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.  


  1. Jim my thoughts are with you and your family. A tough decision but one that had to be made perhaps. Hard to separate emotion and the reality of what must be done. I hope your grandparents get that holiday and you all find something you can be as passionate about as farming. An advocate for ag would be great, only don't think the pay is much good!
    Best wishes to you all.

  2. Jim, you are an amazing man to write so eloquently about what must be a difficult time and to think of others that may be worse off. Chin up mate, you are destined to special things.

  3. Thoughts and best wishes to you and your family at what must be a bloody tough time. Cannot imagine coming out the other side and take my hat off to you, your obvious strength of character is admirable. I reckon there are enough fellow agvocates across Australia who would happily have you visit for a cuppa and a chat. You would be welcome here anytime. :)

  4. Like everyone above, my heart is aching for you and your family as I read this... praying for good outcomes (somehow) for everyone. That last sentence especially made my stomach drop. Please promise you all get the support you need through this time, okay?

  5. It's popular to think that the only people who care to their core about family land, are indigenous Australians. If only more people really understood. But then it boils down to personality - some people just don't get it, while others will, even though they've lived all their lives in the suburbs. I can imagine exactly how you feel as would the majority of people who grew up in the bush. Time doesn't heal all wounds (like the death of a parent, the ache remains) but time does take the edge off the pain so it's bearable, and eventually you'll be able to find positive aspects in a traumatic situation, if you look for them. Which is what you're already doing - thinking about your grandparents being able to have a holiday. This marks you as someone able to see the half full side of the glass rather than the half empty side. So stick with this path and you'll be right. Take it one day at a time. Best wishes from everyone else who has had to leave land they love (for whatever reason)- there's a lot of them out there.

  6. Scaddens Run will always be yours in your heart Jim. Even after 30+ years I occasionally sneak back to the property in central western QLD that our family 'drew' in the old ballot days. It's where your character is formed and it's where your inner strength will be drawn upon in all the years to come. As Kylie & Fiona mention you write in a positive light. In saying that www.ruokday.com.au is a wonderful resource when you need it. I hope you and your family are all OK.
    Big Hugs from the city - Jac xx

  7. A very moving story. Farms can be hard to save, especially without off farm income, and that is not as easy to generate as it sounds either... Good luck.

  8. Oh Jim Mc Donald, words fail me..I have seen you standing tall and strong, brave enough to stand alone as a representative of so many of this country's northern graziers and pastoralist's in the midst of a placard wielding crowd of screaming fools.. You are THE man in the hat, the brave face of Agriculture in this land..Here again we see you bravely step forward with your story to lead the way for what will surely be the reluctant path for so many other young farmers who are currently facing the same sad scenario...the retreat from the land. Jim, even though this door is closing and your scenery may change, I pray that your future be brighter and braver than you ever dreamed possible. To you..the man in the hat..God Bless and thank you always. XOXO

  9. B'H
    Jim I empathize but I found this remark a bit insensitive being bullied out of teaching and having a salary of $75,000 plus a year in 2006 to living on centrelink at $13,000 a year despite my efforts to find work I have been largely unsuccessful because the principal who destroyed my teaching career could not have cared less about professional expertise. All he saw was a single parent with a child who was earning a good wage and wanted to 'pull her down a peg or two and put her in her place' because she made a justified complaint against a fellow principal.
    My lifestyle and my future was totally devastated in many ways and now I cannot even buy a car that I want, send my son to a private Jewish school, send him to AJAX footie and myriad other things. Holidays are unheard of. My mother languishes in an old people's home in Charleville and I have not seen her in 7 years. I did not lose a job, I lost a career, a lifestyle and a future as well as self worth and from being a contributing member of society, I feel I have become a parasite unwanted and useless - unable to even be allowed to volunteer in schools because of what he did to my career. So some jobs are not 'just jobs'. I have had to learn to re-evaluate and despite being scorned by friends and family alike as worthless now, I have had to rebuild myself in other ways to try to regain some earning power.
    I am sure you will survive and thrive as you will come away with capital to start anew somewhere which is much more than I have and had as they destroyed my earning capacity in education by their actions.

  10. Sorry forgot to include the remark : '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.'