Thomas Garton is reluctant to make too much out of his family’s long history in the Oruru Valley that began with his great-grandparents, William and Emma Garton, who first took up a thousand acres of land there in 1878, leased from Captain William Butler’s widow.
The original property was essentially three farms: Kainamu, Pukehuia and Peachly. William’s son John took over the Kainamu lease in 1897, before gaining freehold title in 1906.
Kainamu still shapes the lives of his descendants today. “It has been a lot of hard work through good times and bad,” observes Thomas.
“Our biggest achievement is that we never sold out and are still here on this land, living in a wonderful district full of good friends and neighbours.” It is a district that shares a strong sense of community and the Garton family have long contributed to that.
John helped found the local church in 1910 and established the Oruru Community Hall, (which started out as a staff-support facility for the cable station at Cable Bay before being transported to its current site more than a century ago). John and his wife Lillian (née Shepherd) had nine children.
Their third son Trevor – Thomas’ father – took over the property in the 1930s and ran it largely as a dairy farm while doing the hard yards of clearing land and draining swamps.
Trevor married Margaret (née Donovan) in 1935 and together they had six children, of whom five survived. “Dad was a tremendously hard working man,” Thomas recalls.
“There are three miles of open drains on the farm and he dug most of them with a shovel…we all worked hard. As kids, the first thing we’d do after coming home from school and having a feed was to catch a horse and get the cows in.
We lived on horses!” In the early 1970s, Thomas and his brothers Dick and Teddy took over the farm and ran it together, along with other land they had purchased, for nearly 40 years.
One of their proudest achievements was to secure formal protection of a large stand of kauri on land owned by them.
Eventually, the family company was disbanded in 2001. Thomas and his wife Mallonae have farmed Kainamu since then, running dairy and dry stock through to 2018 when they ceased dairy supply and converted to beef.
A small herd has been kept to rear calves. Leaving the dairy way of life behind has not been a decision lightly made, given it has been a family staple for 130 years.
The Gartons are thought to be the only family left in the area to have supplied all the local dairy companies from Oruru co-operative through to Fonterra.
“I’m not getting any younger though; transitioning into beef just simplifies things and enables us to keep running the farm for years to come until the next generation is ready to take over.”
Thomas and Mallonae, who have been together for 41 years, have three adult children: Curtis has a successful career on the US Pro Rodeo circuit; Trent has a passion for freestyle motocross riding and founded Freestyle NZ; Alarnya is married with four sons and for many years ran her own dance academy and worked as a dancer for Carnival Cruise Line.
Today, Kainamu is a 135 hectare farm, of which a third is rich alluvial river flats with the balance being rolling hill country.
It is the place the Garton family call home. The Garton family’s rural heritage at Kaimanu has recently been acknowledged through a Century Farms New Zealand award.
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