in those days velvet was sought after by the Chinese, and so we did that; and we sold venison. I was part of a small exporting company, and we sold our venison under our own brand names to the west coast of America; all those years ago we were sending venison into Los Angeles and places like that, for the market; for the night life, and all those sorts of people that were going out; and the restaurant trade. So that was just another thing that we did that got it started, and it worked very, very well.

Mmm … fascinating. And tell me about the actual community sort of round Rissington where you were ..?

Yeah, well the Absolom family lived just up the road, and the Hutchinson family of course, as well; and they were inter-married. And they were great people; and we had Young Farmers’ Club in the hall, and we used to have dances … oh! Rissington really was an exceptional local community. And it was through the Absolom family that I became involved with Tutira Station … the late Herbert Guthrie-Smith who farmed that property with the big lake, and did all that wonderful planting. And I was asked by Archer Absolom, his son-in-law – Barbara being the daughter of Herbert Guthrie-Smith – if I would join the board. And we did; and we set up a farm cadet training scheme; and we did a lot of planting, and that was just something that is very nice to be able to become involved in a local project which had merit, and had a future. And that is still a lovely property up there; a lot of the planting that we did – if you go up there in the autumn time, or in the spring or autumn, you’ll see the results of all that. It’s satisfactory to be growing things for future generations and that was a classic example.

Mmm. So have you got any funnies you can share with me about the sixties or the seventies … funny stories you can remember?

Well, not particularly – given time I might, and probably in the middle of the night; [chuckle] tonight I’ll probably come up [with] one. But all sorts of things happened; as I say, I had three boys through Whanganui Collegiate School, and in those days, which is interesting, Hawke’s Bay was really the place where a lot of Collegiate boys came from – it was the feeding ground. Things have changed now with Lindisfarne, and most of them go to Lindisfarne. So there was between one and two busloads of boys going over to Collegiate in those days, and that continued on when my family were there. I became interested in education; that was just another thing that was nice to do, and I was approached by the Chairman of the Board of Whanganui Collegiate – they needed a representative in Hawke’s Bay, and so he asked me if I would join the board and look after things in Hawkes Bay, which I did. I must’ve been doing a reasonable job, because about a year later I had a ring from the Chairman of the Board of Woodford House School where my daughter was; anyway, he said, “Look, would you mind … have you got any spare time?” And I said, “Well not a lot.” “Well”, he said, “you’ve got enough for Woodford.” So I joined Woodford, and got involved with fundraising there; and we raised money for the Arts Society and heaven knows what else. So it was a good outlet from farming, and something that I very much enjoyed; I was able to get closer to the teachers than you would normally expect …

So this was the seventies, Brian?

Yeah, it was the seventies and eighties. And I was able to get much closer to teachers than a normal person would, and you know, we used to have times with them, and cups of tea and that sort of thing in school breaks and so forth. And so I always used to talk to them and I have great regard for the teaching fraternity. They put up with a lot – they’re putting up with probably more now than they were then [chuckle] – but they were just lovely people to deal with and a different aspect of it all, and so that was just another enjoyment that I had.

And so when did you leave the farm?

Well in 1958 I met a girl in Auckland called Jocelyn Dimond, [spells] and it was an interesting one because my mother’s name was Jocelyn as well. But anyway, I met her on a blind date at a dance in Auckland; and I rang her after I came back to Hawke’s Bay and said, “Can I come up and see you?” And she seemed to think that was a reasonable idea, and a couple of years later we got married. And from that we had Robert in 1960, followed by Susan my only daughter, who now lives in Australia and works for EY Marketing over there; and then Andrew, who lives here in Havelock and works for an agricultural chemical company; and then Peter, who runs motels, and a fish filleting business in Nelson. So we’re lucky to have such a lovely family.

While we’re on the personal subject – regretfully, Jocelyn contacted [contracted] – we never how it … motor neurone disease, and we had a rough time with that. After two years of nursing she succumbed to it. I’d been up most of the night – we managed to keep her at home – and I was pretty worn down.

But by chance about a year or two later I met Barbara Cairns. and she had been widowed. In fact I knew her husband, because he worked for the Wool Department in Williams & Kettle. And anyway, so I rang Barbara and asked if I could take her out to lunch; I’d seen her at the golf course, and there was a hesitation. And she said, “Well, maybe.” So we went for lunch and I brought her back home … lived in Napier; and I said, “Well could I do this again next week?” And she thought for a moment, and she said, “Brian, what’s this about?” And I said, “Barbara, you’re being targeted.” [Chuckles] So [chuckles] … so we married about a year later, and we’re very happy living in a nice home in Havelock North, and our two families are integrated; we’ve got fifteen grandchildren. And the important thing there of course is to remember birthdays; and the beauty of all this now is that you don’t have to worry about presents – all they want is cash. Half of them are at university and they’re all short of money, so as long as you’ve got a bit of cash in your pocket then a birthday is well [chuckles] … well recognised. [Chuckles]

These days I belong to Probus, and I’ve been on the committee there in Havelock North; belong to the Havelock North Club and have a beer occasionally with the boys over there; play bridge once or twice a week with friends; and am still involved with things like the A&P Society. Do a lot of gardening, and generally speaking thoroughly enjoy my retirement.

As well of that of course, Barbara and I have been able to do quite a bit of travelling; we do travel every year. And I will tell you this because it’s rather a funny story – we were in Africa, and we were in a group of Americans. And we were looking for a couple of giraffes that were supposedly chewing on thorn bushes, poor beggars, around the corner. And anyway, so we got out of our transport vehicle, and it happened that Barbara and I were in the lead of this small group; and suddenly I heard puffing at my shoulder and there was an American fellow – [he was] probably in his fifties; thirty years younger than us, called Lon. And he came puffing up to me and he said, “Say Brian”, he said, “do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” And I said, “No.” He said, “Do you mind telling me how old you and Barbara are?” And I thought for a moment, and I said, “Lon, Barbara and I have a combined age of well over a hundred and sixty years.” And I left him, you know – there was almost fumes coming out of his ears. But that’s just one of those funny things. [Chuckles]

So I’ve rambled on; but you know, what else do you want to know?

Thanks very much, Brian, that was fantastic.

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Interviewer:  Caroline Lowry


  • Brian Lindsay Pattullo

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