There's no sugar-coating it, 2020 has been a bugger of a year. And personally, while I want to kick it to touch, 20 rows deep into the grandstand, it's worth taking a little time out to reflect on 12 months we'll never forget.
For anyone younger than Winston Peters, who was born in a Northland manger just before the end of World War II, this could easily have been the most tumultuous year of their lives, maybe even their "annus horribilis".
So, with that in mind, here are my awards - the Rural Oscars for 2020:
The Two Finger Salute to Covid-19 Award
Goes to the New Zealand primary sector – the farmers, growers, foresters and fishermen – all of whom went into head-down, bum-up mode when the Covid lockdown hit in late March.
As Winston (Churchill, as opposed to Peters) famously said, "never was so much owed by so many to so few". As international tourism went down the toilet faster than a National Party poll, the primary sector, those fine harvesters of the land and sea, stood defiant!
They fought Covid on the seas and oceans, with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. They defended our island, whatever the cost. They fought on the beaches, the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets and in the hills; they never surrendered. And ultimately the farmers of this nation saved our collective bacon.
The Firearms Safety Council "don't shoot yourself in the foot" Award
Goes to the National Party, which suffered three self-inflicted wounds in 2020. From leading in the polls in February, to Todd rolling Simon in May, to Todd falling on his sword in July, to Judith leading the once-mighty party to a crushing defeat in October. This was truly the Nat's "anus" horribilis, with the year ending on a bum note.
The Apiculture NZ - Best in the Beehive Award
[Warning - Kelvin Davis, David Clark and Iain Lees-Galloway need not apply]. So the nominees are David Seymour, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern.
Just out of the place money, but deserving of an honorable mention, are Chris Hipkins and Chloe Swarbrick. Hipkins, for being the Labour Party version of Steven Joyce (the Minister for Everything) and Chloe, for winning Auckland Central by courting the greedy [Boomers] and the needy [Millennials] with a cunning mix of good old-fashioned door-knocking and some very smart social media.
Seymour earned great kudos for getting his End of Life legislation through the House and was rewarded with the default National vote. Ardern is a Covid superstar on the international stage. But my Politician of the Year is Grant Robertson. The Minister of Finance (and Sport) is to the government what Kane Williamson is to the Black Caps – the safest set of hands in the team.
The Country's 2020 Ag Person of the Year
This is always contentious and very much open to interpretation and poetic license. Some pundits have suggested it should be Miles Hurrell, for turning Fonterra around. Or Ardern, for getting us through Covid and deeming agriculture to be an essential industry when others, allegedly, suggested otherwise.
Ironically, some have even plumped for David Parker, saying no one had a bigger influence on farming in 2020 than the Environment Minister and his controversial freshwater reforms.
But my Ag Person of the Year goes to a man who started out his working career as a mail boy in a rural stock and station firm. He ditched that for the bright lights of the gut trays at the Mataura freezing works (whose notable alumni includes the likes of Justin Marshall and Jimmy Cowan).
Years of doing the early mornings and hard yards there saw him with enough money to buy his own sheep farm in the 1980s. Not put off by Rogernomics, snowstorms at lambing time or droughts in the summer, he spent the next 35 years there, toiling away, raising a family, planting trees, protecting waterways and earning export income for our nation with his lamb, mutton and wool.
He loved a beer and a yarn. He loved his rugby. And he loved his running. His love of the latter was his ultimate undoing. A competitive athlete for most of life, he died suddenly, training for the Queenstown half marathon.
He was my first cousin. We grew up on neighbouring farms. The older brother I never had. I was his Best Man. He was mine. He was my best friend. But most of all he was a salt of the earth bloke.
He was the epitome of everything that's good about New Zealand farmers. Humble, humorous, hard-working, and as tough as old boots. They are the men and women who are the backbone of our economy and our country.
Billy Mackay. You are my Ag Person of the Year. RIP my friend.