OPINION:I’ve never believed in the premise that people are friendlier in the countryside, but I have changed my mind.
Over Easter, I headed south on my motorbike intending to take in some back roads and passes.
But things didn’t go to plan and I ended up at 7.30am on a rainy Saturday morning with my bike downed in a creek on lonely Hakataramea saddle. Unable to get it upright, all I could do was wait for a passerby. Two hours went by before a high country farmer rolled up in his Hilux, jet boat and young family in tow, and proceeded to strip down to bare feet and undies to help me get the bike out of the creekbed.
Back on track, I headed down the Hakataramea Valley, only to be brought up short by a puncture. Unable to fix it, I walked to the nearest farm, knocked on the door and brazenly asked if anyone could help. A second high country farmer leapt to his feet, wheeled my bike into his workshop and spent the next hour mending the tyre and seeing me on my way.
* New Zealand second in global generosity rankings
* Sheep and $7000 pledged in appeal
Later in the day, many hours behind schedule, I crept over Danseys Pass in the dark, very aware that with both tent and sleeping bag soaked from the mornings dunking, I would have to find somewhere to stay. But it was Easter and Central Otago lodgings were full.
Some farmers were sitting on the veranda of the Danseys Pass pub. When I explained my predicament they whipped out their cell phones and rang up and down the Maniototo until I had somewhere to sleep in Ophir and the directions on how to get there.
Three times in a day, I’d relied on the good will of high country farmers to get me out of a fix and I was flummoxed at how generous and unflinching they were with their time and help. If not for them my day would have been unmanageable.
It reminded me of another incident a few weeks before, when my riding companion had been seriously injured falling off her motorbike in the upper Rakaia Valley. A farmer’s wife from a lonely high country station had provided blankets and pain-killers, organised the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and sat on the side of the road in a cold wind with my companion and me until the chopper arrived.
Would I have received this generosity in the city?
I think we urban people are more protective of our time. The population density affects our expectations of privacy – we want more of it. We are less willing to become involved in the protracted, less willing to connect with a stranger. In a city, it doesn’t make sense to stop and talk to everyone you pass – there are too many people.
Lonely places like the Hakararamea and Upper Rakaia tend to have a more homogeneous population. Any given person you meet is likely to be similar. In these areas, they are most likely a farmer. Everyone knows everyone else because there aren’t that many people to know. This lends itself to conviviality.
There are few services in these places. The plumber or a mechanic or the AA can’t come at the drop of a hat. You can’t pop down to the supermarket to pick up the milk. People are forced to seek help from their neighbours, give it in return, share skill sets, transport, social time, and commodities.
I’ve always thought of myself as self-sufficient, and Easter weekend was for me an exercise in graciously accepting help when I needed it. But also a window into a high country community that was unstinting in its unconditional willingness to help me out.