The sacrifices made by early farming families were honoured in the histories recalled at an awards ceremony in Lawrence on Saturday night.
Their sacrifices and hard work breaking in the land, which started for many families back in the mid 1800s, and later following World War 1, was recognised at the 14th annual New Zealand Century Farm and Station awards.
NZCFSA chairwoman Karen Roughan said they were happy to once again host the awards in Lawrence after last year’s disruptions caused by Covid-19.
She said her team was honoured to recognise the contribution made by multiple generations of New Zealand families farming the land and what they had added to the culture and wealth of this country.
“It was excellent to see so many North Island families come to Lawrence to receive their awards in person,” she said.
The guest of honour, the Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor, said that just as in those early days, today’s economic situation meant we were living in very exciting times.
“Disruption breeds opportunity and what these families are producing today after more than 100 years on the land is helping our country’s economic growth,” he said.
He added that these families had battled through the hard times to reach the good times, as they and their children and their children’s children would continue to drive the country’s economy for the generations to come through their use of innovation, technology and hard work.
More than 200 people from 29 families, hailing from Northland to Invercargill, met in Lawrence, at the Simpson Park centre, to honour the first 35 families who were being recognised for working the land for over 100 years.
Due to the large number of farming families nationally who had applied for the awards, organisers decided to hold the ceremony in two parts over two nights, and a further 33 families will receive acknowledgement next Saturday evening, also in Lawrence.
Among the recipient families were seven who received their 150-year awards.
The Bathgate family, from Taieri, were honoured for the foresight and determination of Alexander Bathgate who arrived in Dunedin in 1861 from Scotland and took up a crown grant of 137 acres of land in 1865 located out on the swampy Taieri plain.
“He wasn’t young but he just worked hard and drained the swamp and then set up Janefield: a sheep, beef and cropping operation which my son, Simon, and I continue farming today,” Ian Bathgate said.
“I think of my forebears who got aboard a horrible cramped little boat and sailed halfway around the world, knowing they would never be able to go back home so they just had to make it work and for that, I respect them,” Simon Bathgate said.
Another sesquicentennial farm recipient was the McKenzie family of Fortrose, in Southland.
Fifth-generation farmer Scott McKenzie recalled how Kenneth and Christine McKenzie arrived in Port Chalmers in 1860 and went gold panning at Gabriels Gully in Lawrence, then worked as shepherds to earn enough to buy land at Fortrose in 1869.
Over the next 152 years, the family built up a sheep, beef, dairy and stock finishing operation at Greenbush which, now at 761 hectares, is 38 times bigger than Kenneth’s original 20-hectare purchase.
“We are just the guardians of the land for the next generation to take over,”
sixth-generation farmer Oliver McKenzie said.
Century farm recipient Lawrence sheep and beef farmer Blair McNamara represents the latest generation of the McNamara family working the land at Gracedale which was bought by returning World War 1 soldier Bob McNamara in 1919.
“The farm is still the same size as it was when he brought it and we are proud of the sacrifices he and his wife, Emily, my father, Bruce, and my mother, Rayleen, all made back then to give us what we have today,” he said.
Winton century farmer John Cowie recognised the sacrifices families make to stay on the farm over the years while Otama, Southland farmer Ellen Smith (nee Dillon) called on recipients to remember the sacrifices of the women who did a lot over the years raising families.
NZCFSA chairwoman Karen Roughan said the awards were the best way to honour farming family continuity and land tenure in communities.