Episode 30: Here to Stay
On the next episode screening 6 September 2014 at 7pm on TV ONE
Here to stay
The Matthews family has farmed Waiorongomai Station in the Wairarapa for more than 160 years.
When Country Calendar first visited the property in 1977, Charlie Matthews was six years old and already learning sheep handling skills from his grandfather. When the programme returned 21 years later, Charlie was taking over from his father Raymond.
On our latest visit, Charlie, now in his early 40s, and married to Karla, is firmly in charge of the property, which lies between the Rimutaka Ranges and Lake Wairarapa.
The original Matthews - Charles and Elizabeth - were a pioneering couple who started farming Waiorongomai in 1850, droving sheep around the coast from Wellington and bringing them across rocks and along the beach between tides. In 1875, their son, Alfred, established a Romney sheep stud which continues today and is the oldest stud in New Zealand.
Charlie, the sixth generation of Matthews to farm the property, looks after the stud pedigree himself, recording details at birth, at weaning and the wool weights. He's focused on quality in the wool, selecting for strength, colour and the number of crimps which is an indicator of micron count in the wool.
Each generation of Matthews has introduced innovations, while also keeping the stud intact. Charlie's father Raymond converted to dairying but when Charlie took over in the late 1990s, he had other ideas for the property, which is half way between Featherston and Ocean Beach on the Western Lakes Road.
In his early days, Charlie farmed deer but, in recent years, his focus has moved to bulls. With another farming family, Charlie imported Speckle Park cattle embryos from Canada and has been instrumental in establishing the breed in New Zealand.
"Originally we brought the breed out for its meat quality but we've since found the growth rates are exceeding our expectations. It's incredibly satisfying these days to see the distinctive black and white speckled coats on farms around New Zealand."
Waiorongomai is a big station, covering nearly 3,000 hectares, and it once employed around 20 staff. That's left a legacy of 14 dwellings on the property, three of which Karla has recently renovated to establish a thriving accommodation business.
"We started out just wanting to maintain the buildings and earn a little bit of money to do that but the best part of this whole thing has been hearing what it means for other people to share a little bit of Waiorongomai. That's been a real buzz for us."
One of those properties is the 90-year old Waiorongomai Homestead. It became vacant when Charlie's parents, Raymond and Susie, became the first Matthews to break with tradition and move into town rather than end their days on the farm.
They're enjoying their new life in Greytown although Raymond says leaving was hard. "We left separately and I think we both stopped by the lake and had a cry. I'd lived here all my life so it was a real wrench."
Charlie says he has no plans to break with family tradition.
"I love being at Waiorongomai. I hope our children will feel the same way and the farm will be there for them if they want it. If they don't, Karla and I will still be farming it in our 80s and perhaps there will be a grandchild who wants to take over. Either way, we won't sell it- it's been in the family too long."
To find out more about Waiorongomai Station, visit: www.waiorongomai.co.nz and www.facebook.com/waiorongomaistation
For more on Speckle Park cattle, visit: www.facebook.com/speckleparknewzealand
For a brief history of Waiorongomai Station, visit: http://wairarapanz.com/see-and-do/waiorongomai-station
Post Production Manager