From South Africa to Ap­pren­tice of the Year

The Orchardist - - Careers - Story and photo by Dianne King

Luke Bot­triell ad­mits he couldn’t keep the smile from his face when he re­ceived the Cen­tral Otago Ap­pren­tice of the Year award last month.

Luke (27), orig­i­nally from South Africa, and his wife Jor­don live on one of three Hin­ton fam­ily or­chards at Earn­scle­ugh near Alexan­dra.

“Tech­ni­cally I’m not do­ing a for­mal ap­pren­tice­ship but the Hin­tons are teach­ing me and I’m also study­ing for my Level Four Cer­tifi­cate in Hor­ti­cul­ture through the Cen­tral Otago campus of the Otago Polytech­nic. I learn bet­ter prac­ti­cally but I’m not so keen on the­ory.”

He works for Nigel, Howie and Sarah Hin­ton and ap­pre­ci­ates the op­por­tu­ni­ties the fam­ily has given him.

When the po­si­tion of su­per­vi­sor was ad­ver­tised at Hin­tons, Luke, then work­ing on a Taranaki dairy farm, ap­plied and was ac­cepted.

“I owe the Hin­tons be­cause they took me on even though I was so in­ex­pe­ri­enced. I just knew how to grow grass.”

Luke started as “an or­di­nary worker” do­ing ev­ery­thing – prun­ing, thin­ning, spray­ing, har­vest­ing, ev­ery­thing re­ally” – as he picked up the skills nec­es­sary to work as a su­per­vi­sor.

“The Hin­tons taught me but then they would let me learn from my mis­takes and I ap­pre­ci­ate that.” He was do­ing a GrowSafe course with Cromwell based Otago Polytech­nic se­nior hor­ti­cul­ture lec­turer Wayne King, and cred­its Wayne with en­cour­ag­ing him to in­ves­ti­gate study­ing for Level 4 in hor­ti­cul­ture.

“He told me to con­tact Rachel Petrie [Hor­ti­cul­tural lec­turer] and it’s gone from there. I’ve about a third left to go to com­plete Level 4.”

The Hin­tons own three or­chards and Luke says this has given him wide ex­pe­ri­ence across cher­ries, apri­cots, peaches, nec­tarines, plums and grapes.The cher­ries and the apri­cots are ex­ported and as Hin­tons have their own ex­port­ing com­pany this had also given Luke ad­di­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

Luke has done his stint at frost fight­ing duty. Howie Hin­ton flies the he­li­copter which is used to bring the in­ver­sion layer down. There are no wind ma­chines on the or­chard.

“I’ve been so lucky be­cause the Hin­tons do ev­ery­thing. We make our own struc­tures for cherry cov­er­ing.”

He plans to com­plete his Hor­ti­cul­ture Di­ploma, fol­lowed by the chal­lenge of a Hor­ti­cul­ture De­gree.

“My fa­ther has a de­gree in Grass Sci­ence, so I can­not let him beat me,” he joked.

“The Hin­tons have been a won­der­ful fam­ily to work for and I’m sad to be leav­ing, but Jor­don is preg­nant and we’re mov­ing to the North Is­land to be closer to her fam­ily. I’m go­ing to be a fore­man for Sun­fruit Or­chards Ltd. Sarah and Nigel or­gan­ised this for me.”

When Luke ar­rived from South Africa in May 2011 he was re­quired to work on a dairy farm so he was based at Reefton “in, like, the mid­dle of nowhere” for the first two years but it was a lonely life and he de­cided to look north to meet other peo­ple and work on a Taranaki dairy farm.

“My friend’s hair­dresser was Jor­dan’s hair­dresser and in­tro­duced me to Jor­dan and we just went on from there,” he says.

In South Africa his par­ents owned a farm and Luke started school in the first year’s af­ter the end of apartheid.

“I was the first in my fam­ily to go to school with mixed races and I’ve re­mained friends with many of them.”

How­ever, af­ter apartheid so­cial con­di­tions changed and rob­beries in­creased.

“We stopped lock­ing our cars be­cause the rob­bers kept break­ing the win­dows. They weren’t in­ter­ested in the cars, just what­ever they could steal from in­side.”

“In our home we put up gates in hall­ways to de­ter rob­bers from com­ing down to where the fam­ily was sleep­ing. It di­rected them to an eas­ier way to steal. They weren’t in­ter­ested in us they just wanted money. So many lived in poverty.” About six years ago his fa­ther (who was orig­i­nally from Rhode­sia) de­cided it was time to move and of­fered Luke the money to go over­seas. He told Luke: “You de­cide.”

“My brother, who is nine years older than me, had been in Eng­land for five years. We all came to New Zealand. My par­ents are now in Alexan­dra as well and they will move with us to Hawke’s Bay.”

He ap­pre­ci­ates the life­style he now has in New Zealand, es­pe­cially Cen­tral Otago, and ad­mits he is never hap­pier than when work­ing out­doors.

Yes, he has re­turned to South Africa and for a very sig­nif­i­cant rea­son.

Be­fore he pro­posed to Jor­dan he took her to South Africa to meet his fam­ily and Jor­don was un­aware of the main rea­son for the visit. She now wears Luke’s great-grand­mother’s en­gage­ment ring.

“My grand­mother who had the ring said she needed to do it prop­erly and give it to my mother first, but my par­ents were com­ing out about a month be­hind me. So they came early and now Jor­don has a ring that is over 100 years old.”

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