Fresh pastures in retirement

Retired stock agent Murray McLean and wife Lorraine are swapping South Otago's rolling hills for...
Retired stock agent Murray McLean and wife Lorraine are swapping South Otago's rolling hills for Australia's Gold Coast. Photo by Neal Wallace.
There are few farms in Otago Murray McLean has not visited in his 44 years in the stock and station and livestock drafting industries.

His has been a career that has followed the mergers, acquisitions and consolidation of stock firms, the development of farmland and the growth and ten contraction of the sheep industry.

Now he is swapping the rolling green downlands of South Otago for the tropical climate of Australia's Gold Coast.

Murray and Lorraine McLean are following two of their three children and their five - soon to be six - grandchildren across the ditch.

Since 1998, back pain has restricted Mr McLean's ability to work, forcing a change in career to overseeing the weekly Clutha sheep sale.

Before that, he worked as a stock agent throughout Otago.

Born and raised on a 61ha "economical unit" Herbert farm, Mr McLean (61) said being a stock agent was seen then as an honourable profession, a view that was supported by being issued with a firm's car.

He left Waitaki Boys High School and in 1966 started working in the Oamaru office of National Mortgage.

He gained experience in the firm's various divisions, before being posted to Outram.

During that 1971-72 season, Mr McLean recalled weathering a major flood and a major snow storm that isolated farmers at Black Rock and Hindon for several days.

It also coincided with the merger of Wright Stephenson and National Mortgage to create Wrightson NMA.

Mr McLean said agents from the rival companies enjoyed each other's company socially, but commercially, they were bitter enemies.

Despite that rivalry, the merger was seamless.

After a season on the Taieri, he moved to Palmerston, which brought with it the challenge of servicing the large East Otago runs on roads that were little more than farm tracks.

He recalls trucks with two deck stock crates having to ferry lambs to waiting trailers because roads to some of the major runs were too tight and narrow for truck and trailer units.

Fertiliser and better roading eventually opened up that country and transformed what had been store stock country.

After two seasons, Mr McLean was transferred to Lawrence where he stayed for one season, long enough to marry Lorraine, an Oamaru bank teller, before shifting to Clinton for the next season and then back to Lawrence after being appointed head agent.

His days involved typical stock and station agent work - viewing and valuing stock, finding buyers and sellers and taking clients to sales.

They were the days before radio telephones or cellphones, and after a day on the road, he would have an evening meal with the family before spending three hours on the phone, five to six days a week.

There was also greater use of sale yards in the past.

The Dunedin calf sale would attract 3000 calves and agents would spend the night before the sale in a caravan, such was the time needed to sort the various lines.

Stock sales were held at Clinton and Waitahuna and sheep sales at Millers Flat, yards which have since closed.

The shape of rural retailing and servicing has also changed.

When he was at Lawrence, Wrightson had a retail outlet, Dalgety an agency attached to a store and Reid Farmers and Otago Farmers all had agents in the district.

Today, traditional stock firms like PGG Wrightson compete with CRT, RD1 and vet clubs for the farmer's business.

Back then, agents were a greater part of farmer's life, due in part to stock firms being the main source of farm financing.

"We were part of the farm. We did so much with them."

In 1980 Mr McLean left Wrightson NMA to become a stock drafter with Waitaki NZR, later Alliance Group.

He also witnessed the rural economic shake-up of the 1980s, watching many farming friends and families endure tough times.

One of his roles was canvassing shareholders to buy shares in Alliance, to shore up the financially weakened company after taking over some Waitaki assets.

"It was uncomfortable, because people didn't really have the money. In a way, it is a bit like the wool industry at the moment. We got a bit of flak."

The majority of clients stayed with them and he said the strong financial performance of Alliance was their reward.

He later moved to Clinton and then Balclutha.

In 1996 he required a back operation, which restricted his ability to work, and since 1998 he has overseen the weekly sheep sale at the Clutha sale yards, arranging staff and space for agents, as well as running a 10ha lifestyle block at Hillend.

Community service has been a major part of his life.

He was active in the building of Simpson Park in Lawrence, served on several school boards, the church, and rugby as a player, administrator and referee.

Clutha Budget Advisory Service, health services and two terms on the Clutha District Council were among his involvements.

Mr McLean said his parents were active in the community, and it was something that came naturally, but it was also a part of living in rural New Zealand.

"I love being part of a community. To me, what you put in is what you get out. I like doing my bit."

He and Lorraine established Radio Clutha in 2004 and are part shareholders in the station, which is leased to the Radio Network.

Despite their links to Otago, it was not a hard decision to move to Australia.

Their daughter in law is a general practitioner on the Gold Coast and they will help care for their grandchildren.

They already have a son in Brisbane and a daughter, a teacher, lives in South Otago.

Add a Comment