Megan Scott recalls walking with her grandfather, Finlay MacKay, on the paddocks that had been owned by three generations of Finlay’s since 1865, when she was but four years of age and full of wonder.
Her grandfather, then in his 80’s, would tell her the colourful stories that connected the family to the land and she would feel that love for the soils tilled by generations past that she feels to this day.
The story begins in 1853 when Isabella and James MacKay, along with their large family, arrived at bustling Port Chalmers near Dunedin.
Sailing from Reay, in Scotland, on the clipper ship Rajah in 1853 their eldest son Finlay 19, Megan’s great grandfather, had helped sail the ship during the voyage.
After settling in Waihola and following success prospecting in the goldfields of Gabriel’s Gully, Finlay bought a herd of cattle and drove them to the hills above Mataura from Waihola every winter – a distance of 114 kilometres.
In 1865, after grazing the land for several winters, Finlay was one of the first settlers to buy land from the Tuturau 100, east of Mataura near Gore.
Initially buying 180 acres, which he named ‘Reay’ in remembrance of their home in Scotland, he quickly added more land, making a holding of 704 acres.
The land was cleared of flax by burning and silver tussock by chipping with a hoe and a horse drawn single furrow plough drawn by a Clydesdale was used to till the land.
Cattle were grazed, but Finlay’s first introduction of 30 sheep mysteriously disappeared. “There was a theory that wild pigs may have eaten them but somebody else may have acquired them,” says Megan.
“As well as the cattle and sheep, they had dairy cows and supplied the Mataura dairy factory. Unfortunately, they lost their team of six working draft horses, when the stables caught fire and burned to the ground.”
Finlay married Helen Milne and they had seven children. Unfortunately, one of their daughters drowned in a water barrel at the corner of the house, at the age of two.
Their youngest son Finlay, born in 1884 – Megan’s grandfather, left school aged 11 going home to farm, which he did until retirement in his eighties.
“He was born and died on ‘Reay’ having never been in hospital his entire 100 years,” Megan says, “He’s buried on his beloved tussock hill block overlooking the Mataura Valley.” Megan’s own father, also called Finlay left school at fifteen to work on the farm full time.
He married Barbara and together they ran ‘Reay’ from 1968, continuing the good farming practices, focusing on sheep production with a mob of Romneys.
In 1978 they purchased another 289 acres bringing the total land holding to 1,000 acres.
Later Megan and her husband Grant Scott purchased 806 acres of the family farm continuing with a sheep focus and some dairy support, leaving Finlay and Barbara with the original piece of land purchased by their ancestor.
Now 82, Finlay provides hogget grazing, sells grass/ baleage and sometimes short spells of dairy grazing.
Innovation has been a common thread through out the families 153-year journey both in resect to farming practices and life in general.
“The family went from horse power to being the first in the district to own a tractor and a motor car and using aerial topdressing, computers and drones.”
The family has always had a strong community spirit, with the original Finlay being a well-respected member of the Mataura Council and the Mataura Piped band.
“That tight community spirit is possibly because there are four farms in a row that have all been in their own families for over 100 years,” suggests Megan.
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