Thu, Feb 8, 2024 4:02 PM

Reader family’s ‘field of dreams’


Peter Jones

“Build it and they will come”, was the oft-quoted mantra in the movie Field of Dreams.

In the 1989 blockbuster a farmer builds a baseball ground in his cornfield which attracts the ghosts of former sporting legends.

Now, Marlborough cray fisherman John Reader has replicated the film’s premise, with a little help from Mother Nature - but without the ghosts.

Over the past eight years John and his family have created and nurtured an international-size polo ground on his ‘Meriburn’ property, near the Clarence River.

The picturesque seaside venue was a product of some creative thinking by John’s eldest son Ash, who is heavily involved in the family’s various businesses, as well as being a talented polo player.

The 2016 Kaikōura Earthquake brought construction teams to the East Coast, with major repairs required on State Highway One and the Main Trunk Rail line.

Alert to an opportunity, Ash solved a problem for the reconstruction team, who needed a place to put their excess soil. He offered them the opportunity, which they gladly accepted, to dump their excess soil on the family’s 350ha, mainly forestry, block on the seaward side of the main road, thus providing the foundations for a top-class polo park.

Polo ponies on the Clarence field.

John vividly recalled the chain of events.

Within a few days of the earthquake NCTIR representatives, who had scouted the area by helicopter, landed at the Reader homestead.

“They told us they were looking for a dump site and asked if we had somewhere they could dump the clean-up material, as we were only three kilometres away from where they first started having to clear.

“We said we did, then Ash popped up with ‘we’ll give you a dump site if you leave us a polo field’ and they said ‘show us the dump site’.

“So, it all fell into place. There was no other way we could afford to put an international-quality field in here, you just couldn’t do it.”

John is the groundsman, happy that the grass they used “goes to sleep in the winter” meaning he only has to look after it from October until April.

The choice of grass for the newly-formed field created some debate. Couch grass is the gold standard of polo surfaces but rarely thrives in the South Island. However, Ash was determined to go ahead, as couch grass grows well in sandy soil and drains quickly after rain. His perseverance has paid off, with a superb surface eventuating.

He envisages the new ground’s first outing being a tournament in December, as part of the South Island League.

Polo is very much a Reader family affair. John began following the sport when daughter Zoe, plus sons Ash and Jak, took it up at boarding school in Christchurch. Ash travelled the world playing polo for five years, before returning to run the farm, and has represented New Zealand at the demanding sport, while Zoe is a current NZ rep.

John, who began crayfishing in the 1970s, moving his operation from Kekerengu to Waipapa Bay in 1991, the same year he purchased the 600ha Meriburn farm, providing opportunities for all his family to become involved.

Like their father, and mother Tonya, the younger Readers have a happy knack of making things happen.

Ash runs the farm and owns the Karaka Lobster Café, sited at Okiwi Bay on SH1. Jak is heavily involved on the fishing business, alongside John, while Tonya and Zoe, who is into horse-breeding for polo ponies, help out at the popular roadside Café.

Having survived the ups and downs of the crayfishing business for many decades, plus the devastating 2016 ‘quake, John knows only too well how fragile the environment can be, but is relishing the opportunity to bring polo, a game he loves, to the East Coast.

“I’m sure the ground will be an asset to the area and the local community,” said John.

“It will be much more than just a polo ground,” he added.

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