Monday, February 15, 2010

Lamb, Trade & Change

On 15th February 1882, the first cargo of refrigerated mutton left Port Chalmers in the sailing ship ‘Dunedin’for England, an event which altered the New Zealand economy. It arrived in good condition, the problem of distance from farm to market had been solved. That sailing ship's voyage shaped my life for the farming community of Banks Peninsula in which I grew up was based on that trade.

In 1939, four years old, I was living with my parents in Pigeon Bay. The sea remained an important link. The small steamer "John Anderson" took stock aboard and round to Lyttelton. Before it arrived the men sorted the sheep and drove the lambs round to the wharf. There, one hurdled the rails to land in the sea. It swam ashore to a party of welcoming dogs. They thought the dripping animal would be easy to control but it had other ideas. It bowled two and sprang nimbly along the rocky foreshore. "Let it go", my father said, calling off the dogs, almost as if such courage deserved the reward of freedom. A herd animal, it foolishly came back to look for its mates. This time the dogs proved equal to the task and rounded it up to join the others for the trip to the Templeton works. 'To the works' was an early phrase I learnt.

Much of my childhood seemed a succession of sheep-yards - a turmoil of hot and sweaty men, bleating sheep, dust, dung, barking dogs, and morning and afternoon teas, big baskets of freshly made scones and pikelets. My grandparent’s house overlooked the railyards at Little River. From their bay windows I watched the loading of lambs into wagons to take them to the works.

Mid-summer, the roads would have flocks of lambs being driven to the railhead. Over time trucks replaced the droving. Then farmers realised less stress was caused to beast and men by trucking the lambs direct to the works. In time the rail connection became redundant. Now, refrigerated meat is a miles less important factor in this nation’s income.

The Dunedin’s cargo included 22 pig carcasses as well as pheasants, turkey, hare and chicken plus 2226 sheep tongues. Now we import pork while sheep tongues (which I like) have dropped off the radar scene. The type of farming I grew up with has largely vanished. Change! It happens so fast

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