“Drainage can bring out the worst in people. It’s just a fact of life,” says Rod Wise, and he should know.
After more than 40 years serving on the drainage board committee for the region, he attended his last meeting on Friday 28 March.
“Everybody had a different idea on how to drain the peat. Neighbours have stopped talking to each other over a common drain.”
Rod joined the Taupiri Drainage and River Board in 1973. “The drainage board acted as an adviser, facilitator and got on to make sure the drainage worked.”
The Land Drainage Act of 1908 is very simple. “A person downstream from anybody can not interfere with the drainage of a person upstream. Not that everyone believes that.”
When he became involved, the Board was the second largest in New Zealand and had a huge task before it.
“They employed brilliant engineers whose foresight and dedication made the land what it is today. Those early engineers put the drains in exactly the right places, so that even with the settling of the peat, the land still drained.
“Drainage was absolutely crucial to developing the land here. Without we simply wouldn’t have been able to farm.”
Even though it may appear to be flat on top, underneath the mineral soil would be unstable and rolling.
Originally from Masterton, Rod says he was a town boy. “But I always had a love of animals. My father came to Hamilton in 1946, the year it became a Hamilton.”
He got a job as a technician at Ruakura’s Number 2 dairy and remembers well those early drains, pictured above.
“My first task was to hand-clean the drains, which these guys were digging. Every year we went in with our slashers and pitchforks and cleared them out. No 2 dairy was built on peat.”
Working with Dr CP McMeekan was a wonderful experience. “He was fantastic and did so much for New Zealand farming. He saw I had potential as a practical farmer, and arranged a sharemilking job, this was the start of my farming career.”
While he was at Ruakura, land could be bought for 10 bob an acre.
“I started with a block of land on Woodlands Rd, and inherited a horse with it. The horse helped me find the stock amongst all the rushes, tea tree and scrub. Some of the land had never been developed, it hardly supported anything.”
It was a real challenge for the 30-year-old but he says, “…as many farmers found at the time, you just got stuck in and did it. When I first saw Woodlands Rd in 1966 the road stopped before my farm. It was metal all the way. Law Rd, Middle Rd, Ballard Rd – none of those were there. We worked hard on developing the land.”
(One old dairy farmer known to Number 8 Network used to say when the rabbits moved into the Woodlands Rd district they had to bring their own lunch.)
Everything was all dependent on the drainage, which was key to developing the peat from its raw state.
He got to know one of his neighbours on Woodlands Rd, John Ball. John had been a member of the drainage board but was retiring. Did Rod want to take his place?
He went to the first meeting, which was chaired by Brook Des Forges, and held at Regency House, Ward St, and continued attending for the next four decades.
“We used to meet monthly and have site visits so we knew what we were talking about. I enjoyed it and the reason I stuck with it was due to the people. It’s the people who made it special.”
Over the years he saw many changes, including the drainage being improved and extended throughout the region. Another important change was restructuring.
“In 1989 all the drainage boards in New Zealand went out of existence and we made the choice to go with the Regional Council rather than the District Council, which proved to be the right decision.”
The old drainage boards had done a great job, but as farms developed to a higher standard and the demand for drainage became greater, it had to be better organised and resourced.
These days there is an advisory board, which meets four times a year and it still has local input and a presence in Gordonton Village, where Steve Edwards and Phillip Ecclestone operate from.
“I admire the way they work and keep up to date with everybody.”
But for Rod, it was time to move on. “I felt it would be good to let someone younger come in and make their contribution.”
He says there is a feeling of satisfaction in having been involved in something so important to the region.
“Environmental standards are higher now, as well. You have to get a consent to do work on a waterway, and establish what life is in the streams that you’re about to clean or modify.
“In the old days you just went in and did it. As you get older you realise that these things are very important.”