22 May, 2015

21 May, 2015

Cotton Picking Fingers

How is this for efficient harvesting in a much maligned Australian rural industry. The cotton industry is huge in global terms and by whatever measure you like-research, water use efficiency,yields per hectare etc.; Australia is the world leader.

08 May, 2015

Bourke Show Trip May 2015

I have had a habit of attending the Bourke Show. It is a great little one day event, including most years a ram sale. It is one of the few places where the merino stud breeders of the Macquarie, the Riverina and South Australia, all of whom have clients in the area, show their wares. Over the years it has had some notable personalities do the official opening. This year it was to be my my old mate Les Walsh who spent 40 years as the Dalgety/Landmark Partner-Manager in Bourke, so I decided I would attend. This notwithstanding that we were in Bourke on a few weeks previously for the big Easter Bourke Reunion.
Dalgety Bourke key staff in 1960-all deceased except me From LtoR- Ron Ney,me,Jim Garnsey and Peter Garry. Photo taken in 2002.

We left a very wet Sydney on Friday 1st May on a big round trip (link to map) so as to also take in a visit to Gail's favourite elderly cousin, Midge O'Halloran, at Condobolin.

Day 1
Up the M1 expressway to the turn-off onto the new M15 (Hunter Expressway) which I was keen to use for the first time, then along the Golden Highway thru' the very wet Hunter Valley to Denman. A lovely Devonshire Tea at our favourite coffee shop at Sandy Hollow thence through Merriwa, Dunedoo, Mendooran, Gilgandra to Coonamble. Called to see John Brien, my long time agent friend, who was "riding camels" in the Middle East, but had a cup of coffee with his successor David Chadwick and got the local "news". So far the country all green and in good order.

We had arranged to spend the night at former Clyde property "Pier Pier" with Phil and Liz Woodhill who were the Clyde Managers in my time. It was just like old times and they thoughtfully had their Overseer and Jackaroo for dinner just as we would have done in days gone by. So good to see them both looking so fit and enjoying life in their usual enthusiastic manner. Country as dry as a chip from about "Pier Pier" onwards and the "Pier Pier" flock down from the usual 12,000 breeding ewes to only 3700-and they were being hand fed! Massive new woolshed very impressive. Phil told me that they were not getting a lot of flooding in the "Cutbushes" and "Eden" marsh country in spite of constant small flows and there was a Government plan to eliminate the so called "By-pass Channel" in return for which the Government was providing capped and piped bore water to downstream Macquarie River graziers for stock watering purposes. With wool prices much improved in recent days, and booming sheep and cattle prices, the old addage of "just add water" is very apt.

Day 2
We followed the gravel road down to near Carinda and then the very good newish bitumen into Walgett. The country got even drier as we got closer to Walgett and continued horrific after we took the western road (Kamilaroi Highway) to Brewarrina. I read afterwards that Brewarrina had had 50mm of rain in the previous 48 hours, but there wasn't much sign of it. "Beemery" mid way between Bre and Bourke looked pretty awful.
The Bourke Show was well attended, but given dry conditions there was no actual ram sale, but several studs had rams on show. We were pleased to be invited by President Scott Mitchell to join the Committee for a very nice lunch. Les Walsh gave a very complete, yet brief speech in opening the show, which was well received. The trophy for the best cotton crop was again not awarded, but I have Ian Cole trying to find who has it and get the competition reactivated for future years. Gail and I attended a very nicely conducted Evening Service at the Anglican Church where we made up 50% of the congregation!
Consistent with past Show day practice we had dinner at the Port of Bourke Hotel with Les and Francis Walsh, but this time we didn't shout all and sundry for dinner! We stayed in my favourite suite-The Mona Lisa-at the Riverside Motel.

Day 3
We headed off down the Kidman Way to Cobar at about 10:00AM. The country which is hard bushy land in the best of times, was made even worse by the current drought. The Cobar main street was closed for re-surfacing so we kept moving to Mount Hope. If anything this country was even worse and the "road kill" was massive-'roos, goats, pigs and the odd sheep. I was concerned that I did not hit a 'roo in my flash BMW and in fact did not come close whilst motoring at a fair bat. Close to Mt Hope were a number of properties which appeared to be only running goats and which were eaten into the ground. To my surprise the pub was in operation and we had a hamburger lunch before turning south east to Euabalong. I was reminded of the pioneering work which Jock Bremner did in trying to farm the Mt. Hope mallee country when we were at Hillston in the late 1960's. Some are still at it. It was only as we approached the Lachlan flood plain near Euabalong that we struck green feed and from then on the country was great all the way back to Sydney. We mistakenly crossed the river at Euabalong and had a gravel road (Lachlan Valley Way) until about 15kms from Condobolin. Had we stayed on the northern side we would have had a sealed road almost the whole way. However, it was interesting to be on a different track and it is clear that the Lachlan when in flood, floods to the south as it does upstream of Condobolin and we passed thru' some very attractive country.
After stocking up with afternoon tea requisites we arrived at the O'Halloran house where with a bought in Chinese dinner we passed some four hours with Midge and Jim, both of whom are now in their 90's. We were pleased to see their daughter Joy who dropped in while we were there. Tired from all the driving we had an early night at our usual Condo motel.

Day 4
I was frustrated by not being ready to leave until after 9:00am.
Took a walk over the Lachlan before heading off on one of my favourite drives-following the south side of the Lachlan upstream to Forbes. We stayed on the Lachlan Valley Way all the way south/south-east through Cowra and Boorowa until we joined the Hume Expressway near Yass. My navigation system tell me that this is about 100km longer than coming straight over the Blue Mountains, but only some 20 minutes longer. Arrived home early evening, but somewhat weary from all the driving.

17 April, 2015

Water Entitlements and Allocations

Cop this for a misleading, almost non-sensical statement-

The NSW Office of Water will leave water entitlement for general security users along the Lachlan River at 100 per cent for the 2015-16 year. It says entitlement, not to be confused with water
allocations, will remain unchanged after wide consultation with users along the river.

The Office of Water's Michael Wrathall said: "It means the maximum proportion of general security
entitlement can be extracted in the next water year. So if those water users have 100 per cent
entitlement in their account, then they can extract that full amount."

Although entitlement remains unchanged, water allocations along the Lachlan River remain challenging."We announced in March that we would need 130,000 megalitres of inflow and storages in March and we'd only received in the order of a few thousand, rather than the ten's or hundred's of
thousands. So there is certainly still a fair way to go to announce new allocations."

It is however consistent with the nonsense the MDBA etc keep talking about in terms of "Water Recovery". You would think that there was a totally consistent supply with nature and variability having no role! Until such times as they talk about extractions in terms of a proportion of our highly variable actual flows, the whole debate remains meaningless! 

16 April, 2015

Bourke-A Town With Real Spirit-A Personal Perspective

In August 1960, as a raw youth,just after my nineteenth birthday, pastoral house Dalgety sent me to Bourke Branch. I had joined Dalgety in Sydney six weeks or so earlier after spending three years "jackarooing" in south/west and central Queensland. Dalgety said that they would use my vast rural experience and send me to a western branch! I thought I was going as a junior Stock Salesman, but the Bookkeeper had resigned a day or two before I arrived and on arrival the Branch Manager, Jim Garnsey, told me that as I had spent six weeks filling in time in the Sydney Accounts Department, I was the new Bookkeeper! Highly revered Bourke stalwart, Dermie Murray, tells me that he sat beside me on the aircraft from Sydney and was amused at the enthusiasm of this youngster. At the time Bourke had a regular Ansett Focker Friendship air service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Bourke in those days was thriving. The impact of the Korean War driven wool boom of the early 1950's was still apparent and Dalgety Bourke was a vibrant Branch with a big business. Whilst my duties largely confined me to the office I got to know the district and many of its personalities by playing cricket on Sundays with the renowned Snake Gully cricket team. We had our home field some miles out of town on Jandra Station. Matches were often played in  extremely hot weather in surrounding townships-Wanaaring, Louth, Enngonia etc., and this induced a considerable thirst. On other hot days the back bar of Fitz's Hotel was a favourite drinking hole and I have always claimed that it was in that place that I learned to drink.

In the early days of 1961 at the farewell to Bush Brother Timothy (the Rev.Dr. Barry Marshall), I met a spirited school leaver, Gail Dugan, who, five years later, became my wife with Barry Marshall officiating at our Sydney wedding. I spent some 18 months in Bourke before being transferred to Ivanhoe. Following Jim Garnsey's resignation to become a grazier at Tilpa, I  returned to Bourke in 1965 in the midst of a roaring drought, to support new Branch Manager and Bourke Rugby coach, Peter Garry.

After spending a total of 28 years with Dalgety including six years as national General Manager of the Rural division, I was attracted by the Swire Group's plans to become a major agricultural producer and in 1988 I resigned to succeed Dudley Dunn as Managing Director of Swire subsidiary, Clyde Agriculture, then known as Wesbeef Pastoral Company.By then Swire had bought Dudley out completely. The Swire and Clyde Chairman, Edward Scott, who through his great mate Dudley Dunn had grown to love Bourke and invest in Clyde, envisaged I would set up an office in Swire House in Sydney. I couldn't see why we needed a Sydney Office, apart from a room or two for me and one or two support staff, as well as an office in Bourke, so it was agreed that Bourke Office could provide administrative services to the growing Company whilst continuing to support the local cotton farms, gin, workshop, hotel and grazing interests (Toorale, Janbeth and Longmeadows).

So, I firmly reconnected with Bourke and made frequent visits during the twenty plus years I was with the Swire Group, both as a Director of Swire and following Edward Scott's untimely death, Chairman and CEO of Clyde.

Bourke Reunion
Against the foregoing background it was not surprising that Gail, her surviving brother Barry (Trangie) and I decided to attend the big Bourke Reunion over Easter. We had a 'phone call from long time friend Kay Violini, the daughter of Lyle and Nancy McNeil-Bourke Ford Garage proprietors and Newsagents. Nancy was a Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald's Post Office Hotel. Kay told us that she and Leo were planning on driving up from Gippsland and urged us to attend, if we could find any accommodation! As it was we fluked a cancellation at Julie Murphy's Ardsilla House and couldn't have been better looked after. Kay and Leo stayed with an old friend at Brewarrina.

The Reunion was simply wonderful and is a great tribute to the spirit, commitment, organising ability and energy of the people of Bourke. As Phillip Parnaby, who I suspect was the driving force, quickly told me, it was a whole community endeavour which had the effect of drawing people together in an unprecedented way.

We arrived on Thursday evening and attended Jenny Greentree's art exhibition and were delighted with her ongoing work and the atmosphere of the gathering. On Friday morning we 'tagged along' on the Toorale tour. This was very well planned and it was great to have Bill Stalley give a colourful picture of life in the old homestead, built by Samuel McCaughey in 1896.

Old Toorale Homestead-McCaughey 1896

The barramundi lunch on the Darling was a highlight and the National Parks and Wild Life briefings were interesting and sensitive. I went to Toorale with misgivings given my great disappointment at the economic loss of Toorale (including the cotton farm) as probably Bourke's most productive property . However, it was great to be back there and the NPWL staff's enthusiasm for the ongoing diversity of flora and fauna and the Warrego flood plain was infectious. This reinforced my view that there is really no conflict between grazing and protecting environmental values with enlightened management
A low  Darling River in Front Boundary Paddock on Toorale

The Long Table Dinner on the Back o' Bourke Centre levy bank was a truly great event, again wonderfully well organised. Thank God the wet drizzle disappeared and a balmy evening ensued. Surely a single table some 150 metres long with a la carte service, must set some sort of entry for the Guinness Book  of Records?

Saturday began with a wide ranging street parade enhanced by a colourful commentary. From antique tractors and wagons to a display of medical procedures and live sheep shearing there was something for everyone. Amidst all these events there was the constant meeting of old friends some who hadn't seen each other for fifty years or more.
Kay and Leo Violini and Gail Boyd in Oxley Street Bourke with Kay's ancestral Hotel in the background
The afternoon was packed with a conducted historical tour of the Bourke Cemetery with historian Paul Roe in fine form, a spirited rugby match between the current Bourke team and a team of not so old former players, an Easter Communion Service complete with a christening of a grandchild of old friends at the Anglican Church where Gail and I first met, followed by "The Ball".The latter was more in the form of a dinner/dance with the organisers serving 500 people a quality hot meal a la carte, in the recently renovated Oxley Hall. An organisational master piece.

Daylight saving finished on Saturday night and we were awoken at 4:30 AM by  Barry with a somewhat cynical query as to whether we were going to the sunrise Easter Church Service at the Wharf. He had wound his clock forward instead of backwards! We did get to the Service at the appointed time of 6:00AM and enjoyed an Easter Service with a  wonderul backdrop of the Darling River at sunrise with active birdlife, followed by the Buster family tradition of pancakes. The Busters were very early Bourke cotton growers (1965) who immigrated from California and have been strong community centred local citizens. Pancakes were followed by the dedication of a Memorial Garden at the Bourke Hospital and a tour of the modern wonderfully equipped facility. Gail worked there as a Sister before our marriage,  after she had graduated from Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital.

After a brief break we headed for the central event of the Reunion - the Picnic Races. The first race meeting to be held in Bourke for 13 years. I understand the attendance figure was no less than 3600. That in a town with a total population of 2500. It brought back memories of regular race meetings in the halcyon days of the early 1960's. Whilst I didn't trouble the bookies, would you believe, Gail and I won the entrance raffle and look forward to five days in Darwin, all at a generous sponsors expense! Consistent with past practice we had dinner at Clyde's former hotel, The Port of Bourke (formerly the Royal) and as we had done throughout the extended weekend met even more old friends.

On Monday morning we did the Jandra Cruise on the replica of the famous old paddle steamer which plys the Bourke Weir  Pool. The skipper gave us an interesting commentary on the scale of the Bourke floods, but unfortunately had a misinformed, jaundiced view of the impacts of irrigation. I managed to constrain myself-just!

Before departing we paid our respects to all of Gail's and Barry's ancestors and siblings in the Bourke Cemetery and there are a lot there. We were accompanied by an old friend who like Paul Roe is an authority on who's who in the Cemetery and who joined us for lunch appropriately at the Parnaby's  "Diggers on the Darling".

08 April, 2015

More Wisdom From One of My Favourites

Freeman Dyson: Earth Is Actually Growing Greener
The Vancouver Sun, 6 April 2015

This week’s Conversation that Matters features Princeton University’s preeminent physicist Freeman Dyson who says computer models do a good job of helping us understand climate but they do a very poor job of predicting it.


Freeman Dyson is a member of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council

Dyson says, “as measured from space, the whole earth is growing greener as a result of carbon dioxide, so it’s increasing agricultural yields, it’s increasing the forests and it’s increasing growth in the biological world and that’s more important and more certain than the effects on climate.”

He acknowledges that human activity has an effect on climate but claims it is much less than is claimed. He stresses the non-climate benefits of carbon are overwhelmingly favourable.