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Fern Sutherland and Michelle Langstone’s pet pact

These TV besties are wild at heart
Michelle Langstone, Fern Sutherland

Cuddling up to a menagerie of horses, chooks and goat kids at an animal sanctuary just outside of Sydney, Kiwi actresses Fern Sutherland and Michelle Langstone are in their element, grinning as they get to grips with the gathering of cute creatures.

But it’s a bittersweet experience for the fauna fans and flatmates, who are outraged to hear about how these critters came to find a home at Hart Acres Animal Haven in Kurrajong, New South Wales.

“These beautiful baby goats were rescued from a man who was feeding them live to his pig dogs,” tells 800 Words star Michelle. “They were crowded in a cage, watching each other be torn apart by dogs.

“The worst thing is that the owner was a highly decorated Aussie police officer! Meanwhile, this horse was left alone in a paddock for 10 years after its owners moved away. It was literally starving to death. It’s so cruel and neglectful.”

Fern, who stars on Prime’s The Brokenwood Mysteries, adds, “These animals have had such appalling treatment, but what really gets me is the fact they’re so good-natured despite everything they’ve been through. They’re still carrying the physical scars, but they race over to you for a pat and they’re so full of personality!”

The actresses – who split their time between Aotearoa and Australia – both grew up with lots of pets and have a strong friendship built on their passion for nature. But it wasn’t love at first sight when the pair first met on the set of Kiwi series The Almighty Johnsons in 2011.

“I thought she was too full-on and she thought I was a bit too cool for school,” recalls Fern, 29. “We were highly sceptical of each other, but eventually it turned into a girl-crush. We spent inordinate amounts of time talking about strange beasts from around the globe.”

Both ambassadors for animal-rights organisation SAFE, the besties flatted for a while in Auckland and earlier this year, when they both found themselves needing somewhere to live in Sydney, they shacked up once again.

Michelle, 37, tells, “Fern is family to me – it’s like living with a sibling. And because she’s from back home, it lends a normalcy to living overseas. It helps with homesickness.”

“It’s like the universe brought us together,” laughs Fern. “We’re both old spinsters at heart. We’re nerdy, we like reading books and going to bed at 9.30pm. We don’t want to

live with people who’ll try to drag us out and be social – unless it’s to a vegan restaurant.”

McLeod’s Daughters star Michelle has been vegetarian since she was 15, after seeing a truckload of calves being taken off to slaughter. Soon afterwards, she became vegan “because of the environmental impact of farming”.

Fern went vegetarian two years ago and has flirted with veganism, but she likes (free-range) eggs too much to stick to it!

Fern in The Brokenwood Mysteries with Neill Rea

“In New Zealand, you’re often seen as really anti-patriotic if you don’t eat meat or dairy because it’s our heritage and economy,” explains Michelle. “But I’m vegetarian because I want

to take some responsibility for our environment, and make our country kinder and more humane.”

Adds Fern, “I grew up in Taranaki, with home-kill in the freezer and Mum vacuum-packing carcasses, so I ate meat growing up. But the more I thought about animal cruelty and consumerism, the more not eating it made sense – and my parents understand.

Michelle in 800 Words alongside Erik Thomson.

“Michelle has helped a lot. She makes such excellent vegan food, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, and she knows which supplements and vitamins we need to double-down on. It’s very practical.

“Vegetarians don’t need to wear hemp or smell of patchouli – SAFE has a really helpful starter guide on its website, where there’s not a shred of that hippie dogma that often puts people off.

“For me, it’s not my identity. It’s just a little thing I do every day that makes me feel like I’m making a difference.”

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