Yarn spun of fam­ily’s hard­ships on the land

Countryman - - COUNTRY LIFE - Bob Gar­nant

Au­thor Alexan­der Camp­bell traced the foot­steps of his fam­ily back to 18th cen­tury Europe — Den­mark and Ire­land — be­fore the time his great-grand­fa­ther ar­rived in Aus­tralia.

It was the be­gin­ning of a new life for the Camp­bells, who through four gen­er­a­tions in their new land en­dured the joys and hard­ships of farm­ing life.

Af­ter sell­ing his farm in 2013, Camp­bell then wrote and pub­lished, in 2017, Of Sheep And Other Things, a 346-page bi­og­ra­phy of his fam­ily, in­clud­ing a mem­oir of his own per­sonal ru­ral and po­lit­i­cal life ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I re­fer to the book as a yarn about how one Aus­tralian fam­ily sur­vived the odds on the land, span­ning 170 years, and in do­ing so be­came a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the farm­ing in­dus­try and wider com­mu­nity,” he said.

In writ­ing the book, Camp­bell said he be­came more aware of the “im­por­tance” of Merino wool to his Aus­tralian an­ces­tors and of its his­tor­i­cal role in shap­ing the early Aus­tralian econ­omy.

He cor­re­sponded with more than 100 sources dur­ing a year-long in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing process and also took an­other year to pub­lish the book, which fea­tures 85 pho­tos and il­lus­tra­tions.

“The front cover photo is of my grand­mother hold­ing a gun as dead rab­bits were be­ing col­lected, il­lus­trat­ing the hard times, par­tic­u­larly for early pi­o­neer women who faced se­vere iso­la­tion,” he said.

As writ­ten in the book: “Eve­lyn was a wo­man to be ad­mired, she stood straight as a ram­rod, was dressed im­mac­u­lately at all times, could han­dle a firearm and was a good horse­woman, with a per­fect seat in the sad­dle.”

Camp­bell summed up the early chal­lenges of agri­cul­ture, not­ing vari­able cli­mates, the rise and de­cline of the Merino in­dus­try, bushrangers, din­goes, rab­bits, blowflies, bush­fires — all with con­straints of dis­tance and iso­la­tion.

“Many still ap­ply to­day with the ad­di­tional com­plex­i­ties of salin­ity and cli­mate change, which have been over­cooked po­lit­i­cally,” he said.

Camp­bell’s father, Don, was born in 1907, while the fam­ily was liv­ing at north Ade­laide.

“Af­ter join­ing Dal­getys’ head of­fice and find­ing out he wasn’t a pen pusher, Dad worked as a jackeroo,” Camp­bell said.

His father then traded South Aus­tralia for the out­back of WA, where he be­came an off­sider to Mill­stream Sta­tion’s camp boss.

Mill­stream was run­ning about 25,000 sheep at that time.

“Dad later be­came overseer, then man­ager at Lake Vi­o­let Sta­tion, near Wiluna, and at 32 years of age mar­ried my mother, Thelma,” Camp­bell said.

“Af­ter our fam­ily re­lo­cated to Perth in 1951, my father worked as a sta­tion prop­erty man­ager and spent the last few years of his work­ing life with Dal­getys NZ in their wool de­part­ment from 1968 to 1971.”

Reach­ing his school years, Camp­bell and his brother Tim were sent off to the East Clare­mont Prac­tis­ing School.

“Af­ter achiev­ing a six-sub­ject leav­ing cer­tifi­cate, through be­ing taught well and also given clear di­rec­tion on how we should lead our lives, Dad came straight to the point,” Camp­bell said.

“Now, are you sure about farm­ing as your fu­ture ca­reer?”

Fresh for the chal­lenge, Camp­bell ac­quired his first farm through al­lo­ca­tion of land in WA and named the Bor­den prop­erty Till­ga­ree in 1964.

Af­ter turn­ing vir­gin bush into a vi­able farm with both good and bad har­vests over the years, Camp­bell and his wife, Jenny, and their chil­dren Anna and Jock, marked an­other gen­er­a­tion of agri­cul­ture sur­vivors.

Their dream took them from the mallees to the red gums of Nar­rikup in 1976 when they re­lo­cated to Townsend’s Place and in 1987 added Crys­tal Brook.

Camp­bell was elected WAFarm­ers Fed­er­a­tion State vice-pres­i­dent in 1989 and was mo­ti­vated to purge the grow­ing crossover of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the two WA farm or­gan­i­sa­tions, Pas­toral­ists and Gra­ziers As­so­ci­a­tion, be­ing the other.

“It was un­likely WA would ever achieve a sin­gle voice at a State level as com­pared to the suc­cess­ful unity of the Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion,” he said.

“I came to greatly re­spect the vast ma­jor­ity of mem­bers who were ‘do­ing it tough’ with poor sea­sons, lost wool in­come and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing terms of trade.”

Serv­ing a term as WAFF pres­i­dent and NFF ex­ec­u­tive, Camp­bell said it was his con­tri­bu­tion to ru­ral pol­i­tics, but was pleased he had a farm to go back to in­stead of be­ing held hostage to the de­mands of an elec­torate.

The Camp­bells’ chil­dren are now in­ter­twined in agri­cul­ture, with Anna, who mar­ried Dan­dara­gan farmer Hugh Roberts in 1999, and Jock, who moved to de­velop a ca­reer in the East­ern States on sev­eral stud and com­mer­cial sheep en­ter­prises.

Of Sheep And Other Things is avail­able at the Wil­liams Wool­shed, Al­bany’s Pa­per­bark, Boffins in Perth and Clare­mont’s The­atre Lane Book­shop.

Pic­ture: Bob Gar­nant

Alexan­der Camp­bell re­flects on his farm­ing life at his Dalkeith ‘shed’.

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