I’ve been mocked and scorned by my own whānau for living the good rural life. For being fortunate to marry a farmer. I thought tonight I’d tell you how it has been for me and many others, as wahine, living rurally in 21st century New Zealand. Do rural wahine face any challenges in our cosy little farm houses on the hill, as we head away on our annual, overseas holidays (pre Covid of course) or as you’ve seen us tripping around town in our relatively new, albeit dirty SUV’s and I’ll let you decide if we are lucky enough to be there yet?
My rosy rural life began when I shifted to Dipton in 1996 when I married my husband Pete. Pete the farmer who, when we met at parties in Invercargill, chatted about interesting, thought provoking, bigger picture issues; far more that other men, let’s be honest boys I had had previous “encounters” with. I fell in love with “Pete” – I did not fall in love with his farm, the perceived trappings or the isolation.
I would love to tell you that my rural life, married to “Pete the farmer” has been blissfully easy; like a stroll through a well grown swede paddock ready to be fed out in winter. But for me, “nah”, and I’m looking forward to driving down our gravel road one final time when we leave and retire.
Let me paint a picture for you. This one’s about travelling in our SUV’s. Our nearest neighbours are 1 km away; whānau – 70 kms away; a New World supermarket 39 kms; nearest decent coffee and early childcare – Atua forbid if I need childcare now but 16 km away and my marae 100 km. These distances are one way, we still have to drive home. This is why you see our dirty, newish SUV’s on the road so much – we live so bloody… far… away… from everything… we have to be on the road, often gravel to go anywhere or get anything. And don’t judge us on the mess inside. Many a meal has been served up on the laps of our children in our cars. We also need our SUV’s to be newer and reliable because we don’t want to break down, in the middle of nowhere, with hungry, busting tamariki and no cell phone reception. Rural wahine are always in the car heading somewhere, clocking up tens of thousands of kilometres a year but I’m not sure if were quite there yet.
Rural life has been exhilarating and exhausting: it’s had its highs and lows; it has been hard and at times downright dangerous when I’ve nodded off driving home and I’ve felt lonely, lost and isolated.
You see to have a beautiful farm with healthy stock, gates that all swing and fences that actually keep stock in, my Pete the farmer works, an average of 80-100 hours per week. That’s why our daughter Laura started Playgroup when she was 2 weeks old. I was lonely. All those wonderful baby hormones floating around, mum and dad living overseas and whānau far away. It’s difficult rurally to connect and survive as an individual, as a couple and as a whānau.
Are we there yet? Rural wahine wear a multitude of hats – we are mothers; we are cleaners; we are cooks; we are accountants; we are free childcare to our grandchildren; we are long distance taxi drivers; we are gardeners; we are land girls that help keep sheep up in dusty yards, we are ear markers and vaccinators at tailing time and we can also miraculously whip up a fresh batch of scones when someone comes to visit unexpectedly. Aren’t we amazing!! This truly sounds like WE ARE THERE – doesn’t it? I mean what any incredibly diverse range of occupations we undertake, that’s equality isn’t it? We must be there!!
My next picture takes a look at the rural job market and opportunities for intelligent, creative wahine, rurally based in Northern Southland. My sources are advertisements place in the well-read, well distributed Lumsden Light for 2020:
Dairy farm assistant manager
General farm worker
Milker or dairy assistant
Full time café cook
Hunny shop worker in Garston
And last but not least a casual pusher … on a crutching stand or what we country folk call a sheepo. A job, our 20-year-old son Will has had for the past 2 years.
That’s it. This was the total sum of jobs advertised in the Lumsden Light in 2020. 13 different roles. 13. Consisting broadly of farm mahi, cleaning, caring and some retail work. I’m not feeling inspired or well paid. Honestly, I was downright depressed after this research. I wasn’t feeling there yet, I was feeling stuck. I felt like I was drowning in that sinking sand I had dreaded falling into my entire childhood after watching one too many black and white Tarzan movie.
Many rural women choose to have more tamariki than my beautiful two. They are out of the job market for a long period of time and in that time as we all know, the world and technology change. It feels harder to bridge that gap back into the job market, and rurally this rift feels even greater.
I can’t speak for all rural wahine, only from my own experiences and observations but I know that having my own source of income and to have meaningful mahi has been a huge driving factor in my life and in the work I have chosen. I’ve been a home-based relaxation massage practitioner, I’ve been a party plan seller of skincare products, I’ve co-owned a business in Invercargill, I’ve made candles, I’ve been a community worker and currently I like to think of myself as a jewellery entrepreneur with my business “Just Like You”. These choices haven’t made life easy for my whānau or me. But it is a calling and yearning from deep inside to be the best possible version of myself, to feel valued and content. It may sound selfish but I think that, as wahine we need to be selfish vs selfless to be there. Isn’t it funny the language I used then – calling myself selfish? If I was a man I would be career driven, focused and a good provider.
I choose to keep connecting with wahine and to be a role model for our clever daughter Laura – remember that wee baby
I took to playgroup when she was just 2 weeks old, now she is a wahine working on her honours degree and she is the wahine we are encouraging to go as far as she possibly can academically. I don’t want – ARE WE THERE YET with regards equality to even cross her beautifully intelligent mind.
I keep striving and working for my daughter Laura, for myself and all the other rural wahine who may not feel quite there yet, who are feeling lonely, frustrated and isolated. Striving to bridge this urban rural rift. We are amazing, we are skilled and we well and truly deserve to be there or where ever our dirty little SUV’s take us.