The handshake said it all

Graeme Neale remembers that day with pride. Thirty years ago, he travelled from Balclutha to Wellington to be presented with his IHC Calf Scheme Golden Gumboot Award.

It wasn’t an easy trophy to win. It was given annually to the Calf Scheme Coordinator whose area raised the most money through donated calves. 

That year, 1990, Graeme recalls that he had been able to sign up around 45 Balclutha farmers to donate 100 calves. In those days there were not nearly as many dairy units among the sheep farms. But the Calf Scheme was going from strength to strength. In the 1992–93 season the scheme brought in $1 million for the first time. 

Graeme puts his success as a Calf Scheme canvasser down to persistence and knowing the best times to find the farmers – in the milking sheds in the early mornings and late afternoons. And he is sure that the days his son Chris went with him, were days when farmers found it hard to say no. Chris has autism and is non-verbal. But he would put out his hand for the farmers to shake. 

“He always used to come with me. He loved to get out and meet the people,” Graeme says. “He was non-verbal, but he always got the message across.” Graeme says it was important for farmers to know that they were helping people with disabilities in their local communities and they always wanted to be reassured that the money would be spent locally. In return they received a pair of gumboots, the chance to win prizes and often an invitation to an annual dinner. 

“I was a drainage contractor in South Otago, so I worked with most of these farmers. I still know most of those people now, even though I am in Ashburton.” 

Graeme says he served on the IHC Clutha Branch Committee for 12 years, nine of those as President. He was a Calf Scheme Coordinator for 20 years. He recalls working with the late Sir Colin Meads and Mick Murphy in the early days of the scheme. 

Graeme moved to Ashburton to live near his daughter Polly McKenzie after his wife Milrea died 11 years ago, and now at age 80 he still regularly drives the five hours south to Balclutha to visit Chris, now 45.  On his way he always calls at the small Merton Cemetery at Seacliff, north of Dunedin, to pay his respects to Milrea. 

Community service runs in the family. Chris is involved in Meals on Wheels in Balclutha, and Graeme is one of the volunteers regularly working to keep Ashburton free of litter. 

And Graeme’s Golden Gumboot trophy is still on his mantelpiece.  “It’s been sitting there since 1990,” he says.


Caption: Graeme and Chris Neale) help get a calf tagged for IHC.


This story was published in Community Moves. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

Read the full issue of Community Moves online here.