'Plenty of opportunity': Rural Games pushing job openings

  • 12/03/2021
Speed tree climbing will become "a battle of the sexes" at this year's NZ Rural Games in Palmerston North
Speed tree climbing will become "a battle of the sexes" at this year's NZ Rural Games in Palmerston North Photo credit: RNZ

By Hugo Cameron for RNZ

The New Zealand Rural Games have kicked off in Palmerston North today, with the three-day event expected to draw in more than 40,000 people.

The annual games feature everything from fencing and speed shearing competitions to gumboot and cowpat throwing.

Event co-founder Steve Hollander said they were extraordinarily lucky the games were going ahead, considering the changing COVID-19 alert levels and variable weather.

Hollander said there was a strong connection between the games and agricultural industries, as the event promotes opportunities that feed back into primary sector jobs.

"A lot of these sports are extensions of work and industry. These sports like coal shovelling, sheep dog trials, sheep shearing, wood chopping, they're extensions of industries that have been around for over a hundred years," he said.

As well as the competitive sports, the event would feature about 12 more casual community games - some favourites being cowpat, gumboot, and egg throwing.

He said organisers decided nine months ago that competitors from across the Tasman could not attend, so they have had to make adjustments to some events to deal with the smaller numbers.

Some new activities were also created to strengthen competition, such as two "battle of the sexes" events in the speed tree climbing and sheepdog challenge.

He said as well as being a bit of fun, organisers hoped the games would help to draw young people to primary sector careers.

"Take the fencing industry, you know, they're screaming out for kids to work as rural fencers because there's a real shortage of them. There's plenty of opportunity, they can make great dough, and have a wonderful outside job.

"Kids from urban areas just don't really understand and know that those opportunities are there for them, so what we're doing is creating them for them," Hollander said.

He said a programme linking school leavers with jobs in the agricultural sector would feature this year, as well as a national high school rural sports championship.

Hollander said the event costs almost $1 million to run and took a full year to put together, with a team of four organisers ramping up to 24 fulltime staff and 200 volunteers as the games draw close.

The Rural Games also coincide with Palmerston North's 150th anniversary, which Holland said was great considering the city has historically been a hub for surrounding rural areas.

Mayor Grant Smith said in a statement there was no better way to mark the anniversary.

"Our city was founded on the strength of agriculture and food which remains the backbone of our diverse economy today," Smith said.

The event is being livestreamed.