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Property Express: ‘Lifetime of Farming’ Reflected in Exceptional Result

April 2022

Alan Davis served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force 75th Squadron in World War II.

After training in Canada he was based in England, flying over Europe as a wireless operator. When he returned to North Canterbury he was eligible to go for a ballot farm, as his daughter Barbara explains.

“Resettlement farms were offered by ballot to returned servicemen. Usually, they had been farmed by men or kept for sons who never came back from the war. Dad put his name in the ballot in 1949. Although there were no guarantees, on the second farm he registered for, his name came out. It was like winning lotto.”

Mt Brown at Broomfield nine kilometres north of Amberley had originally been a large station. Alan Davis won the right to farm half of the remaining land, which he spent the rest of his long life doing, still farming 72 years later when he died in August 2021 at the age of 99.

“Harry Denton won the other half. Harry had also returned from the war. Dad, Harry and Harry’s wife Enid first briefly lived together in the homestead at Mt Brown, while a cottage from Dad’s farm was taken to their land adjoining Mt Brown. However, the cottage didn’t end up where they originally planned after it fell off the traction engine they were using to transport it,” says Barbara.

Before, during and after his war service, Alan always loved anything mechanical.

“Among other machinery, he owned two traction engines and a threshing mill. He would use these at farm open days when wheat and barley were harvested. He joined Steam Scene, a local club for vintage enthusiasts, generously donating time, equipment, materials, and money, and was similarly involved with the Weka Pass Railway,” says Barbara.

He also loved fast cars and was driving his last Mercedes until shortly before he died.

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After they met several years earlier, in 1951 Alan married Lily Crampton, from Okuku. Daughters Anne and Barbara were born in the early 1950s and Sarah in the late 60s.

Alan and Lily worked hard on the farm. Starting with sheep, they also moved on to cropping, pigs and cattle.

“Although he loved animals, he never farmed with dogs. Dad started out with horses. In 1935, at age 13 he left school to work on his uncle’s farm, learning to drive a team of six horses. In 1939 he worked on Grizz Wylie’s family farm for six months, driving a team. He drove his team on land where Canterbury House and Pegasus Winery are now, when it took a whole day to plough the paddock perimeter,” says Barbara.

Alan enjoyed building.

“In 1966 he built the district’s first set of covered sheepyards. Because the yards were right alongside the road, everyone knew they were being built and plenty of admirers stopped by to look at them,” says Barbara.

Alan and Lily paid off the government lease in the 1970s, giving them freehold ownership of Mt Brown Farm.

Alan took every opportunity to recognise the war, including several reunion trips to Europe and Canada. He represented New Zealand as one of 12 remaining veterans at the June 2014 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, where he met the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President François Holland.

Lily died in 2019.

After Alan’s death, the three daughters decided to sell Mt Brown Farm, which was listed by Austen Russell and Bruce Hoban of PGG Wrightson Real Estate, Amberley, selling at auction in late February for $5.45 million. Austen describes it as an exceptional sale.

“This is a much-admired North Canterbury property, featuring excellent infrastructure, complemented by a modern, double-glazed three bedroom home, built to replace the homestead after the Canterbury earthquakes. In his 90s, Alan briefly leased part of the farm out, still retaining some paddocks for his own stock. He took the farm back again in his last years and re-stocked it with cattle.

“At auction, we had ten registered bidders, including neighbours, developers, other local farmers, and a phone bidder from Australia. An established farmer previously based in Middlemarch, downscaling to a more manageable property, was the purchaser. Almost $24,800 per hectare is an exceptional price for a North Canterbury sheep and beef farm, giving anyone considering selling confidence that interest in good rural property is solid.

“This sale also demonstrated the power of auction, quickly and efficiently establishing the best possible price for the farm, with minimum hassle for all parties,” he said.

 

Property Express Autumn 2022 Edition out now