Rau rangatira mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.
Kia ora tātou katoa.
Distinguished guests and members of Rural Women New Zealand, warm greetings to you all.
Thank you for inviting me here today. The office of Governor-General has had a long relationship with Rural Women New Zealand. Since 1927 the Governor-General or Governor-General’s spouse has been your patron and I’m pleased to be able to continue that association.
Over the next five years, I look forward to finding out more about your organisation, its members and the work you do for our rural communities.
Conferences are an opportunity for organisations to inspire, inform and invigorate their membership. I’m sure everyone will be excited by the programme for the next few days and the scope it offers for learning and development. No doubt there’ll be some socialising too.
The theme of this year’s conference “Dream, Explore, Discover” is an exciting one, daring us to forge new paths and think in new ways.
The theme strikes a chord personally. In the six weeks since I was sworn in, there has been a lot of exploring and discovering. Getting to grips with a new job is an interesting process, even more so when that job is something as unique as Governor-General of New Zealand.
Like any new role, there are new things to be learned. I have already been asked to master some unusual skills. For example, how to hold the sword for investitures. The sword used for dubbing is not overly sharp but it pays not to take too many risks. I sat through a few heated meetings during my business career but I’ve never had to use a sword at work before.
Less unusual has been the travel. I’m very much looking forward to my first regional visit to Nelson next week. While I’m there I’ll be visiting Dove River Peonies, owned by Enterprising Rural Women Merit Award winners Dot Kettle and Georgia Taylor. Operations like theirs give an insight into the entrepreneurship and vision being brought to our rural sector. They also highlight the interesting and varied roles for women on the land in the 21st century.
The role of women in rural areas may have changed greatly since the founding of this organisation but the need for a strong voice for our rural communities remains the same. Your advocacy is key in making sure that the concerns and needs of people living in our rural areas are considered and addressed when legislation is being framed.
There is also your role in promoting issues within the rural community as well as outside it. There is huge value in working to protect the health and wellbeing of your communities, making them more resilient and robust. This includes the importance of environmental sustainability, particularly in an era where climate change is forcing us to take a hard look at how we manage the health of our environment to ensure it is protected for future generations.
Your commitment to recognising outstanding leaders and celebrating achievers is also helpful. It shows others the incredible diversity of women living and working in rural areas. By highlighting their achievements, you are offering positive role models for others.
New Zealanders have a great affinity with the land and we are proud of the role our rural sector plays in our economy. Once upon a time, every New Zealander seemed to have a farmer somewhere in the family and had opportunities to experience rural life.
My own early years were spent in Te Akau - a sheep farming community on the Waikato west coast where my parents were the country school teachers.
In recent years my husband David and I have enjoyed the rural community in the South Wairarapa. We purchased around 8 hectares of land close to the foothills of the Rimutakas and the South Coast, where we built a house and learnt what the Met service really means when they advise of ‘gale-force winds in exposed places’! One of the great pleasures for us was becoming a part of a small rural community and learning more about the issues that concern them as well as the pleasures of rural life.
However my own experience is not necessarily typical. Over the past few decades, New Zealand has become a much more urbanised society and the understanding of what goes on in rural areas is not as wide and deep as it once was. Now more than ever, organisations like yours are needed, to keep a spotlight shining on rural issues and champion the people who live and work rurally.
All this can be accomplished by women working together to support each other and those around them As the author Isabel Allende said “Talk to each other, be connected and informed, form women's circles, share your stories, work together, and take risks. Together we are invincible.”
You can be proud of the contribution your organisation has made and excited about the opportunities available to rural women in the 21st Century.
I wish you luck with your future endeavours and declare the 2016 Rural Women New Zealand National Conference Open. Kia ora huihui tātou katoa