An attempt to spread the word of Agriculture through my own experiences. Inspired by Advocates for Agriculture and their story on ABC's Landline on the 14th August 2011. Might take me a while to get this page up to scratch, but it should be fun trying.
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Sunday, 9 December 2012
You're gonna need a bigger park....
Sunday, the 18th of November, 2012 started as any
other Sunday in Fremantle. Hipsters gathered at Cafes, each claiming they’d put
their woollen cardigans on that morning, before they were cool. They were joined
by old Italian gentlemen trying to outdo each other with gesticulations as they
sipped coffee you could stand spoons in.Parents herded their children into cars headed for the nearest
sportsground, revellers from the night before did the barefooted walk of shame
from strangers houses, and the latest bunch of nutters to board a sheep ship
rattled tins at the Markets to raise bail money.
But something was different. Something was in the air,
something electric, like the moment before the lightning hits and the thunder
rolls, when your hair stands up on end and your arm raises goose bumps with
corrugations a trainee Shire grader driver would be proud of. You could smell
it, rain on the horizon, or far off smoke from a distant fire. Or the dust of a
thousand country cars as they weaved their way through the unfamiliar
bituminised roads of Perth. If you build it, they will come, and come they did,
in a display of pride that made more than one old cockie’s eyes moisten and
voice falter before the day was out.
The residents can’t have been too sure what to make of the Landcruiser
that pulled up alongside Merv Cowan Park at 7.30am. It must’ve looked as though
the Clampets had arrived to Beverley Hills, with two barbeques, tables, chairs,
countless eskies, a couple of tents and a suitcase stacked on the tray like a
campers game of Jenga. Nor would they be sure what to make of the diminutive,
boot clad, jean wearing young lady who jumped from the driver seat with a
cigarette in one hand and the other instinctively cupped to the shape of a rum
can. The reflex grip of the can was not surprising, considering Nicole’s
steadfast refusal to let the lead car out of her sight during the trip from
last night’s camp site, no matter how much green or otherwise was left in any
orange traffic light. Nicole, along with her Mum Evy, were the roadies for the
weekend, hauling the gear down the mighty Brand from Geraldton.
By 8.00am the sounds of sizzling snaggers echoed across the
pristine morning, and the smell was wafting over the Stirling Bridge. Banners
were raised as we staked our claim on the hill, the LIVE EXPORT SUPPORTERS sign
clearly visible from the river. Already a crowd was forming, lured by a snagger,
and more importantly, the chance to stare down the people trying to ruin them.
You see, this is why we were all here, why, in the middle of harvests, of
musters, of shearing, stock carting, fencing and any other number of jobs, we’d
downed tools and trekked to suburbia. Because in a couple of hours’ time, the
Stirling Bridge would be lined with activists wishing to shut down what we do.
And after the last eighteen months and more, sitting back and doing nothing
just wasn’t going to cut it. Not today.
By 9.00am, the designated start time, we began to worry.
We’re gonna need a bigger park. And the piddly little PA system we’d bought
just wasn’t going to cut it. The one thousand placards were being handed out
like cards at the poker table, the pile of signs for folk to wear was
disappearing like my chips at the poker table, and the roll of hay string we’d
bought to tie them on was positively starting to smoke as lengths were peeled
off. Poor Mike and Mick worked like slaves over the two hot plates, as kilo
after kilo of snags were laid on then whipped off soon as they’d stopped kicking.
The day officially started after a tall gangly looking
fellow managed to escape the hordes of media long enough to say a few hellos
and thankyous. From there the microphone was passed to Catherine Marriott,
whose words of wisdom, advice and assurance were not lost on the two hundred
people there listening. Unfortunately the other thousand or more further back
couldn’t hear a bloody word, so instead politely nodded and clapped along with
the others. Up next was Blythe Canlon, whose experience in the Middle East over
the Eid festival was very interesting, again, if you could hear it. Plans were
already being made for next year to bring a speaker stack that AC/DC would balk
Meg Migdley took to the stage next, giving her perspective
as a horse trainer, and about the shocking revelation that slow race horses
become dog food. Obviously who ever thought that was a worthwhile story on the
7.30 report never followed the short career of Sir Lap-o-Nac (read it
backwards), or heard a race caller proclaim if a horse doesn’t hurry up it’ll
be doing laps at the greyhound track next week.
Finally, came a surprise packet. A young lad by the name of
Spencer, whose inspiring proclamation that he’d just finished school and was
heading into a career in agriculture despite the negativity around the place
gave heart to many. In short, his message from the next generation to the
current was “Don’t worry. We got this.” At this point a sudden wind must’ve
blown some dust into a few people’s eyes, as in unison a hundred hands were
raised to wipe away a tear.
Then came the cry we’d been waiting for. “They’re on the
bridge!” Sure enough, a seething black mass was stretching out over the
concrete walkway, having torn themselves away from their soy Frappuccino’s and
general hand wringing activities for the morning. They seemed to move slowly,
probably since every available parking bay within a square kilometre was taken
up by country plated cars, and walking more than eight hundred metres may well
have been the hardest work any have done for a while. We could see the enemy.
This was why we were here.
Many years ago a famous poet wrote of a horse rider’s decent
down a mountain side. I sincerely hope he was watching from somewhere that
morning. The sight of hundreds upon hundreds of people from the landscape he
wrote so intimately about pouring down the steep steps of Merv Cowan Park
would’ve given him goose bumps. Now, I knew we had a crowd in the Park. What I
didn’t know was there was another crowd waiting at the base for us. A stock
agent at the base later told me he’d counted fifteen hundred and forty five
people coming down those steps. Even taking in the usual ten percent error
margin of stock agents, that’s bloody impressive. The two crowds merged and as
one swarmed along the foreshore like a horde of angry Scots, though thankfully,
minus the bagpipes. The police officer stationed under the bridge took one look
at us coming and stood aside, radioing back to base with the now immortal words
of “We’ve got a thousand angry farmers here, we may have a situation.” Not ten
minutes later across the bridge screamed the Police Mounted Unit’s truck, in an
obvious a public relations move designed to win the horse loving country folks
The wannabe Occupy movement on the bridge were stunned. This
wasn’t supposed to happen. They are the “majority,” they have the WSPA
commissioned survey of inner North Melbourne suburbs to prove it. As General
Custer once (and only once) said “Where’d all these F%$king Indians come from?”
They knew we were coming, but isn’t live export only supplied by a handful of
graziers and rich pastoralists? Why the Hell were farmers here? And vet
students? Aren’t vet students also Uni students? Uni students should be on the
bridge. This slap in the face to their pre conceived conceptions was doing
their heads in. So they did what they normal do when confronted with the truth.
Stuck their heads in the sand and turned their backs to us. And came face to
face with seventeen massive stock trucks. They were the meat in a farmer and
truck sandwich, an ironic phrase in itself.
Stories will be told of the day Leedsy stuck it to the
nutters on the bridge. How he downed tools Saturday to prepare, rallied the
drivers and led the Convoy of Courage into the enemies territory. The chatter
over the airwaves was deafening as passing fellow truckers saw a glimpse of the
banner emblazoned rolling mass of steel, thundering down the highway like
cavalry pouring from the hills in a surprise attack. “Stick it to the Greenies
mate,” “Good on ya’s!” and “If I could turn this truck around I’d be with ya
mate,” came the cry over channel 40.
The police had closed down the left hand lane in
preparation, fearing the smell of empty cattle crates may prove to be too much
for the delicate inner city palates of the protesters. The line of trucks rolled over the bridge
slowly, very slowly. Clearly Leedsy had put some thought into this, and wanted
to make sure anyiron deficient brains
of the bystanders had time the read the banners.
As well as possible reading difficulties, some of the bridge
folk seemed to have trouble grasping the concept of physics, thinking that a
thirty something tonne truck and trailer movingat twenty kilometres per hour has less kinetic energy than one lady
standing still. Fortunately for them, Leedys had foreseen this also, and had
adjusted his brakes to a hair trigger. As protesters flung themselves in front
of trucks like lemmings, this gave the guys at the rear a perfect chance to
test their new air horns. You can now add hearing to the list of possible
The trucks finished their first lap and circled back
preparing for another pass. Things were getting heated on the bridge. Someone,
obviously concerned that the protesters considered all farmers to be heartless
and cruel, took the opportunity to display some of his free range eggs to the
line up. In hindsight, he probably should’ve stopped the car before handing out
his free samples, but given the mood of the freshly frazzled crowd, it’s not
surprising he didn’t.Meanwhile, on the
foreshore below, farmers were beginning to worry for their opposites above. It
was a hot day, most of these folk had a vampire like complexion and all were
wearing black. Any good farmer knows hydration is important, so decided to
encourage the people above that a swim in the river would do them good. Not
surprisingly, this was taken the wrong way by the mob, except for one charming
young lady who had clearly been so swayed by our presence that she offered by
way of placard to have intercourse with farmers, their families and indeed the
entire live export industry. We are a pretty free thinking bunch, but not that
free, and to avoid her taking offence at our polite refusal, Police moved in to
remove her generous offer.
Faced with the knowledge that there simply were not enough
Police on ground to prevent another lemming mass suicide attempt, the second
pass of the trucks was aborted. Leedsy was probably slightly relieved. Cleaning
greenie off the radiator grill is so time consuming and the paperwork is a
nightmare. They rumbled off, heartened in the knowledge they’d backed their
people and done their selves proud.
The protesters were beat. Even with the advantage of a city
to draw on, public transport, living within walking distance and the full
knowledge we were coming, they managed a crowd of a thousand. As yet we are yet
to receive thanks from their organiser for the free publicity and incentive to
their otherwise little known gathering. They moved off, a ragtag disbanded
group, as down below backs were slapped, hands shaken and eyes dried. Then,
like a summer storm that sprang up from nowhere, we too were gone, back to our
lands and homes, leaving no trace of our ever being there, save for memories
and stories that will be told to Grandchildren. “I was there when we said
‘We’ve had a gutful.’”