“Don’t milk our farmers dry” and other messages were displayed on cows, tractors and 4WD farm bikes as the protesters marched through central Melbourne last week.

“Don’t milk our farmers dry” and other messages were displayed on cows, tractors and 4WD farm bikes as the protesters marched through central Melbourne last week.

SOUTH Gippsland was well represented at the dairy farmers’ rally, organised by lobby group Farmer Power, without the backing of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, in Melbourne last Wednesday.
A sprinkling of dairy farmers from South and West Gippsland made the trip down to town to join the 300-strong protest, among them dairy farmer supporter Don Garnham.
“They’ve supported me for most of my life so the least I could do is come out in support of them,” said Mr Garnham, on his return last week.
Don boarded the early morning V/Line bus, outside the old pub at Nyora, and was down in Melbourne well before the rally was due to commence in Federation Square at 11.45am.
He didn’t arrive home until after dark.
“I’ve never been down to a protest like that before and I’m not one for that sort of thing as a rule but I thought I’d go down and support them.
“I wasn’t all that sure of the arrangements for the rally or the times, but I planned to go and take a look at the improvements at the shrine if I missed the event.”
As it turned out he was there well in time for the march to Parliament House.
“Someone made me a sign ‘Toot if you support our dairy farmers’ and it ended up being in the Herald-Sun’. You could only see my feet in the photo behind the guy with the cow.”
Don was brought up on a dairy farm at Mt Lyall Road and has been a contractor to the industry for the past 40 years, mainly involved with building dairies, cattle feedpads, and other concrete works.
“I’ve worked for dozens and dozens of farmers and they’ve been good to me. I never went unpaid and they always supported me with work.
“Bob Katter, Ricky Muir and Nick Xenophon were there but we didn’t see much of our local politicians. Not one came out of Parliament House to talk to us which I thought was a bit poor.
“People came all that way. You’d think someone would come out,” he said.
“Another thing I didn’t like about the rally was the fact that the animal rights people were there protesting against dairy farming. I thought that was pretty disgusting.
“I don’t know the answers. I’m not sure anyone does but it’s got a lot to do with what’s going on overseas and I think the milk companies should have seen it coming.
“A friend of mine comes from dairying families in Ireland and they say they’ve got the ability to double their output of milk and that’s what I think they are doing.
“They’ve taken the controls off milk production in Europe and their governments are backing them to the hilt to boost supply. We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have subsidies.
“It was obvious 12 months ago that there was going to be a glut of milk supply and I blame the companies for not responding.
“It’s the first time in my memory that a company has overpaid the suppliers and then turned around and said we are going to take it back.
“That’s what’s caused the problems.
“We’ve had plenty of price drops before. Everyone in the industry knows that’s the way it goes.
“But for the companies to get it that wrong is outrageous.”
Mr Garnham’s brother Jim runs the family farm these days, adding to it over the years, and presently in the process of handing over to sons Steve and Malcolm.
“The boys are fifth generation in dairy farming and I really believe they have a good future in the industry but what’s been allowed to happen in the past few months is bad and I really think the companies have to change their tune or there should be an inquiry into it; probably both.”
Mr Garnham said that despite the rally not having the backing of the UDV and the politicians it had done its job in raising the profile of the farmers’ plight in the national media.
Dr Jane Stanley, a spokesperson for Farmer Power said a letter had been sent to Premier Daniel Andrews asking him to address the rally at 1pm, also to the Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce, neither was available on the day.
Among various announcements last week, Centrelink has set up a Farmers Assist Hotline on 132 316 for the Household Assistance Package. Dairy farmers are being urged to apply for this package in the first instance and not attempt to self-assess.
Meanwhile the Rural Counselling Service, at 4 Peart Street, Leongatha, phone 5662 2566, has been overwhelmed with phone calls, as has Lifeline [13 11 14] which has launched a Dairy Crisis Appeal at www.lifeline.org.au/emergencyappeal.
For crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.
See also more dairy farmer details this week’s edition.