On the move again


The 2013/14 dairy season ends today and the new season starts tomorrow which makes this Gypsy weekend.

Dairy farms supplying export milk have dried off their cows and hundreds of people, their household goods and stock are on the move from one farm to another.

Some are taking promotion – taking on a sharemilking or management position for the first time and moving another step towards farm ownership or whatever other goal they might be saving.

Some will be taking on their own farm for the first time.

All will be looking forward to the next few weeks when they don’t have to get up early to milk the cows.

The change of jobs, farms and homes means big changes for those involved and the communities they leave and to which they go.

Some country schools can have more than a third of their pupils come and go.

That can be highly disruptive but a local principal says he’s noticed more families trying to stay within the school catchment area when they change farms so while their children might move home they don’t change schools.

It’s also the time of year when people get out their lists of things-to-do when it’s not so busy on the farm.

Experience would suggest that’s done more in hope than expectation.

  1. Embedded image permalink

On the road again


The number of stock trucks and furniture removal vans on the roads have been increasing in the build up to Gypsy weekend.

The dairy season starts on June 1. A lot of share milkers, dairy farm managers and workers change jobs with the season so the last weekend in May or first in June is when hundreds of people move home.

The upsurge in dairy conversions in areas previously dominated by sheep farms has changed communities and it is particularly noticeable at this time of year as people move in and out.

Schools can have a change of 20% or more in their roll as some pupils move in and others move out.

It’s disruptive for the school and the pupils.

A principal of a school with around 100 children on its roll, most of whom are from dairy farms, said children can lose up to a term of optimal learning when they change school and the more they change the more they lose.  Because of that a lot of families try to stay within their school catchment area when they change jobs so although they move house without their children having to change schools.

Frequent changes in population make it harder to retain community focus, especially when houses are scattered. Those of us who stay put know each other and even if we can go weeks or even months without seeing each other, we can still call on each other without excuses.

It’s much harder for the gypsies so one of the permanent neighbours and I decided we’d have a district social after gypsy weekend last year.

The only date which suited us both was in July, then something cropped up which meant it didn’t suit then calving and lambing started then . . .  and so here we are a year and many of the people who moved in will be moving out again and we still haven’t had that welcome social.

Maybe this year.

Rolls down, schools to close?


The wholesale closure of rural and provincial schools by then Education Minister Trevor Mallard was a major contributer to the Labour losing so much support in the provinces at the 2005 election.

By then the government had put a moratorium on school closures, but it was too late. Children were having to travel much further to school, classrooms were overcrowded, communities which lost schools also lost their focus and those affected made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

Because of that the ODT headline Southern school rolls to plummet  will have been greeted with no enthusiasm at all by the government.

The story which follows shows Ministry of Education roll projections based on birth numbers from Statistics New Zealand:

. . . the number of 3 to 4 year-olds will decline in the Waitaki (-0.4%), Dunedin (-2%), Southland (-2.7%), Clutha (-5%) and Gore (-8.8%) territorial authorities between June this year and 2011 . . . 

The drops contrast with a predicted nationwide rise of 9.4% in the number of pre-schoolers.

A decline in pupil numbers of up to 8.8% will impact on schools. However, this time the suggestion that some might have to close isn’t coming from politicians or bureaucrats:

New Zealand Principals Federation president and Balclutha School principal Paddy Ford said Otago and Southland schools needed to take heed of the figures.

“They might need to look at amalgamation. It doesn’t go down well with schools to say this, but we do have to look at ways of providing the best education we can deliver.”

Talk of school closures usually produces more heat than light and it is often those who no longer have pre-school or school age children who protest most strongly. Those whose offspring are at or nearly at school tend to look at what’s best for the children and sometimes that means school closures and amalgamations.

Schools can reach a tipping point because when the roll drops so does the number of teachers. Parents then decide their chidlren are better off at a bigger school even if it means longer on a bus to get there and the roll drops further until the school is no longer viable.

The concern in rural areas though is that roll projections based on birth numbers don’t necessarily reflect the reality, especially if there is a lot of dairying which has a big change in staff at the end of one season and start of another.

Some schools have more than a 30% change in their rolls over Gpysy weekend at the end of May and a few families moving in or out of a school catchment can have a big impact on pupil numbers.

While schools can provide a focus for a community that’s not a reason to keep a school open if a roll decline means its no longer meeting the educational needs of its pupils. The difficulty is that the Ministry has to work on historical figures and projections which don’t always paint the whole picture.

However, if the projections are accurate, Paddy Ford says declining rolls wouldn’t be all bad news because there is a shortage of teachers.

And while the projections for some southern districts are for falling rolls, huge increases are forecast for the Queenstown Lakes (29.7%), Central Otago (14.2%) and Invercargill (11.4%) areas.

Lack of Community in our Communities


The headline The Horror Hits Home   with an opening pararpah that asks how two infants can allegedly starve to death in an ordinary looking house in an ordinary looking suburb, could have been written about New Zealand. This story however, is about Australia in the wake of the discovery of two babies who starved to death but the issues our our issues too.

What has happened to our communities and neighbourhoods?

Have we become so self-absorbed, so work-oriented or so crippled by the idea that governments should be responsible for the protection of children that we have become the look-away society, where homes have become boltholes and the most vulnerable among us – the old and the young, the sick and infirm – live in dreadful isolation?

Demographer Bernard Salt sees it as a “loss of connectivity”, a separation from our neighbours, that has been growing for several decades in suburbs that have become increasingly amorphous.

“Within the space of about two generations, Australia has moved from being household-based to being workplace-based, and the result has been that any sense of neighbourhoodness has moved out of suburbia and into the office,” he says.

“Most of us are now more likely to have a conversation about the events of the day over the office partition than the back fence.

“As a result, home has become something of a bolthole, leaving suburbia and its role as a place of community connectedness severely diminished.”

And not only in suburbia, it happens in the country too. It’s six weeks since Gypsy weekend when numerous dairy farm workers change jobs but I’m yet to meet any of the new people in our neighbourhood. 

One of the neighbours and I spoke of having a pot luck meal for our road and its off shoots, before calving when it gets too busy. But the first calves are already arriving and we’ve got no further than talking about it.

Enrolment forms low priority as people prepare for Gypsy Day


Employment contracts on dairy farms apply for the milking season – June 1 to May 31st. The weekend nearest those dates, which this year happens to be Queens Birthday, is known as Gypsy weekend because it’s when so many people change jobs which means they also change addresses.


Some have had enough of the industry and move to other work; some want a change of scene, or employer; and others take the opportunity to move towards farm ownership.


Whatever the reason, the last weekend of May is when thousands of individuals and households pack up and move to different jobs and different homes.


It has a huge impact on schools in areas where dairy farming predominates as it means large numbers of pupils move – some within the school catchment others to and from completely different areas. It means different addresses for most, and for many different electorates too.


Forms from the Electoral Enrolment Centre arrived today, asking us to check our details. That’s not difficult for people who are staying put, but the forms are likely to be a low priority, for the thousands of dairy workers who will be busy preparing to move, and some won’t even know what their new address will be yet.

%d bloggers like this: