National Lamb Day held where it all began

Totara Estate swagger Russian Jack (Averill Jamison, right) gives a mug of billy tea to...
Totara Estate swagger Russian Jack (Averill Jamison, right) gives a mug of billy tea to distinguished guest Michael Pearson, the Heritage New Zealand southern assets manager from Christchurch. Photos: Sally Brooker
Whitestone Meats butcher Jeff Wright demonstrates how different cuts of lamb are created. He...
Whitestone Meats butcher Jeff Wright demonstrates how different cuts of lamb are created. He emphasised the importance of cooking larger or tougher cuts "low and slow'' - 120degC for five or six hours - and having water in the roasting dish.
Waitaki Girls' High School Young Farmers Club members (from left) Trudy McLeod (year 12),...
Waitaki Girls' High School Young Farmers Club members (from left) Trudy McLeod (year 12), Mackenzie Phillips (year 12), Anna Onuma (year 12), Ella Phillips (year 10), and Sophie Hawkins (year 12), with teacher Jess Wright, spoke about club activities...
Waitaki Girls' High School Young Farmers Club members (from left) Ella Phillips (year 10),...
Waitaki Girls' High School Young Farmers Club members (from left) Ella Phillips (year 10), Mackenzie Phillips (year 12), Anna Onuma (year 12), Trudy McLeod (year 12) and Sophie Hawkins (year 12), with cook Annie Baxter, donned aprons to help serve the...

National Lamb Day was celebrated on May 24 at the place where New Zealand's frozen meat industry began 137 years ago - Totara Estate.

The historic farm just south of Oamaru prepared a shipment of lamb that arrived in Britain in pristine condition on May 24, 1882.

As Britain looked to its colonies to provide food for its surging population, wool prices here had collapsed by the end of the 1870s.

New Zealand's huge sheep flocks were increasingly worthless, and the mutton was in such oversupply that it, too, was not valued. Britain represented a massive potential market, but getting the meat there before it went off was no small problem.

The New Zealand Government offered a 500 reward for the first successful frozen meat shipment. As Canterbury folk considered the options and William Larnach and Otago colleagues founded the New Zealand Refrigeration Company, William Davidson at Totara Estate was liaising with Glasgow's Bell Coleman refrigeration company and Albion Shipping, co-ordinating funding and insurance, and masterminding a pioneering piece of Kiwi ingenuity.

A coal-fired, steam-powered, industrial-scale freezer was installed in a sailing ship to ensure the meat did not spoil on its long voyage from Down Under to Old Blighty.

The story is depicted for all to see in the restored buildings at Totara Estate, now owned by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Visitors on National Lamb Day were invited to watch demonstrations of blade shearing and lamb cuts being prepared, then tuck into a lunch of roast lamb with all the trimmings.

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