Friday, May 31, 2024

Clive Bibby: Rib tickling yarns

Perhaps it is no surprise that, having been a farmer for most of my life, I would appreciate the earthy comments made by rural folk on matters such as what goes on in the corridors where the highest level decisions are made that affect us all. 

I have always had the greatest admiration for those who battle the elements and the bank manager at the same time yet never expect a simple " thank you" from those who benefit from their labours - which is just about the whole population of this blessed country.
Having been there and done that - especially given we live and farm at the epicentre of the recent Climate Events that have decimated much of our most valuable land - I am always impressed with the stoic, indestructible character that is based on hereditary values and personal experiences going back generations. 

In this environment, more often than not, there is no second chance for even understandable mistakes that are made, even though the consequences of those decisions may mean the end for what had always been a viable operation. 

Because most farmers live and operate in isolation, we are forced to make decisions based on what we know to be true. Too often we don't enjoy the luxury of chatting things over with a more experienced work colleague. We have to act and we have to act now. 

When half the mob suddenly starts to die from some unknown disease, the immediacy requiring an understanding the problem usually means falling back on a tried and proven method of finding answers quickly.

You start from after the discovery and work your way backwards eliminating each possibility of cause until you arrive at the one that seems most likely in the circumstances. In this situation you usually consult a vet but time is of the essence and without a diagnosis that can only be done as a post-mortem in the lab a million miles away, you may have to rely simply on your own experience of similar unexplained deaths.

But this process usually works because it must work and there is no room for a "wait and see" approach. 

And it is this quality born of doing what has to be done in a crisis situation that has resulted in a group of decision makers in charge of our Number one export industry that are collectively, second to none. Perhaps it is the reason why the following two simple real life stories reflect the true competitive nature and value of the average Kiwi when we are left to do it all by ourselves.

You can't create ability when it is not an inherited part of the National character.

It is why we continually punch above our weight on the world stage. We are very good at what we do. 

The first of my little stories comes from the African desert during the Alamein campaign being fought against arguably the greatest General of World 
War2 - The Desert Fox himself, Erwin Rommel. 

The story goes that the newly appointed head of the Allied Forces, General Montgomery was being escorted along the lines of the New Zealand Division soldiers who were lying around having a smoke, bloodied and bruised after just having returned from the battlefield.

It is alleged that the rather pompous Montgomery turned to his escort, the brilliant General Freyberg, complaining that the very fatigued troops were not standing to attention and saluting as the duo of top brass walked past. Freyberg, never to be outdone, in his very droll manner, simply replied "Oh don't bother about these lads - just wave and they'll wave back".

For me that epitomises the Kiwi character as much as anything l've heard. It simply reflects the priorities given to the things that are most important in any given situation and unfortunately for Monty, his little visit at the time was regarded as very low on that list. And so it should have been.

The other story also involves humour that comes from years of experience battling the odds while still doing enough to keep it all together. It happened at a time when I was attending a farm discussion group meeting on a property in the Wairarapa owned by a well respected, delightful, semi retired character called "Buster".

This was before science became an integral part of operating a farm and record keeping was in its infancy. The group had stopped for lunch on a hillside overlooking the property and
were involved in discussion that required the owner to provide details of animal performance etc. One of the first questions to be asked is almost always about the amount of rainfall received annually. And so it was. 

Obviously this statistic is a pretty important measure of the sort of performance levels that can be expected from farms that are vulnerable to regular dry summers including the occasional serious drought. Buster's reply to the question about rainfall at first glance appeared to come from a man very conscious of this limiting factor to his own farming performance " Oh yes," he said " thirty eight and a half inches! " Buster was still dealing in imperial measurements.

" That's pretty dry" was the follow up comment. " I suppose your rain gauge is at the wool shed? " "Well No" said Buster " l've been doing this a long time and it just felt like thirty eight and a half inches." That has to be one for Ripley's "Believe it or Not" don't you think.

I hope you enjoyed those two little tales as much as I have.

They are great examples of why we as a nation survive in a world that is often not kind and unforgiving. Like Earnest Shackleton faced with insurmountable odds, we do what has to be
done. More often than not, it is enough.

Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.


Kawena said...

Clive's stories brought back to memory a tale which I had heard about some 50 years ago and had long since forgotten. I was visiting my dentist to have a tooth removed. The dentist, William Williams, was an elderly gentleman and had given me an injection prior to extraction. He started pulling, but the tooth did not move at all. He was going to give me another injection, but I told him to just keep on pulling. He had one foot on the floor, the other up the wall, his left arm around my forehead, pulling away for all he was worth, and he was in hysterics. The tooth was removed. As he was tiding up, he told me that he had been a colonel in the British army and while in Egypt during the war, a man of slightly darker skin to mine came in with toothache. "He had the worst case of pyorrhoera that I have ever seen, and every tooth in his mouth must be removed forthwith. I held the syringe in my hand and he said 'no injection' I removed every tooth from his mouth and there was not a peep out of him. I asked him what race he was and where did he come from. He replied that he was a Maori and was from New Zealand. He crossed the road to the canteen, swallowed an eight ounce glass of whisky, and slept for the next three days. When I got back to England, I resigned from the army and migrated. I had to come out to New Zealand to find out just what you bloody Kiwis are made out of!"

Anonymous said...

Clive, it's now a different world where another generation of city people have no experience of dealing practically with big issues.
I would like to think that most of them could rise to the occasion if desperately needed, however in reality I believe that many wouldn't be able to cope.