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Desperation forces men to flout law
Striking meatworkers and starving sheep -- perfect storm conditions in 1978
Syd Slee, left, and
remember the 1978
Hard times: Sheep make their way
down the streets of Invercargill.
On a winter day in 1978 about 1300
emaciated old ewes were let loose
on Dee St in Invercargill.
They were then slaughtered.
Syd Slee's memories of that day,
almost 35 years ago, are vivid.
''It was a desperate act but it was
desperate times,'' he said.
Syd, who recently turned 70, and
his good mate Owen Buckingham,
now 66, were the driving force
behind the Southland farmers'
protest on June 9, 1978 -- also
known as Bloody Friday.
The pair don't talk about it much
They say the protest came about
from sheer frustration at ongoing
industrial stoppages at the four
main Southland meatworks,
which saw farmers struggle to get
their ewes and lambs killed.
''There was so much disruption.
''They were only working 26 days
when they could have been
working 119 days,'' Syd said.
It was estimated there were 1
million ewes and lambs waiting to
be killed in late May, 1978, the
situation made worse by a
drought that had depleted feed
Ewes were starving to death and
dying at the rate of about 1000 a
day, according to Syd's sister
June Slee, who documented the
protest and its aftermath in her
book Black Friday.
She is now writing her second
book, Black Friday Revisited.
The industrial stoppages were
due to the conflict between unions
and management at the meat
plants with the ''unions running
the plants and management not
managing them'', Syd said.
Syd, who was farming at Black-
mount at the time, decided drastic
action was needed to get the meat
companies and the public to sit up
and take notice.
Two days before the protest was
to take place he rang around his
friends and asked them to
bring 10 of their skinniest
ewes to Invercargill on the
back of a truck.
Syd and Owen, who was
made spokesman, decided
the protest should take place
on the busiest day of the
week, a Friday, as it would
cause the most impact.
The original plan had been
to simply let the sheep loose
down Invercargill's main
street, but then the pair decided
the sheep should be slaughtered.
''Most of the sheep were dying
anyway. They were old and
emaciated,'' Syd said.
About 300 farmers, some with
ewes on the back of their trucks,
met at the Lorneville saleyards
and were told by Owen if they
wanted to back out, to do so now.
Federated Farmers tried to talk
Syd and Owen out of the
slaughter, but they were adamant
it had to happen for maximum
''We stuck to our plan.
''We didn't do this under Feds
[Federated Farmers] -- it was a
farmer protest,'' Owen said.
The protest was kept under
wraps. Even The Southland Times
didn't know exactly what was
about to happen.
The released sheep made their
way down Dee St. They disap-
peared into shops or munched
fresh grass in the main street.
Owen said that the townies were
''very sympathetic'' to the farm-
ers' protest and while both Syd
and Owen risked arrest, neither
''It was a pretty radical step for
law-abiding people, but it was a
good feeling that we were doing
something at last,'' Syd said.
The ewes were then humanely
slaughtered at the Borstal bridge.
The protest, a major turning point
for industrial relations, made
headlines, and Owen and Syd
became national heroes.
Do you remember the 1978
Southland farmers' protest?
Irish family trust snaps up land
The Overseas Investment Office
has granted consent for the sale
of 136 hectares (336 acres) of
land in Northern Southland to
an Irish Family Trust.
Premier Dairies Ltd -- Balreask
Trust, Thomas Clinton Family,
of Ireland, has been granted
approval to buy the land, at 946
Mossburn-Five Rivers Rd, for
The property is owned by New
Zealand company MAC Corp.
The Overseas Investment Office
reports that the land is used for
sheep and beef farming.
''The applicant intends to con-
vert the land to dairy support
and incorporate it into the
applicant's existing Southland
dairy farming operation,'' the
The transaction satisfied the
Overseas Investment Act 2005
criteria, with big benefits being
identified, including the cre-
ation of jobs.
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