Item for John Cutt: Southland Times Farm Review due 12 May 2000
From Christine McKenzie Fortrose _______________________________________________________
‘Bring your spade, we’re going to rescue Jen’s garden.’
The bulldozers have already ripped up the entire farm. Next week they will finally clear all remnants of a century and a half of family living. The house and sheds have been sold and moved, the mature trees will be pushed over, only the young moveable rhododendrons and the roses can be saved.
This scenario has played out not once but a dozen times in Southern Southland this year.
Family farms are falling like skittles to the big industrial forestry companies as they buy up a huge swathe of country to plant trees for chips and fibreboard.
While Governments no doubt think of the ‘carbon credits’ they will be able to claim in the future,those scattered farmers remaining in the district have been protesting about losing neighbours with the consequent drop in community viability, but there is no law against planting trees on farms. There is no effective law against foreign ownership of land either.
Forestry is not the job-rich industry it once was. The eucalypts already planted on Jen’s farm will not be touched until 2015 when they will be clear-felled.
Meantime there is no-one going up and down the road - the gravel road.
The gravel road has a lot to answer for. These are not ‘marginal’ farms as many people would believe. They grow eucalypts at a record rate, just as they grew beautiful sheep and cattle.
The reason the foresters could buy this land is not because of low productivity, but low saleability, because it’s just too far away from facilities for the modern family. People are nowadays not prepared to live so far from access to sports, entertainment, supermarkets and off farm jobs for partners. The same land near Invercargill, Gore or Winton would change hands far more readily and be priced well out of reach of bargain-hunters.
Our problem began fifty years ago when other areas were sealing their roads, and developing services. Somehow we never got to the point where we had enough population to demand modern amenities. We were too self-sufficient for our own good.
Nowadays with privatised infrastructure it’s more difficult still. For example we have been trying to get Telecom to consider our requests for cellular service but they are not interested. Why would they bother about big poorly populated areas like ours, unless Government forces them to?
Perhaps the ‘urban drift’ applies to many more places than just our little district but it hurts just the same, to see those loved homestead gardens disappear under ripped landscape leaving only ghosts that flicker in the minds of those who still pass by.
CJM 10 May 2000.