Century of farming, steadfast growth

Matangi owners Mary-Liz and John Sanders say living on the station is a way of life. PHOTOS:...
Matangi owners Mary-Liz and John Sanders say living on the station is a way of life. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Three Central Otago families have been recognised for 100 years of farming on their properties. Reporter Ruby Shaw took a drive beyond Alexandra’s iconic clock to talk to one family — Matangi Station owners John and Mary-Liz Sanders.

As winter sets in, it is a time of reflection at Matangi Station.

The Central Otago high country farm recently celebrated 100 years of ownership by the Sanders family, marked at the annual New Zealand Century Farm and Station Awards event in Lawrence, earlier this month.

The celebration was particularly poignant for owners John and Mary-Liz Sanders, as the station is in the process of being sold.

Mr Sanders’ grandfather J.C. Sanders bought Matangi Station in 1923, with money from rabbiting. The 11,500 ha station lies southeast of Alexandra, beyond the town’s iconic Clock on the Hill. The station runs more than 8000 ewes and about 150 Hereford cattle and is world-renowned for the quality of its merino wool.

Technology had changed farming immensely over a century and Matangi Station was no exception, Mr Sanders said.

‘‘As a kid, granddad and dad were working on new technology back then, which is old technology now.

‘‘I was growing up with it.’’

In 1974, the station welcomed its first motorbike — a Honda SL 125, Mr Sanders recalled.

‘‘Basically, Mum and Dad got it to stop me ... getting one and going on the road, it had to be a farm-only bike.

‘‘I picked the dog up and we mustered what we call the Top Knobbies right through to the back yards.’’

That job, when done on horseback, usually took from dawn to dusk. The time was cut half with a motorbike, Mr Sanders said.

‘‘I had the block 90% mustered before the horses arrived ... and I was home here about [noon].’’

Matangi Station owner John Sanders makes his way across the station. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Matangi Station owner John Sanders makes his way across the station. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
His mother, Stella, was surprised to see him home and thought there had been a poor muster.

‘‘No, they’re all in the yards,’’ Mr Sanders replied.

‘‘Dad, when he got home and unsaddled the horse, he walked up here, he didn’t even say anything to Mum ... [and] picked up the telephone and ordered another motorbike.’’

Nowadays, the cutting edge of technology has shifted — Mr Sanders’ son Brett uses a drone to assist with mustering.

‘‘The first time he had [a drone] we went to do the muster and I thought ‘where the hell’s Brett?’,’’ Mr Sanders said.

‘‘He’d sat on the veranda and flown the drone up and cleaned most of the block off before I got there.’’

Sharing knowledge through the family had made the station progressively more successful, Mr Sanders said.

‘‘My father was probably better than my grandfather and then I’ve probably outdone both of them actually.’’

‘‘We got knowledge from each generation.’’

Last year, the station was put up for sale and was now under offer — a decision not made lightly, Mrs Sanders said.

‘‘It’s very special.’’

Matangi Station had been a ‘‘way of life’’ for the family, Mr Sanders said.

‘‘You get it ingrained into your skin. You know every nook and cranny.’’

Other Central Otago families who were honoured for more than 100 years farming their land were Peter and Brad Morton, of Cromwell, and Tony, Liz, Tim and Sara O’Neill, of Ranfurly.