He may live these days on a modest lifestyle block but there’s no mistaking Brian Gibbison’s a real man of the land: the trademark wide-brimmed hat, the take-no-nonsense manner in which he brings his dogs to heel – and the way he calls any family get-together or reunion a “round-up”.
Farming truly is in the lively 79-year-old’s blood. Down at the Pond Road entrance to his farmlet, through a gate to a paddock dominated by an impressive stand of chestnut trees Brian himself planted out, are the last one and a half acres he still owns of a 1500-acre block bought by his great great grandfather way back in the 1850s.
William Gibbison was among the first European settlers to buy land in the Raglan district, acquiring his block at Kauroa only three years after the Rev James Wallis set the ball rolling in buying several sections at the first Government land sale locally in mid-1852.
Yet though the Gibbison name is synonymous with the history of farming in the Te Mata Road area, and despite the fact Brian can rattle off the names of various locals like the Santoriks and Thomsons to whom he’s related, there are just three Gibbison entries in the current Raglan phone directory.
Aside from Brian there’s one for son Alan and his wife – they have a 100-acre farm further along towards Te Mata, though are frequently down country at Hinuera where Alan’s a logging contractor – and another for Brian’s niece Coralie.
Coralie, who’s in her early 50s and works as an IT specialist and project manager with Waikato Regional Council, may live on Government Road but like Brian has her roots in Kauroa Homestead, built by William Gibbison No 2 who was their great-grandfather and grandfather respectively.
“I lived there until I was about five,” Coralie recalls of the homestead her uncle had grown up in earlier and who’d lived back there at times until it was razed in the mid-1960s, being somewhat “rickety”. All Brian’s siblings – three brothers and five sisters – were also raised there and, like him, born at the then Raglan maternity hospital.
There was a Kauroa School nearby for a time, where Brian remembers going for about six months in 1940 as a five year old. The school building was then moved to Raglan Area School, where it still stands and is known as the Kauroa block, and Brian went with it into town for the rest of his education.
“Farming was the only thing I ever thought about,” he recalls. “I wasn’t very interested in school, it was drudgery – though I do remember getting excellent for art one year (artistic talent runs in the family; one of Brian’s sisters is leading Hamilton painter Joan Fear).”
He remembers his mother Jessie telling him he could leave school at 15. “I don’t approve but I suppose you’ll have to, you’re needed on the farm,” she conceded.
Years later when Coralie too went to Raglan Area School, the Pond Road kids were always the last each morning to get on the bus – which began its run at Ruapuke – and “all the cousins” were already aboard.
Fast forward to 2015 and Brian now shares with partner Linda McDonald an expansive home on a levelled-out knoll of a 20-acre sheep and beef block well up Pond Road.
And while only that small parcel of land down near the entrance was part of the original Gibbison farm there are various reminders of the past, like the house directly across the road which was built for Brian’s parents when they got married after World War I – although they soon moved back to Kauroa Homestead – and which Brian himself later lived in too until recently.
Brian and Linda’s new house, which they moved into seven or eight years ago, also links the present and past: his son Alan has a timber mill, and cut timber salvaged from the old homestead to make the rimu doors and the kahikatea floors and bookshelves.
It’s a few months ago now since Brian sold almost all his remaining 300 acres of the original farm – which was split two then three ways with two of his brothers at various points – but he’s showing no signs of slowing down even though he’s set to turn 80 shortly.
“I’m just tired, not retired,” he laughs as he, Linda and Coralie share with the Chronicle their reminiscences and what they’re up to these days. The day after our interview Brian and Linda are planning to get up at 6am to do some mustering on a hilly 700-acre block they own off Ohautira Road, around the back of Whaingaroa Harbour.
“There’s a motorbike ride there on Sunday so we’ve gotta help shift the sheep,” says Brian. Linda, whose son looks after the block, adds: “We bought it seven years ago so we can supervise and poke our noses in.”
Incredibly they’re also actively looking at buying another 1000 acres, preferably in the general Raglan area. “We’ll bring more of the family into the business so we’ve got more people to supervise and boss around,” jokes Linda.
Add in the fact Linda has her café at Whatawhata to manage and it’s set to continue to be a busy life for the pair, who’ve been together now 24-odd years.
But there’s always time for those family get-togethers. Brian’s recently been to “a bit of a round-up” at Te Aroha, to welcome home a young relative and his German girlfriend, and last September there was another gathering at Te Aroha for one of his sister’s 90th birthdays.
Coralie, whose mother’s family incidentally had a store at Te Mata, recalls there used to be frequent family reunions of 100 or more relatives at Brian’s farm, “but not for a decade or so now”.
Hers also seems a busy life: besides commuting daily to her high-pressure Hamilton job from her home overlooking the harbour she also has two acres, planted out mostly in natives, to tend on Wainui Road, and as an avid mountainbiker is invariably planning her next ride somewhere around the country.
But she enjoys taking the time to visit her uncle at Pond Road. “It feels like home to me here,” she says, pointing out a now-wooded hillside – several turbines of the Te Uku wind farm silhouetted against the skyline above it – that she used to sled down as a child. “And I know it feels like that (home) too for my cousins who are away.”