By Bridget Gourlay
Townies: Suits who wouldn’t know one end of a cow from another, but are happy to complain about water issues while getting rich off the taxes from dairy exports.
Farmers: Country bumpkins who would call a place like Timaru ‘The Big Smoke’ and constantly whinge about conditions while getting all kinds of subsidies from the Government.
There’s all kinds of stereotypes to make about rural and urban New Zealanders, but the fact is they depend on one another. It’s true agriculture is our primary industry and has been since New Zealand was colonised. But it’s also true urban areas provide processing facilities, ports and transport infrastructure that allow the rural sector to prosper.
Since neither can operate without the other, the real question is whether there is a rural-urban divide? Yes, says Federated Farmers vice president Donald Aubery.
And the best example of it can be illustrated with broadband — or the lack of it in rural areas. He says FarmSafe, an information website, has the option for people to fill out a form online. However, in the rural area, 70 percent have indicated they still require information by post.
“The reason they’re doing that is because of their inability to remain online long enough to fill out a form. FarmSafe assures us the system is as simple as possible, but even those with access to internet are struggling with the simplest of forms. They can’t book air plane tickets, or hotels, or undertake lengthy research online because of poor service.”
Access to better healthcare — like midwifery services, and better schooling, is another demand often heard from rural folk. But some would say that a decile one school in a city’s poorest suburb is ten times worse than any little country school. Or that the health services in those urban areas are equally as lacking compared to need.
Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery (MAF) research shows that in the 1880s, 60 percent of the population lived in rural areas. By the time of the 1916 census, the country’s urban population was greater than the rural one. This trend has continued, and today just 14 percent of New Zealanders live in rural areas.
Te Ara Encyclopaedia writes that a rift between townies and rural folk goes back a hundred years. In 1913, when the Wellington wharfies went on strike, the conservative government enlisted ‘special constables’, mainly farmers, to reopen the wharves.
This resulted in a number of bloody street clashes. The strike highlighted a geo-political split between the city and country — when the Labour Party was founded in 1916, most of its backing was from city voters. And until the 1960s, the conservative parties attracted more country support.
This divide escalated again during the 1981 Springbok tour. Statistically, support for the tour was strongest in country districts and opposition centred in cities.
The growth of lifestyle blocks during the 1980s created more tensions. Lifestylers complained about country noises and smells to the bemusement and irritation of local farmers.
So how to bridge this historic gap?
Donald Aubery says townies could take opportunities to visit farms. “One of the things Federated Farmers has done has been to organise an annual event called farm day — one of the best attended of the two dozen or so was at Lincoln.
It was a great opportunity for people to interact directly with farming. Most people are amazed at the level of technology used on farms these days. The way in which we manage nutrients has improved markedly, initiatives for example involving Fonterra and Dairy NZ are having a big impact.”
In 2008, MAF commissioned research aimed at understanding the changing nature of rural and urban New Zealanders’ beliefs and values. It showed that it’s actually country people who don’t understand townies.
The majority (64 percent) of urban respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that, if the rural sector was doing well, everyone living in the urban sector would be better off. Only 15 percent disagreed. In contrast, 25 percent of rural respondents agreed that, if the urban sector was doing well, people in the rural sector would be better off, while 43 percent disagreed.
MAF says there is a lack of clarity in rural places about the role of urban New Zealand. Of course, not everything done in New Zealand is strictly rural or urban.
There’s tourism and manufacturing. Huge manufacturing areas are often on city outskirts and employ a range of people who live in the city or the country. Many use country grown materials, like wood, processed and exported in city zones with city infrastructure.
Tourists are drawn to New Zealand equally for the city and the country — to walk though the woods or climb the Sky Tower, to bungy jump over rivers but to stay in a Queenstown hotel.
When all’s said and done, the fact remains our key industries could not exist without both rural and urban enterprise. Once everyone realises that, city and country folk can work together for the betterment of New Zealand.