Tales from the farm

03:18, Mar 25 2014
Noeline Robbins
In the past: Noeline Robbins of Rai Valley with her farm's old milking rotary which was replaced with a more modern system, but Mrs Robbins much preferred this one

Grandfather Percy Dillon used to get so car sick, he never bothered owning a car.

Instead, he would pushbike from the Opouri Valley, near Rai Valley, all the way to Nelson over what was then a windy gravel road. He would only stop for a rest at one particular bridge at the bottom of the Whangamoa Saddle for a drink from and a sandwich.

And when he had finished his jobs in Nelson he would do it all again.

"It would have taken hours and hours," says his grand-daughter Noeline Robbins as she recounts the story from her Rai Valley farmhouse.

People were tough in those days. Noeline herself remembers drinking water from a stream on the farm which was shared by not just her family but the cows, wild pigs and anything else that happened to pass by.

"With all this pedantic behaviour going on today, there's not much wrong with us. We never got sick from the water. We used to love it."


The bus to school was an ex-army bus with wooden seats covered in canvas.

"It was shocking. And of course in those times there was no tarseal on the roads and we used to bump bump bump all the way."

Her grandfather was not the only tough one. The butcher's wife, Ellen Hebberd, got her hand stuck in the mincing machine one day and severed a finger. Soon after, her daughter took the finger to school to show off, preserved in meths.

"I couldn't eat my lunch that day," Mrs Robbins said.

Recently retired from farming, Mrs Robbins' family has a long farming history in the area.

Her grandfather Dillon, originally of Deep Creek in the Wakamarina, received his 175-hectare (433-acre) Opouri farm block by ballot in 1923. Her other grandfather, Thomas Wallace, received 310ha (768 acres) in the same area in 1914.

Two of their children, Mrs Robbins' parents, married in 1934 and bought a farm next to the Dillons where they raised five children.

The family tradition continues, with the Robbins' youngest son Lex now running deer on the Robbins' old farm.

Eldest son Kerry has just taken over their current dairy farm in Rai Valley township, which has been owned by Max Robbins' parents since after World War II. Max and Noeline Robbins moved there in 1969.

Lex Robbins works off-farm as a logger to help make ends meet, Mrs Robbins said: "He just loves his little patch, we are happy for him to sell but no way, he loves his little bit of paradise."

Besides farming, both Mrs Robbins and husband Max worked at the Rai Valley dairy store and cheese factory respectively. Factory workers used to find all sorts of surprises in the bottom of milk cans delivered from surrounding farms: rats, possums, even a chook had climbed in overnight as the cans were airing out, then drowned in milk in the morning. The pests were removed and the milk turned into cheese.

"It was processed and what the eye don't see . . ." Mrs Robbins said.

Rat and mice plagued the store as well.

A lot has changed in farming during Mrs Robbins' life: from taking the milk to the factory with their own tractor and trailer, to the advances from walk-through milking sheds to herringbone and finally an upmarket rotary, Mrs Robbins has seen it all. She loved farming but is glad to be out of the game now.

"There's too many rules now, they have just become so politically correct, it's taken the fun out of farming.

"I'm glad that I myself am not farming as such because of that reason, it's just shocking."

See for yourself what life in Rai Valley was like back in the day, and what it's like now, at the International Year of Family Farming event at Carluke Domain, Rai Valley, on March 30.

The Marlborough Express