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Hyundai Country Calendar

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Episode 2: Back of Beyond


Back of Beyond

You've left school and chosen farming as a career.  By your early twenties, you've saved enough cash to buy a herd of cows.  You take a sharemilking position in the Waikato.  You get married and have a baby or two.  And then things turn sour.

There's a change of government.  Interest rates on the borrowed money go through the roof.  Cow prices fall.  You sell up and walk away with a fraction of your initial investment.

That's a thumb-nail sketch of how things turned out in the 1980s for Alan and Liz Rennie, who feature on this week's Country Calendar.

But it says something about this couple that, while bloodied, they were unbowed.

The Rennies moved to Rangitikei and later bought a remote block at the upper end of the Kawhatau Valley in the foothills of the Ruahine Ranges, an hour's drive from the tiny township of Mangaweka.

With the property came enormous challenges.  Its scrub-covered hills were poorly fenced.  It hadn't had fertilizer applied in living memory.  The implement sheds were basic, at best.

Then there was the isolation, a barely adequate house for Liz and Alan Rennie and, by now, three children.   Liz faced home schooling their offspring, cooking on a wood stove and coping with no mains electricity. 

Alan started clearing the scrub, while preserving the best patches of bush.  He's still working, using a combination of a chainsaw and nature's own scrub-cutters - a herd of goats.

Nine years on, the Rennies continue to farm the property, though the income from the land still doesn't amount to much. 

But they've found another way to supplement their income.  They've turned the surrounding bush into an asset by running horse treks as a tourist venture, and the surplus cash is poured into farm development.

Liz and Alan Rennie look back on their early years and, at times, wonder how they've coped.  But, except for a couple of bad moments, they've given no thought to walking away from the challenge.

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