The following is what I read out at Dads funeral in 2009
I am Sandy, the middle son. I won’t know many of you in the room and there will be many who haven’t seen me since I was a kid . But thanks to you all for coming to see Dad off
Dad would have been pretty uncomfortable with you all sitting around being miserable. He hated a misery guts, mind you he could be bit of one himself from time to time. In his day he had plenty to be bloody miserable about, but he wasn’t really one for too much emotion, mostly he just kept bad things to himself
Dad had a pretty tough old start to life, living a life of hardship and deprivation in the 40s and 50’s He and his Dad weren’t the best of mates in his formative years. Dad and his family moved from Opotiki, where his grandfather used to run a bullock team in the bush by the way, yes we are that close to pioneers! They moved to make a better life for themselves up north and they did well and against many odds and with a lot of back breaking work, set up a dairy farm. Athol and Leila raised their family. NZ was a pretty rough and ready place back then you grew up the hard way
Dad left school early. He wasn’t an academic and went house building. But farming was what he really wanted to do so he started shepherding. Somewhere along the way he met mum, somehow convinced her to marry him. They lived out at Tangiteroria between Whangarei & Dargaville
He was managing a farm for a bloke called Percy Stonnix. ‘Yes Percy’ is very much still in the family vocabulary as a response to someone who asks you do to something you are about to start doing anyway. At a young age dad could break in horses and train sheep dogs. He knew what he was doing on the land. He relished a challenge and when Fin and I were pretty small and Campbell was a baby, Dad moved us to Mahia Peninsula to run a Maori affairs block of 8000 acres. That was real wild country but Dad went a long way to taming it. We were the first white kids the Maori fencers kids had ever seen. Dad made such an impact on this rugged outpost that he was featured in a magazine about life in NZ in the 60s. It was an incredible place. Everything was done on horseback. There were 10,000 ewes, about 1,000 cattle and 3,000 wild goats. Sharks in the surf, pigs in the bush and a 10 stand woolshed. Top dressing was done by DC3
The place took its toll though, the remoteness, 2 hours to the nearest town, Wairoa, which isn’t exactly the centre of the universe. It must have driven mum to distraction. Also the schooling options for us were pretty limited. So we moved to Southern Hawkes bay, positively suburban at only 30ks to Dannevirke. We had a good farming life there. I remember once Dads idea of a riding lesson for me was to wake me up at 4 am and throw me on old Martha the quiet old horse for a bit of mustering in the hill country in the dark. Luckily Martha was pretty calm and sure footed so I managed to hang on.
There was a great community out there in Te Uri and Awariki. We made many lifelong friends and we boys remember well all the parties in houses, woolsheds and the Halls and sleeping in the car on many occasions. The antics of Gin Miller and Andrew Campbell. The Klunket shield cricket matches. The shield was a loo seat.
Dad didn’t really keep in touch after he moved away, he wasn’t much of one for keeping in touch. But I knew he remembered you all very fondly and we talked about the old days at Te Uri and Awariki with great affection
We actually nearly ended up in deepest king country when an American millionaire Dave Cannon walked into a pub up north and asked who was the best farmer in the country? Someone said give Ross Abbot a call, so we got this call to go and look at a cattle station in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully Dad turned him down. Just couldn’t handle Taumaranui being the nearest town I guess. Anyway a couple of changes of farm managers roles ensued over the years and Dad finally had enough of a deposit for his dream, his own place. The little farm was called Rangiora and was near Ormondville.
Before we got there though Dad nearly worked himself to death putting the last of the money together. He worked the night shift in the Wool spinners mill and then came home had a bit of a 30k run to clear the senses, and went out fencing on his motorbike during the day.
I was away at boarding school so I don’t remember how long this went on for to be honest. But he was a bit of a shell of a man by the time we moved to Ormondville
It all started pretty well, I came home from boarding school and went to Dannevirke high so I could help out on the farm before and after school while dad was fencing during the day. We scraped a living on our modest block, cleaned it up, sunk a well, and tamed the blackberry. Farmed our sheep and went about our lives.
I won’t talk about the big fire in the old railway cutting after dad cleared the front paddock. He had bulldozed a few dozen trees into the cutting to dry out. Then he set fire to them one evening and came in for supper. The blaze was only a 200 foot long 100 foot high wall of flame that California or Australia would have been proud of and even the volunteer fire brigade struggled to contain.
But I will mention that my dad while clearing the blackberry managed to set fire to the old wooden railway viaduct that ran over the property. If you have ever tried to put out spot fires in the guts of wooden railway bridge 150 feet above the ground you’ll know what I am talking about. If you haven’t there is not much to recommend it.
But then after a harsh summer, we had the worst winter season imaginable and what used to be me on a motor bike and trailer collecting the odd dead ewe became a tractor, trailer and front end loader job. We lost a third of our stock. Then the bombshell hit. Back in the 80s they basically privatised NZ as you will recall. The government took away the farming subsidies overnight. It was carnage, interest rates went to 30% stock prices fell through the floor. You couldn’t make a living out of our place certainly so it went back and Dad had lost everything he had ever worked for in his life. All he had ever dreamed of was having his own farm and that was gone for good.
But our dad was not one for revelling in misery and we know people that were destroyed by the loss of their livelihoods. Terry Ferguson very kindly lent us a house and Dad just went fencing
He got plenty of work and built a business as a respected fencer. I had joined the army a couple of years previously and when I left I came home to help dad on the fence-line. I never worked as hard in the army as I did working for dad, he was relentless
Dad was tough as old boots, made of the stuff the pioneers where made of. He didn’t really travel abroad apart from a trip as a young man to the outback of Australia. Dad has actually worked on a station ‘out the back of Burke’ He wasn’t one for showy rubbish; he just loved his animals, cricket and most of all Rugby. He used to constantly say to we 3 boys that if he had our build he would have bolted into the North Auckland side. I used to tell him it wasn’t his size it was because he couldn’t run fast enough. He almost burst with pride when Campbell made the Hawke’s Bay under 18’s rugby side, who incidentally went on to win the national title that year, but he didn’t make a big deal out of it.
As I said Dad wasn’t one for great displays of emotion. You had to guess a bit. Having said that, we kids or the sheep dogs were left in no doubt about the extent of his anger when we transgressed in some way. He wasn’t shy about letting you know if you hadn’t come up to scratch. But we grew up knowing right from wrong and that life has winners and losers
I remember when I got chucked out of school. Mum was mortified and so upset, I had to go and tell dad expecting the worst. He just thew down his hammer (thankfully) and said “well you can give me a hand with these yards then”.
Dad was well liked and respected by the local community, I never met anyone who didn’t have a lot of time for our dad.
Mum and dad went their separate ways after 35 years of marriage which we all found a bit of a shock, but what do you do!
Dad liked to keep fit and his knees didn’t agree with all the running he had been doing. He dreaded retirement and being idle so he took up cycle racing later on in life and he loved it he was good at it too. He was a natural competitor my dad, he set a lot of store by sporting accomplishment. He did well in the masters games and competed in some really gruelling events and made some great mates along the way
Dad moved to Taihape a while ago before he finally settled near Feilding and was really happy there. He loved the local people and made great friends with Raema and many people I sadly don’t even know. He went to church for a bit of company, took up ballroom dancing. All this stuff was amazing to me from the gruff old bugger I had grown up with, but only sadly not seen enough of in the later years as I live in England. To me Dad was happy in his old age, he had his little dog Radar and he was busy and worked hard. Put himself about and helped people out
He died doing what he loved best, you can’t ask for fairer than that because you certainly can’t live forever. Dad would have hated being infirm, he had no tolerance of weakness.
As hard as it is that we have lost our Dad and your friend this in the big picture is how he would have wanted it I think. Maybe just a bit later on.
I was honoured to be asked by the family to write Dads headstone. It reads as follows
R.I.P Ross Abbot
22/01/1939 – 18/10/2009
Drover, farmer, fencer. Man of the land.
His ashes are buried beside his mother in Waipu Cemetary, Northland.
Categories: General views, New Zealand
You do know how to write a good story, Sandy. Thank you for sharing.
Yes, parents can’t live forever, that’s what growing up is for 🙂
Thanks Lesley. I think my wife’s mother will live forever though ;-(
At least you got to go to his funeral 😉
and that’s a really lovely story Sandy xx
Thanks Charlotte! x
Thank you Sandy for sharing this with me, Ashley would have enjoyed this as well. I remember Mahia Peninsula very well with the clothes line hanging out over the cliff, And the long twistie road into the farm
Cheers Andrew, it was a bugger of a road that one