One thing I have noticed over time is that people from cities and urban areas are becoming increasingly disconnected from the environment, and they are also becoming disconnected from rural Australia. Opinions of how the land is managed and the people managing it, is very dependent on what is published in mainstream media, and far too often this is a very polarised snapshot of what is actually happening on the ground.

So I decided to do something about it. And head out west…

I have been working and volunteering in Landcare since 2008, and know I still have so much to learn, in fact I think we should always be learning and questioning the way we do things so we can continue to improve and move forward. Sharing our experiences and knowledge with those who have done it before us is at the crux of all of the projects I design for Illawarra Intrepid Landcare volunteers, and we have been so lucky to experience what we have so far with the incredible people we have met.

The Illawarra Intrepid Landcare crew at a coastal Bitou Bush control project at Killalea, Shellharbour NSW

The Illawarra Intrepid Landcare crew at a coastal Bitou Bush control project at Killalea, Shellharbour NSW

Illawarra Intrepid Landcare is a network of young volunteers who carry out a variety of activities in the Illawarra, NSW and beyond. Actually, we go wherever we want.

The aim of this group is to introduce young people to the diversity of environmental management issues we are facing as a nation. Volunteers get a sense of this through networking with different groups and organisations and working alongside them on their projects.

On this particular project, we visited a family farm in Dubbo, NSW through connections with Little River Landcare group. Who are awesome.

Sunset pit-stop!

Sunset pit-stop!

We travelled six hours (with a pit stop for views of the sunset over the Blue Mountains) from the comfy confines of the coast, to the great sweeping Western Plains of NSW.

Setting out, I think everyone had a preconceived idea of what the weekend farm experience would be like, but essentially, we were keen to get away from the coast and see how the land is managed out West and help where we could.

Tour of the old family homestead

Tour of the old family homestead

But what we actually got to experience was so much more.

The Tourle family, who are 6th generation farmers on the land, openly welcomed us onto their property, they shared their vision for the farm and the environment, their challenges, their trials and errors, and their home.
The property, a 4, 450 ha sheep farm, is pretty big compared to what we are used to here in the Illawarra where we mainly see a mix of small dairy farms, hobby/lifestyle farms, rural sub-divisions and urban development.

Illawarra Landscape, small properties in the distance down to the ocean where there is urban development.

Illawarra Landscape, small properties in the distance down to the ocean where there is urban development.

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Dustin taking in the views out West…

Our Intrepid volunteers came from areas around Wollongong, Sydney and even California in the USA! All come from a variety of backgrounds and interests ranging from studying at university, working in mining, working in conservation, working in the big smoke in the corporate world, to working in education. See. Pretty diverse huh.

The one thing they do have in common though, is that they all took away something pretty rad from the experience. But better they tell you than me. Here’s what they had to say…

Jenna, Wollongong NSW

Although I have been involved in previous Landcare activities and know that they are always enjoyable I was expecting to be worked extremely hard by a quiet, non-personal older farmer who was unable to do some of the work necessary on the farm. It was a very stereotypical view to create in my mind but I did think that the farmer may be resentful to have a bunch of “tree loving hippies” coming on to his property. (I’m now super embarrassed that I thought that way).

Unfortunately at university the farmers are still painted with the same brush to be bad individuals who don’t care about all aspects of the environment as long as their farming was successful and profitable. These aims are obviously still essential but the Tourles created a beautiful, positive image of how people are changing their land management and farming techniques to be as positive and environmentally friendly as possible.

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Chris being a total pest to Jenna.

I feel that the Tourles opened my eyes on so many levels. A lot of Australians, even those that are educated, are swayed with this stereotypical image of what farming families are like whether it be by societies’ construction or a misconstrued image due to one slightly negative experience. The Tourles definitely swept any of those away for me. As someone who is quite intrigued by our history it was great to see firsthand the land that has seen so many changes by the one family.

It is common sense that farming is a challenging, bone breaking and sometimes depressing job but those that do it have got my respect at a whole new level now because of my experiences over the past weekend.

Dustin, California USA

*Insert American accent here* I really enjoyed riding in the trailer with everyone, while Scott and his son Sam herded their flock with the Ute and a dirt bike. I think I was expecting sheepherding dogs and guys walking around with a staff and rod. It was interesting to learn about how they constantly rotate their flocks to different paddocks in order to let the land rest. I also became very aware of the incredibly generous spirit of the Tourle family, (and farmers in general) as they welcomed us in as family.

It was a pleasure to learn how the Tourles have immense respect for the land they have been working for generations, and I was impressed by their knowledge of the finest details regarding the land; like certain areas being affected by erosion, and their plans to mitigate the erosion.

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Erosion on the property…

I felt like I went back in time when visiting the old homestead, and I really enjoyed the time in the back of the ute just seeing the landscape and enjoying its beauty. Farm life can seem like solitary business, but the sense of community is very real, and for a city slicker like me, it is a great escape from the buzzing cityscapes.

Sitting on the veranda of an old log cabin on the property (From left: Chris, Me & Emily totally rocking the primary school pose, Jenna, Nicole, & Dustin)

Sitting on the veranda of an old log cabin on the property (From left: Chris, Me & Emily totally rocking the primary school pose, Jenna, Nicole, & Dustin)

Chris, Wollongong NSW 

I was expecting some vast plains and installing a few fences, but what we experienced was so much more. Scott took time to explain the purpose of the fences we were working on, to more effectively facilitate the cell type grazing they are utilising to give more time for land regeneration.

Scott explaining grazing on the property and looking at the improvements of the landscape over time.

Scott explaining grazing on the property and looking at the improvements of the landscape over time.

Getting into some fencing.

Getting into some fencing.

The property itself was like a step back in time, with buildings and stories that form the core of our history and culture – the experiences and hardships of which I feel I now, having visited the farm, have a much greater appreciation of.

Yeah. We had to go there. Family portrait.

Yeah. We had to go there. Family portrait in the 1800s homestead.

 

The Landcare group of Little River also had a strong community feel, a group that forms a network not just for helping the environment but for providing stability in a community that can be so greatly affected by environmental conditions. The success stories of varying projects and the very real impacts of the social side of the Landcare group was inspirational.

Pump action.

Pump action. Chris helping with some watering points for the sheep.

The entire weekend was far beyond what I could have expected, from the knowledge shared, the interest in our own experience, the hospitality and genuine wanting to have us to understand and share their vision for the future has given an extremely positive outlook for the future of agriculture.

Nicole, Sydney NSW

Talking to Pip Job from Little River Landcare opened my eyes to other issues farmers face that often people aren’t aware of. Little River Landcare doesn’t just help farmers with taking care of their land and environmental issues but also looking after the welfare of farmers. Farmers are often very isolated and if something happens, such as suicide, this can have a huge impact on the whole community. There is also a big age gap in farming with young people leaving and then returning a bit later in life. It can be a difficult environment and it is important farmers have access to the support they need.

We also learnt a lot about land management and how challenging it can be. There is not always one right way of doing things and often farmers don’t want to share their tips with other farmers. This means there is a lot of trial and error and it can take a long time to get the results you want.

I have developed a great respect for farmers and the hard work that is put in, day in and day out.

Liz Tourle explaining the loss of productive land due to Cypress Pine invasion in the distance and plans to deal with this.

Liz Tourle explaining the loss of productive land due to Cypress Pine invasion in the distance and plans to deal with this.

Emily, Wollongong NSW

I’d spent some time staying and working on a few properties before, and had acquired an impression of farmers that wasn’t always positive. However, after spending time at Liz and Scott’s farm, it became clear the broad stereotype I had placed on all those in agriculture was undeserved. I was relieved to discover there are farmers out there who understand the value of ecosystem management and protection and who are actively working towards the betterment of the environment.

Environmental sustainability is a matter I consider to be of the utmost importance, and, like many environmentalists, I have long considered the agricultural sector’s oversimplification of the environment incompatible with the maintenance of a healthy, balanced ecosystem. That was, until I watched a TED talk by Allan Savory on the use of holistic grazing methods to restore grasslands. Though the concept contested everything I thought I knew in regards to the relationship between cattle grazing and the degradation of nature, I was astounded by its simple logic. I spent the rest of the night pouring over arguments and counter arguments on the subject, leaving me sceptical. The trip to Liz and Scott’s farm could not have come at a more convenient time, considering it was only weeks ago that I watched the talk. Here were farmers that implemented Savory’s grazing methods, and here was tangible evidence that these methods were not only working, but working very well.

Sam Tourle mustering sheep from his bike.

Sam Tourle mustering sheep from his bike.

Those two days spent on the property were of tremendous value to me, and I could not be more grateful for the wonderful hospitality and generosity shown by Liz and Scott. The trip surpassed all my expectations, and being able to view these fantastic modern methods of farming first hand, as well as the history of past generations of farmers, will be an experience I’ll never forget.

Me! Wollongong, NSW

For me, the biggest thing I took away from this incredible weekend, was the power of providing simple opportunities for people from all sorts of backgrounds, levels of experience and knowledge, to have open and honest conversations with each other. Fear is one of the biggest barriers stopping conversations between different groups in society, but once we realise we are all in this together, we can really start to have some intelligent conversations with amazing people about the future of our environment, our land, and our communities.

Thankyou to Little River Landcare and Scott, Liz and Sam for opening their home and providing such a welcoming environment so we could break down the barriers, debunk the stereotypes, and have these conversations.

Us mugs with the wonderful Liz and Scott Tourle, our country mum and dad <3

Us mugs with the wonderful Liz and Scott Tourle, our country mum and dad <3