Monday, 2 April 2012

This column is dedicated to my cousin Kev

This column is dedicated to my cousin Kev.

As I write, he’s battling the Big C. I hope he gets the opportunity to read this but cancer is such an insidious condition, there can be no guarantees.

Kev is my first cousin but in reality he is much more like my older brother. We grew up on neighbouring properties that our respective fathers farmed in partnership. Although the partnership was eventually dissolved, all major farming operations – shearing, crutching, dipping, cultivation, hay and harvesting – were done in unison. A case of all hands to the pump from both families.

Kev is eight years older than me. When I was growing up Kev was super cool. He had an Austin 1100 with a really trendy speedometer – a sideways bar graph rather than the traditional clock style. The car was adorned with wicked 60s-style accessories such as troll dolls hanging from the rear vision mirror. And there was always the added decadence of a bottle of beer or two rolling around in the back seat.

The pinnacle of his coolness was the portable record player he had in his single-man’s hut. It was one of those battery operated devices with the lift-off cover that acted as the speaker. On it he played the “devil’s own music” - my uncle Danny’s reference to Jumping Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones.

Kev was also the first five-eighth and goalkicker for the Riversdale rugby team. No Barry John-like round-the-corner stuff for Kev. He was a toe-stabber in the best traditions of Fergie McCormick. You couldn’t get any cooler than that!

As I grew up and grew stronger, Kev and I became more like equals. He could always crutch more lambs than me, spend longer behind the baler on the bale sledge stacking hay and he always got to drive the tractor when we were ridging swedes – but I think in his mind I had transformed from a pesky kid to fellow farm worker who could hold his own.

My fondest memory of those early days farming was the “barn sessions” that followed hay and shearing – just as night followed day – and believe me, many of those sessions went well into the night! It was not unusual in the Southland twilight to work until 10pm on hay and many a raucous evening was spent listening to tales of yonder farming and sporting years over a crate of cold Speights. It mattered not that the same yarns were told year after year by my uncle and father, because a tale well told always stands the test of time.

I then took off to university to become an accountant. But, I had a lucky escape when I had the misfortune to lose my father when I was just 19 years of age. So it was back to the farm to run the place with my then 18 year old brother. We were greener than the Southland grass and only survived the ordeal because of the thousands of man hours Danny and Kev spent teaching us to farm. For that, they asked nothing. For that, we are forever in their debt.

When times got tough in the 1980s Danny decreed that we needed to shear all our own sheep to keep the bankers at bay. Not surprisingly Kev was the quickest of the boys, once shearing nearly 100 lambs in a two hour run, but gee he was rough! That didn’t worry Kev though, as he reckoned the wool around the head and legs wasn’t worth much so he didn’t cut if off. David Fagan he wasn’t, but a great camaraderie was forged on the end of the handpiece. Many a smoko was spent righting the wrongs of the government of the day, picking the All Blacks side and arguing over who should take the kicks for the Riversdale footy team. Kev once again prevailed with the latter, the young pretender would have to wait until the old master retired.

Like many in the late 1980s Kev left farming. He leased his farm to seek his fortune elsewhere. Like many he never returned. He had a very successful stint in a rubbish skip industry in Sydney and then returned home to run businesses in the hospitality industry. For all that, he remained a farmer at heart. And for all his mateship, he holds a special place in my heart.

Kia kaha Kev.

Jamie Mackay is the host of the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB.


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