North Otago is well known for its pioneering agriculture. Reporter Tyson Young heads to Totara Estate to have a chat with property manager Keren Mackay about her new role.
Q Where do you hail from, Keren?
I come from around Helensville in the South Kaipara and on the outskirts near Auckland. I had quite a rural upbringing.
Q What made you come down to North Otago?
I came down here about eight years ago when I married a local man. I now live in Palmerston.
Q How have you found North Otago so far?
I love it. I’m an Otago girl now, ha ha.
Q Is there anything about the area you enjoy the most?
Oh, gosh, that’s a big one. I enjoy less people down here. I love that people have lived in the area for generations and they are still here.
Q What does the role of property manager involve?
The job involves lots of things. You do things like museum work, property maintenance, and encouraging people to visit. It’s mainly about preserving our history and promoting our story.
Q Is the role of property manager a busy one?
It’s a huge job. It goes from the nuts and bolts of cleaning the gutters to managing restoration and conservation work.
Q Do you consider yourself lucky you get to work at the estate?
I do. It’s a normal nine-to-five job but the office is probably one of the most beautiful offices in New Zealand. We’ve got an awesome collection of volunteers that help out.
Q What other work have you done in the past?
I’ve run my own businesses. My story is that I’ve got a history and literature degree and then I worked as a librarian for a number of years and I raised a family and ran a business from home. When I moved down, I started working here at the estate as a visitor host.
Q How did you acquire the role of property manager at the estate?
I worked very closely with the previous manager. When the opportunity arose, I was offered the position.
Q Did you ever think you’d be running a place like this?
No, I didn’t. If you said to me 20 years ago that I’d be living near Oamaru and running a Heritage New Zealand property, I’d think you were dreaming.
Q Has history always been a favourite subject of yours?
Yes. We used to go to museums as kids – that’s what our family used to do for recreation. We didn’t get out much, and when we did, we went to the local museums. I’ve always had that passion for history. It runs in the family. Living down here has given me the opportunity to explore our southern roots and the history of Otago.
Q Do you manage any other properties?
Yes. We have Totara Estate, Clarks Mill, and the Matanaka farm buildings.
Q If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would be the first thing you’d do?
If I were Prime Minister, I’d start the railways back up because it’s the most civilised way to travel.
Q If you could have a cup of tea with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
The person who I’d like to have a cup of tea with would be Gertrude Jekyll, the great Edwardian garden designer.