During her time with Rural Women New Zealand, long-standing member Wendy McGowan has held every position from Raffle Girl in 1978 to National President in 2016. An active member of Region 5’s Kaharoa Branch, Wendy is an integral part of the rural community, serving as a Board Member of TUANZ and the Chair of NZIRH.
“I come from a small South Canterbury town with a population of approximately 300 people, although I am now more urbanized and travel between two cities within half an hour’s drive of each other,” says Wendy, who still lives rurally on a 265.5 hectare property.
The things Wendy learnt as a child growing up in South Canterbury have impacted her for the rest of her life. “Participating in the Girl Guides, I had many strong women around me who influenced me. Some of these women belonged to our organisation in the earlier years.”
Throughout her time with RWNZ, Wendy has experienced many stand-out events both in New Zealand and beyond. “Attending the WHO meeting in China, I was so proud to say that I was from Rural Women New Zealand.” She’s also come to define leadership for herself. “During my years on the National Board, I have realised that there is no right or wrong way to be a leader, having served under three different leadership styles and having attended many conferences. You just need to believe in and have confidence in yourself. Rural Women New Zealand is an amazing training ground. You will find there is always encouragement to be the best you can be, no one does it wrong. We all do our jobs to the best of our personal ability.”
Thank you, Wendy!
RWNZ Member Mary McTavish has travelled far and wide throughout her time with Rural Women, achieving great success both on the ground and in the corporate side of the kiwifruit industry. Along the way she’s even recruited her husband, John, as a fellow Rural Woman!
I met and married my Kiwi bloke while he was doing his OE on English farms in the 1970s. There was no doubt that I would accompany him when he returned to New Zealand, despite the sorrow this caused my parents. Despite the fact that love trumps all, leaving my family and heritage behind was not easy.
However, the transition between countries was made easier by the friendship and understanding offered by the wife of John’s employer on the large market garden where he worked on arrival in New Zealand in 1977. This dear lady, Rita Wymer, fortuitously happened to be a member of WDFF (as Rural Women New Zealand was called back then). She soon had me signed up to the Glenbrook Branch. I met some wonderful people in that district, some whom I am still in contact with. It is the memory of the kindness shown to me by those wonderful ladies more than forty years ago that has remained with me and motivated me to ‘not forget to be kind’ to everybody I’ve been fortunate to meet since.
After a few years we settled on 30 acres of land near the Glenbrook Steel Mill. We gradually developed the land into a kiwifruit orchard, growing market garden crops in the meantime. From there we moved to Horotiu to work for AFFCo. developing some 60 acres into an asparagus farm. It was through this Horotiu connection I came across June Haultain who insisted I change my allegiance from Glenbrook to the local RWNZ branch at Horotiu. I became active not only in the Horotiu branch but also in the Waikato Provincial. We spent many days at the Mystery Creek Fieldays in the WDFF stands selling sandwiches which we had been up making since dawn.
We stayed at Horotiu developing the property until John was head-hunted away to work at a desk in Hamilton, for a company that oversaw several large managed horticultural properties. Sadly this career was short-lived as the Credit Crunch arrived in the mid 80’s and saw off the Queen Street farmers who were heavily invested in this enterprise. We had to rethink our lives quite dramatically at this point.
And so we began again by moving to Te Poi, where we were offered the one and only position we applied for on a (then) large dairy farm, working as the Married Couple, for the Share Milker milking his 450+ herd of Friesian crossbreds. We stayed for a year, during which time we gained heaps of experience and overcame lots of challenges, before applying for a job as “Contract Milkers” just around the corner in Okoroire. We spent 3 happy years there and I joined the Tirau Branch of WDFF.
It was around this time – some 31 years ago – that I succumbed to rheumatoid arthritis. Deciding that we needed a slightly warmer climate and easier workloads, we bought our orchard in Oropi near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. We were extremely happy there and converted it to Organic in 1997. I am proud to say that we were among the first in Oropi to convert to Organic and nearly all of our neighbouring orchardists followed our lead. Now, the district is renowned for its organic production.
Naturally I quickly joined the Oropi RWNZ Branch and have held office as Branch Treasurer and Secretary at various times, including serving as Treasurer for the Tauranga Provincial from 2003 and Rimanui Region 5 from 2008 to 2013. I also worked on behalf of RWNZ in the Home Industries section of the Tauranga A & P Association for 10 years, a role which finished two years ago when the A & P folded in Tauranga. I am currently on the Bay of Plenty Rural Support Trust on behalf of RWNZ. From 2006 to 2010, I chaired the Honda House Management Committee. I am currently acting Secretary for our Oropi Branch and Secretary/Treasurer for Tauranga Branch. My husband John, a fellow RWNZ member, is our Oropi Branch Treasurer.
Besides working on our orchard, over the years I have also been involved with the corporate side of the kiwifruit industry. During the late 1990s I was a Director and ultimately Chairman of Katikati Fruitpackers Co-operative Ltd. seeing its successful amalgamation with Bay of Plenty Fruitpackers, Te Puke, and subsequent transformation into Satara Group Ltd., which then merged with EastPack Ltd. making it the biggest kiwifruit postharvest company in the country.
This time last year we decided it was time to retire from kiwifruit and we have purchased a property in Ohauiti just 15 minutes, but a world away, from our Oropi orchard. We have discovered there is a world beyond the shelter belts. The views of the Mount from our new home are spectacular with not a shelter belt in sight and a few hectares enough to keep us out of mischief, fit and well.
For Vicky Beckwith, RWNZ Region 4 Individual Member, discovering Rural Women New Zealand within weeks of arriving in New Zealand made settling into her new country so much easier.
“The local branch welcomed me, my husband and two-year old son with kindness and inclusiveness,” says Vicky.
“For the eight years that I’ve been involved with RWNZ, I have always felt connected to both my old and new lives, through sharing memories of collecting and holding warm eggs, bottle feeding lambs, fetching errant goats from neighbouring properties, being chased out of the dairy during milking because my cousin and I upset my uncle’s ‘girls’, baking cakes for community gatherings, growing vegetables, rescuing calves from ditches and chickens from floods, checking fences in all weathers, walking miles to school, being cut off by snow, relying on trusted networks, building resilience and supporting others.”
Vicky has enjoyed a number of stand-out events during her time with RWNZ. In 2019,she attended afternoon tea with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern following the RWNZ National Office’s celebration of ACWW Walk the World, which Vicky describes as the most “surreal and incredible experience.”
Similarly, the Growing Dynamic Leaders course in 2014 built Vicky’s confidence and introduced her to a network of “amazing people,” which she has continued to build through her involvement with the RWNZ Education and International Portfolio Hubs. Vicky’s time with RWNZ has been characterised by fond memories of the wider membership.
“I think mixing with other members during the AGM last year and the Business Awards was wonderful-hearing people speak, and seeing friendships made, renewed and refreshed, were powerful experiences and offered up a diverse range of role models. Just being with other RWNZ members stands out in my RWNZ experience.”
Thank you, Vicky
Rural Women New Zealand is celebrating our Members each Monday, highlighting their thoughts and experiences of being a rural woman including their biggest achievement or significant moment. The first story is from the past President, Fiona Gower. Watch her story here.