A man of the land – and so much more

20 Sep 2022

He’s an adventurer, an aviator, an entrepreneur, a raconteur, and a man of the land.

Clutha Forbes Mackenzie (6649) boarded in Flower’s House from 1957–1961, following four years of boarding at Medbury School.

He’d come straight off the farm in Greta Valley, North Canterbury and knew he hadn’t received much of an education at the local school.

“Very early on at Medbury a little boy, who had already been there for years, told me something: ‘If you don’t know that, you must be dumb,’ he said and I realised immediately that I was a long way behind and said to myself ‘if I can succeed on the playing field, then I can in the classroom.’

Consequently, Forbes went from being a non-swimmer to Open Freestyle champion. He won the Junior Athletics championship and many hurdles races, was captain of the 1st XV and won a form prize in the classroom.

Safe to say that by the time he reached Christ’s College he was very familiar with the way boarding schools operated and knew all the tricks to inject fun into the mundane, a habit he’s taken with him through life.

“At College we were expected to strive to win, and have no latent talents. We built up a great deal of self-confidence.”

At least until the end of his fourth year, when a master wrote of him “this boy has reached his academic ceiling. He will never progress from here.”

That was all the incentive Forbes needed, and 18 months later he was at Lincoln University from where he later graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science.

“The other thing about College,” he recalls “was that we were expected to be decent and fair and it was the duty of our peers to make sure we maintained these norms.”

These were the days when College, like all secondary schools, had cadets and a battalion in uniform. Forbes, who had been a paid instructor at Burnham Military Camp, rose to the rank of company commander “B” company.

He won an athletics’ blue at College, was a College and Inter-secondary schools’ hurdles champion and was awarded a Royal New Zealand Air Force Scholarship. Aged 17, wearing his cadet uniform, he went solo at Wigram Air Force Base.

Aviation is a passion and although he opted for a career on the land, he holds a pilot’s licence, an American helicopter pilot’s licence, owns an aircraft and has logged over 5000 hours as pilot – predominantly in East Africa, the USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, UK and Fiji.

Forbes met General Chuck Yaeger, the first man to break the sound barrier, hosting him at home for a day.

“I arranged morning tea at the Hurunui District Council Chambers with about 20 NZ World War 2 fighter pilots. We then flew to Happy Valley for lunch with a small group of pilots before going on to Christ’s College where we flew in a friend’s Squirrel, landing on Upper.”

It was another flying incident that resulted in Forbes setting an “international precedent in law” in 1981, changing the law for the western world, by clarifying “mens rea.” (CAA v Mackenzie)

After a lifetime pursuing ideas, challenging authority, and ensuring fairness in all things, Forbes Mackenzie, now in his late 70s, still farms sheep, beef and crop on Happy Valley farm in North Canterbury.

He has two sons David (11461) who is in banking, and Stuart (11909) who is a stockbroker on the Gold Coast.