Thu, May 11, 2023 5:00 AM

Memories of working on high country Farms


Staff reporter


Born at the old Havelock nursing home in 1934, Paul Kissane was the youngest of seven boys and three girls. He was brought up on a small farmlet at Cullinesville, near Linkwater which was largely self-sufficient.

During those depression years, he says, “We never went hungry and we didn’t have much but I was always happy.” He started work at the age of fifteen following along with his brother mustering on Upton Fells Station, Blairich, and also Blue Mountain in the Ure Valley.  

Thus began his career as a farm worker, shearer and musterer on many of the South Island high country farms. A subject he delights in chatting about now in his 90th year.

“I’ve had some good dogs,” smiles Paul, “but not because I was good. We didn’t have time to put much effort into training like the real experts do. We always got the job done though and I witnessed some good runs out on the hills.  A fella called Ray Holdaway cast his old dog, Bob out, what a marvellous run that was!  

Back then distemper could wipe out your whole team and if they were lucky to survive it left them with the shakes, it was devastating when that happened to a stockman. I only lost one dog.  That was before vaccination program we have nowadays. “

One incident that hit the headlines during the 1950’s, was the strike called by shepherds during the years of the high wool prices.  “We were earning thirty bob a day, relates Paul and the meeting decided to make Lands and Survey aware of our stance for a pay increase.  

“We had them over a barrel, the sheep were shorn  and waiting in the yards, ready to go back onto their blocks. Management agreed to pay us four pounds. It was good money back then.”

Paul chuckles, “Station cooks were hit and miss.  Some very good and others terrible.  One cook, Jimmy Wallis had been the Mayor of Motueka. On Blairich, we landed a real chef one time, he wore all white and our food was very good.  I remember the manager went to Blenheim to pick up a new Cowman-gardener.  The bloke arrived drunk, he was sitting on a stool in front of the fire, others were in their rooms chatting and I was watching him wobbling there in front of the fire.  I yelled he’s going to fall in the fire. Suddenly, he fell, and the others came rushing to help pull him out.

What a sight, burns to his face and hair but all the new cowman-gardener was worried about was his pipe! The Manager took him back to town the next day,”

Paul says, he shifted down to North Otago and around this time working on properties such as Castle Hill, Craigieburn and Brooksdale. While working at Awakino and Kurow he met Jennifer the love of his life.  At sixteen she’d caught polio and spent three months in an Iron lung.

The disease paralysed her left arm however Paul says, “I was amazed by what Jenny managed to do, she was a wonderful person.” The couple did a stint at Prices Valley on Banks Peninsula then moved to Oxford where Paul shore for a few years working on properties in the area. With a family of three change was needed.  He and Jenny purchased a Dairy.  Paul soon found himself baking pies and fish and chips while Jenny baked the cakes and served in the shop.

They did that for four years before moving to Nelson where he found work at the Honda car plant until his redundancy when he took on gardening around Marybank while he cared for Jenny after she developed post-polio syndrome. Sadly, Jenny passed away six years ago.

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