My final whirlwind visit for the Art4Agriculture program for 2013 took me to the gorgeous Sapphire Coast and the home of famous Bega cheese, where Bega Valley Primary School opened up their doors to me to listen to my personal story of my involvement in agriculture and our Australian beef cattle industry.
Upon the conclusion of questions at the end of my presentation, I was introduced to ‘Buttercup’ – the schools fibreglass Archibull calf. Unlike other schools I visited, Bega Valley Public School had already painted their calf, so it was now my turn to learn as I enquired about the intricate Aboriginal artwork that covered Buttercups hide. Kim Cooke, the teacher in charge of the schools involvement in the program, shared more of her valuable time to talk me through the painting, which depicted the map of Bega and districts in traditional Aboriginal painting.
The entire calf was a wonderful work of art, and is an absolute credit to the Koori students of Bega Valley Public School and Mrs Cooke, who all contributed to the designing and painting. Most outstandingly, proudly sitting on Buttercups right shoulder was a ‘district’ of much brighter colours, depicting a sacred site to the people of the area. This concept of a sacred site intrigued me on my journey home, so I began researching to better understand. Beliefs and histories vary between Aboriginal groups, however the most commonly accepted & important aspect of a sacred site relates to the time of The Dreaming when spirits walked the earth and created our natural environment, including plants, animals and people. The particular geographical locations that were of significance within the life of a spirit, for example their place of birth, death, or where the performed rituals, became ‘sacred’ to the people of that area and those who descended from that spirit.
I do not identify myself as an Aboriginal Person however I do identify myself as a farmer. In the current hostile social climate of reports, investigations, extremist groups and constantly defending ourselves, it’s easy to forget the strong, positive connections we have to other communities. Learning of this rather undefinable, spiritual connection to the land felt by Aboriginal people, I felt an instant kinship with our traditional owners. It is one of my favourite and proudest things to tell people that the house built by my great grand father is the very same one (with a few upgrades) I call home today. Strange enough to admit, but I still get jealous of my fathers relationship with my great grand father. He passed on years before I was born and I never got to meet the man who cut through the pine trees to create the very drive way I travel up & down, crying nearly every time I return to Uni.
The Dreaming is referred to as something that happened long ago when great heroes lived, however is still present today. I related this easily to our property. I can stand at our highest point and look over green paddocks, fat livestock and feel the great happiness seeing our country thrive with vitality and sustainability that only generations of love can create. I do not see dollar signs, as some may insist is the famers main goal in life, I see the passion and hard work of my ancestors and know that they are still very connected, very present in the land today.
Agriculture is not simply a sensationally diverse industry with endless opportunity, it is a lifestyle that involves great emotion and spiritual connection to our land, in some cases dating back generations, which is why outlandish attacks from activist groups hurt so much more than the economical and public perception reactions they aim for. Their ignorance leads to accusations based on our practices that have been developed through years of experience, research and development, to deliver the best & safest produce on increasingly shrinking land mass.
Nearing the end of my university degree, the most common piece of advice offered to me by other teachers and lectures is to network; create relationships with your peers and mentors and stay connected as you will always need help and support throughout your career, but particularly in your early years. Of all the titles that I can call myself – Uni student, swimming teacher, vice-president, my favourite still remains farmers daughter. I am a young farmer and I recognise the importance of continuing this practice of networking and connecting from my career in education through to my life in agriculture, which unfortunately, with our backs against the wall for so many reasons, has become a practice between those within the industry only, often excluding outsiders and other communities with detrimental effects.
It’s difficult to let others in to share the joy of our fragile land, something we are so protective of and so connected to. The ability to promote our industry and practices is so often over shadowed by the defensive protection we feel when exposing our spirituality to those who don’t understand, or who want to engage in attacking practices. The most fortunate situation is that majority of the general public are open and willing to increase their knowledge about the industry, and this is where it is up to us as farmers to facilitate the conversations of change. Like I have learnt of and been inspired by Aboriginal people’s stories and sacred sites, so to will many of our urban cousins find a particular connection to our story, the story of Australian Agriculture.
I thank the Wiradjiri people of my area, and the generations of my family who have put years of sweat and tears into developing our property. I acknowledge all of you and your connection to the land I call home, and thank you for the knowledge you have handed down and the care in which you treated this wide brown land.
You can read the Bega Valley Public School blog here