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Ian Bradshaw – family stories

I sat down with Dad in the early 1990s to capture some of his life story. I had recently learnt shorthand at Journalism School, which allowed me to closely reflect the way Dad talked. (I am much rustier now!)

School days

I was born in Paeroa, in 1941.

I paired up with Gary Collins for the first day at school. He was smaller than me – a neighbour from down the road. We went on the bus – we caught it down at Collins Corner (the corner of Beach and Trig Road). We went to school barefooted, even in winter time. It was just what boys did. It was a one kilometre walk on the metal road. The hot summer days on the metal used to upset me more than the cold.

I never particularly liked primary school. I wanted to learn. I think I did quite well at school. I was a pudgy thing in those days, rotund – big enough not to be teased. I really came of age at secondary school. I discovered rugby, or rugby discovered me. I really started to enjoy the hours outside the classroom as well as the hours in. I discovered something I was reasonably good at. It balanced things out nicely. That was about Form 2. Because I was a big boy I was a reserve for the first fifteen. I must have been good enough, either that or there was a poor selection to choose from. I played utility, all positions. I filled in for the backs. Rugby was a reason to go to school. I liked cricket too, but I wasn’t much good at it.

I respected Penny Bowden. I could never understand how he got us through the external exams because he was so easily side-tracked. He was a little, humble guy. You were almost  on an equal footing with him. I respected him because he never seemed to be aloof. He was an English teacher and English wasn’t my favourite subject. I was a bit mediocre at English always. We could distract him talking about rugby – both school and international.

I disappointed the staff by not going to university but I was fairly one track-minded about what I did at that stage. I was going to go farming, rightly or wrongly. I was even quite interested in animals. I can remember having calf club every year. One calf club Princes’ house (which was Otway’s property later) burnt down while we were waiting for the trailer to come and pick up our calves. It’s a vivid memory – I can still see the flames. I didn’t get many prizes at calf club. Perhaps I broke the rules a bit.

Growing up on the farm

Ken and I took turns at helping to milk for the afternoon milking. Knowing I wanted to go farming was an in-built thing, like you know you want to write. It’s just something you were going to do from a very early age.

I can remember quite vividly the summer time and playing down in the creek. We used to make a dam across the creek. We spent hours shifting rocks, to make a pool to swim in – Ken and I and the neighbour, Johnson McLiver, and sometimes the McLiver girls. Johnson McLiver had a horse that we used to get to ride on occasionally. One time Ken rode on the back behind Johnson, with a sack of pumpkins. As the horse trotted the pumpkins went down the side of the horse and Ken went with them.

Farming was very very manual in those days. Some of the neighbours were involved in hay and silage making. There were no tractors – just horses and a tumbler sweep. We had a haystacker, like a mobile crane, which had to be pulled to bits to set up in each place. It was quite a business putting it up, like standing up a mast of a boat, with the boom on top like a crane. A wire rope fed from the top of the boom and a quiet horse pulled it. It was the boys’ job to lead the horse out, and back up the horse. It was monotonous, leading the horse back and forth.

Dad had two horses, Digger and Dick. Dick was the quiet horse. And we used a neighbour’s horse. The mower was pulled by horses, with a sickle bar mower. Everything was slow and laboriously done. But there were milking machines.

Dad had a bitch called Lou and she had pups. We gave most of them away. Any surplus had to be destroyed – tapped on the head and put in a bucket of water. Calf club was the nearest things to pets.

We didn’t have holidays as such, but we did go down to Mrs Drinkwater’s cottage at Waihi Beach during the polio epidemic. It was considered safer at the beach – more space and less people. You weren’t supposed to congregate. It wasn’t for long.

School work and sports

At school David Leach and I were neck and neck at both school work and sports. We were very similar, one could beat the other. We nearly always sat together and we took the same subjects. I like geography best – it seemed to be something that appealed to me. Yet I know for a fact that the work that people do, who have gone on with it, doesn’t appeal to me, such as surveying or writing environmental reports.

I distinctly remember when I’d got into the Thames Valley rugby team third grade that I told the headmaster I wouldn’t be at school on Friday – told not asked, so that hasn’t changed much.

Most of the time life was reasonably harmonious between us brothers. I scrapped with Ken, but not too seriously. Terry and I didn’t scrap as young kids, more as we were getting older. Noel was ten years younger.

A brief stint at forestry work

When I left school Dad wanted me to learn something other than farming as a fall-back position. I went into forestry but I only lasted there three weeks. It wasn’t that I disliked forestry, I just wanted to get back to farming – I had something else to do that was more important.

My first job was in the Huhu gang, thinning a pine tree crop. Then they put me on with another guy marking trees to be thinned. I got the feeling they were trying very hard to use whatever talents I had. They tried very hard to keep it interesting. One morning the mostly Māori boys in the thinning group were trying me out. By morning tea time I was knackered, but I did keep up.

Back to farming

I went back to farming. I went to a dairy farm at Hautapu, near Cambridge as a farm worker. That lasted from February/March to the end of milking season. It was okay, without being inspiring. I had a motorbike for my transport (I bought it while I was there – it cost 80 pounds). It was hard-earned, and precious because I knew I needed money if I was ever going to have a farm. Even at that point I was saving for the farm, which probably curbed other things. I did play football very briefly while I was in Cambridge.

I wanted to get back to Waihi – I was a little bit homesick. A job came up at Woodlands Road, farming for Ron and Erica Brown, which I did for 12 months. At the end of that time I came home because Dad wasn’t well. It was while I was at the Browns that I got quite sick. It turned out to be low blood pressure. Erica fussed around me, looking after me. It fixed quite readily with a course of iron tablets. When it came right I played football. Once, I had a bag on the front of my motorbike and I must have hit a bump going over a bridge. I grabbed the bag and drove over the edge of the bridge. I walked up to the house and Ron helped to pull the motorbike out of the drain. It all happened so quickly.

Dad had had stomach problems for years. He always took some foul-looking medicine. Little did we know it was cancer – or it became it. I didn’t know that when I came home to work. When I came home we were working together on the farm with the usual father-son disagreements on how to do things. It was just an age difference. We had different ideas of how to prioritise things. We were just two different people thinking they knew best how to do a job.

We were into tractors by then. We had bought a 22 horsepower Fergie when the Queen was out in 1952. I was at school at the time. Catching horses and getting them ready for a job was a major sort of job. There wasn’t a stable – the horses lived out in the front paddock.

We also carted cans of cream out to the road. We separated out the skim milk and fed it to the pigs. We only sold cream, and then pigs. The cream content went to the butter factory. We took it to a stand at the roadside, in cream cans, which a truck picked up.

By the time I got to farm it was more mechanised. Instead of harnessing horses for silage and hay, it was a buck rake on the back of the tractor.

I learnt farming by osmosis – with no formal tech training. I had two years farming together with Dad. I was 19 when I came on to the home farm. It was full on. Then Dad died in July. Just before he died he’d arranged for me to buy the herd, so I was share-milking for Mum.

Losing Dad

Dad had tummy problems – it was eight weeks between diagnosis and dying. They operated on him and stitched him back up, saying there was nothing they could do. I was on the farm thinking I knew everything. It really dropped me in it, in the deep end. I knew what to do, but I didn’t have confidence in making all the decisions. I distinctly remember it being a steep learning curve. I had a really good neighbour in Mal Morrison, for when I needed to know I was on the right track. He was a mentor.

There was nervousness about making the decisions and putting a timeframe on how things were done. Nana and Terry and Noel were in the house at the time. Terry was working for Viv Buckle. It was harder for Mum. I was so engrossed in what I was doing I probably wasn’t aware of the others. I was fairly one track-minded. Plus playing rugby.

We were sending whole milk at that stage – the cheese factory had opened in Waihi. Dad went out of pigs at the same time as we got a new tractor. The pigs were not doing so well – having litters that weren’t sustainable.

When Dad died, the first thing I did was buy a top dresser – I could do in a week what had taken him a month with a horse. That’s been happening to farming for years. Things that took forever to do, now done so much quicker – drain clearing, silage, hay making. Everything was much more mechanised, even milking.

Surfing and rugby

I had an Austin A35 car (I sold the motorbike).  I also had surfboards. I’m not quite sure where we put our surfboards on the Volkswagens. I was not much good at surfing. I enjoyed getting out there and I enjoyed the company, but I wasn’t particularly good at it. I enjoyed judo but I wasn’t particularly good at that either. I went to Young Farmers Club a bit but I never wanted an executive position. I stayed out of that.

I played rugby until about 23. I never made any fast friendships through rugby, I was more there for the game. Club rugby was never as good as school rugby. School rugby was the ultimate.

Meeting Pam

I was 24 when I met Pam. John Murphy insisted I go down the beach one night just after Christmas, to a dance at the RSA. It was not quite boys on one side and girls on the other, but there were lots of strangers around. Pam must have been staying at the beach cottage. We had about a fortnight. We got on really well right from the word go.

My dancing was a bit like my surfing. A bit rough and tumble. A bit like the judo. I guess that’s why I liked rugby. I was a very serious young farmer. Small talk’s never been my forté. We married ten months after meeting.

I used to go to Auckland to see Pam on a Sunday. I remember driving back, and propping my eyes open. I must have had Sunday night off milking.

I always felt very supported by Mum.  She was very supportive of me and us.

Expanding the herd and the farm

It was about that stage, the year after Dad died, that I changed from a walk-through shed to a herring bone one. I knew Mum didn’t have the money for it – I did it all myself. I jumped the herd up to 90 cows. We also had the run-off, which gave us extra land. I used to leave the springers there until they were ready to calve, then bring them home. We used to drive stock along the road. It was a good hurdle to get over – an opportunity to milk more cows. When I started we had about 70. I was pushing it pretty hard. I took the VW in to be serviced and drove home with a new one, so we were doing pretty well.

We bought the Henderson’s farm in 1970. It made a huge difference. We didn’t have to have the runoff, and we had more cows. We got up to 130, 135, which was just an average-sized farm. We never seemed to get away from being average. Pam was involved with feeding calves, and milking. She got walked on by the cow.

A quiet trip to Wellington

I was a Dairy Company representative. I went to Wellington but never opened my mouth. They tried to make it look as if it was democratic. I enjoyed being involved. I was interested in what other people were doing.


For quite a number of years I’d had little outboard dinghies. I fished down at Bowentown Harbour. Then I decided I wanted to try sailing, and the Zephyr was too restricting. I couldn’t go far enough. It was for playing, learning how to sail. I reckon I knew how to sail after the first time in it. You put up the sail and went. I wanted to go further afield. That’s when I bought Phoebe. I had her for two to four years. I towed her up to Coromandel, and sailed to Great Barrier. I was a bit chicken of the Bowentown Bar.

We had funny things happen. On one of the trips to Barrier, the driveshaft in the motor broke. It parted company in the middle of the Colville shipping channel with a big fishing boat bearing down on us. We survived that one – it saw us in time. Jack Campbell and I were on it. He was a retired guy, and available to go. There was only room for two of us on that boat. Lindsay McIntosh came out once and the mast came down. Noel came out with me a few times too.

I wanted to explore further afield. I must have done my scuba diving course before then because I was diving when I had Shalako. I was diving for fun. There again, I was never very good at it but I enjoyed the activity of it. I caught the odd crayfish. Noel was better at it than I was.

There were big seas the first time we took Shalako into Whangamata from Auckland (Cockle Bay). I remember being quite nervous going over the Bar. There was a  big swell rolling. It was scary stuff, especially as I’d never been in Whangamata before. I remember Pam and a whole lot of others standing on the wharf watching our demo, being quite nervous for us.

Shalako made it possible to explore the East Coast, from Whangamata to Great Barrier. I bought Shalako in 1979. It took over from all my other interests. I must have learnt how to navigate but I never did it completely. I didn’t learn celestial navigation but I was quite interested in that sort of thing. I read all the cruising books I could lay my hands on – I wanted to know what other people had done. The trips that were a bit scary were the ones you remember – out of the ordinary, or the weather a bit dicey.

I had been so intense about farming for so long, it was a way to get away from it all.  I developed strong friendships through it too – Andrew Buckle, Mike Bjerring, Murray Otway, Denis Butler and Noel. They were the core group and sometimes some were available and not others.

We went from Whangamata to points north, depending on how much time we had. Everything depended on the weather. Ten to 12 days was the most we had. One time we were weather-bound and only had two days to get home from the Barrier.

I liked the peace and quiet of sailing, the feeling that you’d earned your passage. There is something rather magnificent about passage making, using the elements, even though some bits of it can be quite tedious. We had a motor back up too.

We were nearly always on a timetable. It would have been nice to have a fortnight to three weeks but no one ever had that long. Fishing was secondary. Everyone contributed in some way. Denis was a very good cook and meal provider. Mike was engineer cum scrounger, doing things to the boat or the motor. Mike was good at knowing where to get bits and pieces from. He was very good at making things up. Andrew was the joker in the pack. Very hard case. Noel was a very competent diver. He was one of our food gatherers. Everyone had something to contribute, one way or another.

I’d been going off farming for quite a while. From 1962 (sharemilking) to 1990 (off the farm) I had approximately: ten years of absolute enthusiasm, ten years of being competent, less enthusiastic but forward thinking, and then ten years of serving out my time.

Moving to Beach Road

Moving up to Beach Road happened fairly quickly. We had been down to the accountants for the annual trip and we were told if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. We started looking that day for a block of land off the farm, to move to.

I know the bank was a bit dubious about whether they would lend us the money to move here – our income was halved by having a sharemilker, and then buying the land. I always felt nervous about that sort of thing but I have never felt buying land was wrong (not like buying a car or a boat).

Cycling with the mad Welshman

I came up here with the idea of rearing calves which we did for two to three years. What to do when the calves were weaned?  That’s when I started biking. That grew when I met Bevan Jones, the mad Welshman. Bevan suggested coming along to their club meetings, which he virtually ran. We had group events. I went some long distances. Here again, I was never top of the parade – an also-ran in a lot of these things. I biked around Lake Taupo three times, and to a three day event to Whanganui. Elaine Jones took the car down with the gear. We biked from Hamilton to Tokoroa, next day from Awakino to Taupo to Turangi. And the next day from Ohakune to Wanganui. It was good but I was buggered by the time I got down there. The races down there blew me out of the water. I had overdone it – and I hardly ever rode again.

Changing focus from exercise to plants

By that stage I was into plants and had a change of emphasis again. I took Ken Bradshaw and Bevan on a walk up Lindeman’s Track and  I was as fast as anyone. I led them up at quite a merry pace. That day I was busy racing everyone instead of collecting plants, trying to make it difficult for the others.

The changeover from exercise to plants had started by then. I think I’d put in a couple of little bits of planting. The first major planting was 1994. (Now I was filling in a plant diary rather than the log book on the boat.)  The boating had reduced to two to three times a year. I couldn’t justify keeping the boat, but I didn’t want to sell it at that stage. The idea had been that it would be part of what would keep me busy in retirement. We were fairly hard up when we first came up here (the bottom dropped out of dairying, and we were living on the smell of an oily rag for a little while). Plus interests were changing. Denis and Adrienne shifted out to the beach, Andrew Buckle moved and Mike came out occasionally. Graeme Bain also came occasionally but Bet was not particularly well.

Plus, I was in touch with Ken Whatford, helping him with dipping and docking on the farm. Then he invited me out on his boat. I collected kauri seeds from his farm. Planting started with wanting to do it on this land. My first thought was to have a grove of kauri trees. I have about 300 kauris. That broadened out to wanting a selection of everything that was available and some that weren’t.

Pam gave me a present of some. I bought $500 worth of plants one year from Taupo Tree Nursery. The only thing I’ve bought since are little things that aren’t available around here – “ecosourced.”

Once I started filling up all the space I had available here I looked around for other places to plant, and I was looking to sell plants too. Now I’m moving into the ferns (now there’s places to plant them). Hamish Dean (the QEII rep) was quite amazed at the variety we had, including the small plants (understorey and epiphytes). It took me a little while to covenant the bush. Someone said a Dutchman will probably buy it and cut all those trees down. Then I talked to Bruce Dean who already had covenants on his land, in Cambridge.

Meeting like-minded people

This interest has brought in a whole lot of new people. It all started from going to a field day up at Waitekauri (Waikato Forest & Bird) to honour a guy that had given them the land and to blow their trumpet. I got to know a few of them and Bruce identified a plant I didn’t know and it has gone from there. One of the things that I really enjoy now is the field day we have in Taranaki each year, with Bruce and Bev Clarkson leading. They are brilliant from a botany point of view: that is the core of it. But also other people who are interested in the same sort of things. It doesn’t mean I’m bosom pals with all of them, which is far from the case.

Forest and Bird comes from all sorts of angles. The Clarksons share knowledge and love being in that area. It’s an overnight stay (two nights) doing something different that you really enjoy doing.

The birds are an add-on/corollary to what we do. The plants we put in are a broad attractant in their own right. As it grows you grow with it. Pest control was always going to happen. You can’t have one without the other. If you want birds and trees you can’t have pests. That’s what you pick up from a group like the Taranaki group.

The work at the college has grown a bit because of my interests in raising seedlings and revegetating things. I’m Chairman of Forest & Bird. No one will take it off me. I wish they would. There again, it’s like-minded people. We’ve got different specific interests but overall something similar. There’s a pretty fair chance that we’ll sell plants to those guys as they get past pioneer planting. One guy bought $2,500 worth of trees, but I also planted a third of them. He’s an unusual guy but him and I get on quite well, thank you, because we’ve got a common interest. It’s quite nice to get paid but it’s quite nice for plants to go out and find a home too.

I’ve effectively become caretaker of the Waitekauri. I can watch those plants, and see the undergrowth develop – it’s quite magnificent.