‘Each generation has left its mark’

‘Each generation has left its mark’
The Bassetts: Don, Rob, Lachlan, Campbell and Nicola.

For many farming families, the journey leading to farm ownership is rich in colour with a history starting long before hands touched the soil – such is the case with the Bassetts of Matarawa in the Wairarapa.
Rob Bassett is the fourth generation to farm the heavy silt loam, unique to the area, that produces such rich pasture. Proud of the family heritage, Rob has a real passion for the land that has been in Bassett hands for 107 years.
He says the original Robert (Bob) Bassett, his great uncle, would be impressed with the farm’s development; how each generation has made improvements to the land and how productive it has become.
“Each generation has left its mark on the land,
initially with stumping and internal subdivision, and in later years drainage, re-grassing, pivot irrigation, rotary cowshed with in shed feeding, concrete feed pad, underpass and three houses.”
Today the farm is one of the higher producing dairy units in the Wairarapa milking 450 pedigree friesian cows on a 100ha milking platform, producing between 220,000kgMS – 230,000kgMs/ annually.
Located in Matarawa, near the rapidly developing country town of Carterton, there is quite a backstory to the Bassett’s settlement.
In the early 1850’s David Bassett, Rob’s great great grandfather, set sail from Llanelly in Wales for the gold mines of Ballarat in Australia. He hadn’t been there long when the signs of unrest and the impending Eureka Stockade became apparent.
Fleeing the troubles, David set sail for Port Wellington, New Zealand, disembarking in 1854 and quickly joining the Small Farms Association, established amidst fears that wealthy landowners would buy up Government land purchased from the local Iwi. David eventually acquired forty acres in Greytown by ballot.
Located near the Waiohine River, the ‘Great Floods’ of the 1870’s wreacked havoc on the farm resulting in it being sold in favour of a property on the foothills of the Tararua’s in Dalefield.
The next generation continued to farm that land and also produced eleven children, common in those days, including Bob (Rob’s great uncle) and Archie (Rob’s grandfather) – with 19 years between them.
Taking over the farm, Bob extended the landholding. Because of the dry summers up at the Dalefield block, Bob bought the 30 acres at Matarawa, now the home farm, in 1911.
“The land at Matarawa was a naturally drained swamp, with the remains of fire cleared native bush,” says Rob.
“So the cows were milked in the swamp land in the summer and the dry ground in the winter.” While Bob was farming, younger brother Archie marched off to the bloody battlefields of the First World War.
Suffering shrapnel injuries he returned home and joined the Railways, eventually rising to Station Master at Waiuku in South Auckland.
While Archie was frequently offered promotions to larger stations, he was also passionate about dairy cows and along with wife Netta developed a side business milking cows.
Purchasing a small herd of cows and grazing them on vacant lots around town, Archie and Netta sold milk to the locals – a more lucrative earner than the railways – hence offers of promotion were politely declined.
Meantime, over the decades older brother Bob had acquired numerous land parcels around the Carterton District and when soldiers returned from World War 2 he could see he was going to lose land for soldier resettlement.
Rather than lose land, Bob sold the Matarawa farm, which had grown by a further 70 acres, to Archie and Netta, and the family including children; John, Douglas, Donald, and Pauline, moved from Waiuku to Matarawa.
Through his railways contacts, Archie’s cows were transported from Waiuku to the Wairarapa.
In those days the milk was collected in stainless steel cans and transported just down the road to the Dalefield Cheese Factory, initially by horse and cart then Austin Truck, bringing the whey back for the pigs.
Rob remembers doing this with his father, Donald, and collecting a wedge of the famous Dalefield cheese to eat on the way home.
In 1963, Archie’s sons, Donald and Douglas took over the family farm, acquiring another 38 hectares and doing a lot of land development work.
With a lot of stumps and butts on the land from the days when the native bush was cleared by fire, Rob says stumping was the brothers number one job.
“Initially the butts were cut off below ground level by hand using cross saw but later an old chainsaw was acquired. Dad said it was the first chainsaw they had ever seen and a horrendous Dairy cows run in the Bassett blood thing. It still had the teeth on it like an ordinary saw but it saved a lot of backbreaking work using the cross saw.”
Donald & his wife Barbara took over the farm in 1992, with Rob and his wife Nicola purchasing the farm from them in 2007. “While mum passed away three years ago, dad still lives on the farm,” says Rob.
“Dad’s 83 now and still out with us each day working the land. He’s our cowman – locking cows in or bringing a mob into the shed. Dad was a very good stockman – very calm in nature with a great work ethic. He would still put plenty of 20 years olds to shame.”
Along with his father, Rob has one full time worker on the farm, Andrew Pike, who has been part of the family business for the last 26 years.
And there is a fifth generation – Campbell 10 and& Lachlan (Lachie) 8 – both showing a keen interest in farming at their young ages.
“They love getting out onto the farm and it sometimes takes a bit of convincing to get them to go to school. We would like to be able to offer them the opportunity to become the fifth generation to farm the land.”
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