Story telling from Australia
I drove through the green and gold of WA’s central wheat belt this week and felt like winding down the window to shout Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi! The sight of all that shimmering yellow canola and fresh green wheat stirred my sporting pride and had me convinced I should ditch my support for the England cricket team (never mind that they’ve won the Ashes) and declare my allegiance to Australia.
Ten minutes into the journey I’d gone nowhere, Sat Nav recalculating furiously as it tracked a continual loop around Perth’s domestic terminals. Growth at the airport has been frenetic to keep pace with the flood of FIFO miners in their fluorescent yellow jackets touting Platinum status frequent flyer cards – everything looked newly built. I switched off the technology, relied on old-fashioned street signs and left the city behind.
Within twenty minutes the stream of fast moving traffic was replaced by thick forest. Native trees pressed close on both sides of the Great Eastern Highway, slowly giving way to distant paddocks of green and gold that marched over the rolling hills, sharp and clear under a winter sky.
The green and yellow intensified as I approached Jo and Dave Fulwood’s farm, where Jo was no doubt relieved that I had suppressed my desire to unleash Australian football chants. Two of their three children, Hamish and Seb, need little encouragement to unleash their own brand of boisterous energy.
I enthused about the landscape, marvelled over the shimmering beauty of the vast paddocks, raved about the productive crops, gushed over the garden and harboured secret romantic notions of moving to a farm in WA.
‘You should see it in summer. It’s burnt to a crisp,’ said Jo bluntly. ‘This area is officially classified as desert in farming terms.’
In summer, those green and gold paddocks are scorched by temperatures in the mid 40s, productive crops replaced by weeds and fine grey sand that slips through your fingers. This is dry land farming, with no irrigation, and the success of each year’s crop is entirely dependent on the weather.
Since 1939 there have been fewer wet years, more dry years and a twelve percent decrease in growing season rainfall. It’s even worse further east, where climate change is forcing some people to question the viability of growing crops at all. Uncertainty is something all dry land farmers have to live with, with varying degrees of success.
They live in hope, a bit like supporters of the Australian cricket team.