I live 30 kilometres east of Katanning. Halfway between Katanning and Niabing. There’s just a church, a hall and a wheat bin. That’s all that’s here.
I’m third generation. My dad’s family moved out here from Scotland in 1969 and settled north of Katanning, and then dad took over the farm in the mid-80s. I came home to the farm in 2007- 08- the first year out of school. I was at boarding school in Perth.
I was keen to come home. I never really thought about it, just came home and originally just thought I’d have a gap year and then maybe go and study some agribusiness or something but I sort of got a little bit too involved with the everyday running of the farm and found it hard to tear myself away.
We breed seed stock rams for commercial clients throughout Australia and New Zealand. Ours isn’t the traditional way of breeding sheep. We’ve put a more high-muscled, high fat sort of genetics through our sheep to make them more resilient and they can withstand tougher conditions and produce more. We want to get more lambs on the ground and more dollars per hectare for our clients, so along those lines we’ve sort of developed our own brand. We trade sheep through the Sale Yards. Depending on the market climate at the time often the Sale Yards is the best place to go because you get abattoir and grazier competition.
I like knowing that I produce things that go and feed the world. It’s pretty rewarding. But it’s pretty tough too because you’re working with old girl up there, mother nature. If she doesn’t look after you, that’s pretty tough. but it makes you more resilient. as long as you’re talking with your mates you keep going I suppose.
People feel remote, isolated, cut off. Phone reception is a big thing. We’ve only just recently had a tower put up out here- we used to get nothing which I used to think was great because no one would bother me, but then when I’d go to town my phone would sing all the way down the road with messages and missed calls. So that’s another big off-putting thing. If you say to a girl you meet in Perth, “Come down to my place” and there’s no reception and she can’t contact her friends, there is fat chance she is going to stay. There are definitely things we need to fix. I think being a bloke out here, it’s very difficult to meet a girl. I met my partner through friends of friends – I got stitched up at the start of seeding. My neighbor just up the road said “Come over for a beer’” so I said “Alright, I’ll come over for a beer,” and I was covered in grease and I looked terrible probably, but we got chatting.
But without girls, communities die. So that’s a big struggle I reckon. Probably the biggest one. Without any families coming along we lose sporting clubs and once you lose sporting clubs, you know, the town dies. Niabing just up the road, 20 or 30 ks east, their footy club folded maybe four years ago and that sucked the community dry. With a footy club and the pub, you’ve got a town and a community. You lose a footy club and you’ll lose a fair bit of the community. But if you lose the pub -you’re buggered. Everyone needs somewhere to go. I really don’t know how to fix that. How do you attract people? You’ve got more people leaving town than coming to it.
There is a social scene. It depends on the time of the year but I play sport, so I go town to play tennis and footy and all those sort of things but if I was to go to town it’s more to utilize facilities like, to go and get parts. I’m happy just pottering around on the weekend. Fiddling around, doing stuff. You may not think I’m working but just tick a few thing off that you don’t get time to do during the week and that’s your weekend gone. It’s not quite as flat out on the weekend – you can have a beer at lunchtime.
Harvest can be stressful or it can be very cruisy. Weather picks how it goes. If you get rain events it sort of drags on a bit and no one likes harvesting in January because everyone wants a break. We all want to be down the coast in January. We always try to get away from the farm for two weeks or ten days. I’ll go and then mum and dad will go because you need someone there to look after the sheep and give them water and stuff. Harvest is flat out, long hours, you’re sort of getting up at five and not getting home until 10, 11, 12 at night. I drive the truck, so cart the grain from the paddock to the receival site at CBH. Just back and forth. It’s the most tired I’ve ever been I reckon, driving the truck, because you’ve just got to concentrate so hard. I’m getting more used to it now but when I first started I was a wreck. Because you’re driving a vehicle that weighs 50 tonnes so you can’t just stop like you’re driving a car. You’ve got to think ‘ I’ve got to turn soon,’ so you’ve got to slow down in time. I found that really hard to adjust to. My first season driving.
Everything in farming, its trial and error. And then Mother Nature determines how successful you are. This year it was very close to being a terrible year – but it’s turned around a lot so it’s going to end up being an average year which is good. But you go back six weeks ago and we just thought it was going to be a complete disaster. We just about had no rain for April May and June and then it started to rain in July and crops are very slow to establish and so we’ve really only got rain in July and the start of August and then didn’t get anything for six weeks until about the last week of September where we got 60 mil and that’s just made the season. Rain at any time of the year, even though it might disrupt harvest, is a good thing. I reckon it is anyway.