Confessions of a woman of the land

Shirley Johnstone tends to her prize-winning goats. Photo from ODT files.
Shirley Johnstone tends to her prize-winning goats. Photo from ODT files.
The road to becoming a top sheep and beef farmer in the deep South as a woman in the 1970s and ’80s wasn’t easy for Shirley Johnstone.

Based near Balclutha, she is deeply involved with several community groups. Last year, she was the South Otago A&P Show president but this year focused solely on bringing her prize-winning goats up to par for the show.

Q Why do you do what you do?

A I'm a sheep and beef farmer that milks goats. I love getting up early in the morning to milk the girls quiet. No-one talks back to you and you get this bleat as if to say ''we are waiting on you''. Every year is different and no two days are the same. Plus, I am my own boss. Who could ask for more?

Q What is your earliest memory?

A It was in the orchard and ... my sister and I were in there. I can't remember why. I remember being chased up the tree by a turkey gobbler and the damned thing kept pecking me on the leg. I was stuck up there a wee while.

Q What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A I don't remember having a great aspirations to being a nurse or a doctor or anything like that. I was quite happy to pot around outside.

I liked working with animals and always loved the outdoors. I couldn't sit still. I got a job working for a female sheep and beef farmer. In the '70s, there weren't many female farmers around. I went and worked in the racing horse stable and that was an eye-opener. The hours, you were up at 5am and you had to feed the horses but you never got to ride the horses.

Q What is your most embarrassing memory?

A I probably get embarrassed a lot but I don't remember anything really embarrassing, totally. I'm a type of person that doesn't let that worry me.

Q What was one of your most memorable childhood experiences?

A I remember going out with my father to help pull out people who were stuck in the plantations. We were surrounded by pine tree plantations.

In the winter, they seemed to get stuck. I don't know why, but they usually got stuck in their flat decks and trucks, and things. They weren't big trucks or anything. Quite often we'd have to go up there.

Q What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

That is tricky! I'm not saying too much because my husband will read it. He will. I'm not telling that because that will be the end of it.

Q Property aside, what is the most extravagant thing you've bought?

A When I turned 50, I decided to buy an Alfa Romeo. I took it for a test drive and I just loved the way it felt and the power. I'm a bit of a power freak like that, I suppose.

I like the freedom it gives me on the back roads. I like to be able to get out, when I have time off, to go away. I have to wear a dress. The rule is you have to get dressed up in it so you can't wear your jeans or your farm clothes.

Q Who would play you in a film of your life?

A Nicole Kidman. She's not afraid to get dirty.

Q What would be your dream job?

A A wine taster.

Q Who would be your dream employer?

A Sam Neill. He seems to be a down-to-earth person and seems to have time for everybody.

Q Where would you live if it wasn't in New Zealand?

A Italy or France.

Q Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

A Denzel Washington because he has charisma. Tom Hanks, I think would be good for a laugh and good conversationalist.

Celine Dion. I just love the way she sings and she's a very strong person. Helen Clark. She's also another strong person and knows what she wants and she would be a good motivator.

Q What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

A Time. Usually there is never enough time in the day and there's too many things to do. I just don't get to focus on one particular job.

I seem to be doing two or three jobs. You have deadlines, that's what you have to worry about. I have deadlines I need to worry about. There seems to be other things to do as well.

Q What keeps you awake at night?

A Too much thinking. Not being able to shut off.

Q What do you do to relax?

A Read a book. It has to have a good story.

Q What song would you like to play at your funeral?

A Bette Midler, God is watching [From a Distance]. I like bouncy tunes.

Q Have you ever seen a band perform live; if so, who?

A Elton John, and the Hollies, but they're so far away I had to watch the screen. I think I'd be better off buying the DVD and having it on the TV. I could replay it then. You'd see it better and hear it better.

Q If you could hire out any band, pop star or performing artist just for your own party, who would it be?

A Boy George and the Culture Club.

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