Matapiro Station Stalwart Lived Life to the Limit
A member of a Hawke’s Bay pioneering farming family died last month.
Matthew Lawrence Walter Forde died in Cranford Hospice on April 28, aged 78.
Mr Forde, who was known as Matt, was a descendant of Walter Shrimpton of Matapiro Station – a station noted for its size, it was originally 9000ha, and its distinctive half-timbered homestead.
Walter Shrimpton bought the lease of the station in 1872 and it remained in the family until it was sold last year to Auckland meat magnate Ken Syminton. The farm was then 1882ha and carrying 18,500 stock units.
Mr Forde was born at Matapiro homestead in November 1926. He was the son of Larry Forde who had been an officer in the British army during World War 1, and Barbara Forde, née Shrimpton.
Larry Forde was the one of the youngest commanding officers in the British Army.
Although Matthew Forde was born at the homestead his parents were living on another family farm, Tama Hapu, which was 2430ha in the Gwavas district of Central Hawke’s Bay.
He was educated at Hereworth School, Havelock North, and Wanganui Collegiate before he began his farming career.
He worked for the Swinburne family of Tourere Station south of Waipukurau and was there at the end of World War 2.
Son Tim recounts how his father came home from work 60 years ago to find the place deserted. It was VE Day and everyone had driven into Waipukurau to celebrate.
In 1946 Mr Forde went to Massey College to study agriculture where he met his future wife, Valerie Peters.
However, they did not marry till 1951 because Mr Forde headed off overseas after finishing university.
While he was in Britain he worked for their Department of Agriculture as an inspector.
Rationing from World War 2 was still in existence then and it was his job to ensure farmers grew what was needed as the country recovered. He also worked for a grain harvesting contractor.
His father died at 53 before he returned home.
In 1951 and back in New Zealand he married Valerie and took over the family farm across the road from Matapiro Station.
Mr Forde farmed there until 1999. He and Mrs Forde retired to Havelock North in 1993 but he did not like town life so he commuted to the farm each day.
In 1997 they moved into the Matapiro homestead to care for it and the huge gardens until the farm was sold. He often made the homestead and gardens available for charities for fund-raising events and picnics.
Mr Forde was well-known for his off-beat sense of humour.
Neighbour Tony Connor tells of a farm employee who was concerned that he had to go to work one Monday morning without a joke to tell, having been told it was a condition of his employment.
His driving exploits, especially on his tractors, were also the stuff of legend.
“He had at least 18 lives because nine were not enough,” Mr Connor said.
In fact, he was employed by Barclay Motors, Hastings in the 1950s to push Massey Ferguson tractors to their limits.
About 30 years ago he somersaulted a tractor over a bank on the farm and was trapped until his Labrador dog was able to lead searchers to him.
He was also known for his exploits on motorcycles. While he was overseas he competed in the Isle of Man TT race. “He loved speed and had no fear,” Tim Forde said.
Last year on Queen’s Birthday Monday he was badly injured when he crashed his utility off Matapiro Road and spent 16 hours trapped in the wreckage.
He had only Chihuahua dog Tam for company all through a freezing night before he was found.
Mr Forde was also involved in his community and the farming industry. He was innovative in developing a ryegrass suitable for the droughts Matapiro experienced. The variety was a forebear of the droughtmaster seed used today.
The Ministry of Agriculture carried out experiments with pheremones to control grass grub at Matapiro and he was a member of the Forestry Institute.
Son Tim and daughter Gillian remember their father’s concern for his stock.
He never considered his job was done until every orphaned lamb was mothered-up or sick cow nursed to health.
He was often heard to say to his children, “if you save two lambs a day, you have justified your existence”.
Mr Forde was farewelled at a packed St Matthew’s Church, Hastings, last week and buried in the family plot at the Crownthorpe church.
His wife Val died in November. He is survived by his sons Tim and Chris and daughter Gillian and seven grandchildren.
Photo caption – STALWART: Matthew Forde