a family story

John Roxborogh

Douglas William Matthews 1924 - 2004

Like Cathie, my uncle Doug grew up on the family farm on Whakahongi Road, Tatuanui. When he was still a teenager he more and more took over the running of the farm. During the War he worked as an aircraft technician. He had been a runner at school, holding a record for many years. On the farm he put his technical skills to good use. His hay bailer was a contribution to the community haymaking which cemented strong relationships with neighbouring farmers.

He was born on 25 May 1924, and died just before Christmas 2004, on 22 December while Jenny and I were in England. His funeral was on the 29th at Knox Presbyterian Church in Morrinsville. As with the funerals of his parents, Ernest and Mary, I was unable to attend. However Tim was able to be there to share this tribute.

John Roxborogh

Doug will always remain a special person in my life. He was a quiet and important figure for as long as I can remember - from my earliest impressions, of childhood visits to the farm, rides on the David Brown tractor, eels in the river, blackberries, calves and warm milk, the machinery and mysteries of different sheds, the smells of bailing twine, creosote, and ensilage,  the occasional unfortunate encounter with the rear end of a cow, and visits to the batch at Whangamata.

I am not sure how much Doug understood about small boys, especially the curious, and the bookish - I often caused offence talking about fields not paddocks. When I was 5 I have a memory of wanting a toy pistol for my birthday and eagerly unwrapping the promising looking present from Doug. He had given me an oil can.

I was never trusted terribly much around the cow shed, not helped by being one day in the wrong place near the switch when the high pressure hose cut out while Doug was cleaning the yard after milking.

It mysteriously came on again while Doug was looking at the nozzle to see what had happened to the water. He was soaked. It was one of the few times I saw him angry. The other was when he yanked out ragwort after another good jersey cow had been lost to bloat.

Doug tolerated my following him around, asking questions and getting in the way. He did allow me to learn to drive on the David Brown, even if I never reliably mastered the clutch. It was the neighbours who swore at me, not Doug, when another jerky start landed a trailer load of hay bales back on the ground to be loaded again.

Doug and the farm helped enable my mother Cathie and I to travel to England in 1957. His own overseas trip went no further than Australia, though in a sense he had travelled further, even as far as Ireland. Asked “When is the wife you found in Australia coming over?” he surprised people with the answer “in a couple of weeks.” And sure enough Ellen arrived not long after and they were married, complete with zephyr six.

Ellen, today is a day of appreciation of you as well. Thank you for having the courage to come to New Zealand and become part of the family.

While I was at school in Auckland and then studying engineering, the visits to Whakahongi Road became less frequent. When Jenny and I were married and living in Wellington we would sometimes stop by and Ellen and Doug made sure we never left empty handed. Their generosity with hospitality, meat veges and feajoas from the garden were always appreciated.

Doug, you were a man of few words, and a few words cannot do justice to your influence by what you were, what you did, and the choice things you did say. I appreciated your values, your attitude towards life and death, your subtle humour, your willingness to excel at things you worked at, like your champion ploughing and the ongoing modernization of the farm, your willingness to share personal stories, and your uncomplaining attitude to life in general. Others will share more of these things today.

I am writing this from England. Doug, here your ancestors farmed the same land for many generations before your father and uncle migrated to New Zealand at age 16 and carried on the family tradition.

In all the ways in which society changes, those who work with the land, its crops, and its animals, and who bend technology to the needs of the times, have a special place in the economy of God and of society.

That purpose will always be very personally represented to me by your memory. Thank you for being more than you ever could realise.