Obituary: Phil Gibbs - leading dog triallist

00:09, Jul 17 2012
Phil Gibbs
QUIET ACHIEVER: Phil Gibbs of Wakefield, pictured with his dog Haig, died last month, aged 94.

One of New Zealand's foremost dog triallists, Phil Gibbs, will be remembered as a modest, hard-working man of the land.

The Wakefield community and farming stalwart died last month aged 94.

Mr Gibbs led a full and active life which saw him turn the family Lone Oak farm into a leading sheep and cattle property, represent New Zealand in dog trialling, perform in front of the Queen and win a Queen's Service Medal for his services to the sport.

The youngest of 12 children, he left school early to work on the 260-hectare farm in Gibbs Valley started by his grandfather. The property remains in the family more than 150 years later.

Mr Gibbs was brought up in the days of horse and cart, when farmers harvested their own crops and shore their sheep with blades. He used to drive cattle through the main street of Brightwater and Richmond to an abattoir in Tahunanui on his bike and with the help of a couple of dogs.

He quickly showed a talent for dog trialling, often travelling to competitions in the North Island by boat. It was a popular sport in the early 1950s when A & P Shows were in their heyday, with local trials attracting several hundred competitors. In those days, wives did the catering, using coal ranges under a big marquee.


Three times Mr Gibbs won the New Zealand dog trial title and he finished in the top seven 25 times, as well as winning four North and South island championships. His skill led him to be invited to put on a demonstration using six sheep and two dogs for the Queen on the Tahuna playing fields during her visit to Nelson in 1973, which he had to repeat because he finished before she could complete her walkabout. It prompted a spontaneous royal handshake.

Later in the 1970s he took part in famous shearer Godfrey Bowen's Agrodome Show in Rotorua and then in the highly popular A Dog Show on TV.

In 1989, at the age of 71, he capped his career by being selected for the NZ team for the challenge series against Australia, the first of three black blazers he won.

A finalist in Nelson's sport person of the year in 1991, he continued to take part in trials well into his 80s and was made a life member of both the local and national sheep dog trial associations.

Mr Gibbs was also active in the Nelson A & P Association for many years, providing stock and equipment, organising trials, helping judge and serving as president in 1963, which was recognised with life membership.

To liven up proceedings, he trained his dogs to move cattle and even turkeys around the show course, much to everyone's amusement.

As well as training young triallists, Lone Oak staged many shearing and wool handling competitions.

Mr Gibbs' desire to keep improving his farming skills saw him run a small southdown stud and do well in export lamb competitions, with Lone Oak lambs being judged the best in the country in 1955-56. He was later a finalist in the NZ Romney Farmer of the Year.

He and his wife, Nell, also continued the family's involvement in many local groups, including St John's Church.

In 1996 he was awarded the QSM for his service.

One of his sons, Colin, said the family would be holding another ceremony at Christmas to remember him, and in the meantime would be discussing with others how to mark his life.

"He was a quiet achiever who just got on with it."