I grew up on a farm in Hawke’s Bay, and as a kid, I actually wanted to be a vet. I was rubbish at science, and I realised I would probably fail vet school, so I had to think about what I was good at. I was really into debating, and I was good at English, so I decided to become a journalist. I got into the journalism course at Canterbury University, and before I finished, I got a job as the agricultural reporter at Hawke’s Bay Today.
I then went into daily news at the Waikato Times, but I didn’t have thick enough skin for it, especially once I started doing police and court reporting. Drive-by shootings and that sort of thing started to seem normal. But I loved being a journalist, so I emailed Tony Leggett who ran Farmers Weekly, saying, “I would love to work for you.” He didn’t have a job at the time, so I took six months off and went and worked on a cattle station in Australia. When I came back, Tony was like, “Yeah, I’ve got something,” so I went and did a lot of different things in that business. I went to parliament and was in the press gallery for a year, came back to Farmers Weekly as news editor, and then moved into the role of editor.
Then I met my husband, Richard, a hill-country sheep and beef farmer from Pongaroa. I moved to the farm and decided to start a freelancing business. Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of different things. I wrote a couple of books – the history of a big station up the east coast, and the last twenty-five years of the Hawke’s Bay Hunt Club, which I hunted with as a child. I was the editor of Hereford, the Hereford Association magazine, for a few years; I worked for Farm Focus, until I had my daughter, Phoebe [now 4]. It’s been a mix of journalism and marketing for medium-to-small agricultural businesses that want to communicate with their customers. I could have employed another person, but I prefer to keep it small and flexible, because I also do the books and things for the farm and I’m a mum, so I’ve got to balance it all.
Last year I did a bit of a radio and co-hosted ‘Rural Exchange’ with Hamish McKay for a year. I’ve just gone to Country-Wide as deputy editor – that’s my main role at the moment – but I do a number of things for various businesses, including ‘Down to Earth’, a podcast profiling young people who have started businesses in the primary sectors.
Radio has its absolute strengths, and nothing highlighted that more than when we were doing the show the week of the cyclone. We had people ringing us from Gisborne. Farmers have got radios. A feature is not going to help them right now. You can write a feature that highlights the issues they are still facing a year on, but at that time, radio was so relevant.
We are often told as farmers that we need to tell our story better. That is a really big thing to put on farmers. I’m a farmer as well as being a journalist, so I have that perspective. I know the pressures and the challenges that we face. I want farmers to feel valued, supported and empowered. Sometimes you have to ask the hard questions, trying to be positive and solution-focused. That’s what the team at Country-Wide is focused on, which really excites me.
I do a lot of community events. Last year we held an amazing ladies’ long lunch on Rural Women’s Day. It was inspired by the Australian Rural Women’s Day, an event to connect and inspire women. We live in quite a remote, isolated community and there are not a lot of options for putting on a nice frock.
We got hit really hard by the cyclone in this community, so I coordinated a local branch of the Collective Hug, delivering food parcels. I organised women in other areas to do deliveries as well. We had amazing donations and contributions – I don’t know how many people I delivered to with my three-year-old child in tow!
I’ve also done a lot of voluntary work with a charity out of Tairāwhiti called Hear4U around men’s mental health and suicide prevention. Krissy Mackintosh, who runs it, is the real rural champion. I am so passionate about what she’s doing. Mental health is an issue for all of us and it is a real crisis. If I can do even the smallest thing to help, I will. I don’t do it to make myself feel good, but it really does. I hope that is something that can continue.
To be recognised is humbling. I have the easy job. I’m just writing about other people. In most cases, the people I am interviewing are the ones who are doing amazing things. When someone allows you to tell their story, it’s a real privilege. I’ve enjoyed the podcasting and radio, but I love feature writing – being able to really get into the detail. I love to find out what makes people tick. People profiles are the ones that I enjoy most – when someone is doing something that’s making a difference or pushing the boat out, or when people have shown great resilience and courage in the face of difficulty. It is such an important job, and it’s so fun and rewarding, too. I can’t think of anything that I would rather have done with my career, and I definitely don’t regret not being a vet.
The NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards celebrate the creative and innovative women running rural businesses and their contributions to rural communities. Visit ruralwomennz.nz/business-awards/ for more information.
When the worst happens, whānau comes together. Often, it’s not until you’re most tested that you find out how strong you really are.
From the Editor, Takurua Winter 2022.
From the Editor, Ngahuru Autumn 2022.
Erin Lee, 29, has fond memories of Lawrence, the “little gem” of a town in South Otago where she grew up.