WHILE tractors on Invercargill roads are not an unusual sight, Friday’s convoy through the city stood out.
Led by mental health advocate Mike King, about 20 farm vehicles made their way towards the Farmlands store for the first stop of the Gumboot Friday Tractor Trek 2020 tour.
A 2000km journey from Bluff to Cape Reinga, the initiative aimed at promote positive societal and attitudinal change towards mental health in New Zealand.
Mr King, the 2019 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year, said this year’s goal was to raise $5 million to provide free counselling throughout the country.
Last year, the initiative raised $1.3 million to provide 10,670 critical counselling sessions to more than 2500 New Zealanders.
“Currently, the only way kids can get free counselling from government services is to be diagnosed with a mental health problem and that comes with a whole lot of stigma, particularly in rural communities,” Mr King said.
Analysis from last year’s initiative revealed the uptake for counselling in rural communities was “down on everywhere else”.
The event itself was about making Southland communities aware of how important it was for families to talk to each other, or a counsellor, to maintain their overall well-being.
“We want to embrace our rural communities and help their kids stay on track for a better life.”
Bringing the trip to Invercargill was also a chance to give farmers credit for the work they were doing and to say “well done”, he said.
“Our farmers, unfortunately, have been painted to be the bad guys and it’s completely wrong. Our farmers are the lifeblood of our country and are doing everything possible to make our farming sustainable, and nobody is rewarding them.”
Farmlands Southland sales manager James McKenzie said it was important for Farmlands to get on board to help “kick off” the trek and get the initiative’s message out there.
He wanted the Invercargill store to be a meeting point for people in the agricultural industry who needed a space to connect with others.
“If we can provide that sort of environment, I think it’s quite a good thing, especially when times are a bit tougher or if we have floods. We have certain weather implications that hold things up or make things hard on people, it’s somewhere to go to.
“You’re not in the boat by yourself, you know?”