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Youngest new councillor at the GDC well-grounded and down-to-earth

Kerry Worsnop won the Waipaoa ward seat at the 2019 local body elections making her one of five new councillors in the Gisborne District Council. The Gisborne Herald’s Matai O’Connor wanted to find out more about Kerry and her life experiences . . .

Kerry Worsnop is known for her strong connections to rural communities, something she says her upbringing is responsible for.

“I was born in Rotorua and raised on a dairy farm in Horohoro, 15 minutes south of Rotorua,” Kerry said.

“It was quite a Maori community. I went to Horohoro primary school. For a while I was the only little Pakeha girl.”

Kerry is 35 years old, the eldest of five and had a typical rural upbringing. Being 35 means she is the youngest GDC councillor.

“I was very fortunate. We had plenty of space and had all the benefits that came with growing up on a dairy farm.

“Funny enough, I never wanted to be a dairy farmer. It stole my dad's life. He was milking every day of the year, Christmas Day, New Year's Day. It didn't look like a good job.

“When I used to milk the cows it would make me itch and sneeze. I was not keen on it at all. I was never going to be a farmer.”

She went to Western Heights High School. “I wasn't completely sure what I wanted to do with my life. I thought about being a journalist. I was always very artistic. All my subjects in my last year were art subjects and English.”

“I wasn't good at the really heavy academic subjects. I didn't enjoy school — I guess I lost myself in art.”

When she was at school there were still darkrooms for photography.

“I loved the darkroom. I ended up getting a scholarship in photography.”

Kerry decided not to go straight to university after high school and instead worked as a shepherd.

She had been mucking around with horses since she was 15. She helped an “old fella” in Opotiki who would break in horses but couldn't ride them.

“My first introduction to the East Coast was when I was 16 years old and came across to Puketoro Station near Tokomaru Bay to help him. I loved it from the get go.”

She loved the pace, the people and the connection to the earth.

Kerry decided after high school to find work on the East Coast.

“The manager at Puketoro Station said they needed a shepherd and a nanny — I took the job.”

After working there for a year she decided to go live and volunteer with her aunty who was a missionary in Brazil at a favela (slum neighbourhood) in El Salvador.

“Mum said you need to go now or you won't get a chance to see what it's like there.”

Kerry knew about the severe poverty there but it wasn't what she expected.

“It was in El Salvador which is a rich food growing region. It's tropical and there's heaps of food. If you're a beggar you can go to the markets and dig through the thrown-out food to find something to eat so you don't starve.

“It wasn't just poverty like that — it was poverty of education, poverty of equality and a broken understanding of who they are.

“There was no way of getting out of your brick hut and into a job. It was impossible.

“The racism was so engrained that it was owned by the victims of racism. They elevate paleness as a benefit. When they have a black child, from the get-go they view it as a problem.

“It's something you wouldn't have to deal with here. If someone is judging you because of the colour of your skin, you stand up and speak out about it. But over there, they don't.

“When slavery was abolished it was in living memory of some of the people's parents and grandparents I met there.

“It was startling to me — all the different aspects of poverty that exist. I really struggled with the way society worked, it was so unjust.

“When I came home the one thing I thought about was how lucky we are here in New Zealand. It really deepened my love for our country.”

Lots of life experience behind her at just 35 years of age

In 2004 she decided to use the photography scholarship and went to university.

“From day one, I knew I hated it. I dropped out after six months.”

Kerry went back to her parents' farm where she lived for about a month before her dad walked in, handed her the paper and said “you need to get a job”.

She got a job at the Guide Hall Station in the McKenzie Basin as a station hand.

“I moved down there. It turned out to be an awful job.”

She left after about half a year of work.

Kerry applied for a job on Huiarua Station as a junior shepherd.

“Huiarua Station was next to Puketoro Station. I landed up there with a couple of dogs. From day one I knew this was where I belonged.”

While working there she met her husband, Marcus. He lived in the men's quarters of the station and had the room next to Kerry's. She started going fencing with him.

“I don't understand why I did it, he didn't pay me. It must have been love.”

After about a year and a half, they started thinking about buying their own farm. They managed to scrape together enough money through loans to buy a block in Tutira where they formed the Naumai Farm Trust and managed the farm.

“We had debt up to our eyeballs. We walked onto the land in 2006, and in 2007 the Hawke's Bay droughts happened. Then in 2008 the global financial crisis happened. The picture got even worse.”

She got pregnant with their first child, Tess who is now 12, and then Charlie, 11, and Robbie, 6. They all go to Rere School where Kerry is on the board of trustees.

They sold the Tutira property in 2010 and in 2013 purchased the Taheke Station in Gisborne.

Kerry started studying extramurally in 2010 through Massey university and graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce.

“I started exploring what I could do with my degree. I really enjoyed some of the science papers and I loved applying what I learned.”

A big difference from her last year at school. She worked out studying extramurally was how she learned.

In 2015, she completed a level two certificate in Maori Studies.

In 2017, she became vice president of Federated Farmers and held the environmental portfolio. She started doing environmental consultancy work including as the community co-ordinator of the Wharekopae river restoration project for the GDC. She's also a part of the management group for the Motu catchment project.

“I don't consider myself a politician for life. I want people to want my spot as a councillor. I want it to be something people want to do.”

CONNECTION TO THE EARTH: When Kerry Worsnop and her husband aren't busy with work and projects, they enjoy time at the beach. Her husband Marcus loves diving. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell