The world needs creative, innovative and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see.
Our young dairy champions are ready to spread the great dairy facts to students participating in the Archibull Prize
CASSIE MacDonald likes nothing more than telling friends she earns her money milking cows and 24 year old CSU veterinary student won’t let the industry she loves be pushed around by big business.
The former city-girl hit national headlines earlier this year when she hit back at a Coles campaign with her own internet video highlighting the impact of the $1 a litre milk price war.
“I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story,” she said. “I hoped consumers would think about the choices they make and what happens if they buy supermarket brand milk. “I also wanted shoppers to think about the information they are fed, especially by such big powerful companies.”
16,000 people viewed Cassie’s video in the first fortnight. We believe It’s this passion, initiative and leadership which make Cassie the ideal young leader for Australia’s dairy industry. Cassie’s urban childhood proves you don’t need to be born on a farm or even in rural Australia to work in agriculture.
A member of the breed society Ayrshire Australia and a regular on the dairy show circuit, Cassie has grabbed the opportunities agriculture has presented and enjoys telling her story to encourage others to consider a future in dairy.
Cassie joins Bega Valley fifth generation dairy farmer Andrew D’Arcy as the newest Art4Agriculture Dairy Young Farming Champions (YFC).
Twenty eight year old, Andrew D’Arcy is the epitome of modern farming. Continuing his family’s heritage producing quality iconic dairy products in NSW, his farming business is also at the forefront of the industry with a robotic dairy.
Andrew has a great story to share. He has travelled the world thanks to dairy and now, along with his family, uses cutting edge technology every day on the farm.
The opportunities are endless in agriculture according to Andrew.
”With an ever increasing world population, the importance and need for agriculture is going to strengthen,” he said. “This necessary demand will generate more career opportunities with boundless positions within the industry, not limited to farming alone but incorporating other fields such as agronomy, nutrition, marketing, engineering, research, science, accounting, veterinary, mechanical – the list is endless.”
Young Farming Champions (YFC) introduce the next generation of consumers to the world of food and fibre production and strengthen the bond between farmers and consumers through two-way engagement.
YFCs are the link between students and agriculture and they share their story while assisting schools participating in the Archibull Prize, a program that asks students to explore the importance of Australia’s food and fibre industries by researching the theme “what does it take to sustainably feed and clothe my community, for a day.”
20,000 students have participated in the Art4Agriculture, Archibull Prize since 2008 and the work these students put in to understanding our agricultural industries is phenomenal and meeting a Young Farming Champion is often the highlight of the students’ experience.
Our Dairy Young Farming Champions are sponsored by Pauls Smarter White Milk
Today’s guest blog comes from Cotton Young Farming Champion Liz Lobsey. You can read all about Liz here
Liz and Milly
Liz is an agronomist aka Plant Doctor and she loves her “career” and she loves to tell people why
This is what Liz has to say ………………….
I have recently had the pleasure of visiting 4 schools involved in the Archibull Prize for the Art4Agriculture program and I can honestly say that they all have been a different learning experience.
In the past week I can honestly say that I have spoken to children in kindergarten in Sydney who believe that all farmers have animals to children in cotton growing regions who weren’t quite sure what a cotton plant was.
Excluding the kindergarten class, all the classes I have spoken to are of the same age. The ages between 14 and 16, where most teenagers stop paying attention to their parents and when they believe that the world is wrong and they are always right. I was like that at that age as well. But one difference I noticed between myself at that age and the kids of today is that I had a concept that there was a world outside my home town and that things that I took for granted, other kids my age wouldn’t even know what that was.
Each school I visited was different, I travelled from Clermont in QLD to Sydney and then to Theodore in QLD in two weeks. It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I got to share my story and give guidance to kids who might never have been given these opportunities otherwise. The one thing that my schools has in common was that they were all disadvantaged in some way. Be it location or, bureaucracy within the schooling systems. The unfortunate thing, is that this disadvantage that these kids are experiencing is influencing how they view their futures. Some of these kids believe that they will never go to university because it’s not an option.
I asked all my classes if they believed they had to be from a farm to be involved with agriculture. The great thing was, the Sydney school, of all the schools, all the kids responded with a no you don’t need to be from a farm. The scary thing was, the country schools indicated that you have to be from a farm to be involved with agriculture. That in itself alarmed me a little as I couldn’t quite understand where this perception was coming from. When I asked the kids why they said that you need to be from as farm why they felt that way, they couldn’t tell me why. I then proceeded to tell these kids that I didn’t come from a farm and the look on their faces was priceless. I don’t think I have ever seen jaws hit the floor quite so quickly or quite so hard for that matter.
There was an assumption from the kids that because I’m involved with agriculture, I just naturally must have come from a farming family. For me to then inform them that I wasn’t from a farm was magic. Particularly at Matraville Sports High. The light in their eye’s when they realised that where they come from doesn’t influence who they are or what they can do with their lives was purely magical.
The one thing that scares me the most is that our children are sheltered. The city kids are sheltered from the world outside their suburb and have a very limited concept of what exists even 25 kilometres away.
The country kids are sheltered from the fact that kids that don’t live in rural environments don’t understand the ‘circle of life’ with animals, or the process of harvesting a crop. I had a light bulb moment on my way back from Theodore on Friday. What these school visits have made me realise is that our children take things for granted. Our children take agriculture for granted. City kids take the fact that they have fresh milk, eggs and meat for granted. Our country kids take the fact that agriculture is in their town for granted. This lead me to think, does this mean that our society as a whole just assume that agriculture will always be there, and in turn, are we all taking agriculture for granted?
I said to the year 9/10 class at Theodore that agriculture is quite literally involved in every aspect of our lives. One kid laughed at me, so when I asked him to name where agriculture doesn’t influence something in their lives he couldn’t answer me. I can openly admit, I love putting kids on the spot. Because it makes them take responsibility for their own thoughts and makes them thing about what they are going to respond with next. Kids need to be aware that even in high school, their actions will influence their lives in some way. Like I said to one kid at Theodore, everything has a domino affect, and what you decide to do with your time at school will influence what you do with your life further on down the line.
To me the art4agriculture program is about engaging kids with agriculture and making them think outside the box if you will. Well, that’s what I thought before I went on school visits. Now, I see the bigger picture. The Art4Agriculture program to me is away for me to help kids think about their futures. My future is and always will be cotton. Some of the other Young Farming Champions futures are beef or wool or dairy. Some of the kids I have spoken to, their futures will be with agriculture. But not all kids will go into agriculture, and that is fine. Just like the mining industry isn’t what I would ever want to do, agriculture isn’t for everyone. Each individual child has something that they want to do, whether they are willing to admit what that is I feel, relates to their upbringing and their circumstances. It takes a strong person at the age of 15 to say I want to be a nurse or I want to be a vet. Especially when we are in a society where adults doubt that a 15 year old has any concept of what they want to do with their lives.
I said to my Theodore kids on Friday, a job or work is what you do to pay the bills and get through the week. A career is what you love to death. My career is an agronomist and I live and breathe it and I can’t imagine doing anything else. To see this concept resonate not only with the students but also the teachers was a wonderful moment. It was opening the door for some of these kids to believe that they can be anything that they believe they can be.
While the past couple of weeks have been a blur, and I am exhausted, it has been the most rewarding experience.
If I have helped one child believe that they can be more then what their circumstances may dictate them to be then my job here is done.
As part of their Archibull Prize journey the students are asked to do a number of compulsory blogs posts
Today I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on Blog Post 3
This is how we introduce it to the students (and yes we ask the big questions and we look forward to the answers)
Compulsory Blog 3: Rural vs. Urban Challenges in Australia
“Changes to distribution of primary production will have socio-economic implications for individual businesses, industries, towns, schools and regions”
Visit source of map here Note the map is interactive so well worth a look at the article
Students will be able to understand:
• Competition for land is finely balanced
• Implications for primary, secondary and tertiary industries
• Socio-economic implications
• Impact on biodiversity
And we ask them to do the following when they write their blog
1. Outline the various types of competition for land and the impacts of this competition. Give clear examples and demonstrate that you have made use of the resources provided by referring to what you have learnt.
2. Outline the diversity of competition for the land.
3. What are the social, environmental, economic and cultural impacts as a result of this competition?
4. How may these impacts be overcome?
In the entry survey we asked this question which of course has no right or wrong answer
And this is the answer we got.
Interesting isn’t it interesting the difference between primary and secondary students with close to double our primary school students being very passionate about Natural Parks?.
There is no denying there is a lot of competition for our natural resources and it is imperative we all work together to get the best outcomes
Just connecting up the remnant vegetation to create wildlife corridors is multifaceted – this image can be found on page 2 here
From a farming perspective there is no doubt our farmers face many challenges to put food on the table for Australian families.
Farm amalgamation, declining rural population and services and difficulties in succession planning are changing the structure of the rural community. Farms are getting bigger and the business is becoming more complex and risky. Furthermore, the cost-price squeeze is placing great strain on farmers trying to ensure economic viability whilst trying to address land degradation and environmental issues on their properties.
This great little video looks at some of the challenges
My final whirlwind visit for the Art4Agriculture program for 2013 took me to the gorgeous Sapphire Coast and the home of famous Bega cheese, where Bega Valley Primary School opened up their doors to me to listen to my personal story of my involvement in agriculture and our Australian beef cattle industry.
Upon the conclusion of questions at the end of my presentation, I was introduced to ‘Buttercup’ – the schools fibreglass Archibull calf. Unlike other schools I visited, Bega Valley Public School had already painted their calf, so it was now my turn to learn as I enquired about the intricate Aboriginal artwork that covered Buttercups hide. Kim Cooke, the teacher in charge of the schools involvement in the program, shared more of her valuable time to talk me through the painting, which depicted the map of Bega and districts in traditional Aboriginal painting.
The entire calf was a wonderful work of art, and is an absolute credit to the Koori students of Bega Valley Public School and Mrs Cooke, who all contributed to the designing and painting. Most outstandingly, proudly sitting on Buttercups right shoulder was a ‘district’ of much brighter colours, depicting a sacred site to the people of the area. This concept of a sacred site intrigued me on my journey home, so I began researching to better understand. Beliefs and histories vary between Aboriginal groups, however the most commonly accepted & important aspect of a sacred site relates to the time of The Dreaming when spirits walked the earth and created our natural environment, including plants, animals and people. The particular geographical locations that were of significance within the life of a spirit, for example their place of birth, death, or where the performed rituals, became ‘sacred’ to the people of that area and those who descended from that spirit.
I do not identify myself as an Aboriginal Person however I do identify myself as a farmer. In the current hostile social climate of reports, investigations, extremist groups and constantly defending ourselves, it’s easy to forget the strong, positive connections we have to other communities. Learning of this rather undefinable, spiritual connection to the land felt by Aboriginal people, I felt an instant kinship with our traditional owners. It is one of my favourite and proudest things to tell people that the house built by my great grand father is the very same one (with a few upgrades) I call home today. Strange enough to admit, but I still get jealous of my fathers relationship with my great grand father. He passed on years before I was born and I never got to meet the man who cut through the pine trees to create the very drive way I travel up & down, crying nearly every time I return to Uni.
The Dreaming is referred to as something that happened long ago when great heroes lived, however is still present today. I related this easily to our property. I can stand at our highest point and look over green paddocks, fat livestock and feel the great happiness seeing our country thrive with vitality and sustainability that only generations of love can create. I do not see dollar signs, as some may insist is the famers main goal in life, I see the passion and hard work of my ancestors and know that they are still very connected, very present in the land today.
Agriculture is not simply a sensationally diverse industry with endless opportunity, it is a lifestyle that involves great emotion and spiritual connection to our land, in some cases dating back generations, which is why outlandish attacks from activist groups hurt so much more than the economical and public perception reactions they aim for. Their ignorance leads to accusations based on our practices that have been developed through years of experience, research and development, to deliver the best & safest produce on increasingly shrinking land mass.
Nearing the end of my university degree, the most common piece of advice offered to me by other teachers and lectures is to network; create relationships with your peers and mentors and stay connected as you will always need help and support throughout your career, but particularly in your early years. Of all the titles that I can call myself – Uni student, swimming teacher, vice-president, my favourite still remains farmers daughter. I am a young farmer and I recognise the importance of continuing this practice of networking and connecting from my career in education through to my life in agriculture, which unfortunately, with our backs against the wall for so many reasons, has become a practice between those within the industry only, often excluding outsiders and other communities with detrimental effects.
It’s difficult to let others in to share the joy of our fragile land, something we are so protective of and so connected to. The ability to promote our industry and practices is so often over shadowed by the defensive protection we feel when exposing our spirituality to those who don’t understand, or who want to engage in attacking practices. The most fortunate situation is that majority of the general public are open and willing to increase their knowledge about the industry, and this is where it is up to us as farmers to facilitate the conversations of change. Like I have learnt of and been inspired by Aboriginal people’s stories and sacred sites, so to will many of our urban cousins find a particular connection to our story, the story of Australian Agriculture.
I thank the Wiradjiri people of my area, and the generations of my family who have put years of sweat and tears into developing our property. I acknowledge all of you and your connection to the land I call home, and thank you for the knowledge you have handed down and the care in which you treated this wide brown land.
You can read the Bega Valley Public School blog here
Beef YFC Bronwyn Roberts named QLD Red Meat Industry Emerging Leader
It’s been a big month for our Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions (YFC) who have started going into schools in three states as part of the 2013 Archibull Prize
Three of the team also have some very exciting news to share with you
Just 24 hours ago the best in the business of the Queensland red meat industry where recognised at the State’s premier industry gala awards in Brisbane last night.
The Queensland Red Meat Awards, hosted by peak advocacy group AgForce, celebrate the innovators in the industry, showcasing all aspects from paddock to plate.
The awards highlight excellence from the producer level right through to recognising the retailers and restaurants across the State the serve the best red meat on offer.
How excited were the Art4Agriculture team when Beef YFC Bronwyn Roberts was named Red Meat Industry Emerging Leader
AgForce general president Ian Burnett said the 2013 winners were testament to the industry’s progressive and innovative outlook, providing a benchmark to which all producers and retailers could strive for.
“The professionalism and innovation in this year’s award winners are instrumental in raising the profile of Queensland beef and sheep meat in Australia,” Mr Burnett said.
“The awards recognise every vital aspect of the supply and retail chain, ultimately resulting in a much higher quality product for our end consumer.”
Red Meat Industry Emerging Leader – Sponsored by Rabobank: Bronwyn Roberts
Working side-by-side with her parents as a fifth generation beef farmer, Ms Roberts is passionate about implementing best practices to produce economically, environmentally and socially sustainable beef. She also works as the Grazing Land Management Officer with the Fitzroy Basin Association. Rotational grazing is utilized to promote healthy land, clean waterways, pasture growth, and biodiversity. Ms Roberts also uses modern technology such as iPhone apps to record stock movements, production and veterinary treatments. Beyond the farm gate, Ms Roberts embraces social media to help spread the word about agriculture through Facebook, Twitter, blogging and Instagram. She also actively contributes to policy and education resources by acting as a MLA Target 100 Beef Young Farming Champion. In this capacity, she has represented MLA at events such as the Sydney Festival and the recent Regional Flavours festival in Southbank. She’s written numerous articles which have been featured in various magazines, been a keynote speaker at events such as the prestigious Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program and Australian Beef Industry Foundation awards dinner. Miss Roberts is also an active Art4Agriculture advocate being featured in YouTube videos empowering students and teachers to explore the beef industry.
Just one month earlier Wool YFC Jo Newton was part of a team of 11 young entrepreneurs from the University of New England (UNE) who took out the prestigious Enactus Australia Championships on Friday 5 July. Enactus is a global organisation, which brings student, academic and business leaders together to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.
Jo Newton (centre left) with the University of New England (UNE) team who took out the prestigious Enactus Australia Championships on Friday 5 July
Each team in the Enactus competition must develop, manage and report on outreach initiatives that address areas of human need. Teams must approach these projects as sustainable business enterprises, working to maximise returns to targeted beneficiaries.
Jo headed up the team that showcased the Farming Futures project which links the many companies crying out for quality graduates from agricultural courses to the talent they’re after.
“Demand for graduates outstrips supply in the sector by a factor of four to one, yet 30 per cent of recent graduates aren’t employed. Through an agricultural career’s fair and an industry dinner, we’ve showcased the many professions on offer in agriculture and helped match graduates with leading employers,
I feel very privileged to be a part of that group of students striving to make real positive changes in our community. As a team we are tackling real issues in our community, that translate into national issues. To have the opportunity to take these issues to an international stage will be fantastic in generating further awareness for our projects. I have to pinch myself when I think of the fact that in 2 months I will be part of a team representing Australia, competing against 37 other countries in Mexico. I never dreamed agriculture could take me so far” said Jo
Jo and the UNE team will now proceed to the World Cup to be held in Cancan, Mexico – 29 September to 2 October 2013.
And this great news from ‘Dr Steph’ Fowler who is off to Turkey to present two papers at the International Conference of Meat Science and Technology (Icons).
This is what Steph had to say about the opportunity
As there is so few meat scientists amongst us it is really an exciting (and yet totally scary) prospect to be selected to present two papers at the International Conference of Meat Science and Technology (Icons). Looking at the program of those I am presenting alongside gives me a bizarre feeling because it’s the same as reading my reference library, there are names I have been continually referencing since I really began in Meat Science nearly four years ago. It hasn’t really sunk in that they are my colleagues and I am in the same league as them now because I still see myself as the little undergrad student I was when I started, using and refuting their ideas as evidence of my own thoughts and data throughout most of my major assignments.
It’s mind boggling and even more so the fact I have been given a travel grant to help me attend the conference means I have been recognised as someone who is seen to be contributing to the meat science field and who would benefit from attending the conference and grad program. It’s a huge jump from writing assignments that go to a professor, get marked and come back to you to contributing to a whole field of knowledge. Of course getting two papers into the conference is just the start, there is so much to do between now and when I go…full papers to write to be published, conference posters to organise, presentations to put together and practice, samples to set to take to Monash when I get back, data to organise to take to our collaborators in Germany after the conference plus organising my own holiday for when I am released in Europe that I have barely stopped to think about the full significance of my first papers being accepted. For me the real achievement will come when I am on a plane bound for Izmir Turkey and until then I will keep talking about it trying to convince myself that it’s actually real and happening.
Congratulations to Bron, Jo and Steph and all our Young Farming Champions – you were all born superstars
There are a number of misconceptions in the wider community that sadly are sometimes deliberately promoted by some with an agenda to discredit the livestock industry.
One of those is the red meat industry’s water footprint with outrageous figures often quoted of how much water is required to produce a kilogram of beef
These figures are very flawed because they take in the rain that falls on the pasture
The simple answer to this question is the pasture grows because the rain falls and if the cattle didn’t eat it, the pasture would break down and generate methane anyway. So cattle are a very efficient way of generating food from pasture that would just get wasted.
So let’s look at some background and what is happening on farm (source)
Is water a renewable or non-renewable re source?
The water cycle shows how rain recycles by running off into the sea, then being evaporated to form clouds that will eventually lead to precipitation that can fall on land. Within the cycle, water can be stored as ice, or underground in a water table.
If groundwater is pumped up from a water table, or surface water is taken from a lake, faster than it can be replaced by the natural water cycle, then its use is considered non-renewable.
However, if rainwater can be collected and used before it evaporates, then its use is considered renewable. The more rainwater can be used before it evaporates, the smaller the impact on the water cycle.
There are three main areas to be considered when examining water usage in the cattle and sheep industry:
In the paddock:
Australian cattle and sheep farmers are committed to continually improving their on-farm water efficiency. They do this by taking actions such as creating efficient watering points for livestock (for example, designated troughs for animals to drink from) and maintaining healthy soils and pastures to minimise run-off (and therefore loss of water) during rain.
Water used to raise Australian livestock is generally not diverted water meaning it primarily comes from dams and river systems rather than town water supplies, and cannot be used for other purposes, such as human consumption.
In the feedlot:
Like farms, water use on cattle feedlots primarily relates to water consumption by animals. However, water is also used for feed processing, washing cattle and managing effluent. To reduce water use, the grain-fed beef industry is investing in several initiatives – including reusing water, and minimising water used when processing cattle feed.
In beef and lamb processing plants, water is mostly used to ensure food safety and hygiene during operations. The industry is making major investments to improve water efficiency, including reusing and recycling water
Sustainable and efficient use of water is a top priority for our nation, especially in farming – and Australia’s cattle and sheep farmers are leading the way.
Our waterways and riparian land are valuable asset for farmers and the wider community Riparian areas are often the most productive parts of some farms due to their deeper soils and retained moisture, and may provide good, green feed when other paddocks have dried off.
A riparian zone includes a waterway such as a stream or river and the land immediately either side of the stream. The above picture shows a well manage riparian zone
Unfortunately, they are also at risk of damage, particularly as a result of uncontrolled stock access. This damage can result in the loss of soil, land, stock, and water quality
Studies have shown that removing stock from waterways and riparian areas totally, or for controlled periods, can have a significant improvement on riparian health.
Increased vegetation cover will lead, over time, to a reduction in erosion, better water quality, valuable shelter belts and biodiversity.
This means healthier stock, more efficient use of nutrients and rainfall, and thicker, improved pasture cover and a great result for everyone along the river system.
Farmers install watering points like troughs to water their cattle when cattle no longer have access to the waterways
So lets look at what is happening on farm balance the needs of grazing cattle to produce healthy nutritious affordable red meat and people and the planet
Water efficiency in the paddock
Australia’s unpredictable rain patterns and extended periods of drought mean efficient water management is essential for the community and cattle and sheep farmers. Farmers rely heavily on water-efficient grazing practices to make the most of the water available.
Through grazing management strategies, farmers manage the frequency and intensity of grazing to make the best use of their pastures – balancing the needs of the grazing animal, the pasture and the environment.
As with humans, in on-farm livestock production, the single biggest use of water is for drinking by the animals. Water makes up 60%–70% of the body weight of cattle and sheep, and is essential for maintaining their physiological function.
Water is also an essential resource for establishing and maintaining healthy pastures for Australia’s cattle and sheep to graze.
Water saving initiatives on farm
Cattle and sheep farmers do many things to influence the water balance in their grazing systems. Healthy soils and adequate nutrients are two of the basic elements of any successful grazing system. Healthy soils drive higher pasture productivity and benefit the environment, through more efficient use of water and nutrients in the paddock, and lower risk of run-off, erosion and deep drainage.
A comprehensive survey of the environmental practices of Australian cattle and sheep farmers in 2010 found that farmers are increasingly monitoring and managing their water use:
55% of farmers had installed additional watering points to replace water for stock from natural watercourses, with 61% of Queensland producers installing water points.
86% of farmers monitored the level of water tables on their properties.
Water saving initiatives in Feedlots
The grain-fed cattle sector employs several strategies to reduce water usage.
Reusing water in cattle wash-down facilities
Covering dams to reduce evaporation
Restricting water use for feed processing
Using neighbouring coal seam gas development water
Reusing effluent water for dust suppression
The industry is also researching other initiatives, such as treating effluent water
Reducing water consumption in the meat processing industry
Examples of positive strategies being adopted to reduce water consumption at processing facilities include:
Using flow meters to monitor water usage
Reusing water for cleaning yards and other applications
Recovering rich organic compounds and nutrients from treated wastewater and solid wastes, to be transformed into fertilisers and soil conditioners
Installing efficient and effective wastewater treatment processes
Water use: the full facts
As I mentioned earlier there are lots of misconceptions about the amount of water used on farms and getting the full picture requires detailed assessment of a wide range of factors.
So measuring the total environmental impact of water consumption – known as ‘water foot printing’ – is far more complicated than simply adding up the volume of water consumed from start to finish.
“You can’t make generalisations, because beef is produced in so many different ways.
“Life-cycle assessment, the scientific discipline, is about trying to look at environmental impacts in a holistic way, to avoid just pushing the problem upstream or downstream in the supply chain,
For example, treating and recycling water might increase energy use, or a water- and energy-intensive farm might be producing more food on a smaller parcel of land, which is important on our increasingly crowded planet. “Arable land is itself a scarce resource.
The answer lies in accurate measurements and successful compromise.
“If we’re going to give anybody any sort of useful information to take pressure off water resources, we need to be a bit more sophisticated than just making simplistic statements about broad product categories, like livestock.” Says Brad Ridoutt from CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Melbourne
Farmers do care about clean waterways and healthy landscapes just like the community. Just like the community some are doing it better than others. Lets work together to stop the blame and encourage everyone to strive for a healthy planet.
anticipates many obstacles along the way: rain, muddy roads, missed flights, inflexible bus company policies… But in the immortal words of Unique II “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride.” I will take the motorbike cross-country through the mud, if it comes to that to share my farming stories with the world.
IT IS EASY to feel isolated when you live 110 kilometres from the closest small town – or even if you live in those small towns. It’s true that things like phones and Facebook combat the loneliness, solitude and other mental aspects of isolation. But as one of the 11 percent of Australians who don’t live in “urban areas” – that’s cities and towns of more than 1,000 people, according to ABS – it’s still reality to sometimes feel as if you are out of sight, out of mind, and out of touch.
Of all the various issues surrounding living on a relatively remote sheep station, when Shannan (ST) and I first moved to Burragan I was most constantly anxious about the possibility of being “rained in.” There’s about 35 kilometres, give or take, of dirt road between the Burragan house and a bitumen highway, and although 35km isn’t much in the scheme of things, the thing about dirt is that when it rains it turns to mud. And the thing about mud is that it’s pretty much impenetrable by man… or woman. So when it rains you either get out quick (not always an option), or bunker down at home in preparation for a period of house and shed-bound jobs.
ST always alleviated my fear by telling me that if we ever simply had to get out after rain, we could take the motorbike cross-paddock to the highway. Over time my anxiety eased as I became used to this plan, and when people asked what happened when we were rained in, I simply answered, “We really could get out on the motorbike, across the paddock, if we needed to.”
In my mind this was acceptable. I would never be totally trapped. Obviously I hadn’t given it much further thought. You know, about, like, exactly what happens when we get to the highway and only have a motorbike to travel on and are still 80 kilometres from the closest town? Yeah, that bit… hmmm… interesting you bring that up… I hadn’t really thought about that bit.
So it was part traumatic and part wild adventure last month when we had 50 millimetres (that’s 2 inches for the oldies out there) of rain overnight and I was due to catch a flight out of Broken Hill. Then the true physical issues behind the motorbike-cross-country plan finally became clear… much clearer than mud – yet still with the exact same colour, consistency, and chemical structure. So yeah, pretty much as clear as mud – except actually clear. Are you with me?
I was due to catch this flight to Sydney because of my #3 Super Exciting Amazing News that I’ve been busting to tell you about for months now. I’ve been chosen as a 2013 Young Farming Champion to represent the wool industry as part of theArt4Agriculture and Archibull Prize programs! (Insert claps, cheers and wolf whistles here!!) If you haven’t heard of this, then let me explain…
Art4Agriculture is the brain child of Illawarra based dairy farmer Lynne Strong. At its heart Art4Ag aims to bridge the divides between food and fibre producers and consumers, through awareness and participation. Just one aspect of the program is the Archibull Prize, where participating schools are provided with a life-size fibreglass cow statue to decorate in the theme of a particular primary industry (think cotton, wool, beef, dairy etc). The Archibulls, along with blogs and video projects, are then entered in the annual Archibull Prize competition against all the other schools. Part of the program – and this is where I come in – is to train up young farmers as champions for their industry, and partner each school with its own Young Farming Champion to help inspire their themed Archibull entry, but also to teach students all about how fun, innovating and exciting Australian agriculture is as a whole. Doesn’t it sound great!!??
So, there I was, at home, due to catch this flight to Sydney for my very first meet and greet with this year’s fellow Young Farming Champions (there’s a few of us –check us out HERE) and our initial training workshop. We’d had a little bit of forecast rain the day before and the usual protocol here, when no more rain is forecast for the immediate future, is to hope for some warm and windy weather to dry out the roads. With 24 hours still to go before I was due to leave for my 4pm flight from Broken Hill, we decided to enact this kind of watch and wait plan. And while I went to bed hoping for a windy night to harden up the muddy track to the highway, ST, I’m sure, was secretly hoping for a heavy 5inch downpour to fill our drying dams.
As I lay in bed I heard the rains tumble down. In June.
Fifty-millimetres had fallen by the time we woke. And it wasn’t warm and windy and dry. It was cold and still and wet. ST was delighted. I was anxious… and a little bit peeved. And feeling extremely traitorous for not being delighted.
But everything would be OK, because we could just push out through the paddock on the motorbike, right? Right. Except, then what? Our bikes are only ever used on the property, so they’re not registered for use on main roads. It would be illegal, not to mention highly dangerous given the amount of fuel (and my luggage) we’d need to strap on for the trip, and too slow going anyway, to take the motorbike all the way to Town. And asking a friend for a casual old lift to the airport is just a fraction more than your average favour when the airport is 330km away.
Plan C? ST braved the freezing rain on his motorbike to check the state of all our roads, to see if there was any possible way of me making it out to the highway in the car. Now that is love; having one billion other things to do and dropping everything, to ride 70km through mud and slush, in awful weather, all to make his new wife hap… Hang on a minute – it has just come to me that all this time I thought he was doing something super-sweet, when really maybe that’s just how much he really, really wanted to get rid of me for a few days!? Hmmmm…
Anyway, ST returned two hours later bearing bad news. The road turned to soup closer to the highway and it was more than likely any attempt to escape by car would end with me stuck not only a long way from the airport, but also a long way from the house.
Plan D? Call all the neighbours for a road report on all possible access points through their properties – perhaps I could make it the back way? But as I rang around the neighbours, the time was a-ticking. With at least three and a half hours of travel between Burragan and Broken Hill I was going to have to leave soon, or risk missing the flight altogether. Of course, the neighbours were just was rained in as we were…
Plan E? Helicopter? Ours was still at the mechanic, being serviced. Damn! (Hahaha, I wish!)
Plan F? As it slipped passed midday and I lost my window of opportunity to reach the departure gate in time for take-off, I was left with no other option but to call the Art4Ag crew in Sydney and apologise in advance for missing my flight. I disappointedly began dialling.
Plan G? Plan H? Plan I, Plan J, PlanKPlanLPlanPlanPlanlanananannnnnnnnnaaaarrrggghhh!!! Plan Z?
There was ONE other option ST and I could come up with. Every night a bus stops at the local roadhouse on the highway about 50km away, journeying from Sydney to Broken Hill. If my flight could be changed to the following day, there was a possibility I could somehow catch that bus and make it to Broken Hill, stop over at a friend’s place for the night and be at the airport early the next morning.
It was going to be risky, first relying on the possibility of changing the flight at such late notice, then relying on the availability of seats on the bus, then being able to make it all the way to the highway on the quad bike – with my luggage – without being covered in mud by the end of it, and then the dilemma of making it a further 15km on the highway to the roadhouse, given the aforementioned dangers and illegalities of riding on the road. It would be a battle of determination and strength, a test of will and cross-country quad riding skills, a trial of friendship and mud-proof luggage wrapping abilities, a journey of epic proportions, a story of courage and undying lo… Oh, have I gone too far?
Following the all clear for the flight to be changed with the proof of road closures from the Road Traffic Authority (easy done!), I rang the bus company to see if they could make an exception for me and stop at our turn off on the highway. They said no. I didn’t argue the point. Instead, I calmly hung up and I may, or may not, (but most likely may) have cried at this point. It was beginning to look like the universe was trying to tell me something, and that I was not supposed to make it to Sydney.
But I had one final card up my sleeve, or more accurately, business card stuck to my fridge door. I phoned the owner of the local roadhouse and begged for a favour. If she wasn’t too busy, if it was not too much trouble, only if she had the time, would she please, pretty, pretty please be able to meet me at our turn off at sundown and take me back to the roadhouse in time to catch the bus? I’m fairly certain I heard angels singing in the background as she said yes.
And so ST and I prepared for battle, fuelling up the quad, donning 70 million layers of winter clothes, and wrapping my luggage in plastic bags, before setting off through the paddocks, highway headed.
True to her word, the lovely roadhouse owner ferried me to the warmth of the roadhouse, where she fed me delicious cappuccinos and hot chips as I waited for the bus for two hours.
And then I sat on the bus for three and a half hours while my feet numbed from the cold, arriving in Broken Hill around midnight.And then I sat in the airport for three hours the next morning while my flight was delayed and eventually diverted via a longer route.
Oh Sydney, you tried to avoid me, but ain’t nobody gonn’ stop me! You can attempt to delay me for approximately 24 hours, but you will never evade me completely! I showed you! So I eventually made it to Sydney, and loved my first training weekend alongside a fantastic group of fellow Young Farming Champions. I am really looking forward to my time with them and in schools across the country.
This is an opportunity I am embracing with both hands, not only to excite urban audiences about Australian agriculture, but also to break down the barriers between those who grow our nation’s food and fibre and those who eat and wear it… To traverse that gulf, between you and I…
And to fade that feeling of isolation, for the 11percent. It can take us a little longer to make it to where the action’s at, but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying hard to get there. I anticipate many obstacles along the way: rain, muddy roads, missed flights, inflexible bus company policies… But in the immortal words of Unique II (because I think we can all agree the original Matthew Wilder version is just a little too weird), “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride.” And I warn you, I will take the motorbike cross-country through the mud, if it comes to that.
Are we clear? Editor’s Note: Yes, I am aware the next line of the song is, “Nobody’s gonna slow me down,” and that that contradicts my previous statements about delays/interruptions/lags/minor hold ups etc… But for the sake of me really needing to end this blog, can we allow some poetic licence and let it slide?