Thursday, April 25, 2024

Shepherdess Muster brings rural women together

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Hundreds of rural women get to ‘take a load off the everyday juggle of work, home and farm life’.
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Connecting more than 250 women from across New Zealand, the inaugural Shepherdess Muster was held recently in the small village of Mōtū in Tairāwhiti. 

The weekend was an opportunity for women to engage in experiences from arts to entrepreneurship, and provided a chance for open and frank discussions around subjects like menopause, sex and relationships. 

Shepherdess publisher and festival director Kristy McGregor said the Shepherdess Muster aims to give rural women “the chance to come together to relax and take a load off the everyday juggle of work, home and farm life”.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who came along and made the weekend what it was, from all of those who bought a ticket without much idea of what to expect, to our beautiful speakers, workshop hosts, entertainers and artists, beauty, health and wellness providers, stallholders, sponsors, event committee members, crew, wonderful team of volunteers, mana whenua and the Mōtū community. Tino mīharo te tautoko me te aroha mai ngā wāhine katoa,” she said.

There were market stalls to browse, beauty therapists on hand for appointments, access to women’s health services, areas to relax and a bar to have a chat in between each day’s activities during three days of sunshine. 

The mural for Mōtū School by Gisborne artist Kelly Spencer.

Comedian Michele A’Court headlined the Friday night comedy show. 

The programme included floral crowns with local florist, Rhonda Haag of Flora Forms, burlesque dancing workshops and performance with Wellington-based Studio L’amour, and drop-in arts experiences, including a community canvas women were invited to paint themselves into, led by Lindy McLachlan. 

Local muralist Kelly Spencer led the painting of a bright mural, left as a gift for the local school. 

Keynote speakers included sex and relationship therapist Jo Robertson, Wahine Toa Hunting’s Pania Te Paiho (Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Wairoa, Ngaitai) and discussions about menopause with Sarah Connor. 

There was also a business and entrepreneurship panel with Emma Higgins (Ngāti Maniapoto) from Rabobank, Tora Collective’s Claire Edwards (Kai Tahu), agrifood marketer Lucy Griffiths and HR specialist Robyn Young. Local Jen Mildenhall (Rongomaiwahine) shared her story of losing her son, with the message of hope through grief.

The weekend provided an opportunity for women from of all walks of life to engage on a variety of levels, from health and wellbeing to managing staff relations, or simply just having a good ol’ yarn.

 “I am honestly blown away with the response to the weekend,” McGregor said. 

“Women are commenting on the connections, inclusiveness, old friend catch-ups, sharing of stories. Of being pushed out of their comfort zones, of learning. One woman said it was nothing they expected but everything they needed. It was raw, relatable, empowering, a hell of a good laugh. After three and a half years of planning and cancelled events, hearing what it has meant to so many women makes it all worthwhile.”

Shepherdess Muster programme manager Arpége Taratoa said they were incredibly grateful to mana whenua from Matawai Marae for their ongoing support and guidance over the years, and moreso following last year’s cancellation. 

“It was a key part of our journey to hosting the Muster in Mōtū, to involve and learn from mana whenua on a cultural level, with the aim to weave that into the weekend. We thank them for their hospitality to our team upon our arrival to Matawai Marae.” 

The Shepherdess Muster plans to head to the South Island next year.

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