Au­thor’s work and words speak up for agri­cul­ture

Book cel­e­brates na­tion’s di­ver­sity

Central and North Rural Weekly - - SPECIAL REPORT - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­

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.

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