02 Nov Australian Farmers – A Look into life in the outback
Visiting Australian Farmers
It’s ironic that, while I sit here, writing about our trip to Cunnamulla to talk with Australian farmers about the drought, I’m in my office listening to the rain beat a rhythmic sound on my roof. I look outside and see lush green grass; our dogs are frolicking in puddles, covering themselves in mud, chasing raindrops and barking at the thunder.
And it’s just so hard to believe that 8 weeks ago, Kylie and I were in the scorching outback, visiting some Australian farmers doing it tough. Many are financially crippled by the effects of an 8-year drought, while others have long since packed up and gone.
Our second farm visit was to Adgingbong, a 30,000 acre property 25km west of Cunnamulla and owned by Roderick “Gezo” Taylor. Now, we’d heard all about Rod from the few people we’d already met. It seems everyone really does know everyone in a small town and Rod was known as a bit of a character.
So, we headed out late afternoon to visit Rod, the temperature still a stifling 40 degrees. We drove down his 10km driveway, past cows and emus huddled under trees, all seeking a reprieve from the relentless heat.
We knocked on the door, eager to meet Rod and hear his story. And we waited. Then we knocked again…and again. Nothing.
“Kylie, I may have gotten the time wrong?”, I confessed.
I’d called Rod the night before from Jean and Herb’s place. Admittedly, we were in a bit of a rush to make it into town before our hotel closed and my recollection of our plans were now quite vague.
We wandered around a little, talking to the working dogs tucked away in their kennels and swearing emphatically at the never-ending flies.
Now, I am known for my, at times, colourful language. I mean, I really can swear with the best of them. But there’s nothing like a swarm of flies invading your orifices to unleash a tirade of technicolour obscenities. Flies, I’ve discovered, really bring out the sailor, the biker, and the trucker, in you.
All good plans…
Eventually, we realised that yes, not only had I gotten the time wrong, but the day too! And without any phone service, there was nothing more to do than scribble a note to Rod and slide it under the door.
Walking back to the car in outback ninja style, a dismal attempt at keeping the flies at bay, we headed back into town for an earlier than planned, happy hour.
“Did I get the day wrong?”, he asked.
And while I could’ve easily let Rod take the blame, because neither of us could really remember what was planned, I had to confess.
“It was all Kylie’s fault!”.
So, we arranged to catch-up in the morning and our plan to chat with some Australian farmers was back on course!
The Girls Hit the Town…well, the local pub
With our plans firmly in place for the next day, we thought we’d check out the Warrego Hotel for dinner. As it turns out, the local watering hole was rather quiet. There was just me, Kylie, a truck driver, and a grazier en route to New South Wales, all strategically propping-up a corner of the rectangular bar. And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the friendly barman!
All was quiet in the pub, each of us perched on our stools, staring mindlessly into our wine/gin/beers when my phone rang. It was Jesse, another of our Australian farmers, calling me back to arrange our meeting for the next day. We chatted briefly while I explained our goal for our outback trip.
And as it turns out, an overheard telephone conversation and the words “we’re travel bloggers visiting Australian farmers”, was all it took for ears to prick-up and for friendly conversations to flow.
Next minute, the Redheads, the truckie and the grazier, were all sharing the same section of the bar. I mean, our mission was to meet people and in our experience, the local bar is always a great place to meet an eclectic bunch of people.
What ensued was a night of much storytelling, DIY music (thanks to the grazier and his portable speaker), terrible karaoke and equally terrible dancing, and some rather nasty glasses of tequila and vodka.
The barman, to his credit, was very accommodating but finally, at 11pm, two hours after the pub was supposed to close, reminded us it was time to go.
The next day we called in, slightly bleary-eyed, to the Cunnamulla Coffee Shop for our obligatory hangover breakfast of camel burgers, bacon and egg sandwich and strong coffees-to-go. And then, loaded up on caffeine, we hit the road.
This time we arrived on schedule and were greeted by a cheerful Rod who met us at his garden, bursting with colour from the most beautiful, and biggest, sunflowers we’d ever seen.
We’d quickly grown accustomed to the congeniality shown by Australian farmers, and Rod was no different. He ushered us into his air-conditioned dining room and promptly offered us a cold drink and freshly baked biscuits.
We settled around the dining table while Rod told us about his son Alex. Alex was quite famous in town as he will soon feature on this years’ season of “Farmer Wants a Wife”. Alex even made it on to the front page of the local newspaper!
So, there’s our inside scoop for you 😉. Tune in to check out Rod’s son Alex and see if he gets himself a wife!
And over a cup of coffee, some home-made biscuits, still warm from the oven, we learned a little about Rod’s life as an Australian farmer.
Have you always owned Adgingbong?
“No, my grandfather was here first. So, it goes back a fair bit. And he used to manage a place called Shall Plains, next door which was 340,000 acres. And back in those days, they used to shear 100,000 sheep.
“Then of course, after the war, it was all split-up. My grandfather managed the place from 1892 to 1927 and for his services they gave him 16,000 acres, which was the original home block here.
“My mother was reared here. And there was a house up on the sand hill up there, and that’s where they lived. This house was actually built in 1953, but my dad came here as a jackeroo in 1935. He married mum and they tried to buy the property from grandfather but he wouldn’t sell it to them.
Life on a Farm
“My grandfather said; ‘It’s too hard on women out here’. Because when you think back in those days, there’d be no air conditioning; I don’t think they even had fridges way back then. They used to get ice somehow or other, they had an ice thing. And dad talked about the summers here when he first came as a jackeroo. The summers were just terrible.
“Because my grandfather wouldn’t sell the property to them, they left and went to a place called Mungindi, which is down on the New South Wales border. Dad became the butcher, and he ended up buying two butcher shops, one in Goondiwindi and one in Mungindi. My father made enough money in six years to come back and buy Adgingbong in 1947.
“And he had ten good years. He had the wool boom of ’53, plus ten good years of good seasons. This house was built in 1953 and there were four kids in the family. We had a governess. I always said I had a deprived youth because everyone else’s governesses were these lovely young, sexy birds and ours was 83.
“Our governess was Irish, and her name was May Harper Murphy. You can’t get much more Irish than that, can you? Anyway, she taught my mother as well. In fact, she came out in 1914 as a companion help to my grandmother. She lived down here until she died, actually”.
The governesses did all the schooling?
“Yeah. Most of the station kids out here are on School of the Air. The main base is in Charleville.
The Charleville School of Distance Education was established in 1966 as a School of the Air. Lessons were conducted via radio from the Royal Flying Doctor Base.
“When our kids were going to school, they actually did it over the two-way radio. Now I believe they just do it with a computer.
“Today it’s all computerised. And of course, in those days they had School of the Air musters. There were always these wonderful groups that drove around and came to the stations and all the kids that lived nearby would all meet here, and they’d have games and everything for the day.
“It was something they really looked forward to. The kids made everlasting friends. I mean, Jessie Moody, from next door is still one of Alex’s best mates. They go off and do things together still and here they are 28 or 29 years old”.
what type of animals have you had?
“We’ve had sheep and cattle but right at the moment we’ve only just got the basics. That’s all that’s left. And we’re hoping to get through this drought with them. We’re praying that there’s going to be rain coming soon because we’re back to feeding again.
“Since 2013 we’ve been bushing, scrubbing, feeding and had cattle on agistment and sheep on agistment”.
What was it like before 2013?
“Well, 2012 was one of the best years ever. And then it just stopped. So, what we had here was all this dead feed and then it rained in the winter. And that absolutely wrecked it, and it was just useless. They called it protein drought, there was nothing in the feed for them”.
“Because it didn’t rain and the grass was wrecked by the frosts. During the winter, it just took everything out of it. So, there was no protein left in the feed for the animals. They’ve got to have protein. So, we had a protein drought, and here we are.
“Have you seen how open the ground is? The cracks? You can get a bucket of water and pour it into one of those cracks. And it won’t even come to the top. The ground has just opened-up”.
What impact has the drought had on Australian farmers? What is the impact on adgingbong?
“Well, the first thing we had to do was start de-stocking. Get back to a level of animals that we could maintain. So, all the cattle went on agistment, because they’re always the worst to be affected. Or the first to be affected”.
“It happened all over with Australian farmers, to be honest with you. I took my cattle from here to Roma, or just outside Mitchell. A little property there, they were there for two years. Then they came back.
“In fact, they left here in 2013, and in August, or September was it, we brought the cattle back from Kywong. That’s the first time they’ve been back here since 2013. They’d been away on agistment. And the calves actually paid for themselves, to keep the cows there.
The Loss of Stock
“The loss of stock in Australia just over the last few years from drought, from flood and now with all these fires means they’re going to be hard to come by. And when this drought does break, they’re going to be very valuable.
“Years ago, they used to say, as soon as it gets dry sell them all, especially the sheep. Wait until the droughts over and then buy them back in again.
“Back in those days there were 180 million sheep in Australia. Today we haven’t even got 70 million. We’re down to about 60 million. So, you’re just not able to go and buy more in. It’s going to be a slow process for us. We’re going to have to keep breeding-up until we get our numbers back
“And here we should be able to run 12,000 sheep. At the moment we’ve got 2,600, plus their lambs, so it’s hardly a living to be honest with you”.
Tell us about the hard days for Australian farmers?
“It wasn’t here, but where the cattle were on agistment. I had a lovely line of Hereford cattle, that had been my mother’s line of cattle, when she was here. And we had no option. We had to get them off the place where they were on agistment and we didn’t know what we could keep.
“We had to sell all the surplus that was there and keep about 40 cows. So, we kept the younger ones, and I had to sell all my lovely Hereford cows. They went to Dalby. I was just heartbroken because I knew them all. And we got this terrible price because it was the biggest sale at Dalby.
“There was something like 9,000 head of cattle and nobody wanted them. And here were these beautiful cows with calves, worth only $640. Six months before a cow with calf would have probably made $1,500”.
Life of a farmer
It was apparent to Kylie and myself that the life of our Australian farmers was a hard one. And not one for the faint-hearted! The farmers we’d met loved the land, cared about their animals, their well-being and during this 8-year drought, were forced to make some tough decisions. Yet, despite how long and hard this drought has lasted, there was a stoic determination and fortitude that perhaps, we city-folk are unaccustomed to.
Rod shared a few more colourful stories with Kylie and I before we ventured out into the scorching heat for a tour of the property. And we gratefully accepted as Rod let us both indulge our love of photography, our love of dogs and apparently, Kylie’s love of old tractors!
Thank you Rod for your hospitality, generosity and cheeky sense of humour. We really enjoyed our visit (when we finally made it) and look forward to coming back out. Hopefully, this time we’ll be met with lush green grass and thriving cattle. And maybe a few less flies 😉
About Redheads on the Road
Redheads on the Road is the creation of Kylie and Alison – red wine loving writers, journalists, photographers, superstar mums and fun and fiery redheads. We are hitting the road to tell the stories of real, everyday Aussies. Tell us your story here