An old-time conservative worthy of a billboard


Last updated 08:31 21/10/2008

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I rather like the Greens' hoardings. The idea that this election – any election, for that matter – should be about future generations is appealing. But is this something on which self- professed greens have a monopoly?

This question has never been far from my mind over the last few days as I have been sorting through my father's papers. We buried him almost two weeks ago at 87 years of age, an active farmer almost to the last.

I can't imagine someone further removed from the world of Nandor Tanczos or Sue Kedgley. A passionate duck shooter and shotgun collector, a berater of bureaucrats and tax gatherers and an instinctive defender of law and order, he was the quintessential, backwoods conservative.

But that same conservatism implied a lifestyle far less reliant on the consumption of goods and services that more enlightened citizens cannot imagine themselves without.

Born in 1920, his formative years coincided with the Great Depression, then the war. His family had enough money to get by, but he grew up marked by an instinctive caution that never left him. At 32 he married someone wholly unmaterialistic whose family had had the most slender resources.

Their combined parsimony is enshrined in the home I am currently disassembling. It is like an archaeological dig. Farmers are inclined to hoard – they have the space to do so and, as No 8 wire experts, tend to save things with a view to resurrecting them or adapting them to new uses.

But my father's hoarding was part of a completely alternative world view. If things continued to work, you didn't discard them.

So his farm car was 36 years old – many times reconditioned (and converted to lpg). Only this year did he replace his 1958 Massey Ferguson tractor – and then it was with a reconditioned model. The same goes for the house. The kitchen remains exactly as it was built more than 60 years ago.

There may have been one or two repaintings of cupboards, but otherwise it is untouched. There is no dishwasher – the rack for drying plates hangs over the sink. Single bulbs hang in each room. And outside the back door, beside the rows of gumboots, stands a large wooden packing case in which the firewood was stacked every few days.

But it is the paper record that is breathtaking. I have uncovered financial records back to his very first job as a clerk with Raglan County in 1938 and, later, his very first year as a farmer. His "system" was to place anything of significance back into the envelope in which it came and write the contents on the outside. So I have been reopening a lifetime's mail.

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Besides the deep sediment of bank statements, PAYE tables and dog-dosing notices, there is the evidence of a deeply sentimental man. Births and deaths are meticulously recorded. My school reports are completely extant. (I particularly enjoyed my games report as a nine- year-old: "A weak bowler. Tries hard as a batsman but has a poor eye. Gossips while fielding.") All the letters my mother wrote him before their wedding day are carefully preserved.

He belonged to a generation who corresponded. They could have rung one another, but writing was a ritual without which the week didn't feel complete. The weekly letters from my mother's family lie in drifts.

And since his three bulging desks were all inherited from his forebears, a rich photographic record stretches back to the very earliest years of the family's settlement in New Zealand.

It is an unusually complete set of papers that one suspects will be far more interesting 200 years from now in the hands of an economic historian than it is today.

The material remains of this (lengthy) life are the record of someone who did not measure satisfaction in the endless pursuit of more. He never made an overseas trip (beyond serving in the islands during the war); he bought only one new car in his life; he never operated a credit card.

But he enjoyed his breeding herd; he lived for the annual duck shooting season; and he farmed as a way of life. And he was a traditional Anglican who believed that this life is not to be judged solely in terms of the pleasures of the moment.

Without even having heard of sustainable development, he lived on the basis that his choices should not foreclose those of his children's generation. Doing that required prudence, thrift and a measure of self-denial. It seems a world removed from the debt-fuelled consumerism of our times.

I wonder if the Greens have ever thought about trying to understand the world view of conservatives like my father? If they did, they might be able to put some parents and grandparents on their posters.

- The Dominion Post

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