Mr Johnston (79) retired from shearing sheep in Australia when he was 75, where his tallies were between about 140 and 160 a day.
Now living in West Otago, Mr Johnston was at the Lawrence Gymkhana Club’s annual working dog sale on Friday.
He grew up on a small farm at Weston, in North Otago, and after a six-month stint on a farm, he started working at Cecil Peak Station in the Wakatipu.
It was an opportunity to get into the high country, something he really wanted to do.
“I loved it, still love it,” Mr Johnston said.
After mustering around that lakes area, he headed to South Canterbury and worked on properties such as Mesopotamia, as well as around North Otago, before moving to a small property at Waitaki Bridge, and then to Australia.
Asked the appeal of the high country, Mr Johnston said it was “probably the freedom.”
“When you’re out on the hill, you’re on your own. It’s very hard to replace that amount of freedom.”
He also enjoyed the physicality of mustering, he said, quipping that while he used to be very fit, he did not feel like running anywhere now. And then there were the dogs, which he always enjoyed.
He enjoyed his stint shearing, working in every state in Australia except the Northern Territory, Mr Johnston said. His boss was responsible for shearing about 1.7million sheep a year.
Family was the main reason he returned to New Zealand more than four years ago, Mr Johnston said. He now lives at Medieval.
When it came to dogs, he was “only a trainer” as he did not have the work for them. He was selling three dogs at Lawrence, including young Dot who had the makings of “a really good young dog.”
Dot sold for $3,700, Pat for $4,500 and Page fetched $2,600.
He was enjoying catching up with old acquaintances, Mr Johnston.
“It’s good to see them all again.”
While no longer shearing for a career, he still sheared a few of his own sheep. Asked the secret to still being so active, he said dryly—”just pick up a handpiece and cut the wool off.”
He did admit to getting a shearer in to shear his main mob of ewes now, saying they were too big — “not like merinos in Australia.”
The dog comes out doubled as a good catch-up for the farming fraternity. Among those attending were three generations of one North Otago family — Ali Brenssell (72), who has been breeding dogs for at least 60 years, his grand-daughter Micayla Brenssell (25) and great-grandson Freddy Jopson (8 months), who was already “dog mad.”
PGG Wrightson stock agent Warwick Howie said it was the biggest catalog at the sale for some time.
Top price went to Lindsay Geddes, of the Taieri, for 2-year-old heading dog Stripe, who was sold to Kean Farms at Winton for $9000. Mr Geddes sold two other dogs, for $5,000 and $5,500.
Mr Howie said there was good demand for keen, stylish, younger heading dogs. Ben May, of Clydevale, sold 2-year-old Ned for $5,800, while Mr Brenssell sold 15-month-old Kate for $6,200.
Alister Ward, who is retiring this week after a lifetime of managing farms, sold 12-month-old dog Vic for $6600 and said he had a tear in his eye as he watched his young dog work and the bidding go well above what he was expecting.
In the huntaways, the top price went to John Tweed, of Waitahuna, 2-year-old Dodge selling for $6,600, while Chris Harris, of Hindon, got $6,200 for his 20-month-old brindle bitch Tarn.
Eight huntaways sold for an average of $4,440, while 25 heading dogs averaged $4,300. There were 75 registered buyers.
Between gate donations, a barbecue and entry fees, $2000 was raised for the Tuapeka Health Center and Waitahuna Collie Club.