The late Collis Blake helped saved many families’ farms in the turmoil caused by the economic reforms.

Champion to the rescue

Terry Brosnahan

Collis Blake was a hero to the many farmers he helped through economic reforms of the 1980s.
He led protests against farm mortgage sales forced by lenders’ unfair skyscraper-like interest rates. He negotiated with the banks so farmers had a future.
Phil Taylor was working at Flock House when he met Collis through a farm discussion group. Collis was a successful beef farmer who took Phil under his wing and showed him how to buy cattle in the saleyards. Later Phil would take students to Collis and his wife Helen’s farm for farming education. They became lifelong friends.
When the reforms started to bite, Phil knew of a farming family hit by 25% interest rates who couldn’t pay it. When the bank added in the penalty rates it rose to 36%. Phil took the farmer to meet Collis. He remembers Collis saying:
“I wonder what gives any sector of society the right to destroy another sector, by charging 36% interest?”
The farm was put up for auction, but Collis was at the door stopping everyone, asking them to support the young family by not bidding. Nobody made a bid.
Phil says the next mortgagee sale had a lot of media coverage. With help from a disbarred lawyer they had worked out a way of delaying mortgagee sales. They would request mortgage documents from the mortgagor which by law had to be delivered in person. So the farmer would go into hiding. If the papers weren’t delivered in person within three months the mortgagee would again request the documents and the process started again.

Phil says Federated Farmers then started to realise it had better stop playing politics and be seen to help. National restructuring teams were put in place, a big help towards the end of the crisis.

Collis knew the banks didn’t like negative publicity so just the threat of it became an important weapon.
To stop a mortgagee sale in Palmerston North, Collis went on the radio, calling for farmers to come on tractors combines and in trucks to block the highways.
Phil says they did and the sale was stopped.
“It was very heady stuff.”
Hundreds of farmers in trouble started to seek Collis’ help.
Undeterred, he set off and with bank after bank he battled for the farmer.
He told Phil the only time he saw Helen was when he dropped off his dirty shirts and picked up a clean set.
Eventually the problem became too big and the New Zealand Provincial Support Group was formed. Using Collis’ knowledge and guidance it took over restructuring farmer debt from Kaitaia to Bluff.
Phil says Federated Farmers then started to realise it had better stop playing politics and be seen to help. National restructuring teams were put in place, a big help towards the end of the crisis.
Collis and Phil were one day invited to the BNZ in Wellington. They were shown into a penthouse overlooking the city where a banquet was laid out on the table.
Collis said to him: “Phil, it looks like they are going to feed us before they shoot us.”
However, the lunch was a little thank you from the BNZ for everything Collis had done.
If the banks had sold all the farms they intended to, the value of the farms would have crashed and with them the banks’ mortgages and securities.
The BNZ said it would have been bankrupted.
Collis said to Phil afterwards: “Do you realise that in all this time, we have actually been working for the banks, and what’s more, we’ve saved the bastards”.