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Fencing trendsetters 

Fencing has been a very solitary vocation and still is to a certain degree, with people tucked away, working on their own in hidden away places. But then along came the New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays in June 1969, at the Te Rapa Racecourse in Hamilton, the first and now largest agricultural show in the Southern Hemisphere. 

And how could you have an agricultural show without having a fencing competition?  So, the forerunner of what we have today, the prestigious Golden Pliers™ fencing singles championship, was birthed.  Not only the first of its kind in New Zealand, but also the world. 

For the first time these gully runners, mountain men – call them what you like – had to pit their skills against other like-minded men.  I say men, as it was very much a male-dominated sport, unlike today, with many women not only in the trade but entering fencing competitions.

The exciting part about competitions and broadly speaking, any competitions, is the sharing of ideas, development of new tools and systems to both make the job easier and efficient, and more obviously, to improve the quality which happens anyway. 

Although I wasn’t there, being in my first year of secondary school, I can only imagine the talk over a ‘cold one’, at the completion of the first competition at the Te Rapa Racecourse.  Most of the guys would have met for the first time, including the Judges. 

In the earlier years, there would have been a quick succession of the implementation of new developments and slowly petering off over many years, until now, we only see real minor changes. I first arrived at the Fieldays in 1975, and what I observed then, to what we see today, was what we could probably best described as ‘a lot more antiquated’. 

The equipment has a story of its own, as Strainrite was not the household name as we know them today. 


  • The only spades commercially available were the garden variety you see at the DIY outlets.
  • We all commonly scouted second-hand shops to pick up old Spear and Jackson spades, and then proceeded to weld in steel handles to our own customised specifications.
  • Today we have numerous companies making fencing spades, including post driver manufacturers.


  • The only rammers that were commercially available were a cast steel head (similar to Strainrite’s) with a wooden handle.  Well, I don’t have to tell you how long that would last before pipe handles were hastily installed.
  • In those years, most rammers were self/tailor made.
  • Today, along with Strainrite, there are many very functional rammers commercially made by various companies including post driver manufacturers

Post Hole Borers 

  • For many of the early years of fencing competitions, the only reliable hole digger was a Mate Post Hole Borer.  This was produced by Atkinson Industries of Whanganui, and was a grunty, slow turning, noisy machine.
  • Strainer holes were dug using a 250mm auger with extension.  As competitors were chasing the elusive time points, looking for ways to speed up the hole digging became paramount, and these Mate gear boxes were progressively adapted with larger and larger chainsaw power heads, which also led to larger augers, up to 300mm diameter and fully flighted up to 1.50m.  One of the biggest advantages was that the augers were high spinning which was an integral part of picking up that extra time.

The men who made the difference 

As with all trades and sports, which I regard this as, there are always people who are innovative and proactive in the development of such innovations.  Some that I believe who have made a considerable impact I would like to mention and outline below: 

Bill (Albert) Schuler 

Probably best known as the father or Godfrey Bowen of fencing.  Bill was the first to implement planing the stays, and achieve nil gaps around the mortice.  He never used a post hole borer, opting to use his trusty wooden handle ‘Zero Skelton’ spade.  His ‘claim to fame’ was setting a lot of the standards we see today. 

Felix Davy 

Felix was the first to bring on board the wheelbarrow, entering the first competition in 1969.  Felix was also controversial in installing vertical stay blocks, which worked under the pressure testing and are widely used around the country today.  He was instrumental in setting the judging rules which, by and large are still in use today. 

Bill (A.W.S.) Dawson 

Bill competed in the first competition in 1969 and soon started ‘scratching his head’ to see where he could improve, so the ‘profit stick’ (his words not mine) – a PVC rod for post spacing – was introduced.  One of his proudest moments was when he realised how brittle high tensile wire was and consequently came across how to break it off without using a wire cutter.  I remember myself demonstrating alongside him at Fieldays and being very much in the infancy of the snapping off technique and the crowd response was very much a ‘wow’, and we still see that today.  Good on you Bill. 

With 9 wires introduced in the earlier competitions, this had a spin off effect around the country, with farmers wanting to do just that.  Of course, Bill didn’t mind running 7 wires but 9? (Common now!) There had to be an easier way.  So, with his flat deck Series 2 Land Rover and a 9-wire stack of Jennys, the multiple wire dispenser was birthed. 

Stan Woolston 

Stan comes from a very fencing orientated family, also being an uncle to a twice Golden Pliers Champion, and he works well under tension, being the inventor of the tension gauge. 

The earlier years of competition, the way of measuring wire tension was a little more cumbersome.  A piece of 100 x 25 timber with two nails 40 inches apart and midway, the wire is pulled back half an inch with a spring balance and you multiplied that reading by 20.  I am sure we can all thank Uncle Stan for his invention. 

Stan won the Inventions Award in 1979, and he sold the tension gauge rites to Franklin Machinery in Pukekohe, which was a large gate hardware and galvanising company which has since been sold to Gallagher.  Tension gauge manufacturing is now undertaken by Strainrite. 


  • The biggest development here is with the advent of Lithium-Ion battery powered tools.  I have seen earlier Golden Pliers Champions hanging gates using a brace and bit, which developed to petrol drills and now on to battery power.  I remember Uncle Stan having an adaptor for his post hole borer, but that was Stan.
  • The pulley was first used in the earlier competitions and quickly progressed out into the field, as running two wires from one dispenser made a lot of sense. There have been many developments over the years, and they are still continuing today, albeit they’re a lot less dramatic.  It is more a work in progress now.

Article written by Nick Liefting

Published in Training & Events in WIRED Issue 71 / December 2023 by Fencing Contractors NZ