'An incredible legacy': Farmer and businessman Tony Coote, dead at 79

'An incredible legacy': Farmer and businessman Tony Coote, dead at 79

Farmer Tony Coote will be remembered for his passion for farming and love of nature, leaving an "incredible legacy" after dying of cancer on Wednesday.

Antony Coote, 79, was well-known in the farming community for his work in agriculture, as well as founding Mulloon Creek Natural Farms and the farming science body, the Mulloon Institute.

Farmer Tony Coote, pictured in 2009, who died of cancer on Wednesday.

Farmer Tony Coote, pictured in 2009, who died of cancer on Wednesday.Credit:Karleen Minney

Mr Coote's wife, Toni Coote (née Dale), said on Friday her husband had led a big life.

"Nature was always his total interest from when he was a very young boy and he has always loved being in nature; he's always been concerned about future generations and where the environment was heading," she said.


Mr Coote and his sister started to buy land outside of Bungendore in 1968, 50 years ago as of Friday.

He started a small water project before founding the Mulloon Institute in 2011, expanding into what is now a 23,000-hectare site with 50 kilometres of creek.

The work he was renowned for was "banking" water, by restoring creeks to pre-European states and slowing flow, allowing farmers to store water in the landscape itself and draw it when needed.

Tony Coote with his free range chickens in 2009.

Tony Coote with his free range chickens in 2009.Credit:Andrew Meares

By using this technique, which started in a 2006 project, Mr Coote was able to boost agricultural productivity. His institute's research was recognised by the United Nations.

The farms produced beef and housed sheep for wool and meat. It also produced free range eggs, with about 150 hens per hectare.

Mr Coote died of cancer on Wednesday, initially diagnosed in 2014.

But Ms Coote said her husband was still practising tai chi in the days before he died and was still visiting the farm, which she said gave him energy.

According to his wife, Mr Coote was humble and at times unaware of his impact, despite becoming a Member of the Order of Australia in 1988 for services to the industry and community. He was also the president of the Australian Retailers Association and the director of Angus and Coote, the Australian jewellery chain.

"Those things he just did because he wanted to do them, he never wanted accolades for them," Ms Coote said.

Family friend Donna Spillman said despite leading such a large scale project, Mr Coote got joy from the simple things of farming, including milking cows.

Ms Spillman said Mr Coote had been overwhelmed by the love and appreciation of his family, friends and community.

"He had a real sense of accomplishment and feeling that his life work had been achieved," Ms Spillman said.

He had a real sense of accomplishment and feeling that his life work had been achieved.

Family friend Donna Spillman

The Mulloon Institute chairman Gary Nairn, the former Liberal member for Eden-Monaro, said he had known Mr Coote since 2005, before becoming chairman of the institute in 2016.

"He's left an incredible legacy here with the work we have done and are doing on landscape repair and rehydration," Mr Nairn said.

Mr Nairn credited Mr Coote's work as the reason why the farm was handling the drought gripping NSW.

"In some respects, it's interesting timing because everybody is talking about drought and you know while it's certainly dry out here and tough on the land, we're not buying feed for the cattle or anything like that," Mr Nairn said.

Mr Coote's farms were organic and he was passionate about nutrition. Mr Nairn said Mr Coote believed you could not have nutritious food without a naturally functioning landscape.

Mr Nairn added that his colleague had shown incredible fortitude since the diagnosis and remained positive until he died.

Mr Coote is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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