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She and husband Tony like the challenge of taking a run-down property and turning it into something to be proud of. It is what brought the former Southlander to one of the most remote corners of Otago.
Thirteen years ago, the grandmother of "five precious ones” moved to the 304ha development block in the heart of the Catlins forest to farm sheep and beef.
To supplement their income, the Millers rent three cottages on the property to tourists, and they have been the franchise owners for Mighty Mix Dog Food for the southern and lakes district, including Queenstown, for 16 years.
Mrs Miller’s family farmed at Kapuka near Invercargill on a property just south of Gorge Rd. She and her children all attended Gorge Rd School. Mr Miller spent 19 years on the rabbit board.
They moved to Mokotua on to 18ha and a run-down house and spent five years doing it up. Then they went on to 53ha of run-down land at Kapuka South near Waituna Lagoon and spent 14 years improving it before moving to Chaslands to yet another property and house in need of TLC.
"Can you see a pattern? What makes us do the things I do? I often think it is sheer insanity," Mrs Miller said.
"The farming business is easy. We love fixing things up, putting in new fences and seeing progress. Farming has always been a passion and one we would not have realised if we bought developed land, so the two have gone hand in hand thank goodness.”
Their new home also brought new opportunities for volunteer work. Mrs Miller chairs both the South Catlins Promotion and Catlins Coast Inc groups, but will stand down from SCP this year.
She said she loved being able to look after the Catlins and help shape a positive future so it could always be a great place to live, work and visit.
The Millers joined the fire brigade because their children had grown up and as a way of meeting people, but soon found themselves heavily involved.
Mrs Miller is an active rural firefighter for Papatowai Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade. At present, she is the health, safety and welfare representative, though will be standing down this year after six years in the role, and is still secretary/treasurer.
She said she loved living in a remote community.
"I personally do not find many challenges on a day-to-day front. We have been battling to get roads, telecommunication (we just had Unifone installed) and some of the basics sorted, but isolation suits me," she said.
"I can see if there are young families, the distance, gravel roads, schooling, medical, sports and lack of technology plus longer distances to towns could be a problem. I feel it does take a certain type of person to live in these areas. Not everyone would cope, or they need a good support system ... around them.
"What keeps driving me? Poverty, insanity — it’s in my DNA I guess. I have too many opinions and keep getting myself new jobs. If I learned to shut up and accept less I would be less busy.”
- Mary-Jo Tohill