It’s raining heavily on the McVicar farm high in the Hawke’s Bay back country. But the foul weather isn’t stopping a tight-knit family from coming together for a project that’s success relies on teamwork and getting stuck in.
The property is home to Garth McVicar, the man behind the Sensible Sentencing Trust which supports victims of violent crime and campaigns for tougher prison sentences. The farm, which skirts the Mohaka River west of Napier, has been in the family for decades and is home to four generations of McVicars.
Garth (61), his wife Anne (60) and their daughters Tash (38) and Carla (33) live and work on the property, while Kirsty (31) and Jess (28) live in Auckland. Four grandchildren also call the farm home. On the rare occasions the busy family manages to get together for a few days, they are hard at work building a culvert (pipe) to cross a gorge on the farm.
Family man Garth has spent 58 years on the land and his daughters grew up helping their father. “We all love being on the farm and getting stuck in,” says Tash. “Being together, getting everything done and having a laugh means we’re always having a great time working out on the farm.”
The family’s ability to pitch in and work together as a team is something Garth loves. “Everyone comes back to the farm and we work together to get the jobs done. Nothing is ever too hard when we all work together as a team.”
It is a philosophy Garth has used as one of the backbones of the Trust. Contrary to what many New Zealanders expect, neither Garth nor his loved ones have been victims of a brutal crime. He formed the trust in 2001 in response to the police prosecution of Mark Middleton, who threatened to kill Paul Dally. Dally had tortured, raped and killed Mark’s 13-year-old stepdaughter Karla Cardno.
"For me, it was all about families. If anything ever happened to my kids I'd be doing the same," says Garth, who is the organisation’s national spokesperson. “The mood of the nation started to change when the Sensible Sentencing Trust came along.’’
With the Trust’s rapid growth, Garth has found himself having to change as well. He and his family have also had to deal with personal attacks and threats. “Thankfully the attacks have now stopped. Becoming a recognised figure as the face of the Sensible Sentencing Trust I’ve had to do a lot of learning, especially when it comes to thinking on my feet and dealing with the media.”
Garth credits his upbringing for giving him the ideals that motivate him. “Living on the land teaches you about consequences and it teaches you to look out for others. When you are farming the whole idea is to leave the land better than how you found it, and it’s the same with society.”
Those values have been passed onto Garth and Anne’s children, and the girls echo each other’s admiration for their father. “We’ve learned so much from Dad,” Carla says. “While he’s become something of a public figure, he’s still just Dad to us. He’s the same guy who has taught us all how to be the best people we can be and how to stand up and support other people when they need help.”
Almost 12 years on from the Trust’s inception, Garth finds himself working tirelessly – and voluntarily – away from home up to five days a week. “I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my girls, especially from Anne,” he says.
“It’s full on... but we’ve been given an opportunity to build an organisation that changes the dynamic of this country, and we’re making it a safer society for my kids and grandkids. That’s what it’s all about.”