Townie kids came to the country last week to work with one of Ruapuke’s oldest farming families, building an eight-wire boundary batten fence and learning to drive farm vehicles on hilly terrain overlooking infamous Papanui Point.

Their 100 metre-long fence is likely to be standing on the Swanns’ sheep and beef property 20 years from now, and year 12 student Sandra McGonigal — who helped build it — reckons she’ll be back one day to show her own kids her handiwork.

She was one of the few girls among the 20-strong Fraser High School agricultural group to gain practical skills while staying at Ruapuke Motor Camp for three days with neither cellphone nor TV reception to distract them from achieving the industry-based unit standards on offer.

The trip’s become something of an annual event for science teacher Simon Thompson, who’s from Te Uku, and his students.

In the past two years, says Simon, Fraser students have built more than 300 metres of eight-wire batten fences on the Swann farm — run now for 150 years by generations of the family — and have whacked in at least 3000 staples by hand.

And his year 12 students’ latest effort was “99 percent as good as (those built by) fencing contractors here”, he reckoned.

But that wasn’t altogether surprising considering he had the services of local contractor Jim Munns, who’s fenced for 40 years and worked alongside the students for free. Fellow Fraser High tutor Rio Iti — his family also from Raglan — was there too, teaching the skills needed to ensure the teens are “work ready” when they leave school for the farming jobs they want.

Simon reckons Ruapuke’s a real experience all-round for these “townie kids” who had the campground to themselves and who also got to meet colourful Ruapuke identity Caroline Swann and her nephew Phillip, or “Swanney” as he’s called.

Caroline — with baling twine for a belt and butchers’ knife at her side — supplies the homekill including her own Texan longhorns for the student camp cook-ups. On the day the Chronicle called, a handful of eels caught by the students the night before was on the menu along with 70 spareribs and 40 chops.

Simon’s wife Honey Armstrong and Swanney’s wife Sioux traditionally rally and help organize the cook-ups.

Besides learning how to fence — and cook the odd eel — the students also got tuition in the basics of farm machinery.

With Agribusiness Training tutor Rob Oakden keeping a watchful eye, they were all drilled on hill starts and stops in light utility vehicles, or LUVs, down the end of Swann Access Road high above Papanui Point.

They got to turn, reverse and tow trailers with loads — which affect the centre of gravity and stability of the vehicle.

Farmers are looking to employ kids who not only have “animal awareness” and basic fencing skills but are also safety conscious with machinery, Rob told the Chronicle as he put the new drivers through their paces.

Edith Symes