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8 Waiheke Weekender
In February 1971 we were married, and with
celebrations at both ends of the country -- at my
parents' in Drury and back in Glenorchy at the
hotel -- Graeme and I certainly felt we were well
and truly wed.
When I frst arrived, the station employed sever-
al people, but that began to change as farm incomes
dropped from the late 1970s onwards. Unlike city
life, there is no nine to fve in farming; the work hours are dictated
by the hours of daylight and the need to complete the job under
way. The demands can be seven days a week as there are dogs to
feed every day and always something else needing attention.
Initially, Doug [Graeme's father] was also out doing most of
the stock work but eventually he had to retire from active service
following heart trouble (he'd had a heart attack out on the hills),
a worn-out hip and because of [his wife] Jean's progressing
Alzheimer’s. He was devoted to caring for her.
Graeme and I decided that we would rather work the property
ourselves so that any additional funds could be put back into the
farm rather than go on wages. We then swapped houses. Graeme
and I moved into the main house, built by James Dunery around
1904 and to which we added a top storey, and Doug and Jean moved
into The Willows, a separate little house on the property.
Early on in our married life, we sorted out our preferences for
responsibilities around the farm. Graeme enjoyed the machin-
ery aspects of farming and I liked working outside with animals,
so I gradually became more and more responsible for the stock
work. Graeme had inherited his enjoyment of machinery from his
maternal grandfather, James Archibald Reid, who had managed
one of the area's scheelite mines. His grandfather was often at his
workshop making things and, like many with a Scottish heritage,
Graeme also liked the practical application of tools, machinery and
And of course I also had my vet practice – which I’d set up using
The Willows – to attend to. Even though there were six big stations
and six small farms in the district, there wasn’t a vet practice at the
Head of the Lake when I arrived; the nearest vet was in Alexandra,
145 kilometres away. One did eventually set up in Queenstown a
little later, but it is still a long way away from Glenorchy in an
emergency. My rural vet clinic was originally a part-time service
to the neighbours.
After a while I moved the practice out of The Willows and into
one of the station’s sheds, before converting what had been the
single men's quarters into a larger clinic.
Back then, it was unusual for women to go into veterinary
studies. The Massey University School of Veterinary Sciences at
Palmerston North had only recently opened as the frst vet school
in New Zealand, and no students had actually completed the fve-
year course or had graduated at the time I started. As an agricultural
country we needed more vets, and demand for graduates was high.
Before the vet school opened here, all New Zealand vets came
from overseas, mostly from England and Scotland, and any New
Zealander who wanted to study veterinary medicine had to go over-
seas, usually to Australia.
I was accepted as a student in the third intake.
The lecturers were new and fresh, and so we were
all young together as the school got established.
The frst year of university was an intermediate
year of sciences, including the standard zoology,
physics and chemistry as well as a maths certif-
cate and a small introduction to botany. There
were fve women in the intermediate year, all
hoping to get into veterinary school.
At the end of the intermediate year I went back
home to Auckland for the summer holidays and
began the anxious wait to hear whether my marks
had been high enough and if I'd been successful.
I had a job at the Tegel Chicken hatchery, which
wasn’t far from my parents’ place and – very
importantly -- my horse. When I found out I had
been accepted into veterinary school there was a celebration. Then
to add to my great glee I also found that I could credit six weeks of
practical from the chicken hatchery! At the time, the poultry indus-
try was desperate for vets. I think they thought they’d found some-
one interested in chooks until I disabused them of that notion.
Many vets are employed in the New Zealand meat industry,
and as vet students we had to complete two weeks’ practical at a
freezing works, covering meat inspection, food hygiene and animal
welfare. I did my practical at a freezing works and meat processing
plant in Otahuhu in Auckland. To get there I would buzz along the
Great South Road from Drury on my scooter.
The scooter then went with me to Palmerston North on the
Limited Express – cheap student transport.
I was very grateful to my sheep professor at vet school, Neil
Bruere, for assisting me to get a job as a large-animal vet once I
completed my studies. Everybody assumed that the women in the
class were going into small-animal veterinary practice including
cats and dogs -- or, in my case, chooks -- which was not what I had
in mind at all.
Instead, I went to Tauranga to a dairy company job. The Kaimai
Dairy Company then had several factories, including one at Katikati
and one at Te Puke, which meant being rostered on to work at differ-
ent locations. The general vet practice was owned and operated by
the company which paid my salary, and this was then billed on to
their farmer clients. That would soon change: the kiwifruit boom
was just getting under way and dairy farms right across the district
were being planted out in kiwifruit. Eventually
the dairy company almost shut down.
However, by then I was setting off back to
When I frst returned, I repainted The Willows,
and I worked a lot in the garden. Other women
ahead of me, especially Catherine (Kate) Scott,
Graeme's grandmother, had planted substantial
orchards of fruit and nut trees there -- peaches,
plums, nectarines, apples, pears and quinces,
walnuts and chestnuts – which still provide us
with abundant supplies in season.
I continued to plant fruit and nut trees, young-
er replacement trees, thinking ahead to the next
generation's food needs. I also kept up the large
vegetable garden with long rows of summer
crops. In summer I'd watch with chagrin as the
shade from the large walnut trees that Kate had planted seventy
years ago fell on the vegetable garden near the homestead. She’d
made Doug promise not to cut them down – ever.
I learned to confront James Dunery's legacy, the huge hedge of
holly he’d planted that was now over a hundred years old, vast and
high and which took some effort to get under control.
When it was time to trim the hedge I noticed helpful hands often
failed to understand the subtleties of holly management!
And I learned to love swedes. Winter is too bleak and cold here
for anything much to grow apart from swedes, which have been a
winter crop as long as the Scott family has been on Rees Valley.
The sweet variety was loved by both sheep and humans.
I loved the stock work, especially as doing it got me out into
Rees Valley’s wide-open spaces on a horse. Over time, though, I
would come to appreciate how much faster a quad bike was -- as
well as being much easier to catch! – and how handy it is to have
all the day's equipment in a tub on the front and my dog team
running ahead or behind. When I had the children, either Doug or
my mother, who had come to live on the station in 1977, would
bring a baby out to me so I could breastfeed and then carry on with
I also came to value that great work beast the Land Rover; dog-
carrier, occasional sheep transport, tools-carrier and fencepost-
lugger. It wasn’t long before ours looked like that of every high-
country farmer: mud-splattered, with a thousand potentially useful
small things in the cab, a dog or animal cage on the back, and a pile
of hill-sticks alongside.
And then in 1992, after twenty-one years of marriage and with
our family now including three children – Kate, then sixteen, Diane,
fourteen, and Eric, nine -- Graeme died of cancer.
He died at home after a very short illness. It was only six weeks
between the diagnosis and his death. The family doctors and Deb
Kennett, the local nurse, supported us brilliantly. Later, we took
Graeme's ashes and scattered them near a mustering hut he'd built
and that we had used for many years for our family holidays.
It was a tragic time. The previous year Jean had died, and then
Doug had followed her within twelve months. Now I’d also lost
my husband and workmate. It was devastating, and hard to fathom.
Within twelve months, all those who had been so much part of the
station had passed away.
I had a major decision to make. If I left the property, what might
my children think in ten or 20 years' time about losing
the land that their family had worked on for over a
hundred years? With Graeme's death, I was struck by
how it seemed as though history was repeating itself
on Rees Valley Station.
High Country Woman by Iris Scott with Geraldine
O'Sullivan Beere. RRP $45, Random House NZ
An extract from 'High Country Woman'
by Iris Scott with Geraldine O'Sullivan Beere
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