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Helping those hit hardest

When Waitoki-based fencer Colin Hawken saw an email pop up asking for fencers to assist with cyclone repair fencing in the Hawke’s Bay, he didn’t think twice about putting his hand up.

“I just wanted to help out the farmers down there”, Colin says. Colin had travelled to Canterbury after the 2021 floods to help with fencing, so knew how much it meant to farmers to have help arrive when facing the aftermath of a disaster. Colin rang the organiser (Gerard Hickey) immediately, saying “We’re here to help, [I’ll] give you a week – let us know what you want.”

Knowing that there was a huge amount of fencing to be done, Colin put the feelers out in his local fencing community for additional fencers to join the trip. Campbell Caldwell responded, and, regardless of the fact that neither had worked together before, they set off on Easter Monday for five days of fencing in Ōtāne.

With just their hand tools in the Ute (a tractor and postdriver was provided), the men approached the Taupō-Napier road (SH5) with some apprehension about what they would find. What they found was a large gap. “The road’s just gone”.

Carrying through to the Esk Valley, the pair were stunned. “It was horrendous; silt up to the top of the eves of houses, cars parked on top of fences, crops covered in silt.” At first glance Ōtāne didn’t seem that bad, but on talking to the locals, Colin and Cam discovered that the flats had been under 4-6 metres of water, after the Waipawa River had breached its banks.

Drumpeel Farm underwater following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo credit: Stuff

Drumpeel Farm

Colin and Cam initially worked on the property of Hugh Ritchie, whose Drumpeel Farm in Ōtāne grows sweetcorn, squash, beans, and maize and is the largest supplier of carrots for McCain’s frozen vegetables. It’s estimated that Ritchie lost 150ha – around half – of his summer crop. The farm lost approximately 10km of fencing in the flooding. Repairs and replacements were required urgently to secure stock before approximately 8,000 lambs arrived in spring.
The toll on farmer’s mental and physical health was visible on their arrival.

“Hugh Ritchie was pretty stressed. You could tell by just looking at him, he’d been doing some massive hours,” said Colin. “He was pretty wound up, it was a big relief for us to go in there.”
The men erected 400m of new post and 8 wire fencing and a heap of repairs to the Ritchie property. “They cleared everything in front of us, we just pushed in the posts and strainers and put in the wires for him.”


Helping Michael Oliver

Colin and Cam also assisted Michael Oliver, who lived an hour from the Ritchie property, in the hills. Michael Oliver was very thankful for the offer of help, feeling overwhelmed at the thought of doing the cyclone repair fencing on his own. Oliver had allowed two days for the job, which ended up only taking Colin and Cam a day, which Oliver was ‘absolutely stoked with’.

Work on Michael Oliver’s property required sheep fence repairs ‘on rock faces’. Initial thoughts from the fencers included “How the hell am I going to stand up on this?” but they managed to get the job done.

Volunteering his time and energy is clearly second nature to Colin. “It felt great to go down and help them”, said Colin. On his return home, Colin has rallied his local fencing community, organising 150 donated silage bales to be delivered to Hawke’s Bay farmers in need. With the bales donated by Colin’s clients and Waitoki locals (Colin himself donating 28 bales) and with loading costs free, Colin has secured sponsorship for the freight costs for two loads of silage, and is in the process of securing a final load.

Article written by Heather Kawan

Published in the After the Storm Feature in WIRED Issue 70 / September 2023 by Fencing Contractors NZ

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