MORE than 20 Landcare members from South Gippsland enjoyed an informative visit to the farm of Rod and Lyndell Cope in Middle Tarwin recently, with a focus on changing strategies for caring for the land over the generations.
Rod’s father Jim Cope, with Uncle Stan and Aunty Liz Dunlop, and assisted by David Webster, gave an account of life in the early years, when the government required farmers to clear their land and develop agriculture in order to ‘feed the nation’.
These older folk recalled serious flooding of the Tarwin River, clearing tussocks by hand, trapping rabbits, and the search parties when the Lady of the Swamp went missing.
Dairy herds of 50 or 60 cows, mostly Jerseys, did well on the newly cleared land.
Farms also had pigs which were raised on skim milk, once the cream was sent off in cans.
Jim sold 60 or 70 pigs a year to market, until factories changed to whole milk.
Payment at that time was only for butterfat in cream; unsuitable cream was dyed blue to prevent its use.
At the peak of the season, a farm might send three cans of cream to the factory a day.
The cream truck stopped at the Buffalo store, where groceries and mail were placed in the empty cans for the return trip.
Farmers would also keep a few sheep for meat, chooks and geese for eggs and meat.
Fishing was popular, with eels being the main catch, plus trout or blackfish.
Travel was by horse and buggy, with working horses on farm, and tractors from the 1940s.
They recalled a keen social life such as dances and sports days, and gambling games, also lunches and afternoon teas.
The Middle Tarwin Hall was built in the 1930s, with entertainment events raising money for ongoing maintenance.
The annual Deer Hunters Ball was held at Tarwin Lower, with regular fights outside the hall.
There was a strong hunting fraternity around the area – folklore suggests deer were probably released by hunters, and by deer farms after demand for venison dropped.
Changes in farming noticed by the older generation included bigger herds and feeding cattle in bails.
All four older folk agreed that growing up in the Middle Tarwin area was a great way to grow up, knowing everybody.
Rod Cope acknowledged the hard physical work of the older generation, clearing land and milking cows by hand.
David recalled how cows kicked so much, due to the leg ropes used in those days.
In time the Cope farm changed to an eight unit walk-through dairy, then to a herringbone design in 1985, and finally to the current 50-stand rotary dairy.
Landcare members were treated to a tour of several areas fenced off in various stages of regeneration, noting the obvious benefit of excluding stock to preserve native trees such as messmate stringy bark and undergrowth such as the fabulous grass trees.
The event was ably organised by Landcare member and local beef farmer Jenny O’Sullivan, who did a fantastic job interviewing the older generation.
Apart from the wet and cold winters of the early days, Middle Tarwin was a special place, a winning combination of farming and natural bush, with a great community spirit. It was “a place to call home”. Not much has changed.
How times have changed farming