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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: Family history | The Farm | The River | David, Jenny and the Farm | Self-sufficiency and Aquarius | Cattle and floods | The landscape | Other on-farm agriculture | Buying and selling land | Poor economic times | Family partnership on the farm | Mill politics, harvesters and cane cutters | Changing methods | Chemicals | Market impacts and government subsidies | Generational change and succession | Impact on cane growing | Environmental issues | Politics of cane and the mill | Neighbours

Cattle and floods

And what else was on the farm, what were you selling to make money?

David: It was only sugarcane.

Jenny: No we had beef cattle then.

David: Oh yeah, yeah true we did.

Jenny: We had, actually for a couple of years we had a little Hereford Stud, because the partners were interested in that – they thought it was a bit glamorous I think. So David and Graham and Tom used to go off buying bulls and things and coming home with the bull from down Quirindi or the Hunter Valley or somewhere.

David: They didn’t like it, the cattle didn’t like it up here…. the cattle didn’t do very well here anyhow. So then we had um…. When we got rid of the partner I got a Brahman bull and we had f1 cattle and they did much better.

Jenny: So it’s only in the last ten years or so that we’ve got out of having our own cattle here and we have those cattle on agistment from someone that we know well, and…  because it’s a lot of work to do all that cane and look after cattle too for just one person. And employing people is full of problems. We did employ people didn’t we?

David: We used to.

Jenny: but we’ve gotten out of employing people because it’s just so much red tape and difficulty, with all the…

David: getting reliable people.

So when you were hiring people what were they doing?

David: well we always hired people up until about 15 years ago, you know, you think like … plant cane but it’s only a week or two weeks in the year. And then it got so difficult to find people that we actually got contractors to do it too.

Jenny: but now we’re worried about that because the contractors last year and this year had so much cane to plant and they had to squeeze it into a very small time because of the wet weather. Up until then it had been dry in spring and the contractors had time to plant everyone’s cane but the contractors got bigger and the weather got worse so now we’re toying with the idea of getting a cane handing…ah… planting set up with a couple of our neighbours with McGearys and maybe Lickiss.

David: it’s all very maybe.

Jenny: yeah but it’s a thought because of the difficulty of the last two years. A lot of people on the river couldn’t even get their cane planted at all last year and a few this year.

Jo: Well I do remember that you were worried that you weren’t going to get your cane in because they [the contractors] weren’t getting to you were they? Is that right?

Jenny: exactly.

David: …yeah, yeah it’s the same this year. It’s a never-ending drama.

Did you say there was a second farm bought? Can you take me through from when they come in 1917 and then whether you add land… sell land…?

David: It’s fairly vague. I know when I was a child they didn’t own about …. there was a farm on the river bank that they didn’t own that they since acquired and that’s …but in my lifetime they owned it. And they didn’t own the hill behind us [with the reservoir tanks]. Our property ended about 50 metres above the house and it had always been a big family sort of feud with some other neighbours who bought the hill because they were buying it together and somehow to save money they didn’t um… bid against each other and how the other person – they bought it and then didn’t give my family the half so … as a result my grandmother always looked down on the Hansons. They wouldn’t hardly talk to them but in 1971 they bought that – the Hanson Hill.

Jenny: we’d already bought by 1971 so it must have been before that.

David: it was just when we were going overseas they did it all. It all got finalised at the end of 1970 and they had another property that they bought, two down on the river, down further and when they were buying the hill they sold that one and bought the hill. Cause they thought it’d make this property more…. sort of flood-free and you know. That probably was a cane farm [on the river] but they thought it would be better to have just a bit more … less effected by climate and floods and frosts.

How has that hill been used?

David: It’s only really used to put cattle on. They’re on all the time but in the flood season like now, there’s no cattle on it so if there’s a flood in say February and March it’s full of grass.

So if there’s a flood you can take the cattle up there?

David: Yes.

So you take them off deliberately to make sure that the grass comes back in case there’s a flood?

David: Yeah. On two occasions I can remember there were floods in winter and by the time the cattle were on the hill for six weeks it was all squashed into the mud so the cattle had to go away on agistment. But other than that we’ve always managed to maintain the cattle here.

‘Cause that’s quite important in this area isn’t it? Cause otherwise people had to take their cattle out to…

David: yeah to Gap Road or something. Most of the people round Woodburn have got a paddock out bush somewhere specifically for flood.

Ok so your family were thinking quite strategically then by getting that land weren’t they, cause that must be an expensive process and dangerous I suppose to get your cattle out in time …?

Jenny: well mainly you don’t rush them out when the flood’s on. They’re up there on the other hill when the flood’s on, it’s afterwards when there’s no grass left because it’s all been flooded and they’ve eaten all that out. That’s when you need to be taking them off somewhere else so they don’t starve. Yeah it’s not an emergency.

David: this place’s actually got another ridge out there but it’s on the… borders onto the heath and it’s not… I mean it doesn’t flood but the food value is about zero.

Jenny: they’re safe.

David: they can go out there when the big flood’s on and be right but there’s no food out there so they’ve got to go somewhere else.

So did you or your parents find that they actually did have to move the cattle off [the property]?

David: twice…. In my…in our time we’ve moved them off once.

Jenny: twice. We took them down to Teven at one stage that would have been 1974 in the really big flood and another big flood we took them out to near Kyogle somewhere, something Creek.

David: Peacock Creek. But that was when we had Brahman because….

Jenny: they were very difficult to muster out there, to bring them back it was like wild Snowy River country, it was just precipices…

David: as soon as you turned up in the truck they’d just shoot up the top of the hill under a crag of rocks and hide.

Jenny: it was big drama trying to catch our cattle again. (laughter)

David: but I remember when I was a little kid they took them away too so it must have been three times I took them away.

Jenny: it’s not common.

David: no.

Jenny: but also if you’ve got some land like that and all the neighbours’ cattle are standing in water at least you can help save…. You know they could go up there, people could bring them here. Did they do that in 1954?

David: when I was a child they used to bring the …a lot of cattle and pigs and all landed on the hill. And they used to ….you know, had to milk them, we had a little bales and they used to milk them down there.

Jenny: and even I remember cattle and horses on the hill at the school at Woodburn in the big flood. School was closed for up to three weeks and everyone around Woodburn had a house cow or a couple of horses and they put them all in the school playground and they were all up round the top there, round the old school building, and they’d … people would have to come and feed them by hand.

David: we used to think floods were highly exciting. All the neighbours, like there were 40 odd people living on this hill and the army duck would come down, and come in and ….I was, I was too young to go, but they used to go out in the middle of the night and drag people’s cows and pigs and stuff across the water and put them on the hill.

Are we talking your hill up the back here?

David: yeah well, the whole hill it was, when there was a flood on, it just became public land almost.

Jenny: like a common.

David: yeah. They came, you know, all from Woodburn…

Jenny: and some of those funny old things in our barn that you’ve seen, you know, their best broom making machine or their corn grinder or something, they brought them here and put them in the barn in the flood so they’re still there. (laughter) They probably realised they really didn’t need it after all.

David: yeah some of them slept in our sheds down there, or on the verandas – we had a lot and there was another lot up here.

Jenny: even when I came here and we had the big flood in 1974 it was great fun because every day we went out in a boat. We’ve got a boat down there, a wooden boat made by an old Macpherson relative and we didn’t have an outboard motor so we just had to row. So you could row to Woodburn up the road and you know it wasn’t easy because the current was coming the other way. And then we’d put it in at Woodburn and whoosh down the river and hope that we can steer in here instead of going out to sea. And on all the posts there’d be animals, cats and …

David: snakes.

Jenny: little rats and snakes and fluffy things all cramped and if you went near them to try and help them they bit you!

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