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A rural connection

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By Royna Ngahuia Fifield-Hakaraia (Ngāti Rangatahi, Ngāti Whititama)  

You might have noticed a new magazine on the stands lately. Shepherdess is a publication that offers something no other magazine does: an unapologetic celebration of women in rural Aotearoa. Published by Kristy McGregor – a twenty-nine-year-old Australian based on a dairy and beef farm at Manakau, Horowhenua – the quarterly magazine unearths stories on all matters of social and cultural life in the regions. 

Humble beginnings. 

Kristy is the first person to admit that Shepherdess has come from humble beginnings. Initially, there were a series of conversations with Claire Dunne, the founder of Australian magazine Graziher, then an Instagram page and a blog, and finally the first edition was in stores in March, 2020 – a few weeks before New Zealand’s first Covid-19 lockdown.  

“I’d known Claire for a few years and in our conversations we both recognised that there was a real opportunity for a nationwide publication that spoke to rural life,” Kristy explains. “But when Claire said to me, “How about we start the magazine?” in early 2019, I had just had my first baby and was about to dive back into my resource management job in Wellington – it definitely wasn’t the best timing. Deep down, though, I knew there was never going to be a perfect time and I really believed in what the magazine could provide for rural women, so I decided to give it a go.” 

Beating the odds. 

The journey, of course, hasn’t been without its bumps. Less than 40 per cent of start-up businesses in New Zealand survive past the first two years and Kristy faced her first big hurdle early on. She found herself at the helm of Shepherdess with no experience in publishing or running a business.

“As we were preparing the first edition and pulling everything together for the March launch, Claire’s circumstances changed and she needed to focus her energy in Australia,” says Kristy. “Suddenly, I went from working with someone who has years of publishing experience to being on my own, but I just knew that I had to give it a try.  

“I had been living in New Zealand for nearly six years and I felt that I had a bit of an understanding about the experiences and perspectives of rural New Zealand, especially with living and working on my partner’s family farm in the Horowhenua.

“Really I stumbled into the role of publisher – what I really wanted to do was connect people and I could see that the magazine could be a tool to do that.” 

Growing up in suburban Sydney.

Kristy grew up on a quarter acre block in Camden, a small, suburban area on the outskirts of Sydney. But through her father’s work as an agricultural teacher as well as invitations by extended family to go and stay at their farms, Kristy’s childhood was filled with experiences of rural life. “As a kid, I would go and stay with family friends in Jamberoo, Parkes and Canowindra,” says Kristy.

“I have memories of watching a newborn calf plop onto the ground, or visiting the local butcher where, like in many small towns, they run a tab under the family name. Some days I would sit on the enclosed veranda in the baking sun for hours, trying to avoid the flies. It was this sense of simplicity and familiarity that I really loved growing up, and as I got older these were the things I found myself gravitating towards.” 

Home in Horowhenua.

Kristy moved to New Zealand in 2014, after meeting Michael Keeling, a Kiwi who was working in western Queensland before taking over the family farm back home in Horowhenua. “My first year here was really hard,” Kristy explains.

“I was away from my friends and family and everything I had built over in Australia, and my introduction to dairy farming was a partner who worked fifteen-hour days, ate and slept and then did it all again the next day. There was very little social life, and there was a lot I had to learn. I brought home a pet lamb that first year and I quickly learnt that you don’t want to add anything to your plate during calving if you can help it!” 

Despite all the challenges, Kristy is still here and still based in the Horowhenua with Michael and their two children, Hartley, three, and Tully, one. And eighteen months after its debut Shepherdess is currently curating its eighth edition, is stocked in 400 stores nationwide and has built an online community of 15,000 and growing, with an estimated readership of 18,000 per edition.

Women from across the country write to Kristy, explaining how they had always hoped a magazine like Shepherdess would appear at their local bookstore and how much it means to them to see women like themselves reflected back in its pages and stories.  

Collaboration, connection and community.

“Collaboration is what has propelled the magazine. I remember in the few months before our first edition, sitting down with Claire Dunne and she had a whiteboard and a pen and was giving me a publishing 101 lesson because I really had no idea. I even roped in my mother-in-law to bake the cakes for the recipes in the first edition! But we were lucky to have organisations like Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Farmlands, who – bravely – endorsed us from the start. And a great team of talented women have come on board so that the magazine could become a reality.” 

Shepherdess fills a large gap in Aotearoa’s media landscape: telling stories that matter to women living in rural and regional areas and providing a space for underrepresented women’s stories to be shared; with a concerted focus on Te Reo and the experiences of wāhine Māori.  

“For me, it’s just a gut feeling that I have that I couldn’t make a publication in 2021 and not honour Te Ao Maori.

Throughout this journey, I have learnt so much about our communities and businesses. Our first editions might not have been perfect, but we strive to be better and better every time, and as a team we are continually improving and refining.

Running a business is often like a jigsaw, fitting people’s strengths to their roles and figuring out how we best work together so that we can produce the best possible experience for our readers.” 

It was in talking to other rural women that Kristy realised there was a real need for a magazine that can hold space for women who might be isolated, either socially or geographically. That other women wanted a publication that spoke to their fears and struggles as well as their sense of pride and belonging for the many wonderful things happening in rural Aotearoa.  

Shepherdess connects its readers to rural and regional Aotearoa from the comfort of their couch, kitchen table or out in the paddock if need be.

“We showcase women from all parts of the country and all areas of industry who are facing the same things as everyone else and who are trying to figure out how best to do it all.

“I think reading these stories, that are all our stories, fills us up and creates a special feeling of community. I’m really frank about knowing what it’s like for most mums out there – my office is right here on the farm with my kids underfoot, the palettes of magazines on the back of a truck, roll in right after the tanker.

“I’m doing Zoom calls while breastfeeding or checking copy and looking at design mock-ups late at night after the kids are in bed. But its also extremely rewarding to be getting these amazing stories out there. It’s exciting to have found something that I really resonate with, that feels so closely connected to me.”  

To subscribe, purchase the latest edition of Shepherdess or read more stories that have featured in the magazine, head to the website www.shepherdess.co.nz or into any one of their many stockists across the country, a list of which can also be found on the website. Use the code RURALLEADERS on the website at check out for an extra edition free with any annual subscription purchased.

Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​