New Zealand Law Society - Lawyer farmer’s passion for rugged Land Rovers and quirky French motors

Lawyer farmer’s passion for rugged Land Rovers and quirky French motors

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David Roughan
David Roughan

Country lawyer David Roughan doesn’t just like Land Rovers – they are his life-long passion – and bear the personal plate 4XSMUD.

A member of his local Land Rover Club, David has had 10 “landies” since buying his first one in 1975, and now has two – a 20-year-old Defender 90 which he bought new for his 50th birthday and an eight-year-old Range Rover Sport.

“They’re a childhood dream and they have been around since 1948 – as long as I have,” says David, who was recently elected for a two-year term to the board of governors of the Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries.

David Michael (David) Roughan
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Victoria University in 1972.Admitted in 1972.
Sole practitioner at Northlaw, Kamo, near Whangarei.
Speciality area
Farm, property, business and development.

“And I’ve always also had a little French car – Citroen, Renault, Peugeot. My current one is a Citroen Cactus. I bought only one French car new, the others have been second-hand because they are so under-rated you get a helluva car for a good price - they are fun to drive and quirky.

“The Defender lives on the farm now, has tractor tyres, a roll cage and soft top. I wrote it off and had to buy the wreck from the insurance company. So I cut the top off and put a soft top on. It had done 35,000km before I wrote it off and another 40,000km pottering round the farm.

“All my road Land Rovers since personalised plates came in wear the plate 4XSMUD. Some people look at it and think it’s “four times smud”.

A fellow of the New Zealand Society of Notaries Council since its inception, he has also been a member of the Auckland District Law Society’s council, and its property disputes committee; a member of the New Zealand Law Society’s property law section rural transactions committee and the New Zealand Law Society property law section executive committee

He has also contributed to the Kamo, Whangarei and Northland communities including time as a Lion, and served on the committee of the Kamo Club and his children's school committees. He was proud to be a volunteer for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Farming life

The first lawyer in his family, David became a lawyer because he wanted to be a farmer.

“In my last year at college they said I could probably do something at varsity. It never crossed my mind - I was going to be stock agent or a truck driver. I didn’t have the sciences to do something at Lincoln.

“So I had to find some way to make money to buy a farm. The law degree was a meal ticket.

“I knew nothing about law and knew no one in the law. But I’ve got 40 cousins and one of those - Preston Bulfin, at Halliwells in Hawera - started his law degree two years before, ended up with an LLM and is still practising. Both of us are widowers.

“My daughter Kathryn married a Swiss national and I have two Swiss-born grandchildren. They speak German and their vowels are the same as Māori vowels. Ask a German or a Swiss to pronounce a Māori name and they do it perfectly. All you have to do is pronounce the vowels right and every letter.

“Daughter Sarah is a teacher with two New Zealand-born kids, and my son Stephen, a chiropractor, married an Irish girl and they live in County Wicklow, Ireland, with their two kids.

“The Swiss family have been out here with me for a month.”

David flies three flags from a pole in front of his house; the New Zealand flag, followed by the Swiss and Irish flags, depending on which side of the family is visiting.

His father was a police constable then a detective and his mother a nurse.

“But I’m lucky to be here because my mother was over in Australia training to be a nun. She was brought out to New Zealand by her widowed mother with their four children from Ireland, but came back from her nun training to comfort and care for her mother.

“Mum came from Clones, in County Monaghan, the hometown of Thomas Bracken, who wrote the lyrics of God Defend New Zealand. Tasmanian-born John Thomas Woods, who wrote the music, comes from my father’s birthplace of Lawrence, in Central Otago.

“Dad was a detective in Auckland at the time he met mum, who was working at Mercy Hospital. He escorted Eleanor Roosevelt when she came on a tour in August 1943.

“Dad was a constable in Masterton when I was born and later had the opportunity of being sole charge officer in Martinborough in the 1960s. He made the mistake of asking us kids about it and we said ‘God no, Martinborough is the end of the earth’. He wasn’t to know how Martinborough would change.

“But I drink Martinborough pinot noirs now, and Tui beer from Mangatainoka.”

Escape from the rat race  

“I met my wife Sally in our last year at school, we married and had two kids by the time I finished my degree. I lost her to cancer at 40. Thank God we started early enough because we had three teenagers by then.”

David lives on 55ha of half native bush medium steep country which he says a farmer wouldn’t dignify with the term “farm”.

“It is the rough block subdivided from a prime block at end of a kilometre-long right of way down a no exit road, surrounded by forest. I love it.

“I find the block is now a challenge for me and the Land Rovers, but I love it. At Christmas time I hardly left the place and I hang out for the intellectual stimulation of the practice, so it’s a good balance. The farm keeps me sane from the things I agonise about as a lawyer and the practice refreshes me from the physical work.”

On the day of this chat David had to “swim off the farm. There was 100ml of rain in 36 hours.”

He initially ran some sheep but gave that up when he had serious dog worrying with 36 sheep savaged in one year. “Cattle wrecked my fences - I’m planting it in trees which I should have done 20 years ago, including manuka which could make a couple of economic blocks for a bee farmer.”

His block is called Earnslaugh. One of the threads of the name is his late wife Sally’s maiden name Estaugh. “Whenever I mention the name people spell it correctly but can’t spell Roughan, it’s one of those things.

“I chose to practise as Northlaw because people can’t pronounce or spell my name [pronounced Rowan]. I get all sorts. I empathise with Māori people, people don’t even try. They come up with some version.

“I like old music … Beatles, the Stones and went to see Paul McCartney [in Auckland in December]. In 2012 Jim Mora agreed with me about the best song ever written, when I chose Huey Lewis with Stuck With You.

“I learnt the mouth organ and piano accordion but don’t burden people with that anymore. I bellow out at church and enjoy the hymns. There’s a drum on the farm I bash from time to time.”

Road tripper

“A book has to grip me for me to read it. First time author Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim – a spy thriller – is a great read. The last book I got out from the library was So You Think You Are Ready to Retire and I had to return it before time was up because I had read enough to tell me that I wasn’t. That’s a phase I am not ready for yet.

“I love movies and belong to the film society here. Secrets and Lies is a favourite and my favourite television show of all time is Hill Street Blues. But I’m not into these binge viewing things.

“Yes, I have dogs. Dan is a 10-year-old heading dog I’ve had for six months from a farmer who was downsizing and didn’t need as many dogs. I’ve had Griz, Sue, Minty, a variety of dogs, they are great companions and sometimes I bring them to work. I’ve usually had a heading dog and a Huntaway. In my dotage and when I’m not away from home as much I’ll get a cat and a little Jack Russell.

“I think I have been to every nook and cranny in New Zealand, love a road trip and will do one at drop of a hat.

“Until I was 40 I had not been out of New Zealand. Since then I’ve been to about a dozen countries to keep up with the kids.

“The farm re-creates me and then I’ll go for a drive and find myself in a remote spot. While my Swiss family are here we are going to Hanmer Springs and have an eighth birthday party there. Then to Kenepuru Sound for some mountain biking, kayaking and fishing.”

As a nine-year David spent a year in Reefton living with his Uncle Charlie, a coal miner, and his Auntie Edna. “One of my clients was a Pike River miner, one of the 29. I was at a Law Society meeting in Christchurch the day the mine exploded, hired a car and went over there that night to comfort the family.

“I know how it is because my Aunt’s brother in Reefton was one of 19 men lost in the Strongman explosion in January 1967.

“Uncle Charlie worked in a private mine and would take me out to the mine, give me a job outside, take me into the coal face, plug the gelignite, go round the corner and push the plunger.

“One of the best memories of my life is being down there with those men. You go in with miners and you feel as safe as anything. There’s no one you would trust more, they are impressive guys.

“If I knew what I know now I would be a surveyor. One of the things I enjoy about law is subdivisions and the creativity around them. And I have been involved in really interesting ones.

“Surveyors have a good balance of the physical, getting out and about, and the intellectual stimulus of creating the plans and presenting proposals to councils and arguing for them. That would be a great job.

“It would also mean you would have trained at Otago and had a bit of fun. University for a married student was pretty hard work.”

Brave women

“My most memorable career moments were being involved with the Auckland district law society (ADLS) and being instrumental in them deciding to go it alone.”

In 2008 the Auckland District Law Society and New Zealand Law Society were at loggerheads over proposals to merge all district law societies under the national banner. While other district societies joined, ADLS Inc members fought for, and retained, their independence and ownership of their assets, including an Auckland CBD headquarters valued then at around $12 million.

“It has been worthwhile and I’m glad to be part of that. It is still the biggest number of lawyers who have agreed on one thing – 1,911 lawyers saying this is what we will do – it’s never been that number before or since. I’m proud to be involved in that.

“My dinner guests would be Sally and her mother - two of the bravest women I’ve known, and my kids and grandkids.

“I have been a grandfather of six for six years and haven’t yet got everyone together. The best I’ve done is 70%, so for me to have a roast lamb dinner with them around – four generations - would blow my socks off. And my Auntie Rose because she would make the trifle.

“With the roast we would have Martinbough Pinot Noir, Tui beer and Marlborough Sauvigon Blanc.

“Outside the family it would be Suzanne Aubert, Mary MacKillop and James K Baxter.

“I crossed swords with Baxter in a letter to the Editor of Salient magazine at the end of my first year at Victoria. I was arguing what bullshit James K was talking. It was the last publication of 1966 and in the first publication of 1967 came out with his response.

“The banner headline is It’s a difficult world, David” - James K Baxter replies to David M Roughan. I have kept that.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at

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