William Rex Austin

Ngāi Tahu, Waitaha

Kāti Māmoe

1931 -

Rex Austin was born at Riverton in Southland and was educated at Wakapatu Primary School and Southland Technical College where he was head prefect. He furthered his studies at Lincoln College and attended classes at Yale and Michigan State College in the United States. Austin graduated with Dip. Agri. Science C.A.C., and Dip. Wool Science, C.A.C. He won several farming awards at Lincoln College while he was a student including the Leonard White Memorial Cup and Wretford Reid Memorial Cup, the W. A. Yardley Cup, the Marcroft Challenge medal, the Pyne, Gould, Guiness Cup and the Southdown Sheep Society Shield. In 1953 he was part of an international farm youth exchange and travelled to the United States for six months and then visited Europe. On his return to New Zealand Austin began a career in farming which lasted thirty-four years. From 1975-1987 he was M.P. for Awarua and during that time was Under-Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries, member of the Māori Affairs and Island Affairs Select Committee for six years, and chaired the Agriculture and Fisheries Select Committee. He was the Fisheries Appeal Authority from 1981-1994, was the Minister of Aquaculture and Viticulture, and held 17 minor portfolios related to agriculture and fisheries. He led agriculture trade missions to countries such as Indonesia, Iran, and China and several trade missions to Western Europe. Austin was a member of Southland Hospital Board for five years, and member of the Southland Regional Development Council. Austin was a member of Federated Farmers, and of the Young Farmers Club for thirteen years. He has been Patron, first President and Life Member of the Southland Youth Adventure Trust. He was a District Governor and Council Chair of Lions International. Austin has been awarded the M.B.E., Q.J.M. and N.Z.C.M. He has written hundreds of non-fiction articles and a regular parliamentary comment in the Southland Times while he was in parliament. Austin’s writing focuses primarily on economics, trade, agriculture, fishing and Māori affairs, and since leaving parliament he has concentrated on the early history of the European and Māori. He writes conferences speeches and continues to give many speeches including a speech published in Southern Horizons on early Māori-Pakeha relationships in the Riverton area. A large volume of Austin’s written work is housed in the Hocken Library at the University of Otago. Austin is responsible for publications in the Queenstown and Districts Historical Society which has just produced a publication by Peter Chandler entitled The Mountain and the Flood. He writes regularly for the historical publication, Courier. He chairs a family trust and is very interested in the development of Māori land into forestry.

Biographical sources

  • Correspondence and phone conversation with Austin, 24 Nov. 1995, and 10 August 1998.
  • Dansey, Harry. "He Farms His Ancestral Land by Foveaux Strait." Marae magazine 1.3 (1974): 27.
  • Notable New Zealanders: The Pictorial Who’s Who. 1st ed. Auckland, N.Z.: Paul Hamlyn, 1979. 17.
  • Tu Tangata 3 (Nov./Dec. 1981): 8.


  • "Farming in the United States." Te Ao Hou 7 (1954): 41-44.
  • In 1953 Austin, from Southland, visited the United States as a delegate from the New Zealand Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs. In this article he gives an account of his time in the United States and provides a description of dairy farming in Connecticut.
  • Other

  • William Rex Austin - Parliamentary Papers: Record, 1970s-1980s. 94-013. Dunedin, N.Z.: Hocken Library, Archives & Manuscripts, U of Otago.
  • This includes ten boxes of Austin’s parliamentary papers from the 1970s-1980s including copies of parliamentary debates and speeches to the House (Hansard), correspondence, press clippings and speeches, submissions, and miscellaneous papers on various topics.


  • Dansey, Harry. "He Farms His Ancestral Land by Foveaux Strait." Marae Magazine 1.3 (1974): 27.
  • Dansey writes about Ngāi Tahu farmer, Rex Austin, who farms a 898 acre farm along Foveaux Strait.
  • "National Māori Candidates." Tu Tangata 3 (Nov./Dec. 1981): 8-9.