he invitation came out of the blue: “Why don’t you come and see for yourself?” The invi-tation came after 12 years of annual reports on the progress of their Texel sheep-breeding programme and the struggle to save their farm from being swallowed up by the ever-threatening salinity. The farm of some 4000 acres is situated in Bindi Bindi, 190 km north of Perth, but the salt problem seems to extend over most of Australia’s agricultural land. The OECD estimates that 24 million hectares of the continent’s soil is extremely acidic, and developing the land for agricultural purposes tends to increase the salinity. I knew Maria when she was in her 20s, always willing to talk and eager to get the most out of life. A brief period as field assistant for a prospecting company gave rise to reflection and subsequent discussion of environmental issues. After some professional training she made use of her splendid physique to become a ski instructor, and later worked as mountain guide in the South Island. It is here that her lively mind became aware of and fully absorbed by the wonders and beauty of our natural heritage. Interest in the care and preservation of the abundant treasures that were her place of work did not desert her when she moved to the very different world of Western Australian farmland. An already well-developed eye for the smallest detail of the vegetation cover served her well and augured a sensitive approach to her regeneration initiative. Rob would have been invaluable with his local knowledge and keen awareness of the diverse soil types of the farm, which he can tell by the kind of gum most at home on them. Over the years she had rewarded my interest and eager anticipation of the tree planting we had talked about, with long letters which, however, gave me only a glimpse of what I was to learn on my visit. I was also privileged to look into the harmony which binds together two
very different personalities, a harmony that I became instinctively aware of on entering their comfortable homestead. Maria, any feminist’s dream, (but totally unaware), is equally at home on tractor and farm bike, can work the sheep dogs and use power tools like any man. At about 50 she is attractive, tall and upright in bearing. Robert, a kind man and a thoughtful host, has lived all his life on the farm and has developed a temperament that can cope with equanimity with the unpredictable moods of the climate. He carries lightly the heavy responsibility over a most diverse enterprise. They talk to each other about the day’s work, as well as general farming and marketing practice. This quiet harmony can also be felt out on the farm, on entering a paddock. The animals barely look up and carry on with the business of eating, while the lush green of the newly established gum trees proclaim the success of the regeneration work, a sure sign that their pioneering initiative is on track.
They both love animals, each in their own way. I saw Rob remonstrating with a shearer for being too rough. The attachment and eager attention of their dogs spoke volumes of humane treatment. A small incident which I found amusing illustrated a discrepancy in attitudes however. Maria could not tolerate losing the life of a single animal in her charge. Many hours were spent raising little lambs on expensive milk powder when they were unable to fend for themselves. One evening when I performed this enjoyable task of bottle feeding, Rob looked on in quiet resignation and said, as one farmer to another: “Maria is wasting time, rearing these creatures which will never do any good. I would have knock-ed them on the head.” But he never interfered. While I understood his sentiment, I admired him for being able to enter into Maria’s feelings and respect them. Three years ago, Maria picked up a new-born kangaroo, barely alive after its mother
Before. . .
Ten years ago – a paddock on the farm before tree planting
. . .and After
This is what the same block of land looks like today
Tui Motu InterIslands 11