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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.

The story is an edited version of a conversation between Hazel Ferguson and Rod Bruin on March 29, 2012.

It contains stories about Purchasing the farmOff-farm incomeSummit Coffee | Summit Organics | Markets | Community | Sustainability


Purchasing the farm

My parents came from Holland and they went through the war and in the war in Holland food was so short and his [my father’s] father was so ill that he gave his, they had coupons for food, and he gave his coupons to his mother and father to nurse him through sickness and he escaped. He was only 13 or 14, went out to the country and was lucky enough to find work on a farm for his keep. And born within him at the time was the idea that no matter what happens and how bad things get farmers always have lots of food. So I think the idea was born in him to come to Australia and to have a family and to eventually own a farm and have security. So you know to go right back into the history of this farm you would have to go right back to that point.

In the late 70s my family had ideas of setting up here on the land and becoming self-sufficient. I was only 15 years old at the time and I was pretty excited by that prospect. My two older brothers – 8 and 10 years older than me, and my parents and they purchased the farm together in 1978.

When we first came here there was very little sub-division and the Tweed Shire Council in their wisdom had set aside a sub-division law that every farmer could sub-divide 3 blocks off their property which a lot of people took up that opportunity. Our family’s always pretty strongly against the idea because it’s a bit like selling a part of you, you know, because you actually limit the size of your farm when you are selling your land so in the short term there’s short term gain but in the long term you are actually losing part of your farm so we were pretty much against that.

It was very difficult, because, to start farming requires so much money. And if you’ve got a few debts and you’ve got to pay the debt as well and then buy resources and, you know, this was basically a pretty raw bushland farm without any fencing so the amount of money that had to go into fencing and just to get water and all those basic things and then basically I suppose your naivety when you are starting out and you don’t have a lot of knowledge and the climate’s so difficult that they ended up being fairly difficult times fairly quickly.

We had a lot of things – we jumped into goat production fairly quickly and a semi-trailer arrived pretty much overnight with 200 goats and we had the wettest May on record about a week after they arrived. A lot of these goats were fully in kid and so in one of the biggest floods we’d had for a fair while we had all these goats that had come from inland Australia in this climate having kids and we lost a lot of animals. They were very difficult times.

This property’s got a pretty long history and it’s very similar to many of the farms in this area. As far as I know the Tweed had 800 dairy farms and if you notice when you came through Tyalgum they have a butter factory in there and they had a hundred suppliers for that butter factory. And they tell me there were 27 suppliers just on this road. So this farm had a dairy and was one of the suppliers to there. And then the cream market died pretty much overnight and a lot of people went into beef cattle and one of the old guys I used to work for in the valley said at that time it was extremely difficult times because their livelihood was taken away and he said at night you’d walk out on the verandah and his place overlooks the valley and you’d hardly see a light in the valley where all the houses were because everyone was away working. And then the other industries in the valley have been bananas and beef cattle but it was very difficult to make money from beef cattle.

It had families and the families farmed and they had cows and it was one of the higher production farms in the valley they tell me originally. I can’t go back too far but there were people that actually leased the place as well, but there was an old guy that we bought the place off, his last name was Salmon and before that there was a single lady who’d bought the farm and lived on here for a while, it was probably after the dairy production, her name was Kitty Gray and she, it was rumoured, that she bought the place, she was quite wealthy and she bought the place because it grew good mushrooms.

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