The 1940s were shaped by World War Two, with more than 194,000 men enlisting in the armed forces, though New Zealand's population at the time was just 1,500,000. By the time the war ended, 11,500 New Zealand men had been killed. Often those who survived were physically or psychologically scarred. Coming home and finding work meant their lives could start again.

Part of the Government's plan for those who needed work was to help people onto farms, with reduced interest rate loans and subsidies. The aim was to settle those men who were fully experienced onto farms, and the farms had to be economic.

The Farming Assistance Scheme

Applications were invited through the Farming Assistance Scheme and applicants were then examined by a committee of farmers and graded accordingly. Those who needed more training were placed with approved farmers and their wages subsidised. When a man reached 'A' Grade, he was able to ballot for Crown land, borrowing money at a low interest rate, and by 31 March 1965, more than 12,000 men had been settled on their own farms.

With all types of farming land up for grabs, with the emphasis on either sheep or dairy cattle, Jim and Betty Thwaites sent ballot after ballot. They must have wondered if the ballot box would ever spit out their name.

Playing the waiting game

After Jim Thwaites returned from the war, he and his wife Betty lived and worked at Waverley, but they decided they would take land anywhere in New Zealand, as long as it was suitable for a farm. "Because of the big number of men wanting to get a start, they used to ballot these farms" Jim says. "You put your name in if you were interested. We went and saw a few farms but because we were working for wages, we just couldn't afford the time off to go see all the farms, all around the country. Betty and I decided to just put in for everything, outside of Taranaki as well, for cattle and for sheep farms. I think it was around 108 farms we balloted for."

Land at last

Finally, the Thwaites came home to news that they had been successful with land at Mokoia, near Hāwera. "Excited? Were we what!" says Betty. "We've still got the telegram!" Immediately, they decided to go to see it. Betty relates how Jim rang his boss to say his mother-in-law was sick and he wouldn't be in to work. "And my mother was horrified because she was a fitness fanatic" she laughs. "So we took her with us next day to have a look at the farm.”

A farm by the sea

The Thwaites moved on to their Mokoia land, close to the coast, where they lived in an old dilapidated shepherd's cottage for eight years until they could afford to build a better house. That second house is still standing and is still much admired in the district today.

There were four farms in the immediate vicinity, one running sheep and three dairy including Thwaites’, supplying the local dairy factory. A further six families lived at the railway settlement.

It's obvious that, even today, Jim and Betty value both their opportunity and their time there. "It was a wonderful district" Jim says, "because there were a lot of returned servicemen there at the time, so we were much of an age group and our children grew up together. Everyone got on very well."

A sharing community

He describes how neighbours would leave surplus fish, caught at the mouth of the Tangahoe River, on the dairy factory stage for others to take home. "We'd put the kids on the trailer behind the tractor after milking at night, and we'd go down to the beach and the kids would swim and we'd do some net fishing. I remember once there were six farmers and we couldn't pull the net out of the river it had that many kahawai and kupapa. Excess vegetables were left to be shared the same way."

It was an era, Jim says, that probably won't be seen again. "We used to play Sunday cricket with other districts and organisations, like the police and the post office workers. The school was a two-teacher, with probably 50 kids. Apart from the local store, there were two churches, the factory, the railway station and the rest were all rural. It's like going home when we go back. Some of the original families are still there."

A different kind of dairying

In those early dairying days, long before the advent of tankers, the farmers took their milk to the factory themselves. Some used trucks, some used horse and wagon. The Thwaites used a tractor and trailer. "The first tanker came through in 1964 or 65 and by that stage I was chairman of the Mokoia Dairy company, and not everyone wanted to go on tanker - they felt that with their truck etcetera, they were well equipped. Some were afraid of change and losing the hands-on way of doing things. Socially, the contact that came with taking your milk to the factory was important.

"All the stock agents from Newton King and Farmers Co-op would go to the factory early in the morning, from about seven o'clock to nine, and they'd meet all the farmers in the district who would arrive with their milk. They could do their business there, whether it was culled cows or heifers to sell, bulls or anything else."

But tanker came in and eventually, everyone ended up on tanker supply and soon it wasn't worth keeping the Mokoia facilities open for just a few. First it was voluntary where the milk went, then compulsory. "It didn't happen at Mokoia" Jim says, "but it did happen elsewhere, that people sold their farms rather than go on tanker. It was a bit of an emotional time."

Time to go

Jim and Betty lived at Mokoia until 1971, where their family grew to include one girl and four boys. They built their prime jersey herd up to 65 from 45, which was the average herd size back when they first began in 1949. Eventually, the Thwaites' herd outgrew the farm and a hard decision had to be made. "We had three rehab farms, all beside each other, all about the same size. It was getting to the stage where it wasn't economic any longer, and the farm was too small to employ anyone and I had two boys who were keen on farming."

A solution is found

Jim continues: "So the farmers beside me and I had a chat one day and we decided we could make two farms out of three, if the middle farmer sold half of his farm to the other farmer and bought ours. We talked about who would go. We were the ones to go."

Jim and his family moved to Oeo where they continued to produce top jersey cattle under the name of Glanton Stud. Their top animal, Glanton Red Dante, was proclaimed Bull of the Century in 2002 with more than 414,000 artificial inseminations to his name. His progeny can be found all around the world, from Australia to the United Kingdom, from America to Denmark.

These days, when the Thwaites' look back on their time at Mokoia, which began with a ballot for a rehab farm, it's with warmth in their eyes, a smile on their mouths and just a little pining for days gone by.

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