The path of destruction left by Cyclone Gabrielle on rural communities has prompted a Tākaka sharemilker to permanently relocate to Hawke’s Bay so he can keep helping farmers with their recovery.
Contractor Tristan Strange and sharemilker Phil Smith visited Hawke’s Bay in the aftermath of the cyclone to deliver thousands of dollars in farming goods he had helped fundraise.
Strange, wife Stacey and Smith raised $50,000 from the Golden Bay community for impacted farmers.
Both men were profoundly shocked at the scale of devastation and its enduring impacts on the landscape and the mental health of Hawke’s Bay farming communities.
They were based at Ōtāne in Central Hawke’s Bay for a couple of days in mid-May, looking at how best to spend the cash, when they joined in a voluntary effort mounted by Fencing Contractors Association NZ (FCANZ).
Twenty-six FCANZ members from Northland to Motueka completed 5km of fencing on six farms, with student help, including three boys from Geraldine High School.
Strange said they spent a lot of their time talking to farmers and now better appreciate what is needed.
“It’s not so much a financial thing for some farmers – they need hands,” he said.
Smith is planning to sell up and move to the region so he can help farmers dealing with the stress left by Cyclone Gabriel’s impact.
Next month, Strange and Smith are returning at their own expense, taking a vanload of workers and a trailer of tools to the Picton ferry and then on to Hawke’s Bay.
“We’ll pay for that. Then we can really get stuck in. We are really vulnerable over here too to flooding and they’re all bloody good people up there who’d help us if we were hit.”
He said many farms still have mounds of tangled fencing materials and other rubbish that councils have yet to take away.
“They’re doing their best,” he said, but have other priorities, like getting bridges and roads open, as well as staff away dealing with their own issues.
Strange said the floods took a toll that goes way beyond the physical. “People’s mental health up there is the biggest concern.”
With that in mind, the trio have decided to channel a further $10,000 towards helping Hawke’s Bay residents get away from the ongoing stresses of damaged farms and properties.
“It’ll be used for breaks away. We’re going to invite them down here [to the Nelson region and elsewhere] so they can do some fishing or just visit the beach.”
The money comes from the Nelson-based Hope is My Home Boy mental health charity, for which Smith has helped raise funds.
Smith said the visit to Hawke’s Bay was “mind-numbingly, heart-breakingly horrific”. Even those farmers and residents who were not hit are experiencing “survivors’ guilt”, he said.
“Everyone is walking on the edge of sanity.”
He has enrolled in a Diploma in Psychology and Counselling and plans to move with his wife Savannah and seven children to Hawke’s Bay as soon as he can.
“This is easily a five-to-10-year thing and that’s if, as we hope, there’s nothing further weather-wise.
“Farmers are a very proud people. If they’re not going to reach out to us, we’ve got to reach out to them.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Tristan Strange would be relocating to Hawke’s Bay. This was incorrect, sharemilker Phil Smith will be relocating to Hawke’s Bay.