Continuing our series on young people drawn to a career in agriculture because it gives them a strong sense of purpose and they love what they do
Today’s guest blog comes from Hamish McGrath who reminded me how little I know of western NSW. So if you are like me I have added a few maps to Hamish’s blog to put the distances into perspective
They grow them big out west
My name is Hamish McGrath, and I am from the Marra district, 145km north west of Warren NSW – the ‘Cotton and Wool Capital of Australia’.
For as long as I can remember, my family has been involved with wool, and everything about it. Living so far from the nearest town and decent school, my distance ed school days often consisted of procrastinating for as long as possible, until Dad came home and I could beg him to let me help, rather than pretending to do school work and watching a small hive of activity around the ‘Womboin’ workshop coming and going from the station paddocks. Needless to say, this didn’t impress mum, who was often left furious that I’d slipped out at lunch time to learn from Dad and beg him to not leave me behind the next time he went mustering.
Between siblings and sheep, there is never a boring moment at home.
I suppose it was for this reason Mum decided it might be a good idea for us to go stay with our Nan to go to school in Cobar, 200km away from home. This meant no more paddock escapades for me with one of my seven siblings until weekends, something I found desperately boring. At least we could be semi-satisfied in town with tonka trucks and hand built lego road trains charging down the hall to Nan’s half impressed, half unimpressed looks. At least we had the holidays.
But these weekends lost some serious fun when my partner in crime and older brother was shipped off to boarding school in Sydney. I was left desperately waiting for holidays where Hughie would return telling stories from big boarding houses of dorm raids and rugby on the weekends. And so, I too wanted to go off to Sydney and copy my older brother and to play rugby where Mum and Dad weren’t left to drive 4 hours on the weekend for a few 15 minute juniors games. The worst part of it was, my mates seriously did not believe any of my stories from the holidays, that it could be so flat, or that 36,000 acres could be considered one place.
When they would finally come home for a visit, city boys would more often than not exclaim ‘are we there yet?!’ not even half way home from town. Even other country boys from further south would ask ‘where are all your fences?’ or ‘are there any tress out here?’
As I got older, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do after school, and so dropped Ag as a subject, picking chemistry and physics instead – thinking I wanted to become a chemical engineer. Our holidays still consisted of seeing how fast we could get the old yellow Kingswood ute on the main service road to all the paddocks, and begging dad to teach us about wool micron and how he classed his best sheep. I think Dad maybe thought I had little interest in sheep after a taste of life in the City for 6 years, and a gap year out of the country for another year afterwards.
On my last holidays at home before the HSC, I procrastinated so badly I think my parents were sure I would fail. It was after those holidays I decided to change my top Uni preference to Ag Science at Sydney Uni. But even then, I was left missing home with short visits few and far between, due to rugby commitments for Eastwood over the whole winter holidays. Dad would often ask ‘will you be home to help with shearing or lamb marking?’, and I had to answer no in disappointment, while everyone else thought I was mad wanting to go home for long days out at the yards marking 1400 lambs at a time.
Between Uni and the Wool industry, there certainly are some larrikins.
It wasn’t until my 3rd year, when I reduced my pub hours and had to start thinking about my honours research topic, that I realised how much I really missed home, and everything that came with running a Merino operation. So now, I am in my 4th year at Sydney Uni, trying to complete my honours project with a major in pasture agronomy. Looking specifically at native pastures and the industry, I have begun to see how few young people are interested in returning to the wool industry, chasing the dollars of cotton farming, mining, or leaving ag all together for life in the city. It really worries me that some of the most comprehensive knowledge and best farming practices in the world will be lost with Australia’s aging farmers. What will be left then?…
Checking out a field of cotton knowing wool was going to continue to flow through my veins
Numerous Uni excursions to southern and northern NSW, as well as work experience at Armidale and Cootamundra, have shown me so many different industries in Ag and how they operate. Despite all this, I have been left with one thing. I love wool and everything that comes with it, and with all the long days and hard work, you certainly have to be in Wool for the love of it.
And thanks to people like Hamish who are sharing their love of wool far and wide school children on the eastern seaboard are starting to share the #welovewool story too