I've spent a lot of time travelling around the South Island since the last time I put pen to paper for this column.

Last week I spent about thirty hours in a van with a group of budding young footballers as we headed from Dunedin to Nelson and back for the annual Jack McKnight South Island Football Festival.

It's a provincial tournament for ten and eleven-year-old kids hosted by Nelson Bays Football, who do an incredible job running a slick, professional event that for many children (and parents) is the trip of a lifetime.

This week it was off to the beautiful Hakataramea Valley in South Canterbury to help the locals get a once-loved picnic area back into a state where it can again be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike, as it used to be a generation back, before the ravages of time intervened and things like picnics by the river became dwarfed by what seemed like more pressing issues.


But last December a group of about ten locals decided to form an outfit called the Hakataramea Sustainability Collective and entered a competition on The Country called the Rabobank 'Good Deeds' promotion.

Money and labour were awarded to the winning entry which showed a rural community in need of a boost for a community project.

There are many such worthy projects being undertaken all over the New Zealand hinterland, with volunteers stumping up both time and effort to improve some aspect of their community.

The team rake the ground, preparing it for sowing grass seed. Photo / Dom George
The team rake the ground, preparing it for sowing grass seed. Photo / Dom George

And as the sun beat down on the volunteers and the conversation traversed sport and politics and work, the prospect of a cold beer keeping the effort sustained, I couldn't help thinking that the past couple of weeks have been a salient lesson to me about the virtues of simple pleasures, borne out of a desire to lend a hand for its own sake, without the imminent prospect of reward.

Hakataramea turned out a beautiful sunny day for the Working Bee. Photo / Dom George
Hakataramea turned out a beautiful sunny day for the Working Bee. Photo / Dom George

It also just happens to be Mental Health Awareness Week, with Farmstrong leading the charge in supporting the mental and physical well-being of farmers.

Whether it's an office, a factory or a farm, the workplace can be an unrelenting environment and as clichéd as it may sound, having something to take your mind off the daily grind can be steadfast antidote.

As Farmstrong front man Sam Whitelock says, your job can be all consuming and that's very rarely a positive thing for anyone's mental health. The relative isolation of farming also means you can spend long periods each day without any other human contact; some might say that's not an entirely bad thing, but over time it can potentially become problematic.

The more inward the thinking, the more volatile the rest of the world can appear. Whitelock says he encountered a similar scenario when rugby became all-consuming for him; now a simple phone-call to older brother George on the farm can be therapeutic for both of them.

Making an effort, it seems to me at least, to do something for someone else or spend quality time with your children can provide much more of an antidote to life's unpleasantries than you may give it credit for.

It may be as simple as picking up the phone or volunteering your time; or driving a fart-filled van thousands of kilometres to help provide your children with a unique experience!

These are simply my observations, but the team at Farmstrong have an excellent website if you want some expert advice at farmstrong.co.nz
Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Mon-Fri 1pm to 10pm. Sat-Sun 3pm-10pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.