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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: Early family history | Involvement with the Catholic Church | History from the 1950s | Dairying | Frank’s education | The history of the Bridge and naming of Boyle Road | Changes in the local area from the 1970s | Frank and Andrea meet | Moving out of dairying | Farmers’ markets | Rice | Raising awareness of food production | The future and the food movement | Farm forestry | Work ethic | The House

The future and the food movement

Frank: I think this sort of movement, the food movement, it might not last forever. But then again it may, it may. The wheel has definitely turned, but it has not turned a long way yet. As far as what I’m doing, I’m happy doing what I am doing selling direct and doing the farmer’s markets but all farmers can’t do that. Most of the food production in Australia is through those traditional methods of selling your product to a wholesaler, like your beef you sell ‘em at the saleyards or the meatworks, and someone processes them and that’s how most of the food is produced in Australia. And the farmers doing that style of farming are still not getting a fair return for what they’re doing. Especially with the costs, the input costs. Eveyone’s got the fuel costs, the fuel costs have gone up 300% in the last ten years. Ten years ago we were paying 50/60 cents a litre for our diesel for our tractors. And now we’re paying a $1.50. But our product, we’re getting say $2 a kilo for say our vealers, we were getting $2 a kilo for out vealers twenty years ago. So that is where I find the problem is that our input costs have doubled, trebled in a lot of our input costs. But what we’re getting for our products has stayed the same. So in actual fact it’s gone backwards. A long way, that’s what I see as a big problem. But society seems to expect cheap food. I suppose beef’s expensive, in the shops it’s expensive, but I think that the farmers need to be given a little bit more share of the pie. They’re not getting enough, and the trouble is the middle men are normally big multi-nationals, that expect to make a big profit. And they’re sort of squeezing the farmers, squeezing the retailers and they’re getting more of the pie every year. I think that’s capitalism I suppose. That’s just how it works, you know. And until that changes farming is going to be difficult for people to maintain; to continue farming. I suppose I’m a great example, I will probably be the last farmer in my family.

Your daughters have never taken an interest in farming?

Frank: No, they’re not into farming. They’re all off at university. Things change but they can have a better life for themselves by not being a farmer.

And your brother and sister never entertain thoughts of coming back or anything?

Frank: No. That’s a sad thing but I’ll probably be the end of the line. But really my vision, not vision I suppose what I’d like to, I’d like to have a farm business here that would be viable if any of the children wanted to return, it would be a viable option for them to either work it, or else have a manager running it. To be viable enough to support a couple of families. That’s how I’d like it to be, that’s what we are working towards. That sort of end thing because dad’s 75 now, and he’s still having to work to pay the bills and is still having to be a farmer. I don’t want to be in that position. He’s still got beef cattle. Him and mum, you know they were running a hundred and fifty breeding cows.

And do they look at what you have done now and think that you made the right decision about the pecans?

Frank: I think so. Even though they probably don’t say it to me, they say it to all their friends. Yes, they can see that what we’ve done has been the right thing. But I don’t want to end up at 75 having to keep working like dad.

You wanna be able to go to Wooli for holidays maybe finish that trip around Australia [all laugh].

I think that’s kind of the story that we talked about this morning about what we wanted to discuss and that really traces the key things at least. Although, I’m sure there will be other things that we maybe pick up on later.

Frank: It is interesting with the farmer’s market. At Byron Bay there’s 60 stall holders there, and myself and one other guy are the only ones that have had constant contact with the land. The point I’m making there is that a lot of the people who are farmers at the farmer’s market at Byron, have come from something else. Not been farmers all, forever.

I suppose just listening to the story and thinking about the whole, the history of your family and what’s happened on Boyle Road, I do get the impression that it’s been a lot more stable here in terms of the land not having changed hands as much as in other communities we’ve talked to. Do you have an impression of why that is?

Frank: I wonder whether the farm, not this farm particularly, I think we’ve just struggled on, whereas some of the other, most of the guys up there, like Dad’s generation of farmers, they went off to work and also I think that a lot of them inherited their land.

I think that’s a huge difference. When I, now I’m nearly 50 and I look back on not only our farm but a lot of other farms, anyone who was able to inherit the farm at any point in time, not actually having to pay for a farm, doesn’t matter what stage of the timeline, but if you’re able to break that cycle of having to pay a mortgage, at any point, it would make, it makes a lot of difference.

If I look back if the Church hadn’t had the land, or the McIntyre’s had given my great-grandfather the farm it would have been a totally different story. But then it might have been, like dad says ,it might have been a totally different story. Frank Boyle, who is my great uncle, he was a bachelor and when his mother died he discovered drink, women and race horses. And dad wonders whether if he owned the farm he might have just gambled it away and drank it away, you don’t know.

He could have sold it off and fifty years ago you could just split off an acre and sell it to your neighbour sort of thing. But then, as a family we had an opportunity when my uncle died, cause dad and him owned the land and owned the whole farm together. They still had borrowed money. There was still mortgage, but at that point if Mick had given his half of it to me, which at the time wasn’t even, couldn’t even have been considered ‘cause I’d been travelling for twelve months. I arrived back here with this pommy bird, you know, she might just go back to England with half the farm, so it wasn’t even, it really wasn’t an issue. But in hindsight it would have been a perfect thing because dad hasn’t really got any advantage out of owning the whole farm. He’s still working. Whereas I would have gained a lot more advantage if I had inherited it. I’m not, I’m not bitter about any of this, I’m just observing. And, and other farmers, like cane farmers that I know, any of the guys that have inherited farms are so far ahead. Either inherited it or come into it with a large amount of money to be able to buy the farm.

So your dad didn’t have to buy Mick’s half?

Frank: He didn’t have to, no.

And when you bought your share Andrea said that would have helped them financially, so they already had a mortgage at that stage, they may have been working even more or harder, without having that injection of funds?

Frank: So we’ve helped them out but the value of the land here. You know, we are sitting on a huge asset on paper, just our farm in round figures is probably worth a million dollars. But, it doesn’t help, and dad’s farm is probably worth more than that, but it doesn’t create 10% of what it’s worth on paper. As far a, if you look at it economically, you know, you know, economists would say you’re better off to sell it and putting the money in your bank. Cause you’d get 6% return on your income. If you look at it ‘cold hard cash’. But you say you’ve got to live somewhere. You do have to live somewhere. So, and I think a lot of it goes back to the land is so valuable.

But then Andrea has also been working and you’ve had part-time jobs as well, and she’s continued working and that wouldn’t have been the case probably for your mum would it?

Frank: Mum actually did, in 1975 when the beef crash happened but we did the farm, even though we were dairying and pigs, they still relied on the beef cattle for income, and in the beef crash cattle went from, oh 50 a kilo to sort of 15 cents a kilo overnight. And that was about 1975 so mum went out and worked, got a job and she worked at school as a secretary. She started the year I did at High School at my school [laughs].

We weren’t big players in it, in the beef industry. But some of the big guys really suffered. The people that had bought expensive cattle, or bought cattle, at 1.50 and the next day they were worth 20 cents.

Any idea why Grace decided to leave the land to the Church? Was it one of those things you do on your death bed to try and make you way to heaven? Or was there any story about it being her concern about giving it to the other members of the family?

Frank: I don’t know, it might have been. We only probably have one side of the story handed down. I’ve never heard the church’s side of it. It would be nice to know. The McIntyres owned a fair bit of the land here.

Like all the way through these blocks as well, wow.

Frank: And this Jenny Crowe, this block here that’s the bush block we talk about. She was their servant or I think she might have been their house maid, she lived here in this house with Tom and Grace McIntyre and she was left that block of land. Mum and dad, oh Dad and Mick bought that. That’s an interesting story as well, you know, the three farms here came up for sale within about five years. In the ‘60s. And it was just obvious that Mick and Dad should buy them, but they had to borrow all the money. It was really a difficult time and that block, that bush block came up from the banks. The bank manager came out, you know that was in the days when the bank manager would actually come and, you know, look at what you were trying to buy and what you wanted to borrow the money on. Well they had to beg borrow and steal money to buy these farms. And the bank manager came up and said “ahh that’s bush, what do you wanna buy a whole lot of bush for”. Anyhow it’s interesting how now, fifty years down the track, a bush block like that’s a valuable asset. We utilise that timber for posts and you know.

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