Retired Rangitikei farmer Maurice Brookie still marvels at the tenacity and energy of his forebears despite doing the hard yards himself on the family farm.

Now 84 and long retired, Mr Brookie has time to reflect on the family's history on the 161-acre farm in the Parewanui district in Bulls dating back to the 1860s when they did things a little differently.

He is a fourth generation Brookie to tend the coastal block bought by his great grandparents William and Jane Brookie nearly 160 years ago on Pukehou Rd, Bulls.

While farming life was tough enough during his tenure in the middle of last century, it nowhere near the slog it must have been for his great grandparents.

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Soon after arriving in New Zealand from Scotland on the ship Westminster in 1856, William and Jane Brookie walked from Wellington to Bulls with two young toddlers in tow to find work.

"I hope they brought their lunch," Mr Brookie joked. "There were no McDonald's along the way in those days."

"But seriously there were no bridges either so they had to ford all the rivers and streams along the coastal highway from Wellington to Bulls. They also had a young daughter who was still a toddler and a son who was not much older.

"William initially worked for Adam Keir, one of the earliest arrivals to the Parewanui district, and then for a William Waring Taylor. After five years of farm work he walked back to the Land Office in Wellington to buy his own block in Bulls. That's the property I farmed all my life after it was handed down through the family.

"The 161-acres is small by today's standards, but it was economically viable back in the old days. My great grandfather did a bit of cropping and milked cows supplying a cheese factory that was just up the road. He paid £1500 and bought it off Wellington speculator William Hickson, who also owned the Lake Alice Estate."

The property was right next door to Donald Fraser's Pukehou Estate, one of the largest landowners in the district at the time. The original Fraser homestead still stands two farms over from The Brookie farm named Borderside.

"It named after my great grandfather's farm he lived on in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Most of the old farming families from those original days here are long gone," Mr Brookie said.

William Brookie was also the first farmer to introduce the traction engine to the district making life easier for himself and many of his neighbours in a day when manual labour was the norm.

"The farm was then handed down to my grandfather, William's youngest son Frank. He in turn handed it down to my father William Nelson Brookie before I was given the chance to run it. I grew up and worked here all my life milking a few cows, running a few sheep and growing potatoes and onions commercially just after I left school.

"Today the farm is leased out to a neighbour down the road who grows maize and rears a few beef cattle."

Mr Brookie lives alone in the family home on Borderside, rebuilt adjacent to the original homestead site in the 1950s. It was special memories as the home where he and his late wife Maureen (who passed away four years ago) raised four children - two boys and two girls.

"They were not really into farming, so that's why it's leased out. It's been very good to our family - it's provided a living for my great grandparents, grandparents, parents and then my family."

A 37-year stint in the justice system has provided Mr Brookie a different slant on life outside the farm and kept his mind active.

"I was a JP (Justice of the Peace) for 37 years sitting on the bench in Marton, Taihape and Whanganui. Sitting on the bench you learn just how the other half live and I really enjoyed my time as a JP. It was something totally different to what I'd been doing all my life.

"I'm too old for it all now, too old to work, but too young to die," Mr Brookie said with a sly grin on his weathered face.