That's the Community Spirit

Johnny Reedy is the type of bloke farming communities are built on. The Westport dairy farmer doesn’t think he does anything special, but in fact, the hours of voluntary work Johnny puts in is typical of what keeps grass-roots New Zealand ticking. Johnny Reedy is Catholic Irish, a third-generation Kiwi farmer and a family man. Community is his other cornerstone. Rugby, musical theatre, harness racing – he is involved with them all, simply because “it’s what you do.”

Johnny was born and bred in Westport and he has never strayed far from this part of the West Coast. He was educated at St Canice’s Primary School and Buller High School, although reckons he wasn’t much into it and could see the hills beckoning from the classroom window. As a young fellow, his weekends were full of hunting and hanging out with the boys.

“I played rugby when I was at primary school then I wandered off into deer hunting. Westport has great hunting, so in the weekends and after school we would be out having fun spotlighting and possuming,” he recalls. Beyond high school, Johnny milked cows for his parents, worked for another couple of dairy farms and then returned home. He later bought into the family farm as a partner and 10 years ago bought the 150ha property from his parents, who still live on the farm. Reedy Farm is only five minutes from town on the banks of the Buller River and being close to the community suits Johnny’s people-oriented nature.

The Reedy name is well known in Westport with Jacks and Johns abundant. Johnny loves the fact his family is entrenched in the area – he knows everyone and they know him. Family is a major driver for Johnny and his parents, John and Margaret, are great community people too. “There’s a lot of community spirit in farming and that’s the way we were brought up. Mum was always volunteering, from the playcentre and at the Buller Heart Club and everything in between.”

Margaret was also one of the founding directors of Producers West Coast Limited which later became Combined Rural Trading that developed into Farmlands.

Dramatic arts a family affair

Johnny has three children – Sarah (20) and twin boys, Jack and Stanley (17). Dancing is strong in Westport, which is how Sarah first became involved. She began dancing with the Beryl Collins School of Dance which was so popular that hundreds of students attended. Now in her final year at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) in Christchurch, Sarah has successfully competed in New Zealand and Australia and hopes to pursue a career in dance and acting. “She’s a great little dancer and has heaps of cups and trophies.” Son Stanley’s dance interest began through his sister. Johnny wasn’t convinced at first but thought learning dance moves would be good for his rugby sidestep.

“Turned out he was pretty good and his dance teacher suggested he should audition for the Billy Elliot production. So, he did and got one of the lead roles as Michael – Billy’s best friend!” Debuting in 2016 for the Auckland Theatre Company production, Johnny says it was a long way for the little boy from Westport. “He was only 14 at the time and had to stay up in Auckland for three months. There were three of them for each of the leading roles so he would have a night of acting, a night as the understudy and then a night off.” Stanley also won the British Ballet Organisation’s Male Senior Dancer of the Year in 2015. While the story of Billy Elliot who prefers ballet to boxing does have some parallels for Stanley, it appears the Westport boy has life well balanced. Johnny recalls Stanley had to give up rugby for the season in case he injured himself while he was dancing. “Just as well, as he snapped his collar bone the next season!” Jack also has the arts gene and his debut performance was in the musical ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at Buller High School in 2016.

With the twins currently in Year 12, Johnny says Stanley is also keen to head to NASDA when he finishes school and Jack is looking at attending Lincoln University. While proud of his children’s accomplishments, Johnny reckons they didn’t get their dance skills from him. “I’m old school, the only time I would dance would be to pick up girls!” he jokes.

Senior debuts the goal

It was through his boys that Johnny’s rugby association was reignited.

“I started helping out with their junior rugby and stayed with the same group of boys right through – coaching, managing and just helping out. “I’ve been with the same group of around 20 boys for a while now. I told them all they owed me was one game at senior level and most of them have done that.” In fact, Johnny’s sons and some of the other boys Johnny had worked with recently made their senior debut. It was one of the youngest senior sides ever, playing with six 16-year-olds on the field.
“My best memory was coaching the Under-14 side. We were beaten every single Saturday. Then training night would come around and I thought the boys would be ready to throw in the towel. Instead, every week they turned up with another new player which meant we had to play again the following Saturday and we would lose again. “They never gave up, they kept bringing their mates to training and the next year we smoked everyone, we were the stars. They were a great little team.”

Most of the boys have gone on to play for White Star which is the Westport Marist side, so Johnny now helps that club.
“We had our local grudge match against Westport recently. We hadn’t beaten them in two years. I filled the beer fridge up, took a photo and put it on our Facebook group chat saying ‘it’s yours if you win’ and they bloody did!”

Reedy racing dynasty

Johnny has also continued the Reedy legacy of breeding Standardbred harness racing horses. His Grandfather, Jack Reedy, who farmed on the same property, began breeding the trotters after the war. Johnny says Standardbred has always been strong in Westport.
“My grandfather borrowed a mare from well-known trainers, the Craddock family. From that cross, he bred the very successful Golden Rule which went on to become a New Zealand champion and broke a New Zealand harness racing record.”

Golden Rule was the foundation mare for the Reedy racing dynasty. More than 100 progeny have been bred from that line with the horses still making their mark today. After his New Zealand success, Jack Reedy leased Golden Rule to an Australian trainer, competing well  in Australia before retiring home to Westport. ‘Rule’ horses are still being bred on the Reedy property with Ford’s Rule the latest. Johnny helps with some of the track work and his Dad still does a bit of training, before the horses are sent to specialised trainers to get them race ready.
“The line has done very well, clocked up lots of wins and they are still being raced all over – from New Zealand to Australia and the States – and they are still winning.

“It is a pure hobby, not moneymaking, I guess it’s a bit like having a flash fishing boat.”
In true form, Johnny’s Dad, John, was involved in the community governance side of things – on the New Zealand Racing Board and past President of the Westport Trotting Club. Johnny has been on the Trotting Club committee around 15 years and this year has stepped up as President.
“It’s a really good, strong committee of 20 plus people. I had always been pretty active on the committee and really, it was just my turn to lead. The club is financially successful and has a lot of heart.” The club has three meets a year: one on Boxing Day, one a couple of days later on 28th December and another meet in March.

The Boxing Day meeting draws around 4,000 people – the size of Westport itself – and Johnny is quick to point out that it enjoys great support from Nelson, Marlborough, Christchurch and Auckland with some of those people coming for 50 years. “It’s a real community event and it is a massive effort to organise and host but we all feel it is worthwhile,” he says.

The Westport way

Johnny says he doesn’t do “bludgers” and his no-nonsense, get-stuck-in approach directs where he puts his energy.
“I like people and groups who get on with it and are enthusiastic and if there is anything I can do to help a group that is achieving, I will.
“I’m pretty much involved in anything my kids and my family are involved in. “Westport kids are naturally very active. We are always struggling for numbers so they are all into everything, always being roped into things, just so we’ve got enough to field a team.

“My boys play rugby then have basketball training and then hockey – that’s just what you do in a small community.”
Johnny says their latest interest is Hilux’s and hunting. “They are probably reliving my youth a bit but mainly it’s because of the environment they are growing up in, that’s what there is for them to do.” When he is not helping in the community Johnny is milking his 300-cow herd.

“One of the advantages of farming is I can create time between milkings and have the flexibility to allow me to do what I want to do. “I have staff to help and a rugby boy who milks weekends. Fortunately, rugby is a winter sport and the cows are dried off so he can still play.”
Reedy Farming has a unique approach to finding staff. “Any worker who leaves finds their own replacement; it seems to work well. We have had a few ups and downs but I’ve always had someone there to milk and always managed to have good staff or we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

Johnny also believes the spirit of community-giving is still going strong. “I can see this generation keeping the community spirit going, well at least in small rural towns. These kids pay it forward, they’re always keen to help out at the track and pitch in. “Even at home, I like a nice, clean, tidy house but it can be like a bit of a train station. Twins means twice as many friends and because we are close to town, we are always a place to go to shoot a .22 drive around or hang out. “There are a lot of good families in Westport. I grew up with most of them and they are always keeping an eye out for my kids and I keep an eye out for theirs. It’s just what you do in small country towns, it’s the way we were brought up.”