Keeping out tigers all a day’s work for Gallagher Territory Manager
Chopping through dense jungle, being chased by rogue elephants and dodging war zones were all in a day’s work for Russell Wilson during a career with Gallagher spanning 30 years and three continents.
Russell is stepping down from his role as Northland territory manager this year. He is the first to admit the pastoral farm landscape of that region is a sharp contrast to some of the regions he worked for Gallagher in his earlier years.
When he first took on the role of “International Sales Manager” in the mid-80s he found himself with a territory that covered India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. He was working closely with Gallagher distributors and farmers within those regions, applying the good principles and sound equipment to some unusual applications.
“We worked in Sumatra with the locals installing elephant proof fences to prevent the animals marauding into farmers’ gardens and crops as human settlement crept ever outwards.”
The systems were all adaptations of what farmers had been using at home in New Zealand for cattle, with Gallagher’s solar technology powering the energizers, and Russell working seven days a week installing the fences.
“The elephants were very smart, going as far as pushing their young ones onto the fences to disable them– the little ones soon worked out not to stand at the front of the mob to avoid getting tossed onto the fence!”
But one day things were livened up more than he wanted when he mistakenly got between a mother and her young calf. “The ears get pinned back and the tail goes straight out, that’s how you knew she was going to charge – I think I ran faster than Carl Lewis that day to get back behind the truck. Once she found her little one, she was fine, though the locals thought it was hilarious.”
But things sometimes got even more serious when he was helping install cattle fences in Sri Lanka. As the government battled fierce Tamil Tiger rebellions he would be frequently forced to get out of some areas before fire fights broke out.
Other work with Gallagher took him north of Calcutta in India, working to build fences to keep Bengal tigers away from villages. “We helped preserve both the elephants and the tigers, they were under pressure from humans, and we worked to keep the two as separate as possible.” He even worked developing New Zealand-Indian relations when he helped arrange a visit to New Zealand by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1986.
Russell’s work with Gallagher took him from some of the hottest countries in the world to one of the coldest. He spent four unforgiving winters in northern Canada working as sales manager there helping build the Canadian market for Gallagher. “We built up something of a cult following amongst Canadian ranchers who loved the Gallagher gear. They wanted to intensify their operations and used the equipment for break fencing in a very cold, tough climate.”
Along the way he also played a role in helping preserve the rare snowshoe hare from extinction by erecting fences to keep the hare’s major predator the Canadian lynx fenced off in the Yukon region. “We had a two level fence – one for summer and a higher one that sat on the average snow line for winter. The lynx soon learned not to go near the fence, and left the hares alone.”
His return back to New Zealand in 1991 had Russell covering parts of the country that in their own way were “tiger country.” Based in Canterbury he also covered the South Westland region, with its expansive cattle operations. “These people became friends, you would often stay at their homes because of the distances they lived, and I would time my visits with the big stock sales to keep in touch with them.”
It was a time that he saw the “almost complete” transformation of Canterbury to dairying and the changing needs for fences and infrastructure that bought.
Having spent his last eight years in Northland Russell has seen the region grow in confidence as a cattle finishing region, with fewer animals trucked over the harbour bridge for finishing.
It has been a varied and exciting time with Gallagher, and he admits he will miss pulling on his company shirt when he steps away. “Gallagher has been a great company, a great family, to work for. You were always made to feel welcome, and part of something that cared for you and what you did, even as the company got bigger and more diverse.
“The company has always surrounded itself with the right people with the right attitude, it’s given me some great memories.”