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PM once a scruffy, employed farm worker

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/02/2017

Prime Minister Bill English hasn't always been on a big salary - he's used his State of the Nation speech to talk about his tough early life as a debt-stricken Southland farmer.

"I got my politics around our large dining room table growing up, and from my mother who ran a farm, raised 12 children and was a serial community activist," he said on Thursday.

"By the early 1980s I was a new, keen and highly indebted young farmer, interest rates were around 17 per cent but farm costs were held down by wage and price increases."

None of it was sustainable, the economy was restructured and farm subsidies were wiped out.

"I made lots of financial and farm management mistakes," he said.

"We thought the world owed us a living. It didn't.

"But with the help of family and a lot of hard work we stayed on our feet."

He later married his Italian-Samoan wife Mary and they now have six children.

"I must admit the scruffy, unemployed farm worker who turned up on the arm of their eldest daughter wasn't quite what Mary's parents had in mind as a son-in-law," Mr English said.

"From them I saw the grit and determination it takes to feed and educate a large family, own a home and win respect when starting afresh in a new country."

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