Introducing Bernadette Walker from far south west Queensland. Bernadette is the 49th farmer I have featured in my quest to feature 52 farmers in 52 weeks in celebration of the 2012 Australian Year of the Farmer.
Summary of your family and farming enterprise
We are graziers – that means we do not do anything to our land, we have stock that forage for food as it grows naturally. We maintain fences and waters and try our hardest to keep the stock alive. Since the drought broke (we had 9 years of it) we have tried to build our numbers up – but are only running about 60% of what we could run, just because we can’t afford to buy huge numbers of animals to restock. At the end of the drought we had gone from running 8 000 sheep and 700 cattle to having about 2000 sheep and 100 cattle left. On 100 000 acres, we have merino sheep and shorthorn cattle.
Because of the drought, my husband went back to work in the oil industry, so he is away 3 weeks and then home for 3. While he is away, I run the place. I have my 3 kids to help me, although when he first went away the second was only a year old, so at times they aren’t a great deal of help. I am also supposed to be teaching 2 of them school – that’s supposed to take 5 hours a day, but what with checking waters and looking after endless paperwork and fixing everything that breaks around here – school doesn’t get done as much as it should. We live about 2 hours from our closest town with shops, Quilpie, in far south west of Queensland, so it is very lucky we have power and a cold room!
For you, what is the best lifestyle factor that you enjoy as a farmer?
This is easy – I love the fresh air, I love not having anyone watching you “over the fence” (no voyeurism here) I really love not having the same things to do everyday. I adore stock work – I’m 4th generation grazier on both sides of my family tree, so I guess some of that is in my blood. But I am never as happy or as fully alive as when I am on a motorbike racing to beat a rogue animal and turn it back to the mob.
I tolerate fencing and fixing bores – its better than housework – but being in the yards with a mob of cattle trying to put you up a fence, or lifting the last of a hundred lambs into a marking cradle – THATS fun!!!!!! I love watching my kids learning all the same things I learnt as a kid – they already help in the yards more competently than some adults I know.
What do you foresee as your biggest short term and long term challenges in farming?
The constant stress is always the weather – cliche’ but true. After that is the Government – changing the rules all the time, adding to our workload with the merest stroke of a pen (for example, with a brand new second baby I had to learn to do a vegetation management permit – overnight it went from filling out about 5 pages, to doing hours of driving and GPS points to get maps done, then filling in around 20 pages of forms, the wording for which changed 3 times in a fortnight! It took me nearly 3 months to finish, in the snatches of time I had between 2 kids and a property to run!)
Transport is another example – the government closing railways, and thereby making more trucks use the roads, which were already inadequate – thus making trips to medical help even more dangerous for country people. Remember we all have to go to the city for medical care – and thats a lot of hours on long roads dodging death. Not to mention that we bear the cost of the transport both ways – we pay to get our produce to the markets, and we pay to get our own supplies to us.
What do you wish non-farmers and the Australian Government understood about farming?
I wish they cared enough to try to understand us. I don’t think the average citizen does care. The ones who try, find it too overwhelming when presented with our lifestyle and the facts of life on a property – which is understandable – the enormity can be hard for us to grasp ourselves – which is why we keep at it in little chunks. And our tenacity (the “never ever ever quit” gene) – city people don’t understand how we will not quit until it kills us.
Country people care what you can do – city people care what you have. Materialism does not thrive in the bush. Technology is only good if it works. Making something work even when all hope is gone, is a normal everyday occurrence. But most of all – I wish that the city person would understand that we don’t complain – our lives are fraught with danger – we see death every day. When we say we had a “alright day” – we are masters of the understatement. We probably just had a mate crushed by a bullock, or tore the underneath out of a toyota and had to walk 20km home.
So when we say “things are bad” – this usually means a travesty or tragedy is unfolding of epic proportions and we should be heard. It is only when the worst things happen and we are ridiculed or ignored, that we feel isolated – living hundreds of kilometres from other human beings never makes me feel isolated – but feeling that the city people are draining our life blood away and ignoring the pain we feel – that makes me feel very isolated.