TEACHING HOMESTEAD SKILLS



   

Anna and John Mahy took a bottle of wine, a world atlas and a pin and somehow ended up teaching homestead skills on New Zealand’s south island.

As Mark Twain famously observed, 20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did. So when English couple John and Anna Mahy felt like a lifestyle change, they sat down with an atlas and over a few drinks, worked out likely destinations for relocating with their young family.

“Africa was a possibility, but we thought it was a bit unstable for kids,” Anna recalls. “France appealed but there was a language problem, so we settled on Australia or New Zealand. Then I read Bill Bryson’s description of Australia’s very large and very poisonous animals and New Zealand seemed like the better bet.”

Which is how, in 2005, Anna, a former nurse and John, an IT consultant, found themselves living in Charteris Bay on the shores of Lyttleton Harbour, about half an hour’s drive from Christchurch. In the interests of travelling light so they could move on if it didn’t work out, they arrived with a single suitcase, a twin children’s buggy, a baby backpack and children Elizabeth, now aged 10, Evie, aged nine and Huey, now eight years. After three months travelling around both islands, they settled on Lyttleton Harbour, which had just the right mix of country life with access to the city comforts they were looking for. There they’ve put down roots, both in the literal and figurative sense.

“John and I had spent much of our formative years in Guernsey, just off the coast of France, so we were quite spoilt when it came to food choices,” Anna explains. “When we first arrived in New Zealand we were having difficulty finding organic produce, so it wasn’t long before we started our own garden.”

Difficulties finding ethically and sustainably produced meat and smallgoods sent Anna and John to the library and the internet, where Anna met her cyberspace mentor, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who, through his River Cottage television shows, cooking classes, delis and recipe books has converted many Brits to the joys of food integrity and becoming more self-sufficient in terms of ingredients. “Once I learned how easy it was to make bacon and sausages I’ve not bought either since,” Anna explains. “Friends and neighbours tasted what we were making and wanted to learn how to do it, so we hit on the idea of running a class for them.”

This story was originally published in Australian Country magazine issue 15.4.

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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass

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