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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Arriving in the Northern Rivers | Moving in | Changing land-use | Dairying | Farm work | Markets | Off-farm income | Expansion | Succession | Organic farming | Bush Regeneration

Farm work

We were selling milk down there [at the Federal store] and this local fellow was interested to help out on the farm. I said “that’s fine you can come for work experience but I haven’t got any money to pay you”. He said “that’s fine that’s all I really want”. He would milk in the morning while I was away and he started up a little home delivery on his motorcycle in the local area to basically other new settlers that were there who wanted their milk and cheese and yoghurt and somebody to turn up with it at their place so they didn’t have to go to the shop. So Barry was around to do that while I was away which was good because it’s pretty hard to negotiate with a dairy goat that’s in full milk that you are not going to be there for a couple of days, missing two milkings. It wouldn’t work.

We didn’t go away until Sue said in 1996… oh actually we did, the furthest we’d go was Brunswick Heads so I could come home and milk. So they’d all stay down there and I would just commute between Brunswick Heads for instance in the tent city down there at Christmas. Really and every Sunday morning we’d have off and take the kids to the beach, to the babies beach at Brunswick as there’s no waves, those sorts of things or have a picnic up at Minyon Falls or something like that. Occasionally we would go to the market but we really didn’t do much of those Sunday market things.

In 96 Sue said “we’re going to Nepal this year or I’m going”. “Well, we’d better both go”. The kids were relatively young and were able to stay with kids whose parents we knew very well, they volunteered to mind the children at that time because Sue was worried about taking young children to Nepal at the time and wanted to trek in the hills it just seemed a bit too much risk when you read all the things about the water, food and all that sort of stuff so we went for 3 weeks at that time. And that was good. Then at the end of year 12 for each of the children which started in 1998 we all went away for a family holiday for 2 or 3 weeks.

Once the dairying stopped actually there was opportunity. At that time we just left the farm and friends from the area who would just pop around and keep an eye on it, make sure things hadn’t gone totally awry around there. You know, a tree on the fence or something or going on the roads or… It is very difficult with a dairy herd to get a relief milker and a lot of the time we were milking by hand then at other times with machine. The people that wanted to do it had no experience in that area, and making the yoghurt, the cheese and making the deliveries, all of those things.

I was able to develop that [non-dairy] side of the farm business [narive produce] but there was a lot of picking involved. So there’s about 96 berries in every punnet and there’s 12 punnets in a tray so there’s about 1000 harvest operations per tray. So if you are sending an average of 100 trays over the season that’s 100 000 harvest operations per week so you’ve got to have pickers. I spent all day and night when I wasn’t teaching in the shed either getting trays from the pickers or going into or delivering or packing so it was pretty full-on particularly at the peak of the season. And you needed casual workers because there was a different amount to pick every day of the month. And they’re thorny so you need to be covered up, you need to wear gloves, you need long sleeves and long pants, it’s in the sun or the rain or the wind or the whatever and by this time Byron etc was in the big time with the alternatives and there’s a lot of people, itinerants, hanging around the Byron area and they get wind that there’s some picking on and you get paid money. So I was taking them on, they would cull themselves as to whether they wanted the job or not so you’d have to go through about 30 people a season to maintain whatever number you needed, there’d be an average of 5 at any one time. And you would have to fill out all the paperwork after they’d gone when Centrelink says what hours or days were they at your property…. plus getting a tax file number out of them and working out whether they are from overseas and have a visa to work, are they actually the person that they say they are?

I was trained as a facilitator in work safety and those sorts of things and I did accreditation and helped me get trained, you’ve got to take that bone out of your nose before you can pack, let’s wash our hands before and after and stuff. There’s some quite radical personages getting around this country as itinerants and you know, whilst I had things in common with them, there was a lot they didn’t have in common with me in terms of regular work to a certain standard, turning up on time and those sorts of things that are real problems for me. Every day you had to get the berries to the transport by 4 o’clock – whatever you picked that day, to maintain the quality and the supply chain to keep the agent etc etc you’ve got to have that quality otherwise you don’t do it.

So everything with the crop, what’s ready today is ready today, not yesterday and not tomorrow so there’s a certain level of skill and training required for each of those people to be able to do that job in the first place.

I had some techniques with some problems with the supply chain, quality maintenance and those sorts of things in place and who picked what so you knew. So if there was a problem it goes back to who and what they picked and those sorts of things. And it was 7 days a week. In agriculture if there’s a public holiday, well so what.

The kids did a little bit of nut picking they really wanted to stand at the gate and try to sell some, they thought that would be much more fun so they’d pick up a pretty good rate and then once they had a couple of bags full they’d run up to the gate and not sell any or maybe a neighbour would feel sorry for them and stop and buy a couple. When the berries were on they all had an opportunity to pick and get adult wages for whatever they picked even though they were 8 years old or teenagers it didn’t matter, they just got paid the full rate if it was an adult job they had done. So they did that and particularly our second daughter as she was going through university she would spend every weekend because we had to pick on weekends, she’d spend every weekend supplementing her income by picking berries and it was quite rigorous. The eldest daughter also did that, not quite as often as the other, and some of their friends would also be able to come and earn money on the weekend as well. So that was good in the requirements and gave them all a connection with the farm and if they wanted money they could get it at any time. They could go and do that job so it’s actually ended up quite significant there.

Most people including them were not that interested in dehusking nuts unless you like listening to Radio National in your earphones and watching the nuts roll down it’s a bit of a ho-hum job and similarly a bit hard to have anyone else packing the fruit because of reasons we discussed before. So in the field jobs that was good so that was one that was there 6 months of the year for them to be able to do. There’s labelling of punnets which there’s 10s of thousands of those things that’s got to be done at some stage. In the off season they’ve got punnet labelling, doing processing with the macadamias, we had other crops coming on as well and the bush foods like the Davidson Plums so they’re coming at a different time of the year and there’s processing to be done at a different time of year. That second daughter that did all the work, she did her undergrad degree in food technology, she was interested in that and helped develop the product range that we still have now. The eldest did a degree in photography and she did all the photos and design layout for all the labelling. So they’ve both continued to have a level of involvement although they have their own careers now. Particularly my son who is the second youngest he did more in the way of macadamia picking and tractor work.

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