Barber’s Wire: Celebration of the life of a stock agent

Two Mondays ago Selwyn Rogers, stock agent and farmer near Warkworth for 41 years, had a massive heart attack at the Wellsford sale, doing what he loved at the place where he had spent so much of his working life. Allan Barber reminisces over a life well lived.

More than 500 people attended a unique funeral service at the Ranfurly Hall at Kaipara Flats three Wednesdays ago (it couldn’t be Monday or Tuesday because of the weekly sales) which was fortunately favoured with lovely weather, since the Hall could only accommodate less than half the attendees. The conventional word should be ‘mourners’, but this was a celebration of the life of a much loved local personality who was known across much of the North Island. There was also a sense there would never again be anybody remotely like him.

As was his normal practice Sel, as he was known to family and friends, arrived late for his own funeral on the back of his dust-covered ute, escorted appropriately by members of the Warkworth Rodeo, as he was one of the most committed members of that august organisation. I remember his scorn for the protesters who turned up on New Year’s Day this year when it poured with rain and the rodeo had to be postponed. Political correctness was not a characteristic that could ever be associated with Selwyn.

Since moving up to Warkworth from the Taranaki in the 1970s to take up a job as a stock agent for North Auckland Farmers, Sel worked for the same company under several different owners for the rest of his life. He saw off NAF, Allied Farmers, various iterations of Elders Pastoral and most recently worked for new owners Carrfields, but as was made clear at his funeral, he had no intention of ever working for anyone else.  When Elders put all its agents onto commission he told Stu Chapman, ‘I suppose I’d better sign the contract, because I’m not going anywhere.’

Luckily, all his employers very quickly accepted his approach to the job and recognised his close client relationships as being of incalculable value to the company as well as realising any attempt to impose corporate bullshit on his method of operation would be completely pointless. I was once officially his boss at Elders Pastoral in the early 1990s, a fact he kindly didn’t seem to resent when he became a near neighbour 15 years later and started grazing our bottom section for the next 10 years.

This may have had something to do with the rent which consisted of a handle of Lion Red and a side of beef over the years. He also admitted to enjoying reading my columns occasionally in Farmers Weekly and we used to discuss the state of the meat industry which in his terms would always be summed up by his attitude to selling his cattle. He never sold a beast directly to a meat company, preferring the saleyards because, as he put it so eloquently ‘you can’t trust those bastards!’

At the funeral there were many stories, most of which I have forgotten, some of which are unprintable, but one in particular summed up his ability to work for his clients. Soon after he started with NAF, he got the chance to sell some cattle which he had to drive down the hill to the yards and draft in the owner’s absence, the usual agent being unwilling to perform this menial task. The owner told Sel he wanted nothing under $24 a head.

Job done, owner asks Sel if he managed to draft and sell the cattle and what price he got. ‘Yep’ says Sel, owner expresses frustration at lack of communication on the price until Sel says ‘are you happy with $25?’ The result of this transaction was an unbroken relationship with the family for the next 41 years.

The 500 plus crowd represented all the groups of people he had worked for and with, drunk with, many of them clients, but all of them were there at his send off because they respected and trusted him as a colleague, friend and stock agent. His son told of how Sel would most days go canvasing which was a euphemism for going to the pub for a couple of Lion Reds and the certainty of meeting mates some of whom were also long-standing clients.

The other near certainty following his death is the fact he was one of a very rare breed and there will probably never be another one like him in the Warkworth area or any other part of the country for that matter. He left school at 15 because he wanted to go farming and was never likely to pass School Cert, having ridden his horse to school for several years and worked with horses after escaping from the classroom.

My last memory of Sel was seeing him in the pub 10 days before his heart attack, when he told me our mutual ex neighbour was f….ed. He was right with that prediction, but neither of us had any idea his time was almost up too. His funeral was entirely typical of the man and exactly the way he wanted it – surrounded by mates, keeping everybody waiting for the show to start, plenty of stories, country music playing, and plenty of Lion Red afterwards. It was a true celebration of a life lived well on his own terms.

He was one of a kind and will be missed.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

 

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