Author’s work and words speak up for agriculture
Book celebrates nation’s diversity
SHE makes her way around Australia in an eye-catching matching silver LandCruiser and 23-foot van that readily converts between living space and gallery space, on a mission to document the diversity and reality of Australia’s many agricultural sectors and regions.
Rural Weekly caught-up with Toowoomba-based free-ranging writer, photographer and agriculture advocate Al Mabin as she visited Dubbo in NSW as she travels, along with best mate jack russell terrier Barney, to promote her newest publication, The Grower.
Released this month, The Grower is Al’s third publication, a two-volume pictorial that explores all that grows, whether by roots or heartbeat, across the length and breadth of the nation.
Growing up on a New Zealand sheep farm, Al has studied genetics and reproductive diseases in sheep and cattle, an area which enabled her to travel
around the world. However, she decided to leave behind the corporate world and bought a camera.
“I ended up on a cattle drive back in 2013: that was the 18,000 cattle that were walked from Winton down to Hay, and from that produced my first book, The Drover,” Al said.
She self-publishes her work, travelling and selling through markets and a network of willing businesses as diverse as truck stops, saddleries, butchers and independent bookstores.
“You’ve got to be willing to do the miles to make it work,” she said.
She was hit by a truck in 2015, which led to an exploration of Australia’s heavy transport industry, the paddock to plate process, and its characters: The Driver.
Weighing in at 4.5kg each, The Grower’s two volumes The Roots of Australia and The Heartbeat of Australia are a comprehensive portrait of Australian agriculture, and represents a full year’s travel and careful research on Al’s part to capture the broad range of landscapes and sectors in which rural producers operate.
“The one rule I have is that I never want to repeat a style of image, so each property owns that particular style or shot,” Al said.
“Sometimes locations are amazing, or people have interesting faces or artefacts. You can’t know until you get there on the ground what it’s going to be.
“You just sit down and have a coffee with them, make a bit of a plan and take it from there.”
In visiting a region, she has sought out producers from a wide variety of sectors and species specialities.
Winner of the BEFA 2015 Asia Pacific Female Entrepreneur of The Year, she is passionate in crossing the boundaries between documentary and advocacy, using her work to raise awareness of what is being done across the rural industries to meet global demand.
“People ask why are we having the trouble we are having, and I say well, we’re having that trouble because the population is increasing and the land mass isn’t.
“So if the farmers are to keep feeding the population that is growing, they have to operate in a different way to be able to produce enough. We can’t farm like we did back in the 60’s.
“We’ve had to get smarter, and obviously got more intensive, and people have got angsty about the intensive farming we’ve had to do. So I say, well stop eating!”
She said that farmers need to become clearer in speaking up for themselves.
“No one person is going to be able to change perception, but what I have said to the farmers is that, if you are not active about it, the activists will gain traction and tip the scales: you’ve got to wheel your own wheelbarrow, we can’t just let this go; we need to correct this with the truth.”
GRAND TOUR: Author and photographer Al Mabin spent a year gathering stories and images for her new two-volume book set The Grower.
A stunning image of angus cattle from Al Mabin's book The Grower.
Sheep graze on stubble after harvest.
THE GROWER: Mustering crew, Iffley Station, near Julia Creek, QLD.
The Grower: Roots of Australia.