The urban-rural rift is a myth a forum organised by the Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science concluded. But there is tension where country and town conflict in lifestyle land.
A day-long discussion at Massey University, to look at the link between town and country, was set against the backdrop of the sale in the past year of 46,000 hectares of farmland in lifestyle blocks of less than four hectares.
About 100 scientists, academics, farmers, students, lobbyists and other interested observers at the event organised by the Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science heard from nine speakers – a politician, an historian, a bureaucrat, an economist, a walkways commission member, a geography professor, a local government planner, a farmer and an environmental manager.
Historian Jock Phillips looked at how we got to where we are.
As New Zealand’s population changed from being rural to urban last century a romantic myth began to grow of the farmer as a larger-than-life sporting and war hero.
This lasted till the 1980s when it began to disintegrate amidst the humour of the Footrot Flats cartoon and television’s Fred Dagg.
A rift began to open, according to Dr Phillips. Rural people did not like being made fun of and at the same time two issues arose that further polarised town and country.
They were the 1981 Springbok Tour and homosexual law reform.
“These cultural issues became a battleground where people came to terms with their rural and urban identities,” he said.
These issues are often given as ones on which there was an urban-rural divide. There may be figures to back up this contention but anecdotal evidence suggests country people’s views weren’t markedly differnt from those in town.
The rift had closed in recent years as farmers had learnt to take on urban values, he said.
For example, country shows had changed to appeal to town visitors – where once pigs were shown in pens now they raced over obstacle courses.
But if this goes too far shows lose their rural character and they become just another event. We went to the Melbourne Show last year, most of it was just side shows and entertainment with stock and country exhibits looking like an after thought. The Upper Clutha Show in Wanaka hs got it right – with high quality exhibits which appeal to town and country yet it still retains its rural character.
City life and values had become central and country people had been forced to turn to that world. They could no longer assume their children would want to stay on the land.
One speaker at the AGMARDT breakfast at last week’s National Bank Young Farmer contest said in the old days the bright offspring were sent away to the city and the slower ones stayed back on the farm, but it’s the other way round now 🙂
Dr Phillips said that while the physical rural image had been dented it had gained values of science, technical knowledge, education and specialisation.
“It is the making of modern agriculture and horticulture.”
However, some stereotypes still remained in the thinking of urban people.
Many children had a Fred Dagg image of farming and did not see it as a viable career and some city dwellers yearned to escape to the country, seeing it as a “geriatric rest home”.
I wouldn’t think many of today’s children recognise Fred Dagg because it’s more than 30 years since John Clark took the character across the Tasman. As for a resthome, if that’s what you want surely you’d be better in town close to public transport and healthcare?
Other address came from Kapiti Coast District Council strategy planner Gael Ferguson and Rangitikei sheep and beef farmer Ruth Rainey.