IN PICTURES: One family, one farm and 150 years

It’s a rare and remarkable thing - a farming family who can claim a century on their farm thanks to an ancestor who also played a major role in developing what is now New Zealand’s largest bank.

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Meet Selby Palmer, his wife Muff and their son Edward - who now runs Te Aratipi with his wife Ro. They recently celebrated 100 years of the Palmer family farming on the Havelock North sheep and beef station Te Aratipi in the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

" Hopefully in 100 years from now there will be another celebration."
Selby Palmer, Farmer, Hawkes Bay

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It’s a milestone which only came about after Selby’s great grandfather Joseph Palmer decided to carve out a career in banking. He worked at a bank now known as ANZ but in 1865 it was called the First Union Bank of Australia in New Zealand.

“My great grandfather, Joseph Palmer arrived in Sydney fresh off the boat from England in March 1851,” Palmer Sr says with pride.  

“He was 24 and employed by the Union Bank of Australia as a clerk based in Adelaide. We don’t know much about his life prior to Australia but from his subsequent history, he seems to have had a curious and ambitious nature.”

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With that ambition came determination. Joseph soon progressed up the banking ladder specialising in financing the pastoral sector and eventually moving with this wife Emily to New Zealand to manage the First Union Bank in Lyttelton, near Christchurch. He then opened and managed the Christchurch branch.

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Life in a developing land wasn’t going to be easy though - his first agent arrived on the boat incapacitated, a director drowned, an assistant died of fever and the acting agent resigned.

Despite these challenges, Joseph’s careful management restored and strengthened the bank’s reputation.

Joseph quickly became an influential figure in the region known as a prudent lender with low tolerance for excessive spending. He arranged a number of the original loans in Christchurch and also for the big Canterbury sheep run holders.

It was then, perhaps influenced by his banking farming customers, that Joseph purchased the 120,000 acre Double Hill Station in the Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury.

And that is where the banker and a number of his 13 children developed a passion for sheep and beef farming.

Selby’s grandfather, also named Selby, was one of those 13 children.

“My grandfather loved growing up on Double Hill Station. He knew from a young age working on the land was his calling,” explains Selby.

“Joseph encouraged his passion and consciously passed on knowledge about how to make farming a sustainable and viable career. He brought this Te Aratipi station Havelock North in 1915 for the princely sum of 32,000 pounds, plus another 8,000 pounds for the stock.  Interestingly enough the interest rate on the mortgage was 5.5 per cent, very similar to today.”

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Like father, like son, Selby junior took over Te Aratipi from his father John in 1977. Now John’s grandson Edward is buying into the farm. And with each generation of Palmers the relationship with the Union Bank and now ANZ has persisted.

 “They’ve helped us with several generations of farm successions,” Selby says.  “Plus they’ve supported Muff and me on a range of business ventures from restaurants to cheese making to diversifying our farming interests.

“In terms of our farm, I believe we have some of the best sheep and beef land in New Zealand. The limestone hills surrounding us catch the rain that doesn’t make it to the Heretaunga plains, which means we have lush pasture pretty much all year round.”

“I learned a lot from my father and my grandfather. In the 30 years Muff and I worked the farm, we weathered four major droughts and some seriously low wool and meat prices. We weren’t as conservative as our forebears and weren’t afraid to try new ideas either.  Not all were successful, but many were.  We have no regrets.”

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The family has seen a number of changes over the generations in how farms and stock are managed and the end product used.

“My father’s lamb was exported primarily to the UK as a whole frozen carcass,” Selby says.  “Nowadays consumers globally have much more influence over how the meat is produced and presented. Edward is very aware of what consumers want and is producing product to meet their needs.”

Selby attributes the longevity of the farm, which has survived through market, climate and consumer cycles, to careful planning and expert advice as well as allowing the family to be agile and remain focused on what the end-consumer wants.

He says Edward’s role is to ensure the next generation of Palmers have a successful life on the land.

“A key part of succession is letting go so Edward can pick up the reins,” Selby says.  “I still help out a couple of days a week on the admin side of things but the rest is up to Ed.  Hopefully in 100 years from now there will be another celebration of an even more remarkable milestone.”

Joseph Palmer became the first Chief Officer of the Union Bank of Australia in New Zealand and earned a salary of 1,250 pounds. During the 1870’s and 80’s he expanded the bank’s business into the North Island.  He eventually retired in 1890 and died in 1910.

Sarah-Jane Bashford and Marise Hurley are contributing editors at BlueNotes

Photos thanks to the Selby family

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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