by Meridith Mckinnon
An iconic industry for Australia – the Dairy industry – where my husband grew up, worked most of his life, long and hard. He has a bond with the land, farming is in his bones – but times have changed in every way, and as the seasons come and go so do farming legends, those salt of the earth characters that Phil grew up with and who mentored him in his trade.
For many years our Australian Christmases revolved around harvest. Leading up to Christmas every year would be debated whether harvest would be early or late, wet or dry, good or bad. Mind you this was before silage became the norm. We only ever did Hay.
Generally harvest would be finished by Christmas but as the years went by and climate change impacted, the seasons got later and towards the end of our days on the dairy farm the harvest was often not done until after Christmas. We also seemed to have heavier rains late September to drive the season even later.
There are no regrets leaving dairying. Although rewarding in many ways, it meant long hours, hard work and...
... being your own business never brought you the freedom of stepping far from it for any length of time. We now watch the farmers around us prepare for harvest and work through the nights, tractor lights in the paddocks, to get it all done before the next rain. There is something about harvest that brings community together. The conversation, the machinery and knowing everyone is doing the same thing.
Strong identities come to mind from the days of hay carting. One such identity was local farmer, John. John had a presence and personality to match his height and strength. He took local kids under his wing and showed them the ropes of carting small square bales. Hamish our son, mentored by John, led teams of hay-carters over summer. It was a hard job, a job for the strong and tough, mentally and physically. John loved seeing the boys work at it. He swore like a trouper and worked harder than any man his age.
One Christmas he walked out of his dairy, jumped into his truck and down to the gate to his mailbox. As he pulled to a stop he slumped over the wheel and there and then died of a heart attack. His wife looked on seeing the truck roll slightly forward and found him. Thus ended a legend for the hay carting boys and a member of an era of the hardest working generations in Ecklin.
The salt of the earth characters are few and far now. There is kind of a modern take on such identities combined with technology and highly mechanized farming.
The hay carting boys, now men almost 30, still bring in some small squares for old time sake. It’s a dying culture though and soon will be no more.
It seems for everyone, Christmases on the farm are set to change forever.