Adding to the Landbank

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Pulling strings to maintain a workforce.

Submitted: October 30, 2016

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Submitted: October 29, 2016

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The planting on the Diamond Hill block was about complete and there was only another year’s worth of plantable ground left and the situation worried me. I had seen some forests that had been planted up, so they were mothballed, waiting on an appropriate time harvest the trees. My worry was for my workers most of who had families and property, probably mortgages too, so they would suffer if they were put off.

I knew old Bert Fraser who owned a four thousand acre block of land bounded by the south branch of the Waianakarua River. It was second class farmland with a good covering of gorse. I had been on the block from the Razorback Road end several times mainly to help Mick haul out deer and pigs, also to help Nobby muster some cattle he had grazing up there. I also knew that Bert could be cantankerous old sod and it was wise to be on his good side!

One evening I decided to go down to see him and maybe talk him into selling. Now old Bert was a bachelor, or that was the story, but from time to time he had ‘housekeepers’ staying and the rumour was, ah well, never mind that, I was hoping he didn’t have company. The road finished at Bert’s house and he was always wary of ‘uninvited guests’. He must have heard me coming up the road because he was standing in the middle of his driveway with a shotgun bent over his arm. He just nodded when he saw it was me.

‘Gidday Bert,’ I said casually, ‘I’ve come for a bit of a yarn.’

‘Better come in then.’ He waved me inside.

The place smelled of dog, because there were two lying under the table, one stayed asleep and the other opened one eye and promptly closed it again. We sat at the table which was covered with newspaper. He only bought Saturday’s paper and after he read it he used it as a tablecloth, each day taking the top layer off, so he always had a clean tablecloth. From a cabinet he brought out a bottle of gin and two foggy glasses. Both were generous.

‘What are we going to talk about?’ he asked.

I waffled on and he waffled back for an hour or so and we were making good progress on lowering the level in the gin bottle, firewater thar stuff! Finally I told him why I wanted the yarn. His response was favourable and suggested we have and inspection the next day, he reminded me that there was no vehicle access, saying he would ride old Cassius and asked if I could borrow a motorbike or a horse. I borrowed one of Bill’s horses, a big white bugger.

Bert showed me the cleaner ridges and didn’t hide the fact that there was a lot of dense gorse. He also showed considerable areas of indigenous Manuka/Kanuka scrubland and indigenous bush. He showed the two trig sites neatly hewn out of the hard, sandstone. He explained that the main road through to Central Otago was proposed to go up the main ridge and across the south branch of the river. He told me about and showed the location of the packhorse track that Moeraki Station used to pack supplies over to Shag Valley Station which is situated on the modern road to Central Otago. I knew about the packhorsing because one of my old-codger-workers, Gib, had been one of the packers back in the twenties. It took them all day to get over to Shag Valley, but it was quicker than going around the road in those days.

Back at Bert’s house, I told him that the formalities were that he would have to write to our Dunedin office and offer the land at whatever price he had in mind. He asked me what I thought it was worth and while I didn’t want to be involved in pricing the place, he genuinely wanted some guidance. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue and told him so, but I knew of another, small block that sold for twelve dollars an acre, so I reckoned about ten would be fair for Bert. He agreed and added thirty five cents, to make it look good!

News came back fairly quickly that my bosses had turned down the offer, didn’t require the land on account of the gorse and the cost of land preparation! To my mind the gorse is why farming was not economical on the land and forestry was a better option. They had not even set foot on the land, and it was the opinion of Jerry the office clerk that the land was not worth buying! He came up regularly on the pay-run. Management’s attitude, he told me, was that our small forest was a Cinderella forest and they indeed planned to mothball it.

I was disappointed with the decision and contemplated buying and farming it myself. But the cost of livestock at the time was double the price of the land and I was unlikely to be able to raise that sort of money. Instead I conferred with my old mate, Allan-the-member-of-parliament. I was simply truthful that my workers would soon be out of a job and the township would slowly die.

Within six weeks, we were the owners of a new bock of land, a land bank of perhaps ten years! As far as my bosses were concerned, I was not very high in the popularity stakes and poor old (and uncaring) Allan-the-member-of-parliament was apparently below me! We both had broad shoulders and wide smiles though! They had the pip with me for a number of years, leaving me and a young university graduate to plan out the roading pattern, the compartments and species. We had the D6 Dozer and the budgets I prepared went through, so we all simply got on with the job of creating a forest. Maybe they were cautious that I had Allan-the-member-of-parliament on my side, but gradually they came around and our relationship became smooth.

As time went on, further blocks of land became available and were added to the land bank, through my bosses’ efforts, not mine! Four more uneconomical farms were bought up, and my role changed from roading, land preparation and silviculture to starting off the harvesting phase on the older block. It is pleasing to see now the southern foothills of the Kakanui Range clothed in sustainable forest, well-managed at that!  


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