Forestry commentary: the bushman retires

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox

After passing on his views on all things forestry for more than 10 years, contributing writer Patrick Cox calls time, with his final column for Deals on Wheels

Pat Cox hangs up his hardhat after contributing articles for more than 10 years

Who would have thought on that fateful evening 10 years ago, eating dinner by myself in a Kaitaia motel restaurant and minding my own business, that it would be rudely interrupted by the moustached one from Deal on Wheels?

As I was to find out, Randolph Covich (the editor for Deals on Wheels) had taken note of the utes parked outside, mine being the TransDiesel one. Brash as he is, he wanted to know who was driving it. Being of suspicious nature, I was not inclined to own up, but the bugger was persistent.

After we chatted about things forestry for a while, his next question was: "Can you write?"

My answer: "Does a bear poop in the woods?" Truth was, I never passed School Certificate English; in fact, I left school in 1966 before the end of the fifth form year, so I would not be embarrassed with a score of eight out of a 100 for writing my name on the top of the page. So, the conversation continued.

Covich: "I’m looking for a forestry writer; someone who is passionate about the industry to write opinion pieces. Seems like you know a fair bit and have interesting views on the forestry industry. What do you reckon"?

Me: "I’ve forgotten more than you know." Being a bit of a cheeky fella, Covich cut me a deal: "Write a thousand words for the mag, no pay of course." Me: "S***, that sounds like a good deal. How can I refuse?" Covich: "If it’s any good, we will keep you on and start paying you from the next issue on."

Ten years and 130,000 odd words later, this is the last time the keyboard will rattle once a month. What a blast it has been, covering topics across the broad spectrum of logging, meeting and talking to individual contractors, writing their stories, some of their history and involvement in logging.

It was an absolute privilege to be given the honour to talk about them. I tackled some of the controversial decisions around farms being converted to forestry, the One Billion Trees programme, and many other things affecting the industry.

I remember cheating one time. The deadline was looming, and I had no idea what to write. I went online, found a subject, and copied and pasted a lot of it and tried changing some to make it my work.

I submitted it, and minutes later, the moustached one was on the phone, screaming plagiarism. Gee, I burned the midnight oil that night in a motel in Orewa getting it right.

I had some laughter moments when working for my next employer Northfuels. We lent a contractor a 1000-litre trailer tank, his men picked it up with the loader, and dropped the thing.

The bookcase is full of 10 years of Deals on Wheels mags

It took off down the skid site to crash into the logs, which damn near destroyed it. He did fix it though and in one of my articles, I happened to mention it. No names were given, but if you put that loader driver’s brain in a bird, it would fly backwards.

The contractor read and highlighted it and showed it to his men. There were a few sheepish chuckles around the smoko room. One of the most difficult articles to write was about my sons’ logging operation. Gee, did I struggle, I was so proud of them but did not want to blow their trumpet too loud.

One thing I’ve learnt is the English language is powerful. Many a time, over the years, I would read what I had written, look at the sentence, and take out the whisper words. Sometimes just a few words to get your point across is all you need.

There are times when your mood reflects in what you write. I must have been in a bad mood once, as it was aggressive and almost made us liable. But the time has come to bring my logging career to an end. Starting in 1972 driving a Leyland Hippo into Kaingaroa for Stan Williamson Transport, I dropped out of trucks in 1973 and started work in the bush.

I got my first contract in 1979 and logged right through until the late ’90s, before getting chucked on the logger’s scrap heap, being caught up in the scrap between Forestcorp, Fletcher Forest, and the Government over stumpage and ownership of the forest; many a contractor suffered the same fate.

Patrick in 1986 with the first Clark 668 D longwheel base grapple skidder in NZ

That’s history, and my time involved in logging had been one hell of a ride. There are bushmen I’ve worked with, those who have lost their lives doing the job they loved; their memories never forgotten. Many of us survived and retired but carry scars from old injuries. I’ve been privileged to have been a bushman.

Having been retired for two years and not able to keep in touch with loggers, the industry has moved on, and I’m now old school. But for those of us who started in the bush in the ’60/70s, we were the first of the real modern loggers; the axe and handsaw being a thing of our past.

We were the first of the modern loggers, with smaller compact high-revving chainsaws and better machines. I developed the first loggers’ belts to carry hammer and wedges; things were changing.

I put the first commercial felling head on a machine in New Zealand in 1989. Look at the industry now; our era is over, and the new modern logger has picked it up and has taken logging to another level.

When I look back at my career and involvement that has lasted nearly 50 years, the progress has been incredible. It was after one of my most recent articles on Murapara and the Kaingaroa Logging company that made me realise now was the right time to hang the axe up.

I tried to track down people and photographs. Finding out who had passed over to logging heaven made me realise our numbers are dwindling, and I felt like the last man standing.

Writing for Deals on Wheels has been an honour; hopefully, I’ve entertained a lot over the years and maybe annoyed a few but left you all with food for thought. To Randolph and the team, thank you for your amazing support over the last 10 years. To be a published writer in Deals on Wheels has been an incredible journey.

This bushman has dropped his last tree, and it’s time to write my memoirs. Thank you for reading and goodbye.

Regards, Patrick Cox.

DOW editor Randolph Covich responds

How Patrick describes our first meeting is much how I remember it. What struck me at the time was his knowledge of forestry, along with memories of the past and how events and decisions then have influenced the industry of today.

Those who know Patrick personally will no doubt agree he has strong opinions that are usually difficult to argue against. His sometimes controversial articles gained a strong following, and his retirement will be a significant loss for the publication.

There are a lot of wannabe writers out there, but to deliver copy month after month, year after year takes considerable knowledge and fortitude. Thanks for putting your views forward Pat, and good luck casting the fishing line for that big one.

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