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Eric Rush inspires Extension 350 farmers with rags to riches

From the humble beginnings of hand-milking eight cows as a young Kaeo lad, to meeting the Queen of England, Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela – Former All Black Eric Rush had his audience captivated with his message that “success breeds success” when he spoke to 200 people involved in Northland’s Extension 350 project this week.

Rush was the keynote speaker at two events aimed at recognising the hard work of the target farmers, mentor farmer, consultants and partners of the Extension 350 farmer-to-farmer learning project in Northland.

The events were held at Charlottes Kitchen in Paihia on Wednesday and No.8 Restaurant in Whangarei on Thursday.

E350 is part of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan and is supported by Northland Inc, Ministry for Primary Industries, Northland Regional Council, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.

Rush, who also holds a law degree, spoke to both groups about his life – from humble beginnings in Kaeo to meeting royalty.

He also met Mandela while travelling with the All Blacks who explained that when the team played against the Springboks, decades before the Rush and his team mates, Mandela had been inspired.
“Mandela told us that the Springboks were a symbol of apartheid so when the All Blacks scored, the whole Robben Island prison rose to its feet.”

Rush and the All Blacks had tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and met Princess Diana.
“The trumpets of the palace…the fanfare…I’ll tell ya, it was a million miles from where I was brought up.”

He said Kaeo was a typical small town in NZ, where there was little money or jobs and “we didn’t have material stuff”.

Farm life

The playfully-spoken sportsman said he and his four brothers, as young Kaeo lads, hand-milked their eight cows.

“We didn’t have iPhones but we learned heaps about life. If I had my time as a kid again, I wouldn’t change anything.

“We had no running water and just one bath a week. We only got electricity when I was 11 or 12. There are a lot of things I take for granted now – having a fridge, turning the TV on, or a flushing toilet.”

Rush said he played rugby as a kid, but didn’t know of the All Blacks.

“We played rugby so we could go to the shops at the weekend. We lived 20kms out of town and if you didn’t play rugby, you stayed home and did jobs with the father.

“I had a tough dad – he pushed us hard but only wanted us to do our best,” he said of his Irish father.
“I once told him about my scoring four tries against Hawkes Bay. Dad told me off for being greedy,” he laughed.

“We would fundraise in Kaeo for the five-hour bus trip to Whangarei to watch the games and eat KFC. Fast food in Kaeo was hitting a sheep at 100km.

“Those trips – that was where my dreams started.”

He said he quickly realised that what set the winners apart was the amount of practice they did.

“Sometimes you learn more too when you’re going through the tough stuff,” he advised the audience.
“Talent only gets you so far, to get the rest of the way, you need hard work.

“Success breeds success. If you want to be a successful person, hang around with successful people. That’s what E350 is all about.”

Luke Beehre, E350 Project Lead, thanked Rush for attending and echoed the project focus that the programme aimed to lift farm profitability, environmental sustainability and farmer wellbeing.
He thanked the E350 target farmers, mentors, consultants and partners for their hard work.

He said the economic development agency Northland Inc, one of the E350 partners, encouraged projects to develop across range of sectors.

Beehre encouraged the farmers “to hang in there”.
“E350 is a significant and challenging undertaken for us all. It is complex, and the ruthless attention to detail is critical, and it’s ok.”

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