21 Aug 2015


From Country Life, 9:10 pm on 21 August 2015

Oaklands family
(Above) Jeremy Cooper, Nikki Cooper and Richard Raine at Oaklands. (Below) Oaklands homestead.

A Nelson farm owned by the same family since European settlement is still going strong, despite wars, politics and all kinds of weather. Nelson reporter Tracy Neal takes a walk around Oaklands with its most senior guardian, Richard Raine, his daughter Nikki and son-in-law Jeremy Cooper.

The exposed timber beams of the rooms inside Oaklands homestead are bent under the weight of its history.

John Saxton - the earliest settler to inhabit the property - brought the Baltic pine homestead with him in prefabricated form from England in the early 1840s.

It is the focal point of the farm and park-like gardens which feature some large heritage trees, and rows of massive oak trees interspersed with plenty of native species.

It's an area in which Richard Raine is especially proud.

"A lot I planted in 1959. A lot of these trees are the same age but they have different growth rates."

The glade of elegant native trees and perennial shrubs, dripping on this day with welcome rain, was once a paddock grazed by stock, including pigs. Beyond it and up a gentle slope, sits the Millennium Stone. It rests on a solid plinth and is carved into a shape that bears reference to Nelson's strong seafaring heritage.

It celebrates the lives of the Saxton/Raine families who have lived at Oaklands, but that there's only a limited amount of room on the plaque bearing the family names - there's no room for divorces and re-marriages, which Mr Raine assures hasn't happened in the family.

Across a thick carpet of oak leaves dried out on the frozen winter ground, through which bluebells are beginning to rear their heads, Mr Raine and his son-in-law Jeremy Cooper point out the trees which have withstood violent storms that have torn through Oaklands

Mr Raine is also proud of the bird sanctuary the farm has become.

"We get the easterlies so badly and the trees have come crashing down, so I've put a whole area into Redwoods as they're the most wind-resistant tree you could grow."

Mr Cooper said the area was once filled with gum trees, but they've gradually given way to other trees. They surround a large pond on which ducks have sought sanctuary during their most dangerous time of year - hunting season.

They stay all winter, dining on the mountains of acorns dropped by the oaks.

The farm on the boundary of Nelson and Tasman is now run by Richard's eldest son Julian Raine and his wife Cathy, who live on a neighbouring house on the property.

They are significant in having helped the family to become the oldest in New Zealand to receive a Century Farms Award, which recognises families who have worked the same land for a century or more.

The farm currently milks 200 cows year-round and is run as part of an integrated farm business alongside other farms and horticultural interests the Raines run in the Nelson region.

About 20 percent of milk produced is sold direct to the public under the Oaklands farm brand, while the majority goes to Fonterra.

Mr Cooper, who arrived on the property as a young farm cadet and ended up marrying the boss's daughter - Mr Raine's eldest daughter Nikki, reckons keeping it all going is tough, and they're having to move with the times.

"It's harder than ever but selling to the public is a whole paradigm shift that we simply have to do. What we get through having our own business is massive compared with what Fonterra pay us for the same litre of milk."

Mr Cooper said Oaklands sells direct to the public via branded vending machines in various retail outlets around Nelson, and an increasing number of city cafes are using Oaklands milk in their smooth flat white coffees and creamy lattes. They're keen to develop this side of the business to keep up with future demand.

Oaklands homestead is filled with the memories of seven generations of the one family, and now the voices of the eighth generation.

The old home even has a hidden room, which is where its inhabitants once prepared to seek refuge during the New Zealand land wars of the 1840s and 1860s.

Nikki Cooper said Oaklands is so ingrained in her life, she never moved far from it.

It's also a strong reminder of her mother Jill, who once tended the magnificent garden but who is now in special care, and is as much a part of Mr Raine as his heart and soul.

"It's my soul - it's me and when I'm in this house I can remember all the people who preceded me, quite clearly."

Oaklands Homestead

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