THERE’S NOTHING TENTATIVE ABOUT THIS PLACE,
YOU’RE EITHER HERE OR YOU’RE NOT
Peter Rabbit and his little bunny friends wouldn’t go down well in these parts. Lynched by the locals, they’d probably hang them out on the fence to dry. Cuddly creatures to some, here, they’re like bobbing spectators, snuffling and laughing at the locals in a bitter battle for the hillsides.
People mutter here about authority, hoping if they say as little as possible, it will ignore them, the only red tape that interests them, is the award-ribbons at the local ram fair for a first. It’s not uncommon to find they’ve had the same neighbours for 130 years “without a decent scrap”. It says everything about the community and its strength.
WHEN YOU LOOK INTO THE FACE OF THESE FARMERS,
THERE’S A RELUCTANT HALF SMILE, DELIVERED TO THE OUTSIDER.
If there were ever a Republican movement it would start here. As you drive through the landscape during an election year, John Key’s airbrushed urbane image, features on political billboards, in the middle of nowhere, proclaiming he’s “Working for New Zealand”.
In the adjacent paddock, farmers feed out miles of baleage to merinos in heavy snows, (some seasons, for months on end), they must quietly raise a snigger at the politicking, asking themselves, aren’t they doing the same? The ironic thing is the very suit the Prime Minister wears could well have come off their sheep’s back.
Not to be confused with the “pigs back”, farming merinos, or indeed any other sheep breed in Central Otago, is a genetic dance with nature’s fickleness. Go down the wrong breeding path and the U-turn to correct your wool or body weights can take 10 to 15 years to correct. This is why when you look into the face of these farmers, there’s a reluctant half smile, delivered to the outsider. A natural wariness, which has stood him in good stead, in being able to sift through the proverbial bull shit.
It’s this squint which says so much about the person, probably practised for years in driving sleet wind or burning sunshine. Coupled with carefully chosen words, stripped of city superlatives, they always begin their story with a reverence, for those that came before them, and contributed so much.
WHEN THE ASPHALT ENDS AND THE GRAVEL BEGINS, VOICES IT SEEMS CHANGE
When the asphalt ends and the gravel begins, voices it seems change and there is a natural caution in every decision. Cab commentaries are broken as potholes and bluffs are negotiated with bouncing adeptness and the gravelly assurance to match these hairy moments that “you should’ve seen it last week”.
THERE ARE NO GWYNETH PALTROW WAIFS SIPPING LEMON WATER IN THESE MOUNTAINS...
The wives and womenfolk are the household spine, managing books and costs around the edges, through thick and thin, with immense resourcefulness. There are no Gwyneth Paltrow waifs sipping lemon water in these mountains, the nearest they get, is on the massive TV screen in the living room between the All Black broadcasts.
Bringing up children in remote areas, the early-morning drop-offs at the lonely corrugated iron bus stops, the freezing kneecaps, all seems to be part of family life. Here you need a good woman and everyone seems so. They generally see their men off into wind swept cemeteries, beside the little freezing churches at the crossroads, and they just seem to continue on, caring around the families, fading gracefully as matriarchs, devoid of hair dye, and enjoying a well-deserved deep respect.
TO THINK THESE HARSH LANDSCAPES AND TOUGH CREATURES GIVE UP SUCH FINE QUALITIES, IS NATURE’S MYSTERY
Every front living room is festooned with celebratory photographs, weddings, christenings, anniversaries, and homecomings. Every warm kitchen’s bench groans, under the weight of beautifully light baked and buttered scones with preserves, the slowly roasting hogget in the oven fills the room with homely aromas that bring the dogs right to the back door. Kitchen table culture changes by the hour from Weetbix to homework to a cold beer or fine Pinot, it’s the focal point of virtually every interaction. Every back step with its lines of bent well-worn boots and eager panting working dogs are busy places, from first light to dusk. Barking instructions, roaring motorbikes covered in dust, this certainly isn’t the West Indies, nobody seems to be lounging about here. This lonely back country eats up the miles and you spot a person only now and then.