Newspaper Article 1995 – A drover’s face

A drover’s face

By Geoff Mercer
Staff reporter, Hastings

Old drovers have interesting faces – it seems to go with the job.

Some look hard-bitten and forbidding – and they stay that way. Others look like Whirinaki man Malcolm McKay. He looks serious first off, but 20 minutes later a wry sense of humour and a snaggle-toothed grin well to the surface.

Aged 58 years he admits to slowing up a bit these days, but that won’t stop him flying to Australia shortly to spend 16 weeks driving a wheat harvester four hours north of Perth.

Apart from dogs, horses and livestock, machinery is the other important theme in Mr McKay’s life. He’s operated bulldozers, graders, trucks, chainsaws…even a shearing handpiece.

He was born within sight of his present home – a beachfront house – on a Tongoio [Tangoio] farm in 1936. As a youngster he was keen to pursue a career in surveying, but his father persuaded him to stay home and help on the farm.

When he did leave he went bulldozing, followed by seven years’ shepherding on the Tikokino Worsnop property, Kowhai Farm. He managed the Magill Estate at Crownthorpe, then switched back to machinery to manage Burnside contractors, which later became East Coast contractors.

Bought D4

He bought his own D4 machine, which he operated for several years, working from Te Mahanga to Sherenden. He moved to Napier in the early 1970s and spent two years working on trawlers.

Post fishing he built yards and sheep dips on Lands and Survey Department properties, then built woolsheds and haybarns back in the Sherenden district.

“Then I went shearing for two seasons. I did my first 200 when I was 41,” he says proudly.

Next he returned to heavy machinery and building roads in the Kaweka Forest. About 1980 he “bumped” into farmer Jim Burnside and asked him if he could drove a mob of cattle for him.

His forestry employers at the time let him take leave in the winter to go droving. The year they refused he left.

“Then six months later they offered redundancy to staff,” he remembers ruefully.

For a time he managed the 800-hectare Metroforce property on Glengarry Rd.

Everything nearly came to an end two years ago, however.

Dropped dead

“I was docking recently and dropped dead … I’m lucky to be here actually,” he says.

The rest of the gang gave him CPR and mouth-to-mouth and thanks to the Lowe Walker rescue helicopter and a five-week stint in hospital, he recovered.

However, pills he takes now makes his skin susceptible to sunburn. He must wear a hat and sunscreen outdoors.

Mr McKay has driven mobs over most of the East Coast and recently returned from weeks on the road trailing a mob from Gisborne to Hunterville.

“Droving is the best work,” he says of everything he’s tried.

“You get bad days, but you meet people.”

There’s the challenge of organising paddocks, thinking all the time about the mob and keeping onside with roadside residents. He tries where he can to put up an electric fence on road frontages to protect people’s lawns.

Fifty to sixty days on the road driving a mob from Gisborne’s Arai Station to Crownthorpe is normal. Taking it any quicker is hard on the cattle, he says.

Boost for tourism

Tourism receives a big boost from droving, he says.

“Every year more and more tourists get out of buses to watch…most of them have video cameras and most of them go back overseas. People they show the film to must say ‘where have you been?’”

Droving has something in common with trawling, he says. Both require an ability to gauge what the weather will do. When he’s droving he wakes early to hear the 5am marine weather forecast. He follows that with the 5.30am land forecast and combines, both with a “feeling” he has developed to predict what the day will do.

Strange things have been happening over the past three years, though. The water table has gotten lower and lower along the roadsides.

“In places that have always had a bit of running water, it’s not there anymore.

“We haven’t had the same really good easterlies like we used to.”

Mr McKay will be back in a few months looking for more Hawke’s Bay work. He’s not worried about unemployment. He’ll put the word out he’s back and willing to work. He may get work for this D2 dozer, parked up the Taihape Rd right now, or there’s always another mob.

Photo caption – Mr McKay…there’s always another mob.

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  • Geoff Mercer


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


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