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Clearing off the land

jenny Hume Jenny Hume has been a regular contributor to WD since last year and a campaigner for animal rights since 1972. She has a degree in Asian and Islamic Studies and a lifelong background in farming, which led to a special interest in the prevention of cruelty to farm animals. In 1980 she formed the ACT Branch of Animal Liberation to expose abuse and lobby for change. Her last piece for Webdiary was Live animal exports: defending the indefensible. Here she gives us the story of the times when she and her family have been forced off the land.


With the drought ever deepening I know that many families are facing ruin this summer and will be forced off the land. Many have been there for generations but many of their sons and daughters have already left to seek a more certain future. It is never easy leaving the land and the ultimate pain is the clearing sale when the place itself has gone. I know that pain but one has to try and look on the light side.

We’d lost our first farm when I was nine, driven out ironically by the devastating floods of Kempsey in 1949 and 1950. We were small dairy farmers perched precariously on a tiny hill above a great expanse of flood plain, but the 80 acres of flats were deep in top soil washed down from the Armidale Divide, leaving the mountain slopes devoid of many of their nutrients.It was our bounty, for a time anyway. Our parents spent fourteen years on the Macleay, bringing four children into a world of poverty, as year after year they saw the fruits of their labours and our future washed out to sea. By 1950 it was time to go.

I recall the day of the auction. I hung around my mother’s skirts because I knew something was happening. The phone rang and I saw her face fall, and learned years later the place had gone for just enough to clear the debts.

Then followed the clearing sale, when the cows and few farm implements, the draught horses and horse drawn ploughs were snapped up by neighbours who somehow had managed to retain a bit of hope, and their farm. I recall packing my small suitcase with everything I owned in the way of clothes. Toys were not part of our lives, we had made our fun in leaky tubs on the dams and the flood waters, rolling old tyres down the hill to spook the neighbour’s horse and cart and swinging in the camphor-laurel trees.

We drove out the gate with a Lend Lease truck loaded with all our worldly goods and headed south to the Tablelands, where father had accepted an invitation from three great aunts, all pushing 80, to move in with them and work the small farm attached. They lived in a big Victorian barn of a house which intimidated a bunch of kids used to running wild in the bush, and living in a small weatherboard and slab house. There we headed back into dairying, the only thing we knew and for the next fifty years battled our way back into debt.

The rains began to fail in the seventies and soon the long droughts started. The family pulled together as one by one we finished schooling and set about finding jobs off farm to help make ends meet. They never did. My mother used to say they were like two railway tracks.

1995, severe drought and family tragedy told me our time was up once more. I had no heart to carry on alone anyway even if it had been possible. It was time for another clearing sale. So I called Jim, the auctioneer from one of the bigger firms in town and asked him to drop by and discuss things. I recorded some of the event for Jim and sent it to him later. I called it Fowl Play and Auctioneers. Here it is:

‘They’re an enterprising lot auctioneers. Give them a clearing sale to organize when the farm is up for sale and they will get you the proverbial bob for just about anything. They are a canny lot too. The know how to run the bids. But occasionally they get caught, when a buyer refuses to play ball. As my brother once said to one of them: “Jack, there’s only been two bidding for that thing you’re selling. Me and that gum tree over there. You’ve been taking bids off that tree all day.”

Jim himself had clearly made quite a decent sort of living from clearing sales. The day I called him in he busied himself, darting here and there, poking into every nook and cranny in every shed on the place. There was nothing that escaped his eye, nothing that he reckoned wasn’t worth at least a bob.

Fifty years of junk was in those sheds, but in every piece Jim saw his bit of commission. When in doubt he’d put the suspect piece with something else that did have some apparent value, saying: “Saves a run to the tip later.” It seemed to me a sneaky way to get rid of one’s unwanted rubbish and I noticed after the sale there were more than a few buyers who were awake to Jim’s game.

The day was closing in and Jim was looking satisfied till he suddenly spotted a small shed behind a blackberry bush. “What’s in that shed down there”, he asked in a tone that suggested he thought I was keeping some things out on him.

“Oh, that’s just the chook house, Jim,” I said cagily. “But you can’t sell the chooks on me. I couldn’t part with them.” Ever the salesman, Jim launched eagerly into the pros and cons of keeping the fowls. He knew my life situation and he exploited it fully in his argument that it would be better to let them go, better to make a clean break.

“Well, you’d better come and look first,” I said and led Jim in the direction of the fowl house while muttering my objections. Jim didn’t wait for me to open the door. He was in the fowl house before me so I followed him in. I waited. He said nothing and I looked him squarely in the eye. He looked a bit uneasy.

“Well, what do you think of them Jim. What do you reckon you can get for them? I’d like them to go to a good home if possible.” It was me that now showed all the excitement of the impending sale but Jim had somehow lost all his enthusiasm.

I let Jim suffer a bit longer. He’d given me a hard day and I rather figured I would have an even harder day after the sale picking up all the junk from the neat rows he had laid out in the side paddock. But the silence was a bit obvious and I gave in first, as I am not much good at holding a silence anyway.

“I should warn you Jim, these chooks are hot. Are you sure you want to sell them?” Jim could not hide his relief and quickly called the law down on his side. “Streuth no! Not if they’re hot. Where the hell did you get them from anyway?” he demanded as he surveyed the cowering, featherless raw skinned creatures huddled in a pathetic heap in a pile of hay.

“Don’t you think anyone would be interested in them Jim?” I tried to sound worried.

“Do you want the truth?” Jim was all confidence now, but I could see the disgust etched on his face. I saved him the embarrassment: “No don’t bother Jim. They are bloody awful aren’t they? But I will tell you so long as you shut up about them.” Jim looked like he would rather not know but I was really wound up now.

“You see Jim, where these chooks came from its legal. The inspectors reckon the place complies and some of my mates didn’t agree. They wanted to make a point so they busted in and rescued a few. They’re from the big battery place just out of town.” I spoke slowly, in a tone of pious conviction, but I could see that Jim was thinking: “I’m stuck in a chook house with a blasted greenie.” But I wasn’t ready to let him go yet.

“Like I said Jim, my friends wanted to make a point. The trouble is not many people really want to know and I’ve thought a lot about that. I reckon it’s because it’s easier to live in the world if you don’t look too closely. A lot of people can only survive that way; you have to respect that, Jim.”

Jim didn’t come across as the type that was terribly interested in philosophy but I had him cornered because I stood between him and the door. Served him right I thought for being so pushy, and I got back onto my soap box.

“I agreed to take the chooks Jim, to do my bit. But I didn’t want to get too involved with so much on my plate so I didn’t ask too many questions. I could see the chooks needed help so I took them in and got the vet to do what he could, but three of them died.”

Jim was by now way outside his experience and for some reason took his hat off. I thought that was overdoing it a bit but I rescued him anyway.

“No. I don’t think you had better try and sell them Jim. Let’s hope no snoopy gets down here. They’d likely call the RSPCA and I might be charged. Now that would be interesting wouldn’t it? I’d have to tell them where I got them from so it could get a bit awkward all round. Either way the beak would get me, either for having them like this, or for having them in the first place.”

Jim had edged around me and was now backing out the door, but he was helpful to the point of putting up one of his ‘no go’ signs in the vicinity of the fowl house. He reckoned it was better to keep the chooks out of sight too.

He did a good job at the sale. There was only one ute load to go to the tip and there was nothing left bar a baker’s dozen of miserable looking chooks tucked out of sight. But that didn’t matter. I knew Jim got around and he had lots of tales to tell. He’d tell this one too and maybe somewhere, someday someone would listen. But who knows? Maybe they wouldn’t.

But what I do know is that when life takes you through a clearing sale you feel a bit like those fowls yourself.

Epilogue: Those fowls found a good home with the mother of the local vet, and went on to recover their feathers, scratch in the dirt and lay their eggs in comfort. I joined with the remnants of the family to go back into farming away out west, and the rains are a bit late as usual. Seven years late. Jim is still doing clearing sales down south and if the country is anything to go by down there, business is about to pick up for him. But I suspect he will keep clear of the fowl sheds.


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To go or to stay, that is the question

We were in deep drought when I wrote this post and the crop had failed for want of a drink, along with everyone else's. The neighbour tried to sell his four or five thousand acres, and never got a bid.

Three months later the place here is a waving sea of grass. There are twelve big dams full to overflowing and you have trouble finding the cattle in the bush.

The neighbour had sent all his cattle out on the roads months ago. They have not come back so he's obviously keeping his grass to tempt a buyer in before it all falls apart for another seven years or more. It raises that question again. When is it time to go?

It makes sense when you're pushing 68 to get out now. Why wait for the next big one? The kids have all got their careers in the city. You can't find any labour for the love of money. We could use an army right now, on all those burrs. But no young people want to cut burrs any more and the CDEP is no help.

What would we do if we did go, I asked the good Scot. Buy a beach house, watch the sea roll in? He's always complaining we don't get to see the sea often enough so I thought I'd try that one on him. Trouble is the land has claimed him, and I'm a Ruth: Whither he goest there wilt I go also.

So we're back out here on the plains chopping away at a sea of Bathurst burrs. They say the seed can last for twenty years. We've been on this place 17 so I guess the seed bank must be taking a hit. So why are they thicker than ever one wonders.

We could plough them out, take the whole place back under wheat. Prices are high. There's a world shortage. But what then? Cropping means you are left at the end with a weed bed again, and the ten years it took to get the native grasses back would have to start all over again.  Seems stupid to do that. There's that paddock with the failed crop. Could put that back under.

That seemed a good idea till we checked out the cost of fertilizer. 450 dollars a tonne seven years ago, 750 last year (all lost), and now the merchant wants 1 500 a tonne this year. And then there is the cost of diesel. At 1.56 a litre and rising fast. Those big tractors guzzle the stuff faster than you can fill them up. Then there is the Roundup to keep the weeds down, preserve all that nice moisture deep down. 150 dollars a twenty litre drum last year. Close to 300 this year. At a litre and a half a hectare that's close to a thouaand dollars for every 40 hectares. And then you may have to do that three times before planting. Just what is going on out there with prices trebling in just a year?

Did all our dough on that crop last year. Do we really want to risk trebling that this year? Nah. Cancel that phone call to the contractor. Let the paddock just sit. See what comes. Might get a self sown crop, recoup some of that cost from last year. Might as well wait and see. Then again all that cathead vine is dragging the moisture out, and you can't get a seeder through it so it should be sprayed out. Indecision. Catheads. Cattle will eat them.. Could shove a hundred head in there. But if it rains they'd pug it up. Best not to do that. Knocks the soil about.

If we went it would be someone else's problem. But we won't. No one is Clearing us off the land again. Been there, done that. Been smart enough not to depend on it again,  so it's now our call. All the neighbours have gone. So it looks like we'll be the last to turn out the lights.

Right, had a break, so off to cut some more burrs. That is a decision one can make.  

Dark clouds to the north. Looks like rain.

Oi Vay, Vot A Kwestion

Hi Jenny. De expoits sez da drout ain't over till its over.

God Bless El Nina if she hangs around. We had some nice rain in Melbourne in late October and November. The garden came roaring back. Since then nada! 

The tree ferns were looking good. I chopped them back to the stumps yesterday. Brown grass is a feature again.

Where's a fat lady when you need her?

Washed off the land

Well Roger, I now say it is over. Those that weren't cleared off the land in the drought are now getting washed off to the north of us. Poor beggars. All those stock lost and those that don't drown will find their feet rotting. Never rains but it pours as they say. Get ready you city fok for another hike in the price of steak.

I see you got a drink down there too.

And as I sit here the rain is belting down on the old tin roof again,  washing off all that expensive Roundup the good Scot sprayed on a sea of burrs just before dark. I stuck with the trusty hoe. Dig 'em out by the roots and that's the end of them. Spray them and Hughy can be relied on to call when he's not wanted.

You know I could have cried last time I was down your way. I drove past a big glass window above street level and there was a dozen or so young bloods pumping away on those machines. All that wasted energy just to lose some weight and keep fit, when they could come out here and help the clear the land for us. Lose weight, keep fit and do the environment a favour at the same time. And we are fifty kms away from the nearest watering hole so they would have no temptations.

Just dreaming of what might have been.

But progress is knocking at the door. The bureaucrats have seen fit to give our road a name for the first time in 17 years. So now there is a right royal mess coz in the absence of any we named it ourselves on every bit of paper in that time. The electoral roll, the electricity bill, the phone bill, emergency services - you name it. At least we had the sense to call it after the biggest spread down this way. But now they come up with something that bears no relation to the area. I wonder how they dreamed that one up. Won't matter till the meter reader and the mailman and so forth retire and some poor kid takes over and finds himself looking for a road that ain't there any longer.

Oh well their problem. Off to bed. Tomorrow is another day in the war of the burrs.

Never listen to the spurts Roger

Roger: Never listen to the spurts. I've found in this game they are usually wrong.

Now why would you cut the tree ferns back to the stump? That one has got me stumped.

Be down your way again maybe in a month or so. You can explain yourself then.

BTW The Jemusic friends put the good Scot's two LPs onto DVDs.When we leave here (after the last burr is dealt a blow) I'll mail you a copy of each. Richard, you too but email me a mailing address.  They are not bad for recordings made in the seventies. God how the years get away on a body. And I was farming then, and I'm still at it. Slow learner I guess. Cheers for now. Not supposed to be blogging this month.

Too late, and no way out

Our last long standing neighbour put his place up for auction last week and never got a bid. Same thing for another place a few kms away. Both good properties of around 4000 acres, prime wheat country and not a bid. So no clearing sales there to organise. They will have to battle on or walk away.

Meanwhile the local abattoir manager down hear the old place at Goulburn is bemoaning the fact that the national sheep flock has fallen to 87 million from 190 million in 1990 and he says it is a catastrophe.

Now can anyone imagine the state the country would be in if we still had those extra 100 million ground lice trying to find a bite to eat off the land right?

It is not a case of diminished rain in large parts of NSW now. It is a case of no rain whatsoever. I have never in my 50 years of adult life seen it like this. It reminds me of Dubai where it only rains on about four days a year.

But not much about all that in that debate I notice.

Lovely day though today and we managed to catch the big but pretty tiger snake in the laundry. I admire those Wires people. They'll come any time you need them.

Best wishes Jenny

Jenny & Ian, sorry to hear things are so bad. I wish you both well.

Cheers John

Of crops and gilgais

John: Thank you but the story is the same all over much of the country as those farmers on the Insight program attested to in detail.

Ian phoned me this morning to tell me our crop will have to be totally written off as the seed head did not fill. Not surprising since it has not had a drop of rain on it since June.

As it costs $100 an acre to prepare, plant and fertilize a crop, you can see how much money is being lost, with some people losing tens of thousands of acres. In our area the crops are mostly 2000 to 5000 acres. So big money down the drain again on top of the previous losses. The mountain of debt will now be insurmountable for many.

For those who do manage to get some grain at least prices are good, but generally the so called level playing field is not level when it come to the international wheat market. In fact it is full of gilgais.   

Oh well, that's farmin'.


Very sad Jen.

Very sad news Jenny. So disheartening and heartbreaking.Not much of a choice for these poor farming folk .

 Yes, a catastrophe is right!

Any chance of government assistance for them Jen?

How have you been faring old girl?  Been thinking of you.



Looks like rain Kath

Kath: Yes I do not know what those who cannot sell can really do now. They could take the resettlement allowance under the drought assistance but what can one do for 150 000? You could not even buy a house to live in for that so that is not really an option for those who are deep in debt and unable to sell. And most of them are over 50 so have little chance of work if they do move.

The whole drought aid thing is a bit of a myth. It is like putting a bandaid over a cut on your body when 20 others are left to bleed. As I wrote before, drought aid really does not keep people on the land. It eases the pain, but it does not make a farm viable or give a way out.

I watched Insight last night and I think those farmers graphically described the situation facing thousands of farmers today. The point was made that so many in the rural towns depended on them staying in business, and the land still had to managed even if it were abandoned. I think a lot in the cities lose sight of that fact. The bloke from the Fin Review had no appreciation of the complexities of the situation in the country whatsoever. The impact of all this will affect the whole country in a whole variety of negative ways.

What beats me is that they talked at length of an expected price hike of up to 25% in some food prices. So why is it that you can hardly give away cattle right now? Young heifers are almost worthless and they are the future breeding stock. Does not look good for prices in the future.

We are hoping today to strip a little bit of grain off our crop to at least recover the cost of planting it, but of course now it looks like rain over the next two days.

They are forecasting just enough to destroy the residue of dry feed that is keeping the agisted cattle going, but not enough to generate growth in place of it over the hot summer, and enough to wreck what grain there might have been.

Sometimes I think we are entitled to whinge! But I am not there to see it all. I got hit with severe asthma and chest infection after the funeral and simply dare not go near the dustbowl up there. So the good Scot is having to battle the drought on his own for awhile. We are putting the family pieces back together slowly.  But life cannot ever be the same again.  I feel a bit numb I must confess but I daresay that will pass in time.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

I'm not really interesting in blogging much and all this hype over the election no longer interests me. Nothing will change under Rudd so it makes no difference who wins anyway. I just hope whoever does loses the balance of power in the Senate. Time both major parties had some checks put on them.

Cheers my dear. If I liked the stuff I would have a stiff drink with you. But I can't stand the taste of any of it.  So I guess I will go and boil the billy instead. No dawn today, cloudy in the south here but I do not think this area will get any rain out of it.

How did the crops fare over in the West? Those who can get grain off will get good money for it at least.

Jen old mate!

Many farmers here have been affected too, Jen. Particularly the mid-west wheat belt, where they have received little rain. Tough going! Some in the eastern wheat belt won't do too badly, as they have had a reasonable amount of rain. I guess it's the luck of the draw...

"But life cannot ever be the same again"

I read that sentence, Jen and this poem kept running through my mind.

It never looks like summer here
On Beeny by the sea.
But though she saw it's look as drear
Summer it seemed to me.

It never looks like summer now
Whatever weather's there;
But ah, it cannot anyhow,
On Beeny or elsewhere.

Thomas Hardy.

Just remember though, that your dear loved sister IS in a happier place. This is not the end, and one day you and your sister will be reunited.Never ever forget that my dear.

Hope your health improves soon. You're a lucky girl, you know, you have that good Scot Ian watching over you, and your sister to boot!

Sowing the drylands

Kath: You can turn out poems for every mood and occasion it seems.

Pity about the crops in the west. Ian tells me it is raining out west on our place, just enough to stop those farmers trying to retrieve a bit of their seed, and not enough to generate any summer feed. If only it had fallen four weeks ago the whole situation would be different.

There could be some more on the way which will at least germinate the summer pastures, provided they don't shrivel in a hot dry summer with no follow up rain as has been the case these past seven years. No, it is going on eight years now. The last big dump was November 10, 2000. How the years vanish.

But I see a cloud band to the north west of Australia which might get across, instead of all those bands that promise so much, then slip heartbreakingly south of the continent. And the Bureau is still maintaining that a weak La Nina is forming in the Pacific. But they've been telling us that for months now.

But we need rain to get some subsoil moisture down to fallow the paddocks for next year's sowing in May/June. Without that the crops next season will struggle and we would simply not risk planting under those circumstances again. It is always risky sowing without at least a good profile of some 60cms of subsoil moisture. Currently it is around zero when fallowing to conserve moisture should have started in August.

But enough of my ramblings. The rain in the south on the old place petered out after about five points and now the sun is shining brightly. If we must have dry weather, then give me the sun.

Margo: go the rain in Dubbo!

kreutzfeldt jacob

Y'know,  Fiona's comment about chooks eating other chooks rung a bell and it finally dawned on me what that is. Do folk remember Mad Cow  Disease and its origin in the cattle eating high value food including stuff produced from dead cattle parts?

I wonder, if chooks cannabalise other chooks, if they ingest all those extra antibiotics could they help reproduce new antibiotic-resistant bugs or antibiotic resistant mutoid chooks?

"If it walks like a duck; talks like a duck, must be a..."

If I miss the bus

Paul Walter, if I miss the bus today I will blame you but before I switch off this darned computer, I want to add to your comment.

Your suggestion is not as silly as you might think! Animals feeding on animal stuff has led to big problems.

Some years ago (and deaths are still occurring) hundreds of cattle died in Queensland of botulism as a result of grazing pastures that had been fertilised from litter from intensive broiler houses.  The botulism bacteria in the decomposing litter were eaten and caused a fatal toxin in the cattle. It is now illegal to feed in any way litter to cattle and also swill to pigs.

So the old pig bucket in the house became known as the chook bucket, and in our house still is. The chooks don't seem to get sick on house waste. I guess in the city you call it the compost bucket! Another name for it was the scrap bucket.

Antibiotic resistance in certain bacteria has been attributed in large part to the feeding of antibiotics to intensively raised animals. 50% of all antibiotics used in the US in the 80s was fed to these animals. I do not know if that has decreased but they are still used by those industries. Even in Melbourne E coli antibiotic resistance was found on broilers in a supermarket. Singer and Mason in their 1980s book Animal Factories covered this issue in detail.

Antibiotics are used as a prophylactics as those intensive houses, due to the crowding, are ideal for disease spread in the animals.

Back in the 70s we were encouraged to feed aureomycin daily to dairy cattle, supposedly to increase production. Crazy.

I found that antibiotics can be evident in milk up to six weeks after a cow has been given a shot of penicillin, when the withdrawal period for the milk is cited as being 7 days. So we would have to test a cow's milk every day until it returned a negative test, because if one contaminated gallon of milk got in, the whole vat of 400 gallons would be rejected by the factory. And you then had three days' penalty on top of that as they had to throw out the whole tanker load. So things have tightened up a lot.

John, I agree. It is time to stop arguing and do something about all this. But as Roger pointed out, the greenhouse problem was created by all of us, including farmers and their animals. Everyone has to play their part in fixing the problem.

Time is up well and truly and I do not even have my bus ticket.

Alchemy By Another Name

Alan, my training is in electrical engineering and one of my abiding amateur interests is physics, in particular, astrophysics and cosmology.

Neither 25 years nor 25,000 years will produce a non-polluting energy source that exists on this earth. The very essence of producing a form of energy that is usable by humans is a change of energy state in a quantity of matter with the total energy in the system remaining unchanged. By-products inimical to DNA-based life are produced by this process. The laws of thermodynamics are unyielding.

Physicists know this intimately and they also know that there are no as-yet-unrevealed energy sources which will pop and save us. Believing that such things exist is energy alchemy, my friend, as fruitless a search as done by the gold alchemists of bygone days. The energy that will save us is neither mysterious nor hidden. It sits 150 million kilometres away.

The only reason why we have not yet fully utilised this source is because vested business interests have gambled that they can extract every last vestige of economic advantage and power from their existing arrangements before things go kerfutttt. The mantra continues to be "it's too expensive". What that says is that your life, Alan, and mine and our families are basically not worth expending much on. We can't possibly invest in something until the Great and Ancient Holy Order of Bean-Counters say ok.

The fictional notions of what has value (coal, gold, coffee beans, derivatives, real estate??) and what does not (people) has perverted our existence.

CSIRO/Bureau of Meteorology new study warns of reduced rainfall.

The study also foresees more frequent days of extreme high temperatures and reduced rainfall across the country due to higher greenhouse gas levels.

The report says eastern Australia will face 40 per cent more drought months by 2070, while south-western Australia will face 80 per cent more drought months.

The assessment has found average temperatures in Australia have increased, the surrounding oceans have warmed and sea levels have risen since 1950.

When will be stop calling the current reduced rainfall a drought? When we say drought, we have a mental picture of a drought ending. What if this is the new weather pattern, as our scientists seem to be telling us?

The backlash against the $1billion drought assistance package. Rural communities are beginning to absorb the implications of the recent announcement of an extra one billion dollars in largess to farming communities struggling to cope with the worst drought in Australia's history. But something is missing. A sympathetic response to the recipients from the wider community.

Listening to Radio Australia's Bush Telegraph program yesterday, many farmers were surprised there no longer a sympathetic response.

Sixty-six percent of farmers supported the coalition in the last election. This is the same coalition that introduced the infamous work choice legislation. The same farmers that support the coalition that has denied the facts of climate change and is yet to take any real action.

The Australia at Work study, billed as the most comprehensive yet, surveyed more than 8,000 workers, concluding that those on AWAs earned on average $106 a week less than those on collective agreements with both groups working an average 44 hours a week.

There has not been much sympathy shown by the farmers for those suffering under work choice legislation supported by the politicians that the farmers elected. Maybe the farmers will think about the plight of those working on minimum wages in the cities when they vote this election, instead of voting for coalition pork barrelling. We are all Australians, all in the same boat, and we need equitable solutions for all. Not hand outs for those that squeal the most. 

Climate Change is real; it will adversely affect most of us. So let's not have a them and us mentality. Welfare should only be for those that meet the income and assets test.  

Partisan Politics Is Bullshit

John, on most things I find you to be a very agreeable fellow. However, your faith in a Labor-led government making things right in this country is myopic. 

For the record (because we do forget these things) I am anti-Liberal and anti-Labor. I am pro-direct representation (more along the lines of a Swiss model) and would gladly see all political parties banished, even the ones I have supported in the past few years, the Democrats and Greens.

The Labor Party under Rudd or whoever will be just as big scoundrels as the ones that we have at the moment. Of course, if Rudd can make it rain we might raise an almighty monument to him.

Australian governments will not give up the coal and other energy exports that have let this country live in its debt-fueled paradise. We will build desalination plants and nuclear plants around the whole coast before we give up what we currently have.  So give the farmers a break: they have not created the climate problem, we are all responsible.

Political bullshit

Roger, I agree with you 100%: the election of a Rudd governement will not make one iota of difference to the lifestyle we live in Australia. The main benefits will be for the unions as they try to regain their former glory despite the falling membership.

Last night I watched a program about world oil and it opened my eyes a little bit wider. China in three years time will surpass the US in the consuption of power, this by using fossil fuels the main contributor to greenhouse gases. In 15 years China will be manufacturing more cars than the US, and will need oil to run them. They are building coalfired power stations at the rate of one a week, and there is no way they are using "clean coal" technology. They have signed Kyoto but there is no way they are going to reach their targets or reduce their emissions. Whatever Rudd and Garrett say they will do regarding climate change is a joke, and that goes for the rest of the pollies. We have not even factored in the effects of India's growth and its greenhouse emmisions. Whatever we do in this country will be offset tenfold by China and India.

Now for Rudd and petrol prices, grocery prices . There is nothing he can do about the price of petrol as long as China is consuming oil the way it is and pushing the price up. Any normal thinking person knows that Rudd cannot do anything about the rising cost of groceries unless he has the ability to perform the "loaves and fishes" thing again.

If John thinks that the hospitals and education are going to be better under Labor, he either has a short memory or he is not aware of what is happening in the States.

I believe that within the next 25 years scientists will come up with an alternative pollution free energy source, if they have not already done it, and the oil and coal companies have already bought the patents and are sitting on them.

On my recent trip to China I witnessed pollution on a grand scale. It is all very depressing. I think we should take up Rudd's suggestion and learn to speak Mandarin and go and live in China.

Consumer fetishism and China

Re Alan Curran's reference to the China doco, one hopes his hope for a tech fix comes true, because by this scenario we are in deep shit otherwise. As in most respects he sees it the way most others do , although he expresses the order slightly differently as to blame, he therefore understands  the implications,  just as me and you do.

For those of us past fifty, maybe it's a time for celebration, after all. Although, in time, the  Chinese might  eventually get past climate denialism and consumer fetishism the same as we are having to. But that will be a problem for other people at another time, another place.

In the meantime, am observing the spectacle of women and children loaded onto life boats. It's about half an hour since the ship that couldn't sink  hit that  'berg and a slight tilt is already evident. So I need to finish this malt whiskey and order another triple from the steward, who is looking increasingly anxious and likely to desert his post without much further ado...

This time we must get rid of Howard.

Roger, Jenny, I am not anti-farmer, we need them, as we need everyone in our society.

I was a founding member of the Democrats and I find it sad to watch their demise. I would like to see Labor and Greens as Government and Opposition. Maybe this election could be beginning of the end for the Liberal party.  Who knows, we could end up with a Labor/Liberal coalition in opposition and a Green government. Like you I would like to see the end of all political parties, they are a blight on democracy. The Swiss model is a good example.

All of this is a bit of a dream, for this election we are stuck with a choice between Howard and Rudd. We know what Howard will do for the next 3 years, more of the same. We can only pin our hope on Rudd, he has no links to the unions and when in power he may try to reform the labor party from within.  If we want to see Australia sign Kyoto, withdraw from Iraq, get rid of Work Choices and prevent Nuclear Power stations, we must vote Labor.

I believe that we are on a brink of an economic collapse with major events such as global warming, peak oil, war in Iran, and the collapse of the US dollar all likely to occur in the next 3 years. Howard has proved incapable of reacting to any of these nightmare scenarios. We really need to  put and end to his grip on power.

Labor reform

John Pratt: "We can only pin our hope on Rudd, he has no links to the unions and when in power he may try to reform the labor party from within.  If we want to see Australia sign Kyoto, withdraw from Iraq, get rid of Work Choices and prevent Nuclear Power stations, we must vote Labor".

Rudd has no links with the unions? You have to be kidding us.  "[H]e may try to reform the labor party from within" - the operative word is MAY. You are implying that Labor in its present form is no good - we know that.

Roger the politician?

Roger, I certainly agree with you. Liberal or Labor, no difference. In fact it is quite disheartening.

Have you ever considered entering politics, Roger?

Just Like You

Kathy, just like you and all the other WD contributors I already am in politics. This is better and will ultimately prevail. People Power!

The city and the bush

John: Notwithstanding that I could not access the radio interview I think this is a bit of a beat up by the media. I have not in 16 years, ten at least of them in drought, heard any of our drought stricken neighbours ever say one word about a perceived lack of understanding on the part of people in the city of the plight of farmers battling droughts, or any other seasonal catastrophe. Is is simply not a topic of discussion. And little is written in the rural papers about any such issue.

And as for AWAs. You forget that most farming families have to rely on their children finding jobs in the towns , and also their wives in order to carry on. So AWA's affect farming families too.

Many children on the land have to do a man's work while often still not in their teens. You do not find farm kids glued to computer games. You find them out on horses, quad bikes, driving heavy machinery and in the dairy, all pulling their weight, and more. And they do not complain.

Drought aid does not really help keep people on the land. Many farms have had negative incomes for years now and the money that the governement does allocate does very little to help.. Support given to families is in many cases no more than what they would receive if they were out of work in the city. ie the dole. And to get that they have to pass an assets and income test. So your wife can work full time with the farm negative income mopping up her salary, and you do not however qualify for any assistance at all.. 

Interest rate subsidies help a bit to keep the bank at bay, as do freight subisidies for moving livestock to agistment, but when there is widespread drought there is nowhere to truck stock to anyway, nor fodder at affordable prices to truck in. That is why people have elected by and large to simply shed large numbers of the livestock. And it is why you often hear of allocated drought aid not being taken up anyway.

How far do you really think 20 000 dollars in aid to a dairy farmer who has lost his irrigation water entitlement really goes? Well I can tell you that at current fodder prices it would feed his dairy herd of 200 cows for about three weeks. That is why so many dairy farmers are now getting out. Drought aid will not save them.

Nor will the interest subsidies save those wheat farmers who now face losing the large plantings they put in last winter and had so much riding on. It would take hundreds of thousands of dollars per farm to save them, not the dole. Properties are now on the market everywhere, but unfortunately  there are not too many buyers.

We are in uncharted territory now. Few want to take the risk of buying more land even if they did have the money to do so. So good properties in our area are not attracting a single bid. Banks of course will step in and foreclose on some and those forcced off will for a time at least be fully on the public purse.

Of course, some drought aid goes to drought affected small businesses in rural towns, and aid to farmers has a direct flow on to those businesses. It is not in my opinion in the country's interest that the farmers be helped to survive, while the businesses and country towns they depend on are allowed to go broke.

In criticising farm aid you fail to acknowledge the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into propping up secondary industries, such as the car industry, or for that matter the payout of entitlements to workers whose company has let them down. It is not all a one way track to the bush you know.

But what we do hear in the bush is howls over the price of fuel in the city. Yet we rarely pay less than 140 a litre. And we just have to accept it. 

But I agree with you. There has been a diminishing rainfall now for the past thirty years. And that could continue, in which case it is pointless talking in terms of this drought. Ian and I know only too well the rains may never return and we may be left with an unsaleable asset in the future. And for the record we may be farmers but we receive no drought aid simply because we have off farm income to live on, even though the farm has had several negative income years this past decade.  

City folk may be sick of the woes of the bush, but get ready, it is all coming your way in higher supermarket prices.

But I really think the concern has gone beyond bush versus city. Everyone in this country knows the situation is very serious, for the whole country.



Of chops and ... chook(s)

Jenny, I read Paul's late-evening post before starting the moderation backlog this morning, so was going to suggest that you avert your eyes from the following. Then I read your latest...

Indeed, all the chooks that we kept over a period of about six years ... you know, you get sucked in by 10-year-old having hatched and "cared for" a chicken at school, then begging "can I bring her home pleeeeease?" ... were confirmed omnivores, to the great detriment of our compost bins. Apart from citrus peel they were wildly enthusiastic about all food, especially meat, especially ... chicken carcases (never one of their former run-mates).

The chop bones, however, we gave to the pet rats.

Only one thing dirtier, Fiona

Fiona, my late father used to say: There is only one thing dirtier than a chook and that is a duck. I don't think he liked chooks much.

I recall my mother telling me how he insisted she learn to clean a chook he had killed for dinner just after they were married. He chopped its head off, and gave it to her telling her what to do. The way to get the feathers off was to put it in boiling water but the smell was always terrible.

So my mother lit a fire and burnt them off. She refused to gut the thing and just cut off the legs and wings and baked them and threw the carcase out. After that Dad did the cleaning and plucking.

But when he was away one day my mother wanted a chook killed for dinner, but she was totally beyond the task. So I volunteered, being about 14 at the time and not yet into animal lib stuff. My 12 year old brother held the poor thing on the block and I took aim and swung the axe. At the last moment I panicked and shut my eyes and I darn near took his arm off. I never tried again and I forget what we had for dinner but it was not that chook. She took off into the bushes, head intact I am pleased to say.

Chops for dinner.

Well, you won't welcome a post from me, but just the same...

Firstly I remember Mary J telling her story of growing up on a settler farm out in the Mallee and sounds very similar in parts.

Secondly my late nanna and the chooks. Whenever she had chooks nearby, she could amuse herself interminably feeding them chop bones saved from dinner. Didn't believe till I saw it with my own eyes. Have never seen chooks so enthusiastic as with chop bones and they always knew my nan, other people they just ignored.

Why not, Paul Walter?

Paul Walter, why would I not welcome a post from you? I don't do dummy spits coz people don't agree with me. You're probably a decent bloke anyway, just as I think I am a decent woman.

As for your Nan and her chooks. Well, chooks are a whole lot smarter than what people think and that is what makes the way they are kept a disgrace. And they love meat. We used to feed ours meat meal in their mash, but you did tend to find blood spots in the eggs which was a bit of turnoff. I used to love mixing up the mash for the chooks. So much of the bran, so much of the pollard and a dash of meat meal softened up with some water and mixed by hand. The chooks would clean your hand for you.

Yes I read Mary J' story of her youth on the Mallee. She was quite right about it and I see they are still trying to crop it. I remember the big dust storm in the 82 drought when millions of tonnes of it got dumped onto Melbourne.

But since then many farmers have moved into much more sustainable farming practices such as no till cropping. You have not seen those duststorms in this drought and the country still mostly has root cover. 70 million sheep less has helped.  But without rain the country will become like the ME in no time. We even have the wild goats to help it on its way. The country around Broken Hill is exactly like that in Iran, and everywhere there are the goats working away at stripping the desert vegetation bare. Just as you see them in Iran.

If God created the world....

"If God created the world, then who created God?"

That's easy Jenny: God's Mum....and Dad.

Besides, why can't God have parents?

Hi Kath darlin, Jenny just mentioned Phil Moffat, you'll note that he has not been around for some time. I have friends, you know.

And by the way Jenny, Kath is cool with me being nice to others, just so long as I don't let anyone else ride in the Potomac.

The Modest Mary

Well Justin, I've never seen or been in a Potomac in me life, so Kath has no worries, and I'll bet you've never been in a Modest Mary either. She floats but unfortunately she's been beached on the banks of the farm dam for the past few years.So you'd have to wait for the rains before we could float her off again.

I might send a piccy to Harry's site. Father Park would be impressed. But I don't think I would take her out on the Jack even if we could dig her out. 

God has parents? Ok. That will do...

Jenny La Douce

Jenny, if chooks believed in the gods then you would definitely be in their pantheon.

I sort of feel a bit funny now cause I ate some chook for lunch...and some bull as well.

Tomorrow I'll just have a salad, and consider Jainism.

BTW, receiving stolen livestock is a crime, but not receiving them would have been an even greater crime, good for you Jenny la douce.

A couple of good sorts

Yes Justin, Jen is definitely a good sort.

You ain't such a bad old boy yourself my love!

Ps Jen, will work on hubby.

Just wish I'd gotten a couple of chooks instead of a cat earlier.

Just never occurred to me before.

Though like yourself, I have had much to do with chooks.(not as much as you, of course). My grandparents who had the vineyard had heaps of 'em.

I loved to collect the eggs everyday.

Loved seeing the mother hen and her little yellow chicks .

Remember too, the day my Grandfather decided that they had one rooster too many! They were always fighting. It was a sad day, one of them had to go.

Remember also George, a great big majestic rooster. Didn't he know it too! Prancing around the yard. Beautiful golden yellow throat feathers , with emerald green tail feathers.

Always loved chooks! Love eggs too, and eat about eight to ten a week. Yeah, so it would make good sense to have a couple of chooks Jen.

Not really La Douce Justin, but put like that...

Justin, am afraid I am a pretty tough old girl really. I think I wrung "douce" out of Phil Moffat with considerable difficulty last year. But you can call me that anytime so long as Kath is not hanging around.

Fessing up. Cooked chook for the Scot last night. Don't mind, just so long as I don't have to eat it.

Yes, reluctant as I was to be saddled with those chooks just when it was time to leave the place was not something I relished. But the vet spent the weekend building a nice little warm shed for them at his mother's house. So if that is not heaven on earth for a run down battery chook, what is? And a Doctor on call as well.

The Jains? I wouldn't. They pose too many difficult questions such as: If God created the world, then who created God? Tricky one that.

Life on the farm

I love reading about your life on the farm Jen. Certainly a very tough and often heartbreaking life. You are a remarkable and gutsy lady.

I love chooks, and was extremely pleased to read that your good deed paid off, with the old girls living out the rest of their lives in well deserved comfort.

It does make my blood boil though Jen! I myself refuse to buy caged eggs. I buy Margaret River free range eggs. (I have checked, and they definitely are free range.) They may cost a lot more, but at least I know the poor chooks are well looked after, and can wander around, stretching their legs and flapping their wings.

Funnily enough Jen, this morning, my daughter and I were talking about getting a couple of chooks as pets. As we have discussed before, they make great pets. They are affectionate, and more intelligent than many people think.

Gotta win hubby over first, though!


Kathy: About chooks and mully grubs.

Kathy, I have always loved chooks and they really do make wonderful pets. You will have to work on your other half. And what a lovely start to the day, fresh eggs from your own chooks.

My mother had lots of chooks on that first farm so we never starved and we also had milk. We all got exposure to TB through that milk as many herds had it in those days. Farmers were so hard up they hated to hear the tester was in the district because positve cows were taken off with minimal compensation and slaughtered. But the floods were the biggest disaster. Whole dairy herds went in the one of 1949. We could at least drive our herd up onto our hill but our corn crops were always washed out to sea.

It is funny the things that stick in your mind. I remember the eyes of a  boy of about 12 who drowned. I was 8 and happened by chance to come face to face with him the week before and we stopped for just a moment and stared into each others' eyes. Neither of us said a word. I can see those eyes to this day. After the flood (in which several other children also drowned), his little brother who was in my class (4th class primary) was being naughty. The teacher sent him to the headmaster and when he came back the teacher asked what had happened. I can hear that kid yet as he replied: He said he would not cane me this time, coz of me brother.

There is little left of the industry there today and our little house has gone. All that I could find was the brick path my mother laid to our front door, and a few coral trees she planted which were in full flower. It was a poignant reminder of her efforts to make us a home. The farm was covered in fire weed which has taken over so much of that country. It seemed so small too.

I loved to dig in the fowl yard we had there to find the big white mully grubs to feed to the hens but that hobby nearly led to disaster. I was seven, had the hoe raised over my head and had it on the way down when little brother aged five yelled: There's one and dived in to get the wriggling grub in the hole we were digging. I could not stop the hoe and it fell on his head and split his head open. He fell unconscious to the ground and I ran screaming into the house and got as far as I could up in a corner under my bed. About five hours later my mother hauled me out by the leg and I can hear her yet as she said: "You might have killed him".

All so long ago now and if I ever think of that place I think of what a terrible struggle it must have been for my mother. I wish I had been older and could have helped, but then again, I was milking cows by age of five, as were most kids on those little coastal dairy farms. I was too big to hold a bucket and had to jam a billy between my little knees otherwise the milk went on the floor as the udders of the cows were level with my head! 

Anyway, enough of cows and chooks. No rain yet, and the crops have had it so the big decisions now have to be made by an awful lot of people. Our last neighbour is trying to sell. There will be a lot of clearing sales, though people are finding it hard to sell the properties. Friends in western Queensland have sold all their cattle off their 40, 000 acres and cannot find a buyer for the property. But they have left it anyway. All very sad.  For many, it is time to go and I know how they feel.


Time For Laughing And Crying Well Gone

Jenny, it seems like a charming, sad and quirky tale when you read it quickly. You've obviously brushed over a lot of the heartbreak, anger, despair and fear.

So has the Lucky Country turned in the land of gloom and doom? Perhaps not if you can drive one of those big mine trucks.

One school of thought says that farmers are not owed a living. Another acknowledges that if you want to eat you better make sure that farmers can too.

The world is changing quickly, and the dinosaurs better watch out. Good news today from SA. We can dig an even bigger hole than we thought at Olympic Dam and sell that precious dirt somewhere else. Still they can't do that without water so the push is for another desalination plant that needs power that adds to climate change and that needs water for cooling that needs a desalination plant.....

As has been noted in WD by various contributors, the vested interest mantra is "expansion forever". The earth is crying out for a period of stasis.

Best not to dwell

Roger: I find it better not to dwell on the heartache of it all, and I doubt I could ever express it on paper anyway. But I confess when I wrote up the story of that sale I was at the very lowest point in my life. Leaving the farm was bearable. But losing the three key members of the family on that farm was intolerable. The clearing sale marked the point at which I could close the gates and escape the painful silence of the place for good. So it was a milestone really.

I agree with you entirely and I think you might find that large parts of the country are about to get that period of stasis. Drought aid will not keep farmers on the land. If you are unviable it only postpones the day when you have to get off.  I learnt that long ago.

By the way I received the CDs so many thanks. Have not heard them yet but will let you know what I think.

Richard: The ACT Govt is trying to negotiate with the large battery hen place out of town here, offering them a million dollars in assistance to change to barn laid egg systems. My group in the ACT has been fighting against the cages for 25 years and it seems we might just now see results. No one would ever eat a cage egg again if they ever saw inside those battery houses. Free range would be better but barn will suffice.

Glad you liked the piece. The photos of me at the end show the bad times and the good times. Unfortunately the good got less and less after 1983. The crop (tricicale) was the last one I grew and was when I was running the place alone - the year of the clearing sale, after the drought of the mid nineties had ended.   Cheers.

A Win For Animal Libbers.

I've some friends with simiar chooks, Jenny, and have just passed on this wonderful piece.

People just don't want to know about the cruelty they're abetting, do they?  Maybe your auctioneer spread the story a little way, but you've just spread it a lot further. 

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