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Richard Davies-Colley remembered

Compiled by Peter Davies-Colley, Wilma Davies-Colley and Mike Smith, New Zealand Tree Grower May 2016.

Richard Davies-Colley died a few weeks after the 2015 conference in Whangarei. He and his wife Wilma took over the registration process for this conference at short notice and helped make it the success it was. He still had time to enjoy himself and all of us there will remember him on the stage on the final evening in his long blond wig as part of the team in a comedy sketch. This article, produced as a compilation from a number of sources, is an attempt to summarise the life of a man who will be missed by all those who know him, especially those involved in farm forestry.

 Family man

When you think of Richard you think of the true family man that he was and how this close knit unit developed over the years. He would always return from a few weeks at the beach over Christmas enthusiastically reflecting on what a neat time he had had with Wilma, their children and the grandchildren. He liked nothing better than being involved with a house full of noisy youngsters.

Richard was educated at King’s College in Otahuhu, only made possible by a considerable sacrifice by his widowed mother. This laid the base for his positive outgoing attitude and his keenness to help his fellow man.

He married Wilma Briscoe who came from a family who had developed a tough hill country farm from the bush, so Wilma had a good background of what was to come. In the early 1960s Wilma and Richard bought a run-down farm at Titoki which had eroding clay soils. It was at this time Richard was introduced to the NZFFA through his brother-in-law Mac Moore, and Joll Hosking.

Preventing erosion

On the farm the first priority was to stop the erosion which resulted in large tomos in which a lot of stock was lost. Innovation was needed and Richard purchased a winged auger to ft his post-hole borer. Richard bored the holes, up to 4,000 on a good day, with Wilma and the children carrying in the trees and doing the planting.

In an article in the Tree Grower September 1976 he tells of his success in producing a fine tilth that could be achieved in turf, blackberry or fern without glazing the sides of the hole. This resulted in a tree survival rate of 95 per cent compared with using a spade which then had a survival rate of only five per cent. Eventually they established their own poplar pole nursery and were planting up to 700 poplar poles a year.

Benefits of trees

Richard believed that trees were an integral part of wise land use. The clay soils on his Northland farm were prone to erosion which accelerated without a tree cover. He worked at developing agro-forestry systems that allowed trees and livestock to co-exist.

Richard also believed that we should enjoy all the benefits that trees could offer. He pruned most species to enhance future timber values. Poplars were often pruned in summer droughts to feed hungry stock. Every paddock on his farm had trees to provide shelter and shade for stock.

Richard’s enquiring mind saw him experiment with many different species usually looking for multiple benefits including timber production, erosion control, stock fodder, shelter, shade and aesthetics. He loved the landscape that well-placed trees could bring to a property. His various plantings created a park-like farm and the deciduous trees provided a changing landscape with the seasons.

Milling eucalypts

Being willing and enthusiastic Richard became very involved in the NZFFA writing articles on planting and releasing using teeth (sheep). Richard could see that the way to maximise profit from his trees was in processing them on the farm. As a result of this interest he went into partnership with David, his youngest son, and built a specially designed mill for sawing and drying hardwood, having previously built an ordinary mill and processing plant on the home farm.

Influenced by Neil Barr and others in farm forestry, Richard developed a keen interest in eucalypts. He and Wilma made many trips to Australia to enjoy seeing the eucalypts and other Australian trees. He became strongly attracted to the stringybark group of eucalypts and could see that their durable, strong and attractive timber could have many uses. Eucalypts were a big interest and they planted numerous stands, some successful and some not. Along with David, Richard developed innovative processing systems for eucalypts. They showed that it was possible to saw, dry and process many eucalypt species into high quality hardwood flooring and other joinery. Their Eucqual branded product went into many houses, gymnasiums, museums and art galleries around New Zealand. Their highest profile and hardest working floor is in Te Papa. The timber for this Eucalyptus pilularis floor was grown and processed in Northland and is still enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year although most will have no idea of the source of the beautiful floor that they are walking on.

Working with the NZFFA

Richard and Wilma attended their first conference in 1972 in Whangarei and only missed one between then and 2015. He was a president and life member of the NZFFA and when he was vice president judged the farms in the North Island for the NZFFA awards. They planted several blocks of pine, the first block being felled and milled to build Peter and Nikki’s house on the farm. Harvesting income from one of those blocks was donated to the Neil Barr Foundation because he was sure it was there for the right reasons.

They had three large dams built on the property which were planted with duck fodder and ornamental trees. They also planted a lot of ornamental trees all around the farm, some were camphor laurel trees which Richard milled and made into camphor boxes for 21st birthday presents for their four grand-daughters.

Richard’s interest in timber was very strong and his furniture making gave him a lot of enjoyment. His bar stools were very popular and there are several around New Zealand in farm forester’s homes. When their Millington Road property was sold they had to take 15 trailer loads of timber from their shed. Richard just loved to have beautiful timber to build things with.


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