Tales from Totara Estate: The birth of a global agricultural powerhouse
Sheep & Beef
Sheep & Beef

Tales from Totara Estate: The birth of a global agricultural powerhouse

National Lamb Day is coming up on Thursday, February 15, celebrating the first shipment of frozen meat, largely lamb that left Dunedin in 1882. Most of the produce came from a place just North of Dunedin in Oamaru called Totara Estate.

Totara Estate Property lead Jacqui Allison begins by explaining the economic backdrop of New Zealand in the 1880s. 

"The wool price had started to drop in New Zealand...wool was our only export at the time." 

This challenge led William Davidson, the general manager of the New Zealand Australia Land Company, and Thomas Bryden, the superintendent, to innovate and venture into the meat export business. 

Allison emphasises Davidson's pivotal decision to adopt refrigerated shipping, different from the Australian approach.

"He had heard about a frozen shipment of meat out of Australia...he was really interested in that." 

An amusing yet telling anecdote is shared about the scepticism surrounding the frozen meat shipment. When potential passengers saw carcasses being loaded onto their sailboat, only two out of 150 dared to board. 

"When they showed up at the dock in the morning and saw the carcasses being loaded on board, actually only the two of them got on board the rest of them will wait for the next one." 

Allison also dives into the logistics of the operation at Totara Estate, detailing the process of slaughtering sheep, preparing the meat, and encountering issues such as machinery failure that resulted in a loss of 600 carcasses. This mishap temporarily dropped Dunedin's meat prices and necessitated a fresh start for the team at the estate. 

Today, Totara Estate serves as a historical site and educational resource. Allison enthusiastically describes the visitor experience.

"Kids are free when they come to Totara Estate. We really want them to get involved, get that next generation involved in their history." 

She underscores the importance of preserving and understanding New Zealand's past and the estate's impact on the nation's agricultural legacy. Finally, Allison discusses her role as the property lead, managing the estate and ensuring community engagement. 

As National Lamb Day approaches, she looks forward to hosting tours and reigniting excitement for the event, concluding with a sense of anticipation. 

"It's going to be awesome to, yeah, get back into it. So we're really excited." 

The episode encapsulates the spirit of innovation and community that characterizes New Zealand's agricultural heritage, embodied by the story of Totara Estate and its transformational first frozen meat shipment.

Listen to the full chat between Jacqui Allison and Dominic George above.

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