Laurie Scheib - Lasso Laurie – true backcountry boy

4 minutes read
Posted 15 May, 2024
Laurie out where he loves to be in the Wakatipu backcountry on horseback

Laurie out where he loves to be in the Wakatipu backcountry on horseback

You could say he was the Crocodile Dundee of the Wakatipu backcountry, spending much of his childhood at Skippers skinning goats and deer for big money, even walking away unscathed when his car careered off a 100-foot (30.4m) bluff into the canyon.

But for Laurie Scheib, 69, it was just a way of life.

His great grandfather owned Frankton’s first pub, then built Gibbston Valley Pub. Laurie’s grandfather Albert donated the land to build the old Queenstown Maternity Home (Bungy Backpackers) and adjacent doctor’s house. Dad, Joe was one of the last hydraulic goldminers at Skippers, also running the rural mail run for 50 years. The family spent summers there and winters at their Arthur’s Point home – when just five houses and the pub existed there.

Mentored by local horseman Roy Murdoch, Laurie was constantly being reprimanded for sneaking up to Moonlight Stables. “He took me and Jimmy Todd into Skippers for three weeks as kids to round up the last of the wild horses there for the Stables,” recalls Laurie.

A man of the mountains, Laurie didn’t excel at school. “I got the cane just about every day,” he grins. “I was asked to leave. If I wasn’t smoking at eight or nine underneath the Memorial Hall, I was tickling trout in Horne Creek, using Mum’s method.”

At the same age, he and Neville McGregor were shooting goats, deer, and possums, selling the skins. “We’d make $20 a week which was huge then, some weeks up to $120 if we knocked over a deer up the Moonlight,” Laurie says. “Mum saw one of my cheques and said, ‘Laurie, you’re buying your own clothes from now on!’” The pair also ran a live capture operation while in their 20s, Laurie on abseil and lasso down a cliff’s edge, selling the animals for breeding, earning thousands of dollars.

Later in life, Laurie’s lasso skills, with helicopter pilot Dennis Egerton hovering overhead, rescued tourism operator Dennis Columb’s new four-wheeler bike from a rapidly rising Shotover torrent.

By 14, Laurie was working and living independently on Closeburn Station.

At 15, a freshly licensed Laurie drove his father’s Mini off the 100-foot (30.4m) bluff at Deep Creek, busy watching Henry Barker on the new flying fox strung over the Shotover. In true movie style, the car plummeted off the huge bluff, landing on the beach below. “Dad had been mining and had diverted the river. That’s the only reason I survived… on that occasion.” He still bears a massive bulge where the rifle on the backseat slammed into his head.

His “most miserable years” were during his panel beating apprenticeship in Christchurch. “But it’s saved me financially so many times.”
Laurie fell in love with an American, Elane, in Queenstown, marrying her in the States where his panel beating skills attracted huge money in Denver, notorious for its huge hailstorms.

He learnt to fly in the US and had just clocked sufficient hours to go commercial when the US military released over 4000 pilots. He missed home so returned to Queenstown, later marrying second wife Jane – his childhood sweetheart.

Laurie put his piloting skills to work launching Aero Float plane flights with Dave Mclaren and others. Never one to bow to red tape, he was soon in trouble for painting the plane bright colours on Frankton Beach.

His father then gifted him his last 5 ounces of gold in the mid-1980s and Laurie bought a 10-acre block at Little’s Road, launching Shotover Stables. Two years later he and business partner Chris Smith moved that to 50-acres at Arthur’s Point.

At six Laurie’s dad had taken him into the St Kilda Tunnel on Big Beach where he was working. “It was the final blow with gelignite.” They packed the explosives and Laurie was warned to stay put. “But I’d seen ‘Yosemite Sam’ and I was watching all those fuses burn so I knew it was gonna blow. I took off running and, boy, did I get a barracking and good kick up the rear from Dad for endangering us all,” laughs Laurie.

In 1991 Laurie and Jane started Skippers Canyon Horse Trekking, popular with Kiwis, Australians, and Americans. They’d also take big groups of Southland farmers into Branches for a week, Jane also home schooling their two sons.

He’s done horse work on film sets and been repair man in the mountains for veteran motorsport racer Grant Aitken.

Tragically, Laurie’s workshop was destroyed by fire in January 2018, but he rebuilt, touched by help from a caring community and many amazing friends.

With Laurie’s ‘local’, Arthur’s Point Pub long gone, these days his garage has been transformed into something of a beer lounge for his neighbourhood mates. Nothing classy. The boys sit on 22-gallon drums, covered with woollen blankets, or a box, but there are still some good yarns spun.

Two young backcountry boys LaurieJ leftJ and mate Neville McGregor in their childhood days

Two young backcountry boys - Laurie, left, and mate Neville McGregor in their childhood days


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