A young family’s plan to beat the drought
A FAMILY IN THE MIDST OF NSW’S WORST DROUGHT IN 100 YEARS DRAWS COMFORT FROM GIVING BACK.
WHEN LOUISE TURNER returns home driving along the red stony road then crossing the boundary at Goodwood Station, 50 kilometres north of White Cliffs in NSW’S north-west, there’s a sense of calm and belonging. Here amid the open shrubby woodlands, flat-top mesas and ranges, Louise, 45, her husband Zane, 43, and their children Keeley, nine, and seven-year-old Clancy currently run 3000 Dohne merino sheep on the 37,000-hectare property that borders Paroodarling National Park. “I love driving home; this is where my roots are and it’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one place,” Louise explains. “Our children are fourth generation and we’ve made it our little family haven.” Louise grew up in England before her family moved to Australia. She has moved 22 times throughout her life, following her father’s work as an estimator/quantity surveyor. She embraced outback life, working in various environmental and community roles including National Parks, Greening Australia and the CWA (Country Women’s Association). “It’s important to be connected to our community and I want to set an example to my children,” she says. “We all get busy, but if we take on roles within the community, we often see the bigger picture and think outside the square.” At Goodwood Station, Zane and Louise are in an unrelenting drought with only 85 millimetres of rain in the past 18 months — according to Louise the annual average here is 250 millimetres. The couple have largely destocked the property and much of Zane’s time involves feeding hay to their remaining flock with the help of Keeley and Clancy after their School of the Air correspondence lessons. “Trying to get balance is hard with it being so dry and horrible,” says Louise. “I always imagine what it’s like when we’ve had rain and that keeps me going. We’ve still got our garden and while we have green lawn and trees, that helps.” Louise is the Executive Officer of Western Landcare NSW, which covers 40 per cent of the state. She has worked with Landcare for more than 20 years. Her role includes working on pest management and mentoring youths in agriculture. At Goodwood Station, the Turners are undertaking an environmental management project to learn more about soil and build filters to slow water through the landscape. “We’re trying to reinstate wetlands and decrease the erosion with fencing for a seed bank,” Zane says. “By collecting and preserving seed in the reserve, hopefully over time they will self-regenerate.” > For details about Landcare, visit landcareaustralia.org.au
LOUISE My family were from Southend-on-sea in the south-east of England and we moved to Tamworth, NSW in 1981, where Dad had a job, when I was seven. I’ve always been an outdoors person and I wanted to work in the outback: I love the colours of the landscape. I studied Natural and Cultural Heritage Management at the University of Canberra; I took a ranger job at Tibooburra and was there for two years. I met Zane at the White Cliffs Gymkhana and Rodeo. I said to a friend, “I think I’m going to marry that man.” We met up three weeks later and have been together ever since. Zane and I work well, we both work hard and are grateful for what we have. He is a thorough researcher, but we make the decisions together. We’ve been really lucky, especially to have two little miracle children. I work 15 hours each week as the Executive Officer of Western Landcare NSW and I have just been appointed to the Landcare NSW Council. Landcare in western NSW has really blossomed: nearly three years ago we had eight member groups, now we have 26. We help organise training, meetings and get the message out there that if we all work together — with our minds and as well as our bodies — we can achieve so much more. In NSW, Landcare was given $15 million over three years [by the NSW State Government] and Landcare is estimated to put half a billion dollars back into community. It’s an amazing organisation to be a part of. What sustains us is the fact that we are not the only ones in drought. Our stock needs us. Zane and I don’t make such a big thing of the drought in front of the kids, so I think they are used to things the way they are. They do hate seeing animals that have dropped dead in the paddock like emus, which are dropping like flies, and we are shooting kangaroos [the State Government is allowing this during the dry] who are competing for feed with our sheep. We cope because we have each other; we know there are people worse off than us. I help fundraise for School of the Air. We are also part of the White Cliffs community. We’re not just farmers — we’re a bit of everything. This shows our kids that there is more to life and that’s really important. >
ZANE Goodwood Station was originally my grandparents’ property and I grew up at Polpah, next door. I did School of the Air for some of my primary school years, then moved to Victoria when I was 8 with my grandparents, who retired there, and then I boarded in Melbourne. After school I worked station-hand jobs — mainly shearing and crutching — then worked on gas pipelines in the mid-1990s. I met Lou in 1999 and took on the manager’s role at Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station, which was a great learning experience: it was run as a commercial sheep station. My aunt and uncle wanted to retire from Goodwood Station so we moved back here in 2008, leased it for three years and then purchased it. We switched to Dohne sheep in 2011; they are easier to care for with quite nice wool and they are suited to our country. I like the peace and the quiet here and the freedom to do your own thing. I don’t mind the isolation and it’s different these days with School of the Air — it’s not as isolated as it was when I was young. The kids have the freedom to ride motorbikes and drive cars and do things many other kids don’t get the chance to do. Our kids are involved wherever they can be and one good thing about School of the Air is that it’s more flexible now. Clancy finishes a bit earlier than Keeley, he’s been quite handy during this dry time and comes out with me and drives the car while we feed the hay out. We’re about 30 to 40 per cent stocked at the moment. After a long dry period like this it takes the country a while to recover. We had to destock fairly drastically and have been feeding fodder for close to 12 months. We are doing a program with the help of Western Local Land Services to address the soil erosion and degradation on our place. We are fencing for a seed bank and we’ve done some contour ploughing and ripping to encourage vegetation and create wetlands. We plan on adding to it as we go and hopefully slow soil erosion and degredation. I really admire Louise’s organisational ability, she’s very regimented. It gets a bit stressful at times like this when it’s so dry, but being your own boss and the freedom of it all is the big drawcard.
Louise and Zane Turner with daughter Keeley, son Clancy, and kelpie, Midge at their heels, at Goodwood Station, their 37,000-hectare working sheep station in White Cliffs, NSW.
CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE Like much of the rest of the droughtdeclared state, Goodwood Station has hardly received any rain in nearly two years, with the landscape arid, bare and dusty: part of the Turners’ working day goes into feeding hay to the remaining Dohne sheep on the property; a quiet spot on the homestead to appreciate the green lawn; Louise tending to a sheep. FACING PAGE Louise, with one of the family’s four kelpies, Midge, dreams of days when the rain will come.
CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE Zane bought the property, which includes the shearing shed, from his family about seven years ago; Louise and Zane say their lives represent far more than just farming and they are grateful to be able to teach that to their two children, daughter Keeley and son Clancy; inside the shearing shed; Keeley and Clancy with a lamb. FACING PAGE Seven-year-old Clancy is a great help caring for their Dohne merino sheep and helping his Dad distribute hay for feed.