I have had the pleasure to edit Keith's autobiography. Here is an article about Keith and part of his story
Keith Neylon - well served by a touch of madness
Michael Fallow 15:26, Feb 08 2020 on stuff.co.nz
Keith Neylon detects in himself a touch of madness. There doesn't appear to be much of a queue forming to disagree with him.
But it does seem to have served him well, this Southlander with a startling record advancing sunrise industries.
If anything it might even have inoculated him against at least some of the more maddening obstacles he has struck.
From the wild aviation days of deer recovery, stints in shellfish and salmon industries, large scale farming and most recently the sheep milk industry through Blue River Dairy, Neylon has penned a ripsnorting autobiography A Touch of Madness that's part testament to the excitements of striving to develop this country's resources.
And part confrontation of the problems that time and again stop it happening.
His target isn't unreasonable foreigners. It's aspects of the New Zealand psyche.
Short-termism, for one. He rails against that. Even in conversation he revisits the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs with profane gusto because he's convinced that we still don't get it.
We shove our hands up its arse, says he, in search of quicker reward.
And end up ripping out its ovaries.
"We need that instant gratification. The people we deal with are more strategic. "
Neylon has worked closely with many Chinese - lots of good, thoroughly admirable people - and a few others, so if you're finding someone difficult look around for better people to deal with. There's no shortage.
But the key differences aren't merely ones of scale. The Chinese have a more mature approach to strategy than our own, almost teenage, lack of foresight and appreciation for consequence.
They are prepared to develop projects and markets with true vision, accepting that the real rewards may be two or three decades away.
Whereas we need to see profits within 12 to 18 months - if not there's a general panic and we're once again shoving our fists where they shouldn't be, golden-goose wise.
Add to that failures of tribalism - "We're inclined to compete with each other".
He's seen it on individual levels. At one stage trading about 1 million lambs a year, he struggled to understand Southlanders effectively going against their own shareholding in Alliance - selling him lambs against their own processing and marketing operation. Subverting it for what? For 5c a kilogramme more.
And he's seen the problem at upper corporate levels, as when Landcorp pulled out of what he saw as a partnership with Blue River Dairies that would have represented a coherent and winning approach to moving into the Chinese market for sheep milk products.
They "decided to go their own way with all the information we had supplied. The Primary Growth Fund had seen fit to support their $34 million application to duplicate what we had already achieved. . . . in competition, instead of helping grow the total industry from the base we had already set up."
He has a lot to say, as well, about cases where the Ministry of Primary Industries went missing in action, and of the pleasures of dealing with "ANZ-appointed accountants who become sheep milk experts overnight".
Full of enthusiasm for individual achievements, he nevertheless detects that we have an altogether too high opinion our own expertise in so many things.
What's this about us being a nation great travellers, armed with wisdoms that would transform the whole world if they'd just have the sense to listen to our scoldings about how they should all change?
For starters, let's be honest. Our young people are great travellers, he says, but we aren't.
Unless, he adds with a cheerful growl, you consider that magical thing that apparently happens when we cross the Tasman Sea.
Apparently you can duck over to Australia, spend 10 days at sports events, casinos and pissing up with mates, and on the flight back home, why . . . look at this . . . you've become an expert on Israel!
Why should cultures with values that don't see the world as we do be expected to see us as world leaders?
Ah, but we punch above our weight, don't we Mr Neylon?
"F----d if I know what we're punching against."
Actually he does. All to often, it's ourselves. We're our own greatest rivals.
Neylon has had more than 50 years involvement in New Zealand and global primary industries.
Nightcaps-born he left school at 15 to become a farmhand, then working as a coal miner, then a shearer.
As a teenager he set a New Zealand record at the Southland Limbo Rock Championships, contorting himself under a bar at 15 and three-quarter inches, to the delight of the crowd at the Thornbury hall.
Ironically, given his lowdown skillset, he would soon become a high-flyer, working for agriculture aviation companies before gaining his helicopter pilot's licence, flying on deer recovery missions on the West Coast, Nelson, Southland, Otago and Canterbury. From there his entrepreneurial adventures took flight.
Plenty of turbulence resulted too.
They say pioneers take most of the arrows in their back. That you're far better off being the second in development.
Neylon is sufficiently self-aware to know that he's not well-suited to gliding in a slipstream.
"Once something is up and running I lose in interest in it fairly quick and move on."
He exults in adventurous and hard-case personalities and when it's time to be critical he's equally prepared to names names - from businessmen and officials to priests and police.
One or two folk might want a word with him after they've read this.
"So?" he says, sounding not the tiniest bit troubled.
The book details some serious stoushes with the celebrated deer industry pioneer Tim - sorry, Sir Tim - Wallis. Chapter titles like "Shaking up the Fiordland Monopoly" lead on to accounts of legal ructions and even Privy Council rulings.
But none of this carries the reproach that other parts of his story do.
"Tim and I get on fine. I have got an immense amount of respect for Tim."
The development from deer being a noxious animal to a massively valuable resource was a time of great physical flying dangers, and with so much money involved it became extremely competitive. They were both in the same game. He was just doing that Kiwi thing (and this is part of our make-up he does like) of wanting things kept fair.
There are times when, quite rightly, Neylon reminds us that he was working in areas where there were no textbooks - you were writing them as you go. Perhaps that's why different texts - commonly known as the rule books - weren't always closely consulted, in the early days at least.
To nobody's great surprise, his book is full of accounts of flying feats, mishaps, and unreported incidents.
Not that authorities didn't wade in. In 1980 he was hauled to court on a drugs charge when one of his helicopters crashed at Waikaia and among the wreckage police found a drug kit.
On examination a DSIR report agitated Gore police sufficiently that they prosecuted even though the drug, Fentanyl, was used for darts to knock out deer, and Neylon had persuaded the Government to grant an exclusive licence to enable them to procure it.
Judge Joe Anderson discharged him without conviction.
Perhaps this should be measured against other parts of the book where he discloses conduct that might not have drawn the same level of judicial understanding.
Like the time he attacked the New Zealand Air Force. Sort of.
Shooting at a large mob of tahr, without a permit, he saw them galloping through through "blue/grey humps, head down, digging furiously into the snow.
"Unbeknown to us, the Air Force was conducting a survival camp . . ."
Or the time, rather less inadvertently, when weaponry was pointed from his copter in the general direction of a field-full of hippies, themselves armed, who had been refusing to allow a truck laden with freshly-killed deer from leaving their property, which as they saw it gave them some entitlement, man.
Neylon's sense of humour, evident throughout the book, is robust and his liking for a yarn considerable.
Tales of laxative distress in church and the competitive nature of a character called Jimmy the Squirt have been deemed unacceptable for this story.
So we'll go with a tale Neylon's shearing days, of Big Jim Fahey, a tough Irishman with couple of health problems, starting with toothache. It's a slightly edited extract - we're more dainty storytellers. And please don't try this at home, because damn . . . .
He walked into the workshop one morning and asked, "Where are the f-cking pliers?"
After finding them, he proceeded to dip them into a tin of kerosene then jam them into his mouth and pull out the offending tooth, spat out a mouthful of blood, rinsed his mouth out with the same kerosene and walked out of the workshop and went back to work as if nothing had happened.
One Friday night a couple of locals decided they would visit Jim who lived in a hut on the outskirts of Ohai.
They found him lying on his bed in semi-darkness with the only light in his room coming from a single candle sitting on the sideboard
One of the visitors asked, "Is the power off, Jim? All the streetlights are going. Do you want me to call the power company?"
"No," said Jim, and in his broad Irish accent he added, "It's the gout. I got bloody gout. Electricity is the only cure that I know of for the gout and the only reason I pay their bloody bill."
Hanging just above the end of his bed was the light socket, minus the bulb.
As they sat back to enjoy a beer, Jim let out an awful groan "F-cking gout," he said. With that he proceeded to lift his leg up in the air and poke his big toe into the empty light bulb socket.
When the voltage hit his big toe it all but threw him off his bed.
He let out one hell of a roar and then said, "That's much better, now where is that beer?"
Seemingly, the pain from the electric shock was sufficiently worse that when it stopped the relief counteracted the gout pain. Well, it's a theory. For his part Neylon, who has actually suffered gout, hasn't been game to test it. One of his better calls.
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