Don Hutchings gets up every day at 4 a.m., pulls on his work clothes -- including brown boots, a black rubber apron, and his pink wool hat -- and goes out to do what his family has been doing for three generations: tending to the chores. In the 1930s, Mr. Hutchings's father and uncle laid claim to a few acres of ``pumice and poor soil'' here with just a team of horses and ``gear.'' The land seemed unfarmable. But they persevered.
Don grew up on this farm and slept in a shed with his brothers until he was 21. Today he is one of the most successful farmers in the area and a respected citizen of the Ngakuru section of Rotorua, on New Zealand's North Island.
He and his wife, Nola, and married son, Dennis, now work 730 acres and care for 1,200 sheep and two herds of milk cows. Don is a proud man -- proud of his land, his livestock, and his automatic milking machine -- but most of all proud of the life he has built for himself and his wife, his son and daughter-in-law, and his year-old grandson, Logan.
But he does have concerns. Don Hutchings says he doesn't see in many young people today the will to work hard and get ahead on their own initiative as he did. He adds that, for many, government policies are a disincentive to work. ``It's cheaper to stay at home and clip the dole than to go to work,'' he states.
Don criticizes Prime Minister David Lange's Labour government for ``promising to create jobs . . . but [actually] putting people out of work.'' The Hutchings formula for coping with unemployment is blunt: ``Pay people for going to work. And you'll see, a lot will go to work.''
He also complains about taxes and what he feels is a threat by government to cut off, or curtail, the retirement pensions of those who, like him, have worked hard to build up their farms and provide equity for their families.
New Zealand's income taxes are exorbitant, he says. The government takes about 31 percent from those who earn up to $31,000; it takes 45 percent on earnings over this amount. And this is just an assessment on income. Other taxes can eat up another 45 percent of earnings of those in higher brackets. ``They tax everything,'' Don says. ``A rich person works one day a week for himself and the rest of the time for the government.''
New Zealand is a welfare state. Government funds cover health care, almost all schooling, and the needs of the aged.
Like all New Zealanders who reach the age of 60, Don and Nola Hutchings are entitled to a national superannuation of $219 a week. But a new ``means'' test proposed by the Labour government may make them ineligible for this pension.
Nola -- who works alongside her husband on the farm when she is not helping care for her grandson -- talks about how difficult it is today to get adequate help. Hired hands just don't want to work this hard, she explains.
The Hutchingses' son left the farm to become an accountant. But Dennis returned to work with his parents after a brief interlude of schooling in western New Zealand.
``What is handed down from generation to generation is better than formal schooling,'' Dennis reasons. ``You learn from others . . . like Henry Smith down the road. You don't go around like a trotting horse with blinkers on.''
Although the Hutchingses find their sense of family on the farm, many other rural-bred New Zealanders do not. And they leave for the city and nonagricultural jobs.
Peter Gullery, as a young adult, took refuge from his family's sheep ranch on New Zealand's South Island and trained to be an airline mechanic in the city of Christchurch.
Before he was married, Peter was a wool classer. He was the second youngest of a family of 10 who eked out an existence on the farm. He remembers how his brothers would exchange their prized possessions among themselves at Christmas. And that would be the extent of their holiday celebration.
Peter and his wife, Denise, now live in a small, but neat, row house in Christchurch. (There are a little over 3 million people in New Zealand. Of its cities, Auckland has the largest population, 800,000; Wellington, 350,000; Christchurch, 326,000; Dunedin, 121,000.)
The Gullerys have two children -- a boy of 9, a girl of 13. Denise is active in church and civic affairs. She is a substitute schoolteacher and occasionally provides day care in her home for infants whose parents are at work.
Like the Hutchingses, Peter and Denise and concerned about the economy -- and rising taxes. But as parents of young children, they are equally worried about the rise of community crime and delinquency and the use of drugs by youth. Their teen-age daughter is just starting to attend coed parties. And both parents are adamant about proper chaperoning.
``We're a close family. And we do most things together,'' Peter explains. He often volunteers for overtime to accumulate extra cash and vacation for family camping and fishing trips.
Denise prides herself on her homemaking. But unlike most New Zealand wives, she is also something of a social activist -- and an outspoken advocate of women's rights. Among others things, she coordinates an Anglican women's group.
Denise admits that some friends -- and particularly Peter's farm-bound brothers -- tease her about her views. ``I speak my mind,'' she laughs. ``If I didn't, they would run all over me.''
Through a community home-visit program, my wife and I and two Texas traveling companions recently enjoyed traditional New Zealand fare -- tomato-and-orange soup, roast lamb with fresh mint, baked pumpkin, new potatoes, asparagus, and pavlova -- a luscious meringue and fruit dessert -- while we compared cultures at the Gullery home.
Like the Hutchingses, their North Island neighbors, the Gullerys are staunch advocates of the ``work ethic.'' Both familes believe that hard work and strong family ties are the key to happy and successful lives. They got no arguments from their American guests.