A long, proud history around Southland

Former Southland Farmers Co-op Association Ltd employees (from left) Noel Gutsell, David Little, Ewen Rendel, Lloyd Anderson and Trevor Bayne hold a historical photo from 1910 of The Crescent showing where the co-op offices (third from right) had been.

REFILLING the ink wells, and filling and carrying buckets of coal up the stairs are some
memories of when Invercargill resident Ewen Rendel began his working life at Southland Farmers Co-op head office.

Located in The Crescent, in Invercargill, the building was designed by architect F W Burrell in the 1800s as part of the commercial development of the city with re-enforced concrete in a Victorian classical revival style frontage.

Third from the corner of Clyde St, it housed the Invercargill head office until its move to Clyde St in 1968, then its relocation to the corner of Clyde and Forth Sts.

Established in 1901, the farming co-op’s core purpose was stock and station which provided a diverse range of services for farmers including general merchandising, livestock sales, wool auctions, grain and seed breeding, seed cleaning and exports, seasonal finance,
insurance, real estate brokerage, machinery sales, advisory services and more.

Products and services of other firms, such as meat processors, foreign businesses and insurance companies were also promoted.

Mr Rendel and his fellow workmates Noel Gutsell, David Little, Lloyd Anderson and Trevor Bayne had similar, yet fond memories of the place where they were employed for most of their working lives, and were all a part of the organising committee for a reunion of former staff.

Mr Rendel was just 15 when he began in March 1949 as an office junior.

But he had his eye on better opportunities — or maybe the chance to be given a flash American car, ‘‘one of the Chevs, or a Desotto’’ was the motivation for him to climb the ranks and aim to become a stock agent.

‘‘I couldn’t see past that — those flash American cars which the stock agents were given.’’

His plan almost worked. He did become a stock agent, but was given a second-hand Zephyr and, later, a two-tone Holden, he said.

Having worked for the co-op for more than 45 years, he retired in the mid-1990s.

Mr Little also arrived at the co-op from school, as a teenager. He also, began his career as an office junior, working for the co-op ‘‘off and on’’ for about 32 years.

He progressed up the ranks from junior to trainee stock agent, eventually becoming the company secretary.

Asked what he enjoyed most, his answer was similar to his colleagues, ‘‘the clients and the staff… the camaraderie’’.

Twenty years with the co-op, Mr Anderson also began as an office junior, aged 15, with a stint as a stock cadet agent at Winton, before taking a break, then another stint as a stock agent. The third time he rejoined the co-op was as a real estate agent.

With 30 years at the co-op, Mr Gutsell began as an office junior on June 6, 1966, working up to a livestock manager. He described the co-op as a people’s business, saying it was the relationship with the farmers and staff which he most remembered with fondness.

Shop manager Trevor Bayne worked from 1985 to 1997. During his time, the Clyde St branch was relocated to its Forth St site, which in turn wound up in 1997. Kmart is now on this site.

He said the biggest change he saw in the decade-plus was when the co-op went from a general retail business to focus mainly on farm supplies.

The co-op covered South and West Otago, Southland, Fiordland and Te Anau, and employed ‘‘in excess of 600’’ staff throughout the years, the organising committee said.

‘‘Over the years, there had been a mighty number of staff.’’

Now it was time to hold a reunion, ‘‘before it was too late’’.

Former staff and partners were invited to the Southland Farmers Co-op Assn Ltd reunion which would be held on Saturday, May 15, from 3pm till late, at the Ascot Park Hotel.

The afternoon would mainly be about meeting old friends and workmates, sharing stories and maybe embellishing a few others, while a dinner would be held in the evening, they said.

As numbers may be limited due to space restrictions, it was recommended those thinking of attending to register as soon as possible. For more information, or to register, go to www.sfc.nz by April 19.