Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thoughts on losing the farm

I suppose it's ok to put this up on the net now that it's common knowledge across the district. Scaddens Run, my families property for four generations, and my home, has been sold.  New owners will take over next year and I'll have to find a new place to live. 

The passing of an era in this way is unfortunately an all too common sight these days. Farm returns are far too low for my generation to make a go of things and still give our parents or grandparents a fair price when you consider land is often worth 40 times the gross returns it can provide in a single year.

For those of us that work the land, and then lose that land, there is a sense of loss that is difficult to quantify. It's not unlike losing a friend or family member. When we work the land we put our heart, our very soul into that land and when we lose that land a very large piece of ourselves goes with it.   

Life on the farm in these circumstances takes on a different feel, your no longer working towards goals and a future or managing improvements. You focus on maintaining the status quo while the days count down and you try not to talk about what we all know is coming. The atmosphere can feel like the house full of quiet relatives in the final days of a cancer patient. 

The day to day business goes on all the same. Feeding cattle all winter. A warm bale of hay to a cow is like a warm bowl of Nana's veggie soup is to me at lunch time, especially after an 11 degree morning in the sideways rain. Grandad has never believed in tractors with cabins so the oilskin is standard equipment while the cattle wait expectantly for you at the gate, they look up and almost say "thank you" through their mouthful of hay as you pass on your way back to the shed for another bale. With a bale of hay on the tractor your the most popular bloke on the farm. 

There are positive aspects to whats going on, Grandad has worked this place since his father bought it in the early fifties and both he and Nana are entitled to a real holiday, something I doubt they have ever had. The farm was sold for a reasonable price and I am thankful for that when I think of my friends in the north who have had their land values shattered in the last 12 months by the live export ban imposed by the government for only the governments sake. I often pray for the farmers up there, many of which are possibly in nearly as much debt as their properties are now worth. They face a far harder road than I, trying to save their life's work from the bank manager.

You see when a property is lost or sold or repossessed, when a farmer is driven from the land it is nothing like a man just losing his job. His entire family loses their home, their livelihood, the business they've built and a special lifestyle that few still enjoy in this country. When you see the effects from that perspective you begin to understand why so many farmers would rather take their own lives than surrender their farm. 

Dad stops by from time to time and we sit together with Grandad around the fire. In the flickering orange light I tend to find myself looking at my Fathers and Grandfathers hands and back to my own hands, similar but slightly less weathered. Hands that can build fences and fix machines, save lives and drive tractors, hands that can do any job on a farm you care to mention. Hands that for all their strength were never enough to save the farm. Even in the presence of strong men whom I deeply respect that fact can make that lump in your throat very hard to swallow.