Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995

By Doug Powell

(This article has been adapted from one which appeared in the Paeroa Gazette in 1988.)

Fifty years ago Paeroa saleyards were situated in the old Hauraki Agricultural and Pastoral Association's yards off the end of King Street, near the Paeroa Domain. The yards were leased by Loan and Mercantile Agency Limited and it was the scene of tremendous activity on sale days. Agents around that time were Gordon McMillan, who resigned to work on his own account, then Mr Bert Cockerton, who lived in Hill Street and had an exceptional good Beardie dog which he used to carry in a special frame mounted on the mudguard of his coupe Ford car. He was followed by Miles Bailey who married into a farming family and settled in Paeroa for some years.

The drovers of the day were the real characters. We had Fred Jackson, a very stout man, who could not whistle but used to command his dogs by shouting at the top of his voice, using some very choice language. He owned some good dogs but had one outstanding animal named Roy, a black Kelpie who could lead, head or hunt and knew all the gardens without gates and all the side roads.

There was Mr Jim Capitt, who did small local jobs and always seemed to be tying up his bridle or saddle with copper wire; Dave Clotworthy and Hori Martin who collected cattle from Hikutaia and Komata areas. Mr Clotworthy also had a clever dog, a blue Australian Heeler. Fences were not what they are today and if the mob strayed his dog could almost count and would usually arrive back on the road with the correct tally plus one.

There was also George Lanfear, who worked mainly for one client, and then we had Reg Radford arriving with a mob through the gorge from Waihi, and George Campbell, who would ride from Te Aroha over the range to Katikati, start picking up his cattle from various properties as far as Te Puna and follow his boss Joe Wright and add to the drive as the cattle were brought to arrive on time for the sale at on Paeroa Monday morning.

John Paul would gather cattle up from round Netherton and was gifted with a marvellous memory. He would perhaps have 70 cattle belonging to 40 vendors and would only briefly see the animals turned out from the farmer's gate and yet he would be able to identify everyone's animals without error on arrival at the yards.

Then Norm Beattie had set jobs and would be engaged on the long drives to Auckland accompanied by Mr Val Vuglar. On Mondays Val would act as clerk and also run the small office for delivery dockets and he was noted for his copper plate handwriting. Buyers and sellers were plentiful and, in the main could be classified as dealers, graziers, butchers or dairy farmers. The prominent dealers at that time were Joe Wright, mainly dairy heifers; Colin Kelly, Bert Manning, Gordon McMillan and Bob Taylor then on occasions when large offerings were available "Winky" Davis and King would arrive down from the city.

The graziers who were regulars were Buddy Alley, Bert Alley and Alf Alley, Walter Wight and buyers for W & R Fletcher represented by Arthur Bellamy and Hellaby's by Otto Bjerring, and at intervals by Nelson Ingram who resided at Bombay.

The butchers would be well represented and stock in those days would be killed at the Paeroa abattoir. Ernie Powell, Joe Costello, Jack Walls and Ted Edwards relied on the sale for some of their supply whilst Ray Wells would be supplied by a grazier.

Mr Stan Foote was the auctioneer and he would motor down from Auckland and bring a clerk with him, along with a buyer or two. When the auction got underway Fred Jackson would do the branding with a long stick and tar. Fred, with his quick Yorkshire wit and Stan Foster's sharp command of words, was as good as going to a play. The description of the animals, their pedigrees, real or unknown, and sometimes comments on the owners was a real comic act. Lunch was available in a small tea room and Mrs McMillan, "Mrs Mac" to all, used to provide this service for many years.

Mr Walter Wight never owned a motor car and about this time he was getting too old to attend the sales, so he would get his neighbour, George Meldrum, to look out for bargains. He would also instruct his drover, George Lanfear to buy for him. It did not take long for Stan Foote to catch on that these two men, in many instances, would be bidding for the same buyer, so when bidding would lag he would announce "against you George" and they would both be unaware which George he meant and they would both bid. Admittedly in those days bids could be 2/- (25c) or even 1/- (10c), but very helpful if one was the vendor. A good fat Jersey heifer would make about $9, boners $3 to $8.50, so values were certainly different to today.

Beef bred cattle were rarely yarded at Paeroa Sale as the area was predominantly dairying and the surrounding hill country was on small holdings and used for run-offs by the dairy farmers.

Sales were also held at Hikutaia, Kopu, Turua, two sets of yards at Ngatea, Waihi and Waihou, and Paeroa yards was considered a large centre because of the volume of stock. As for sheep numbers, they were adequate for local demand, and fat sheep met a good demand by the local butchers. These sheep were mainly from the dairy farms where they had been fattened from lambs, the farmer using a number for his own use and the balance, when sold, had a use for paying the household accounts.

At the conclusion of the auction all was bustle to get the stock to their destination. Some would set off to the abattoir with Fred Jackson trying to get there and back before dark. Beattie and Vuglar would head for the railway yards or to the holding paddock on Puke Road. Cattle going by road were loaded into a truck and bulls would have to be tied by the horns or nose-ring so that they could not fight.

Mr Billy Harold, Stembridges and Stockleys were just starting out to carry livestock by lorry, but walking with a drover was still the main way of delivery. Cattle would leave the holding paddock Tuesday morning and set off for Westfield. The drovers would send their dogs and horses home by rail or truck and catch the service car home to Paeroa at the conclusion of the drive. From memory it cost 1/6 (15c) to have an animal walked from Waihou to Paeroa.

About this time pig yards were operating opposite the railway yards where thousands of pigs would be sold, but this is another chapter in the farming scene at Paeroa.

There seemed to be an atmosphere about sale day 50 years ago. Everyone was in a hurry, all trying to make a profit, and most, finally very successful. Deals were done on the shake of a hand. No calculators, men who could work out quickly in their heads exactly what they had spent or doing sums on the back of an envelope with a stub of a pencil and seldom wrong.

No doubt memories dim after 50 years but characters who are worthy of mention may have started to become prominent just after this period. Lots of other names may spring to mind by our readers, but drovers, dealers etc all had their own patches to work and consequently were not the regular characters who played their part in the functioning of the Paeroa Sale 50 years ago. Looking back on all the names of the supporters of the sale, drovers, buyers, sellers, they represented a big section of the community who were involved in the farming scene.

Sales today on its new site are a different kettle of fish. Not a drover to be found, all huge trucks and trailers, a mere handful of purchasers, a considerable number of agents, and the atmosphere and excitement seems to have gone!