The world is changing. Less and less people in our affluent society have a direct link to agriculture yet social media and the internet have brought a connectedness not previously known. Rather than run from these inevitable change farmers are learning to harness modern technology to tell their own stories. In doing so they are rebuilding trust between urban and rural communities. Cathie Fox, from Marrar in New South Wales, shares her story through photography.
Cathie has taken a life-long interest in photography and, through trial and error, now produces beautiful insights into life on the farm. In the last ten years, with the advent of digital technology, she has been sharing her images with the wider community, and through her son Daniel’s work with The Archibull Prize, is now using her photographs to engage with students and promote agriculture to the next generation.
“The reason I initially started taking photos was for history,” Cathie explains as late afternoon sun accentuates the yellow canola around her. “It was for future generations to see how farming was performed and how it has changed, especially over the last 10-15 years with machinery and technology.”
The Fox Family farm is a mixed enterprise, comprising approximately 80% cropping and 20% sheep and provides a wealth of photographic opportunities for Cathie. While cute lambs and loyal working dogs may be favourites for some, for Cathie it is the love of cropping that attracts her most ardent attention “My favourite subject is harvest but really anything to do with machinery moving over paddocks because it is so changeable with each season. Harvest is particularly satisfying with so many different aspects and my boys (son Daniel and husband David) love their machinery. You can see that when they are working and can capture it. They’re reluctantly happy to pose for my camera,” she laughs.
Along with the prosperous times photography has also been an avenue for Cathie to capture the problems and challenges, which constantly shadow a farmer’s life. From droughts to locust plaques she has been there with her camera. One poignant story she tells illustrates the power of her images. “In the middle of the drought our daughter Ashleigh was about eight and she was feeding 38 poddy lambs,” Cathie relates. “She would sit down and all the lambs would pile on top of her. I took a photo and it was published in the Grain Growers calendar. In response I got this most beautiful letter from a lady saying how awful the drought was and when she saw the photo it restored her faith in everything and reminded her how good times can be. It was so lovely for me to think I had done that for someone. I’d made her feel good when we all knew how bad we were feeling.”
Today Cathie’s images are making their way into schools. Her son Daniel is an Art4Agriculture Grains Young Farming Champion and he tells his story by mentoring students through The Archibull Prize. His presentation to students comes alive with Cathie’s dramatic images of large red headers at harvest and paddocks of golden wheat and brilliant yellow canola.
Like his mother Dan believes it is important for farmers to connect with the wider community. “In the past even if people weren’t directly involved in agriculture they would have family who were. Anyone who lived in the cities could come down to the country and see the farms and experience farming in one way or another,” he says. “That divide is progressively growing so for us to go into schools and show the kids this is what we do and it is really exciting, it gets the connection back to the agricultural sector. We want to get the message out there that Australian produce is the best in the world.”
You can read the book here
Cathie and Dan make a good team and have developed close relationships with the schools and students. Cathie has made calendars for the school and the school has, in turn, used her images in a variety of outlets, including an award-winning Landcare presentation featuring Dan and celebrating local heroes. Yet the connection does not stop there. Students go home and talk in positive terms about agriculture to their families and friends – further rebuilding the trust between urban and rural communities.
“We are proud Dan wants to impart knowledge on people, on kids,” Cathie says. “He wants them to learn and he wants them to be passionate about agriculture as he is. He wants to share all the love he has for his industry, his heritage and he wants everyone else to feel it too.”
Both Dan and Cathie are sharing their farming stories and contributing to agricultural conversations.
“Anyone who sees those photos can relate to what is in the audible news. Having a photo gives people who aren’t in the industry a sense of what that’s like. They can see it. You can hear as much as you like but the visual is so effective.” says Cathie