A proud mother, grandmother and farmer, Gill Naylor undoubtedly embodies the true spirit of what it means to be a ‘rural woman’. Through her role on the National Board for Rural Women New Zealand, she advocates, inspires and empowers women from across industry, strengthening rural communities through social connection and friendships. Still a Southland country kid at heart, Gill knows all about farming through adversity having worked alongside her husband through the tough times of subsidy removals and ‘rogernomics’ during the 1980’s. Watching on while other farmers went to the wall, she and her husband made tough sacrifices, scraping through by diversifying their operation to get them over the line.

A staunch believer in the power of bringing people together, she’s proud to have been key contributor on major projects to overhaul the infrastructure in the small but mighty rural community of Becks, Central Otago. Gill loves everything mother nature has to offer, whether that’s on the water boating and fishing, or being out in wide-open spaces, immersing herself in the stunning seasonal contrasts of Central Otago, the hills, the light and the wildlife.

When asked what concerned Gill about the health and safety of those in rural industries and communities, she detailed how in her early farming life before ‘health and safety’ was a focus, a ‘common sense’ approach was adopted by those in industry. Workers would often ask themselves ‘What’s the best way to do this, without getting hurt or damaging something?’ which in today’s terms, was essentially carrying out a risk assessment before commencing a job. Highlighting just how vital it is the farmers continue to ask themselves that question, she likes to reinforce that behaviour by asking her peers ‘Is that really the safest way to do something?’. Based on her own experiences, Gill has found that approaching health and safety with an over-assertive attitude of needing to be ‘compliant’ with regulations can often be counterproductive. Rather, through reversing the approach and by putting the responsibility on the person doing the job to think about the risks involved, you are empowering them to use their knowledge to tackle a job in the best way possible. Gill also highlights the importance of taking breaks throughout the work day as a much needed energy boost, to refresh and refocus. A lot can be said about a cuppa and a biccie she reckons, so if you can’t get back to the house, make sure you take the thermos with you.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Positive, honest and reliable.

Tell us something interesting about yourself...

I am a member of the National Board for Rural Women New Zealand – a membership based charitable organisation that supports and strengthens rural communities through social connection, learning opportunities and community service, and is a respected, authoritative voice on issues that affect rural communities. 

Growing up on my parents’ farm, in Southland, I loved being a country kid in a country community. Alongside farming I’ve enjoyed a life full of being a part of community groups and sports clubs etc.

I married my husband, a farmer from Becks in Central Otago, in the early 1980’s and we lived and worked on his family’s irrigated sheep, beef and grain farm. We farmed through the hard times of subsidy removal and ‘rogernomics’ in the mid to late 1980’s. Finances were extremely tight. We watched on as other farmers went to the wall. Along with my husband’s parents, we worked hard to scrape through by adding contract hay-baling and grain harvesting in order to our diversify our  operation. Our strong wool was our main income, with meat coming in behind that and contracting just getting us over the line.

Our children are now adults with wives, partners and grandchildren adding another awesome dimension to our family. We have recently downsized to a 4 ha block and are loving the freedom and other opportunities that have arisen.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Next to our amazing family, one of my proudest achievements was being a key driver for the $200,000 redevelopment of our local rural community hall at Becks, nearly 10 years ago. This was a major effort for our very small, very rural community. I am so proud of how our tiny committee brought our community together, with some persuasion and lots of encouragement, to take the project from planning to funding, and on to completion. The fundraising efforts and community working bees that went into this project were huge, and we now have a fantastic facility for our community to enjoy for generations to come.

What makes you truly happy?

Spending time with family and friends and empowering others to achieve little things and big things.

Tripping around a lake – any lake – in our boat, with a spot of fishing thrown in.

Appreciating all that Mother Nature has to offer – the stunning contrasts in the seasons here in Central Otago, the hills, the light, the wildlife.

What do you love the most about being a rural woman?

Life as a rural woman – to me – means being out and about in the wide-open spaces, the huge variety of skills required and learned, lots of family time even while you’re working, close knit communities and so on.

I can’t prioritise what I love most. It’s all of the above, and so much more. The trick is to figure out how to appreciate each of those things that make this rural life so great. It’s so important to take time to ‘smell the roses’ and be grateful for everything that being a rural woman offers us.

Tell us about a time when you felt worried about your own or someone else’s health, safety or wellbeing.

A large part of my time living rurally was before the whole health and safety ‘thing’ was actually a ‘thing’. In our early farming life, it was more about taking a common sense approach e.g. ‘what’s the best way to do this without getting hurt or damaging something’. By operating like this, most tasks basically ‘had a risk assessment completed before commencement’… to use today’s terminology. Most of the time, this gave me peace of mind, because if there were risks they were mostly prepared for before the task was started, and thankfully, while there were incidents, none of them were major. Bearing in mind of course, that the way a lot of things were done 30 years ago would not be acceptable now, which is a good thing. When the terms ‘health and safety’ first came into use, people were resistant, because of the mentality that ‘big brother is try to tell me what to do’ and ‘what’s wrong with common sense anyway’. If you say ‘health and safety’ now, attitudes are improving – but there’s still some work to do.

What practical things did - or could - you or someone else do to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt?

By operating under the mantra of common sense and ‘what’s the best way to do this without getting hurt or damaging something,’ a lot of risks were averted. Things like ensuring that if my husband had been out baling hay into the wee small hours of the morning, I did the usual morning farm work so he could get some much-needed sleep.

Taking breaks during the working day is important. Today it may look like a quick break for a quick drink of water, but a lot can be said for 15 minutes for a cuppa and a biscuit. This provides a break from the work at hand and time for a small energy boost to carry on, refocus and get ready to go. Bring the Thermos if you can’t make it back to the house.

You can’t beat a ‘near miss’ situation to get you to lift your game though. One example was an incident involving a chainsaw many years ago when protective equipment was just becoming available, but we didn’t have any on hand at that stage. The appropriate safety gear was purchased ASAP, and always used from then on. No major injuries, luckily, but it could have been a lot worse.

Then there’s the odd little prod from me: ‘Is that really the safest way to do it?’ and this then puts the ownership on the person doing the job to think about any issues, rather than saying ‘That’s not very safe!’ which tends to just raise hackles and is otherwise counterproductive.

"If you think and talk about approaching a task by doing it the best way possible, which can be empowering, then it’s not about compliance - which often really annoys people."

Is there a time, place or scenario when your partner or those you work or spend time with are more willing to make changes to the way the work is done, or are more open to making safer, healthier choices?

If you can manage those conversations when things are not pressured or busy, it gives everyone time to think things through better. 

While difficult, we’re also more open to conversations and exploring better ways to do things when there has sadly been an accident or a near miss.

If you could give any advice to another rural woman about health, safety and/or wellbeing in rural industries and communities, about influencing change in business - or just in general - what would it be?

Think about adopting the mantra ‘what’s the best way of doing this without getting hurt or doing some damage?’ rather than ‘Does that comply with health and safety regulations?’.

Whatever you do will still have to comply with those regulations, however there is merit in considering a slightly different way to approach the subject that may get better traction if there is resistance.

If you think and talk about approaching a task by doing it the best way possible (which can be empowering at some level), then it’s not about compliance (which often really annoys people).

Communicate – in a constructive way, talk with those around you, on your farm or workplace. 

Observe – watch those around you for signs of stress, tiredness and unsafe work practices.

Participate – be a valued part of the team, work safely yourself and provide a great example of leadership and people skills.

Assist – offer assistance if you see someone under stress or seek help if you or someone near you needs it.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Appreciate where you are and what you and those closest to you do to make your world what it is.

That’s my seed for safety planted. Take care out there.

Share this story:

Share your story!

Everyone knows someone who could be making smarter, safer and healthier choices.

No matter what role you play, where you live or what you do, we all have a responsibility to look out for the health, safety and wellbeing of ourselves and those around us.  

30 years ago no-one wore seatbelts. Today we do it without even thinking about it.

Join the conversation today.