High Country Farmers

In Queenstown we were surrounded by High Country Farms, run by a special breed of high country farmers. On my initial week of arrival I was given a welcome that shook me up. One prominent Farmer, and War Hero, called on me. He wandered into my Office, slumped into a seat and declared without prompting, ‘That he hated Bank Managers, lawyers, and Accountants with a passion’. I have always been able to think quick on my feet, I replied, ‘You have missed out one group from your list. ’High Country Farmers’, they are my pet hate. I went on, I was pleased that he had called, as it saved me the need of calling him in, as I wished to see him. I immediately pointed to five Eastlite files on the shelves, and said. ‘Three of those files concern you, and only you. They are full of nonsense, and broken promises. ‘What a merry dance you have lead previous managers’. I am now going to put these files where they rightly belong, and threw them all into the waste paper Basket. From now on things here are going to change’. A little theatrical I know, but I certainly got his attention. I went on, ‘I’m not going to spend my time here writing nonsense about you to Head Office’. ‘You are starting from right now, going to be responsible.’ ‘If you are not happy about this, go and find another Bank’. I knew with his record it would be most unlikely. No one would want him. But things change, and for him, unbelievably it did overnight. A wealthy American blew into town and over a very short time became a benefactor. Also, tourists were starting to arrive in ever increasing numbers, their business obviously was something to be exploited. This Station as well as many others was very isolated, and only possible to be accessed by water. One Boatman started bringing tourist ‘daytrippers’ to the Station Wharf. It didn’t take much to work out that they had boat loads of captive tourists just sitting on their doorstep. Why not take them to the Homestead and give them a Devonshire Tea? A step up from ‘Billy Tea’ on the ‘Lakeside’ that some were doing. The Station wife did a brilliant job of this, silver service and all. At $5-00 a head, equated to $4-75 painless profit. The tourists got a glimpse of Station life as well. The Farmer said to me one day. ‘I can’t believe this. Money is falling out of the sky straight from the Tourists pockets’. ‘I’m now making more money from them, than I do from sheep’. And, he added, ‘I don’t even have to crutch them’.

 

All things change, and this story certainly does. More later.

 

As I mentioned earlier, a real American character arrived in town. He busied himself by upsetting some merchants by paying only in American Dollars, which at the time was worth 80 cents New Zealand, pretending they were on a par. One client who should have known better, rushed in to see me waving a $3,000 cheque and demanding I should seek him out. Explain the difference. He had sold a very expensive sound system, and was down 20% on the sale. I wasn’t much interested in that idea, but what I did do was immediately was send for a ‘Full and general Opinion’, on him from his American Bank. With details I obtained from his cheque. It came back with one word on it, ’Undoubted’. Sure as night follows day, he arrived in the Bank one day demanding to see me. He slid a $1,000 cheque across and said, ‘I would like to cash this’. I replied certainly, How would you like it? $10’s or $100’s? When I confessed to what I had done, he flew into a rage, turned a bright red, and pounded the counter, telling me my ‘Rights’. I never replied, but suddenly he declared he would make me his Banker. We got well from that day. He got to know my High Country Farmer whom he greatly admired. He discovered he had a wish list and proceeded to fill it. A few hundred cattle in calf. A barge to transport material to and from the Station. A boat to transport tourists, I counselled, you don’t need that, the contractor is doing a great job for you. You are only buying worries and trouble. A couple of cottages in Queenstown, A new car. The list seemed endless. However there were dark clouds on the horizon. The Government had introduced a scheme called Dairy Beef. The idea was to take advantage of high beef prices by crossing dairy cows with premium sires. Off spring would then be raised as prime beef instead of being slaughtered at birth. The bottom fell out of the beef market, farmers were then knee deep in cattle no one wanted. To make matters even worse on round up on the Station hundreds of stock were ‘Missing’. What had happened? Had they sprouted wings? Possible? At this time we had dozens of Helicopters hunting deer in the area and amongst these, we had one or two who had no scruples. There was a little rustling going on, I remember another back country farmer calling and telling me how worried he was about a neighbour who had about 50 cattle beefs, all without ears. For those who don’t understand the meaning of this, Ears are one of the prime methods of identifying cattle, together with branding. But a cattle beast without a head or skin, is just meat. Unfortunately this was the beginning of the end. The Station now had a debt load it couldn’t possibly service, which was very sad as I had come like the Family very much. I heard from them time to time, when they called for advice on some venture or other. The American took over the Station but it was never the same without the New Zealand character who ran it previously. The American was very generous he allowed the family to keep the cottages, car, and the silver service. When they left town they sold the cottages. Had they kept them for a few years they would have raised $4 million, more than enough to buy back the station. but we are all wiser when we have the benefit of hindsight

 

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