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High Heels and Gumboots

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

I love it when you torque dirty

There’s a quaint notion that people leave the city in search of a quiet lifestyle block in the country. A place where neighbours trade home-baked delights in baskets, where a traffic jam looks a lot like a flock of sheep, and the only discord is the bark of a dog and a reluctant bull.

Don’t be fooled: life in the country is a battlefield.

Since moving back to Golden Bay nearly six years ago, I’ve come to realise country life is a string of stands to be taken, causes to applaud and wrongs to right. I’ve been witness to and sometimes been involved in protests to save the Grandstand, water conservation rights to Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs and a stoush over paper roads. The cause may change, but the foe is nearly always bureaucracy.

Today, I’ll join A Howl of a Protest, arranged by the superbly named Groundswell. I’ll saddle up my 4WD ute to join a peaceful rally along Commercial, Meihana and Motupipi Streets in Takaka, Golden Bay. There’ll be other lifestyle blockers and real farmers in utes, trucks and tractors. Some will have dogs with names like Blue, Joe, Jess and Storm.

We’ll be diesel-powered and proud; we’ll be talking the torque.

In towns across New Zealand and even Queen Street in Auckland, tractors and utes will be chugging. With more than 60 towns and cities signed up, it’s predicted to be New Zealand’s biggest rural protest – and there is a lot to protest against.

First, the proposed new levy on petrol and diesel-powered utes. Like many parliamentary bills, the intentions look honourably good. We, as a nation, as a planet, need to address climate change. The emissions of internal combustion vehicles are harmful to the environment, while electric vehicles (EVs) are seen as the good guys. Therefore, the Government has announced a levy on all new utes, most of which are diesel-powered and a poor score on emissions. The levy will vary, but it could add approximately $3,000 to the cost of a new ute. Ouch.

Farmers are taking it personally, because they need the superior torque and low-down grunt of diesel-powered utes and tractors to do the heavy lifting on the farm. They need the 4WD ability to stay out of trouble on muddy tracks and a high clearance to charge through a creek. They need the mechanical muscle to tow harvesters and hay balers around their properties, haul fallen trees and generally do the job to get food to tables throughout New Zealand and to export.

Some rural folk, including me, need the fearless grip of 4WD just to access their homes.

A Howl of a Protest is also about Outstanding Natural Landscapes (ONL) and Significant Natural Areas (SNA). To learn more, on Friday, 9 July, I attended a meeting at Pakawau Memorial Hall where farmers met with National party MP David Bennett.

Ralph, in his 70s, voice breaking, has already been hit by what he calls the wetland fiasco. He has had to fence off 60% of his property at his cost, has lost all rights to use those wetland areas and still has to maintain the fence and pay rates on the land. It’s a major blow for a farm that only broke even with 100% of its land. “It is a totally unfair system,” he said.

Some farms have 100% of their land designated an ONL, SNA or Coastal Environment by a person unknown at central government level. With a coffee and a blueberry muffin on the side, that person dragged and drop-clicked a cursor over a Google Earth-type map of a distant farm and made it official.

Officially what? “That depends,” the bureaucrats told the farmers. Basically, that at some time in the future, the Government can decide what it means.

Irony abounds. As farmer Julianne said, “The farm has been there since 1915. It does look outstanding, but it looks outstanding because it’s being farmed.”

Joyce, a West Coast farmer, had hosted the MP. “The biggest change in climate change is not the weather,” she said; “it's the bureaucracy.”

And another: “The rules, if they come into place, will shatter our life’s work.”

It was heart-rending.

And confusing. I like Jacinda, but I can see the farmers’ position. I believe in caring for the planet and rigorously minimising plastic, but I drive a diesel-powered ute. Around New Zealand, I’ve seen huge farming enterprises that have carved wounds into the landscape. But I’ve also met farmers who have cared for their land over decades, learning with the times towards sustainable, eco-friendly methods that lead to biodiversity, that will

lead to countering the effects of climate change.

They’re out there, boots on the land, every day. Listen to them. Otherwise, we’ll all be howling.

© Rebecca Hayter

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