By Lucy Ziesemer
I was recently in Port Macquarie to see two wonderful friends get married. If you walk along the headland, there’s a dramatic view of the surf smashing against the rocks and of surfers far braver than I bobbing about in the waves offshore. As I meandered my way along the footpath I wondered, rather absentmindedly, what those surfers were thinking about. It was a Saturday morning, so I assumed the first thing on their agenda post surf was brunch. I guessed the more motivated of the fray would have risen at dawn to catch the sunrise over the ocean before they dipped a toe in- mainly because I would do the same myself. Maybe they’d finish their avo, eggs and halloumi on sour dough add bacon (my order) and take their dog for a walk, sit in the park with a good book, head home for an afternoon nap, then rally for casual drinks with friends that night. In another life, this would be my ideal Saturday.
I jolted myself back to reality and pondered the difference between coastal living and bush living. How people east of the Great Divide live compared to those on its western boundary. Truth be told, us graziers often scratch our heads and wonder why even though it’s a mere 200km distance between regions, we feel worlds apart. We wonder why the work we do receives so little celebration. Why is a new lane on the Bruce Highway of upmost importance and applauded as such, but the continuous supply of premium food and fibre as commonplace and mundane as making your bed in the morning?
We are few in numbers out here. Our areas are vast and you really can’t see your neighbours- it’s true! Some drive hundreds of kilometres to fetch groceries, some are delivered to properties by plane. We are isolated and we love it. There’s just so much space. Sometimes the night sky honestly takes your breath away and looking up at it is a good reminder that you’re not as big as you think you are. We’ve got some of the most unique, historic old pubs with beer colder than Caxton Street’s, mark my words. Bakeries with fresh cream donuts and more cinnamon than you can poke a stick at. People say hello first. They ask “how ya goin?” and stick around to hear your reply. I could go on for days with examples of what’s to love about living rurally and what is, in my opinion anyway, what sets us apart.
So why don’t more people know about it? Or, why don’t more people care? It’s because they don’t need to! Tell me why, if you were an urban dweller working your nine to five, gym before work, pick up some milk and bread on your way home, why would you give a hoot about what’s going on out in the sticks? You wouldn’t even give a moment’s thought to the yahoo cowboys kicking around in the dust chasing cows, or something.
The reason our urban cousins don’t pay us much attention is because we are completely unrelatable to them. From our point of view, we are, because we can relate to ourselves and each other and also to our city pals- we recognise a runway quality road when we drive down one because you sure won’t find one in the west! But if you don’t live and work out here you wouldn’t know the first thing about our lifestyle and the ways of being we inherited from our forefathers in order to make a life worth living.
When I was young, my city cousins would visit on school holidays and relish the experiences we gave them, so far from the reality of their day-to-day. Things like making face paint from a mixture of crushed rocks and spit were outlandish to them. Driving old paddock-basher Toyotas requiring exceptional timing to bounce down from the pillows on the seat (you didn’t have pump up driver’s seats to enable vision over the steering wheel in those days) to get both feet and full weight on the brake pedal in order to stop was madness to them, but they revelled in it. They were the days when real life was mythical and imagination was concrete. And then we grew up.
Our reality now as agriculturalists is working hard, reaching goals, striving for progress. Not different in essence, but different in a practical sense. In 2016, just 2.2 per cent of Australia’s working population were employed in the agriculture sector. Most people don’t care to relate because agriculture isn’t exciting enough, it doesn’t provoke the imagination and conjur dreams of endless possibility to outsiders. It does for us though, and that’s what we need to promote.
I’m talking a mini movie theatre in the fresh food section in Coles featuring real, gritty, organic people telling how they came to be supplying broccoli to lawyers, doctors and council workers. Or showing a young family working together in the shearing shed readying the bones of a luxurious winter sweater.
We could have segments on the big screen at NRL and AFL games reminding the crowd their steak burger was ethically and sustainably produced 1000km west of where they’re sitting, but they’d never know unless they knew because how jolly FRESH does it taste?!
CELEBRATE!! Celebrate agriculture. Be proud of what you grow so that consumers can be proud to enjoy it. We need to tell our own story and be our own voice. There will be arguments that these things cost money (true) but we are an industry worth investing in. Understanding and support stem from relatability and common agendas. To be relatable we need to be present and while distance creates limitations, the World Wide Web wasn’t christened that randomly. Let’s put ourselves in the city in our rawest, most real state of being and give the people something to envy.