New tricks

Written by Tannas Godfrey – Tobermorey Station

So, this is not a story about Barrygowan Station – it’s about Tobermorey Station and more importantly about how everyone has an opportunity in agriculture.  So how did we get 3000km and in another Territory since my last Central Station blog?

New digs – our first day at Tobermorey.

At the end of 2018 my husband and I, after 10 years living at Barrygowan, we had an opportunity to upskill away from our property.  Our sheep were on agistment due to the ongoing drought, I had been given an offer to do some specialist contract work in Emerald, and my husband secured a position to complete his commercial pilots license. We figured both of these things would value add to our skill set and provide further opportunity for off-farm employment in times of drought.  We didn’t realise at the time that this decision would change our lives forever. Farming is hard, family is harder.

This blog is of course my opinion and there are always two and sometimes more sides to every story, I struggled to find the right words to write this part of the blog, but they are mine.

How do you discuss something that happens a lot in multi-generational farming entities, but no one talks about?

No one openly discusses the fact that their family farming entity isn’t working for fear of ‘offending’ or ‘making matters worse’ or ‘looking bad in front of the bank/district/media/friends’.

In our scenario, when we took this time out to upskill, our family farming entity chose a course of action and made a series of decisions without our input that not only broke our hearts but broke that part of our family. I had heard stories of this sort of thing before, but it was only when I confided to my School of the Air Family Liaison Officer that I accepted that our family’s experience is not unique.

Over the next few weeks, I took the opportunity to talk to trusted friends and nearly all of them knew someone or had themselves been in situations just like ours. Stories of lives wasted and family breakdowns pushing for outcomes that were never going to happen.

So, what can help?

In my opinion it is planning.

Succession planning, business planning call it what you want but simply deciding early on what the role/s and responsibilities in the business are for each family member and deciding how it is run with appropriate remuneration and/or ownership.  Without this agreement decided on early, every family risks that these things will never be decided.

Kids, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands etc spend the best years of their lives working for the entity, and rightly have an expectation that they will be part of if they continue to work for it. Families only grow, they only get more complicated and diverse and no one lives forever (not yet anyway). Failure to agree to a business or succession plan by the members that control the family entity robs the other members of that entity of financial and job security.

Planning and agreeing to a plan puts everyone that is participating in the success of that family entity on a level and fair playing field – everyone works towards the goal.

So, what if you can’t come to an agreement or agree on pathway?

My recommendation is to leave.

Your life, skills and abilities are worth too much in the agricultural industry to work with no financial security. Look at your situation and really assess how far you have progressed in the last 2-5 years. Have you gained any ground or doing the same thing by a different means? What guarantee do you have that the next 2-5 years will be any different to the last? Who is in control of your financial future?

These are all things we regularly asked ourselves, but because it was a family business we would explain our lack of progress away on drought, illness, something we had done, stress, financial hardship, the accountant, the bank manager, the software reports, the weather…  Eventually, we realised that no matter what we did or didn’t do, it would never lead to the security we wanted to build our family’s future. We had done our best, things weren’t going to change, so we decided to leave.

We decided that if we could, we would try and stay on a property. It is how we wanted to raise our kids and the lifestyle and community that we had grown to love.  We asked friends to be on the lookout for us and I can’t thank them enough for their help, Steph from Central Station included!

We decided we needed a challenge, one where we could use skills we had but also to learn new livestock and property management techniques, deal with bigger herds, understand another geographic region and of course fly. We wanted to head north. My husband found a Managers position advertised that was looking for a family with experience and a preference for skills as a helicopter pilot we thought “we’re your family”.  A phone call was made that evening and a meet and greet held at the owner’s central Queensland property a week later.  We flew up to Tobermorey Station to check it out 3 weeks after that.

Our first view of Tobermorey.

During that visit, we spent a lot of time in vehicles covering only a small portion of the 1.5 million acres in a few days. The question of “Why are you leaving your family place to work on someone else’s?” came up more than once, and my husband said simply that “I hoped to bring my kids up on our place, but that isn’t going to happen, so I’m going to have to bring them up on someone else’s”.

It took a week for us to decide if we were going to take the position, one of the most important checks for us was seeing if our governess, Denise, would come with us – we wouldn’t be able to do it without her, thankfully she said yes and we accepted the position. We returned home from Brisbane and Emerald in September, had a wonderful night at the inaugural Noorama Ball in October as our last community function and left for Tobermorey. The trip took us 4 days with 4 chooks, 2 cars, 2 trailers, 2 kids, 2 dogs, Denise and the two of us.

One hell of a self-move, thank goodness for the gooseneck.

A few last jobs with Tye, who spent days helping us pack up.

My husband said this was a sad photo just before we left Barrygowan.

Fast forward 6 months we have settled in and are working flat strap. What I love is that for the first time in a long time we are both really enjoying what we do and feel like we are making a positive impact. The owners of the station are fantastic with communication and involve us where we are needed and are always happy to hear our suggestions and give us honest feedback.

We are loving having a big staff – takes me back to my much-loved military days and the kids always have someone to talk to and entertain them – the team here is fantastic and so patient. We have great neighbours, great school of the air community and a great local in the Urandangie Bush Resort.

The other unbelievable thing is everyone likes to visit (COVID-19 notwithstanding) – we struggled to get family and friends to our last property, but everyone loves it here and wants to come back or is planning a visit. The NT has a romantic attraction that is for sure!

The best of crews and neighbours – participating in our ‘not a school sports day’ due to COVID-19 cancellation of all school events.

Learning new skills – the artistry that is the sausage making production line.

Christmas Eve with ‘Elvis Santa’ at our local, the Urandangie Bush Resort.

So, if you are in any sort of business that is just not working despite your best efforts don’t be afraid to head north and try working in a different environment. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a problem is give it some space. For us, something we thought would be the worst possible scenario for so long, has ended up being anything but. Here’s to new tricks!

Our first day of Mt Isa School of the Air, Jan 2020.