Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Why I wrote this book

Natasha Mitchell (host of Life Matters on Radio National, 9am every weekday morning) interviewed two of the extraordinary farmers featured in my new book, Australian Farming Families.

Cath with working dog Pip

Cath with working dog Pip

‘So, Deb Hunt, why did you write this book?’

As interview questions go it couldn’t have been easier, yet I hesitated. I said something about curiosity, about Clyde being a carnivore and me wanting to know where the meat I cook comes from, but there was more I couldn’t fully articulate. Thankfully Natasha moved on to talk to Lyn French and Cath Marriott so I was let off the hook.

Both Lyn and Cath are passionately committed to farming and family, they’ve both survived unimaginable struggles to succeed and they both have a fantastic sense of humour. (Click here for the podcast, it’s worth a listen).

I came away from the interview thinking, so why did I write this book?

My father was an avid gardener and he grew food in a small patch at the back of our childhood home. I loved helping him, loved picking raspberries, harvesting runner beans, stripping blackcurrants off the bushes and dipping a fresh stalk of rhubarb into a pot of sugar. I realised, much later in life, that growing food helps ground me.

Lyn French with husband Rob

Lyn French with husband Rob

All the Australian farmers, graziers and pastoralists I met while researching this book cared about their animals, they cared about the land and they cared about each other. There was a deep sense of connection and they seemed less frenetic than those of us who live in a city. They were more willing to accept that you can’t control everything that happens in life.

I liked that energy.

Australian farmers live and work in some extremely remote places, under conditions that would test anyone, and all of the people I interviewed had fascinating stories to tell. I met farmers who’ve survived everything nature can throw at them, from fire, flood and drought to choking dust storms; parents who drive hundreds of kilometres so their isolated children can get to school camp; people passionately determined to give their children the education they missed out on – my pockets quickly filled with stories.

The welcome I received wherever I went was unconditional, and this message from Lyn French was typical: ‘The door’s always open and the billy’s always boiling,’ she wrote.

It takes energy to produce food – human energy – and for most Australian farmers that energy involves the entire family; there was little separation between work and home for most of the people I spoke to.

None of the farmers I interviewed were looking to make a fortune and retire rich; they just wanted to carry on farming and give their children the opportunity to do the same, if that’s what they chose to do.

In our technology-driven lives it was something of a relief to spend time with people who weren’t constantly checking their phones and computers for messages. A twenty-something backpacker who stayed with us in Sydney recently commented, “The world would fall apart if we didn’t have all this technology to guide us, wouldn’t it?’

Would it? Maybe in a city it might. We’d probably run around like headless chickens, endlessly prodding at useless buttons and worrying the world might have come to an end. I suspect farmers, though, would simply keep on farming… and for that I’m immensely grateful.

People who live and work on the land matter, because like most of us I can’t/don’t/won’t grow enough food to feed myself – let alone anyone else. If it weren’t for farmers there’d be no food in my fridge.

So I think I wrote this book to celebrate, to acknowledge and to pay tribute to, all those farmers and their families whose lives are dedicated to producing food. Thank you all.

And thank you Natasha, for a great interview!

It was a lot of fun, even though I did cry!

It was fun, even if I did cry!

8 comments on “Why I wrote this book

  1. cathmarriott
    April 22, 2015

    It was a wonderful experience to talk about, and try to put some semblance of order into my life. I would recommend for anyone interested in their own journey to avail themselves of the opportunity to write it down or talk about it to someone who is interested in what you have to say. I don’t believe there could have been a better conversationalist than Deb to bring out all of the details and make sense of them. A great read and one which has great insight into the fact that we are all out to do the best that we can for our families, our communities and our country. Well done Deb.


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      April 23, 2015

      Wow thanks Cath, but you did all the hard work, I just listened to your story – and enjoyed our time together immensely!


  2. Jane @ Shady Baker
    April 22, 2015

    Looking forward to seeing this Deb, it sounds wonderful. Thanks for the invite to the launch, I hope to make it!


  3. mrdjangozazou
    April 22, 2015

    Excellent broadcast. Everything you share about Australia is just so inspiring, Deb. And 450 km between Townsville and Gilberton Station? Wow! And I thought from my house to Leeds is a bit of a slog!


  4. Eliza Waters
    April 22, 2015

    ‘Salt of the earth’ they are. I, too, am deeply grateful to our farmers, particularly the organic ones. The world owes them a debt of gratitude.


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I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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