A little bit country in all of us

WHAT IS COUNTRY? Saddlery Warehouse owner Rachel McCallum.
WHAT IS COUNTRY? Saddlery Warehouse owner Rachel McCallum.

Gore is no doubt being overwhelmed with visitors as I write, all in sequinned, breathless anticipation for the New Zealand Gold Guitar awards this weekend.

We've talked about busking (The Freeze Ya Bits Off Busking contest loometh, children, so get your best John Denver impressions ready) and we've talked about country music and we've talked about country outfits.

But what makes a country person?

Is it a beat-up pickup, a lonesome dog howling on the porch and a confederate flag hanging askew in the window?

Or, are we trying to pigeonhole people, squeezing them into an American ideal that doesn't exist in New Zealand? Kiss my grits!

It's easy to define a townie but, as townies wear cowboy boots, listen to The Eagles and drive (admittedly very clean) flash utes, the line between what is town and what is country becomes blurred. What is a country person?

Saddlery Warehouse owner Rachel McCallum says there aren't any cowboy boots in her country world (and this is the woman who got a subscription to the Country channel on Sky for her birthday).

It's Redbands. Gumboots. The gumboots the proper farmers wear.

And proper farmers are perhaps the definition of country I'm looking for - dairy and sheep and beef farmers who work the land, live the country lifestyle and, yes, wear the country clothes. And listen to the music - sometimes.

But the country clothes aren't cowboy outfits, McCallum says.

"It's the whole Lincoln thing," she said.

"Turned-up collars, pearls - the Central Otago look. The pearls would have been a 21st gift."

Go out to Field Days and you'll see it. It's all merino - Glowing Sky or Icebreaker - big scarves, skinny jeans, long leather boots, bright lipstick. On the women, of course.

Then there's the truck - it'll be something with four-wheel drive, usually a Toyota Hilux ute.

"Although the Ford Ranger is making a very big impression at the moment," she says, laughing.

When I think of proper farmy country people (Agrestis authenticus ), I push away the stylised American rustic visions

and think of some of the farmers I know. They have big houses and black leather couches.

The new country woman is also totally involved in running the farm. She might not get out into the yards but she'll know how every inch of the farm is profitable.

The Aertex-shirted, pearled younger crowd, McCallum says, do listen to country music, but more country rock than Johnny Cash. "The younger crews really do like the country rock - [Old Crow Medicine Show hit] Wagon Wheel - everybody likes a bit of Wagon Wheel at a 21st."

I have a thought. It's like getting an electric shock. A boot off a fence ...

Perhaps the reason it's so hard to define country is that it's hard to define yourself. Invercargill is a rural service town. We're friendly, we're open, we've got ads for rural veterinary supplies on the radio. Maybe I can't define country because I am country. We're all country.

The Southland Times