The Northland electorate is shaping up to be a major battleground in the upcoming election. Reporter Jenny Ling spent time with key candidates to uncover the person behind the politics. Today Act candidate Mark Cameron takes time out in a Whangārei cafe.
The paradox of meeting a Kiwi-as farmer in a French cafe in the city isn't lost on Act's Northland candidate Mark Cameron.
But the 48-year-old dairy farmer from the back blocks of the Kaipara district takes my suggestion with grace and good humour, so here we are, chatting away at Le Bistro de Paris in Whangārei.
He's been flat out travelling around the country "on the bus" speaking at numerous events and public meetings with fellow Act candidates on the campaign trail.
His hectic schedule started in Northland and the Waikato before the second wave of coronavirus hit, and has ramped up again after the temporary interruption.
The South Island was next; at the time of writing he had recently returned from Balclutha, Gore, Invercargill and Bluff where the reception was resoundingly "buoyant".
"I've enjoyed travelling around," he said.
"It's all beautiful. It's pretty easy to love the lot, but it's the people, they have a slower and dare I say it, kinder nature.
"It's real genuine Kiwiana down there and it's really lovely."
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Cameron has lived and farmed around the Northland region for around 30 years.
He milks 300 cows on
115ha in Ruawai, a small town which backs onto the Wairoa River, south of Dargaville.
His partner, Jodie Booth is holding the fort while he's campaigning right now, something he greatly appreciates.
"She's a Trojan, I can't thank and applaud her enough for the effort she makes."
Cameron is Act's rural issues spokesman and is ranked number eight on the party list.
He grew up in Auckland and attended Auckland Grammar School, leaving in the fifth form to undertake a diploma in agriculture at Waikato polytechnic.
"I was going to get a degree but saw the power of the industry," he said.
"I had great aspirations to own my own farm. I wanted to be hands-on."
Cameron then "went into a wages reality", working on various farms in the Waikato.
"My career grew from there."
He's now been farming for 27 years in Northland and six years ago bought his first farm.
Even though not born and bred here, he feels comfortable calling Northland home.
"I've always thought of this as home. I've always felt at odds in different parts of the country away from Northland. I identify with things here.
"The people tend to be friendlier and more laid back. It doesn't have the same frenetic pace as Auckland."
Cameron has three children, aged between 14 and 22 who "keep me honest and working".
"They're all good kids."
He got involved in the Act Party 18 months ago after instigating a series of rural pride rallies in the Kaipara region.
They were prompted by concerns about the Zero Carbon Bill and fresh water proposals and took place before they passed through Parliament as law last November.
Over the course of those few months Cameron also organised a march to protest the climate change legislation.
This saw hundreds of Northland farmers driving their tractors down the main street of Dargaville, an event which coincided with their rural counterparts marching on Parliament grounds in Wellington.
New Zealand farmers, Cameron reckons, are "the best in the world."
But he's very concerned about the mental wellbeing of farmers and the terrible suicide statistics of rural New Zealand.
He knows several neighbours who have taken their lives.
He also doesn't mind admitting that he struggled with depression himself during his mid-30s.
The best action anyone can take, he said, is to "lean over the fence say I'm suffering from mental illness, bloody well help me."
During his farming career, Cameron has also suffered several broken bones including one incident where he was attacked by his own livestock.
He recalls a run-in with a wayward young bull which left him with two broken collarbones and ribs.
The attack put him in hospital - though not for long.
"When you're a farmer you've got to keep going."
Act leader David Seymour calls Cameron a "man of deep and good character, a critical thinker and a family man from the land".
He's an authentic rural voice and certainly "no Queen St farmer", Seymour believes.
Cameron calls himself determined.
"I always go into bat for the little guy, that's my nature. If I see any injustices, I'm quite driven to remedy that."
There's one thing that gradually becomes apparent about Cameron – he likes a good metaphor and quote.
He's fond of this one: "You can never decide what colour to paint the outside of the house if you don't go out the front door".
He translates: "seeing the world and appreciating what you have, and most importantly, making good with what you have."
Another, from John F Kennedy that he also likes is: "A rising tide lifts all boats".
"Here in Northland that's so important when you've got marginalised communities that can only do better in a prosperous environment."
Another interesting thing about Cameron is that he speaks Portuguese "pretty fluently" after travelling to Brazil on and off for nearly three years following a divorce from his first wife.
He did this on the advice of Brazilian friends living in New Zealand.
"I fell in love with the place, it was a cool place," he said.
"I'd go over one month at a time. I went five times in the end. It became a home away from home for a while.
"It's good to immerse yourself in something totally different. Actually, I'm doing that right now."