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Getting Massey

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Would you know a Massey if you saw one?

Would you know a Massey if you saw one? Photo: Paul Rovere

"Whattaya mean you don't know what a Massey combine is?" said the fifty-something canola farmer, shaking his head at my producer's ignorance.

"I'm from the city," he cried in defence.

We were shooting in the picturesque NSW country town of Young, three-and-a-half hours south-west of Sydney, and the chasm that had opened between us and this man of the land was as old as civilisation; the soft-handed city-slickers looking cluelessly at the people who feed them.

Reading our newspapers, watching our terrible television, it's easy to forget there's a vast green, brown and red expanse of agricultural land inside the coastal ring of our cities that fills our bellies and contributes $36 billion to our exports.

Our cities' self-absorption augments a feeling in many rural areas they're taken for granted - rightly so when you consider there are kids who actually think milk comes from cartons and parents who expect it to be cheaper per litre than petrol, orange juice and printer ink.

If you live in the big smoke, imagine a bloke walking into your local pub wearing an Akubra hat and Driza-Bone oilskin and tell me they wouldn't get a few strange looks. Cover his boots in mud and cow dung, and it's a good chance the bouncers wouldn't let him in.

Australians are obsessed with urban culture to the extent more city-dwellers could name you a member of One Direction than tell you which direction the wind is blowing from.

When's the best time to plant wheat? How to butcher a cow? How to operate a Massey combine? I reckon you'd struggle to find one person in a hundred in your suburb who could do any of these things competently.

As of 2010, two-thirds of Australians lived in a capital city and, as was much-reported at the time, this was also the first year more people lived in urban than in rural areas, globally.

According to the World Health Organisation, 100 years ago, only two out of every 10 people lived in cities. Despite this, history and its greatest names, thoughts, laws, art and inventions is almost entirely the story of urban life.

"Civilisation is nurtured in an urban environment," says US academic, Professor Greg Aldrete, "so when we examine the history of civilisation, what we should really say is we're studying 'urban history' because it is from cities and the people who live in cities that almost everything we study emanates.

"The problem with this approach is it really does not represent the typical experience of the average inhabitant of the ancient world. For every person that lived in a city, there were probably eight or nine who lived on a small family farm."

Most of us have thus been educated to think the atypical human existence - life in the city - was the norm and, though that may now be the case statistically, agriculture and farming remains the most important endeavour in this country, in any country, if you consider eating important.

A Coalition federal government may not be to everyone's tastes but you can be sure with Warren Truss, leader of the National Party, as our new deputy PM, we're going to hear much more about regional issues and the challenges facing our farmers.

Who knows, we might even see the odd animal husbandry course inserted into compulsory subjects along such "real world" lessons as balancing a budget or applying for a personal loan.

Personally, I'd like to learn how to operate a Massey combine harvester.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.

62 comments

  • Good article Sam, very apt analysis of the growing divide betwwen urban and rural Australia.

    Commenter
    Rob
    Location
    South Melbourne
    Date and time
    October 09, 2013, 8:41AM
    • If you want to meet and talk to a farmer go to an accredited farmers market. In Victoria there are several every weekend. The farmer market movement has bought city/county together in really meaningful ways. Farmers vote for the National (old Country Party) out of habit. It has not represented their interests for decades. Our author know nothing of Massey Fergesons or Warren Truss.

      Commenter
      littlemissleonie
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 10:55AM
    • Unfortunately its going to get wider as immigration and cultural influences occur in major urban centres while the rural and regional areas stay predominately unchanged. Its also interesting that about 3 out of the 5 growth areas nominated yesterday will occur in regional areas. Are we set for a change in the dynamics in the inter play between the capital cities and regional areas?

      Commenter
      Don't Know
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 11:15AM
    • Unfortunately it was ended poorly. To think that Warren Truss will show any concern for rural Australia denies how invisible he has been for the last 20 years on rural issues in Australia.

      Commenter
      John Michaels
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 11:18AM
    • "Unfortunately its going to get wider as immigration and cultural influences occur in major urban centres.." @ Rob.

      That's not true. Migrants have contributed greatly to the food and wine growing industries in Australia. Their cultural influences on the kind of food we eat has been tremendous. Lets hope that continues.

      Admittedly most of our migrants come from New Zealand and the UK and they are are very urbanized societies. However, we also gets lots of migrants from countries that are far less urbanized e.g. India, China, Sri Lanka. I'm sure many of these migrants are interested in contributing the the production of food in Australia.

      Commenter
      Elizabeth
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 3:55PM
    • Sorry Rob. Even as I pressed 'Post comment' I realized I'd addressed my comments to you instead of Don't Know - but it was too late.

      Regarding your own comments, for as long as I can remember people in rural areas have felt the lack of appreciation and understanding from urban Australians . The resentment from the rural industry was really prevalent when I was young because our nation owed its wealth in particular, to the hard work of the wool and wheat farmers.

      Commenter
      Elizabeth
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 5:16PM
  • All those questions you asked can be answered with Google.

    You're welcome.

    ...

    There is a trend for more people to grow some of their own food, whether with a veggie plot, herb potplants in the window or chooks in the backyard. It's a far cry from farming, in the same way that playing with lego is a far cry from building skyscrapers, but it hopefully gives some inkling of the difficulty farmers face in their work.

    Commenter
    JEQP
    Date and time
    October 09, 2013, 8:44AM
    • You might find the answer on Google, but it doesn't mean you can complete the job at hand. Like anything (including city-related tasks), that takes practice.

      Commenter
      Pippa
      Location
      Regional NSW
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 11:19AM
    • and if its on google it MUST be right

      Commenter
      null
      Location
      Logan
      Date and time
      October 09, 2013, 3:16PM
  • Absolutely spot on, de Brito. I spent 4 years, on and off working with farmers in regional Australia. It's hard, dirty dangerous and the possibility that some natural cataclysm can wipe out your work - and pay - is very high.
    It is also why we need to deliver services - such as NBN - out there, to reduce the tyranny of distance, and to protect our rural industries as the basis of our food security - just like every other country does.

    Commenter
    Spike
    Date and time
    October 09, 2013, 8:51AM

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