Transitions in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia

Future Scenarios through Narrative

I told these stories at the Landcare Conference in Bridgetown in 2008.

Fred returned home to Doodlakine after many years away from the farm – boarding school, university, overseas travel, an engineering job in London, travelling the world.

Fred remembered the farm, the puppies, the lambs, helping dad with the harvest, the long bus ride to school, heat, crows, peace, salt in the bottom paddock. Tennis, cricket and football in town. Mum and Dad worried about the seasons, rain, frost, prices, to get big or get out, a new header, the bank manager, the Elders man.

Story 1

Fred was amazed, the land was transformed, trees everywhere, mallees winding the contours of the slopes, blocks of trees, trees around paddocks. A big shed factory in town, ‘Kellerberrin Energy and Water’, the big sign announced. He looked at his wife and grinned – “This is the sort of place for me”. His wife Sue looked at the rows of shops, hairdresser, antiques, hardware, Elders, Bendigo Bank, doctors, chemist, proud Town Hall, neat gardens around the new Central West Municipal Council building. It was hot, dry but trees lined the streets with roses in the town garden and green lawn, sharp contrast to the hot day. Was that a fish hatchery?

The road to the farm seemed strange. Once views across the landscape now blocked by trees. Salmon paddock – always the best cropper, broken up by rows of trees but Fred could see good stubble between.

Down the driveway, there was Mum hanging out the cloths. Mum loves washing, her beautiful garden. Dad limping up from the shed, his big grin and old felt hat, Tig at his heel, but where is Tan?

What happened Dad, its all changed? “Well Fred, it was bad, town was dying, pub burnt down, Kellerberrin dying, local government went broke, people were selling up, salt under the town, fuel prices high, drier and drier. We could not afford to send you to boarding school now, too risky to buy the farm next door. Well Doodlakine has always been a strong community, we had to do something to help ourselves. We love this country, it is our roots. We got together, first a few, you know Alan, Paul and Joy, then a few more. We decided to investigate an energy factory, that would produce energy from the bio stuff, you know trees etc and other products too and use the energy to desalinate the water under the town, and use the water to green up the town, and to make a fish farm. We knew we need big scale plantings, a whole community effort. It’s been amazing, Oh and of course we added sandalwood and some are investing in carbon credits. Well now there are jobs in town. And of course we amalgamated a few councils and because we had the water and jobs, government decided to put the new Council in Kellerberrin”.

Dad what do you want to do now? “Well Fred, I love the farm but it is too hard. Joyce wants to live in Kellerberrin and we have already bought a house, its got a big shed so I will be fine. Do you want the farm Fred?” Fed turned to his wife Sue – she was grinning!

Story 2

Fred was dismayed, Kellerberrin seemed dead, shops closed, old shire office closed, barricade around the town hall. He did not dare glance at his wife. Vast dusty paddocks, little sign of crop, grain bins empty. Driving out to the farm rows of mallees, in some paddocks but not harvested.

Driving down the driveway Fred was sad– he glanced at Sue – tears in her eyes. The house old and tired, garden mostly dead. Mum came out to greet them, a smile for her son, sadness inside. Dad limped up from the shed, same old header, dad’s hair white, face worn, thin. Hi Fred, Hi Sue, Welcome.

What happened Dad? “It got drier every year, only a good crop in seven years, equity gone. I stretched myself buying the farm next door, well half with a corporate farmer, the gamble did not pay”. “What about the trees Dad, all the talk of trees?” “Well some have done it, we tried but there are not enough for a factory here, and now too costly to transport.

“What will you do Dad?” “I don’t know Fred, do you want the farm? Our whole life is here, we love this country, town is depressing and I can’t bear the city. But Joyce wants to go to the city, we will have enough for a unit and we will have the pension. We will probably live in Northam, I’ve got mates there. I would die in the city.”

Fred looked over at his wife Sue, her arm around Joyce quietly talking.

Fred looked at Dad. “Dad I want to walk around, stay a while, talk to some mates, this is my land too, I love those hills. There must be a way we can live in this new world and make this land sing again, will you help me Dad?”

Dad smiled, the first time for years.

Story 3

Fred did not drive through town but up ? hill overlooking the town. He wanted to show his wife the whole country, joining of the Avon and Yilgarn Rivers, wooded hills, ribbon lakes. It was hot, dry, country barren, the hills still green, scattered belts of trees across the land. It looked much the same as he remembered.

Home the back way, he did not want Sue to see Kellerberrin, he knew from his mates town was tired, hub of district now in Cunderdin. It was sad, dry dusty paddocks, no sheep, no crop, but in the distance could he see a mirage. Down the drive grinning, Sue grinning too, trees everywhere, small paddocks, even signs of crop.

Dad limping but looked fit, joy in his eyes, garden different, no roses, rich groundcovers, Emu bushes, birds singing, Mum grinning too. Big hugs for all. Welcome Sue. Old house fresh, straw bale cottages in Wonga paddock, solar generators on the roof.

“What did you do Dad?” “Hm Fred, I have even been off farm working in the mines, I love this land, You know the hill country behind where you used to roam as a boy. Well John was selling and the price was right so I bought the higher country, a corporate guy got the flats, I love it.”

“I could not stay the same Fred, our farming system slowly killing the soil, rain all wrong now, erosion by wind in summer or summer storms washing it away. I read up all the things I could do with trees and lower rainfall crops. I could not convince the community though. I manage a carbon venture on the higher country. Sandalwood on the sandier country, sheltered smaller paddocks, I crop opportunistically, OK with the smaller gear. I found small-scale power and fuel technologies so we can be self-contained as possible. Our model is being copied across the wheatbelt, it is exciting. Loss of community is sad, but we have a village here, low energy cottages, retirees, people off farms, people retreat. This country has good stories, I have great Aboriginal friends. Its not much work so I can stay, Joyce loves it.”

Fred looked at Sue – lets go for a drive. On the way he had seen the farm country next door was for sale, the one by the flats and salt lakes, he had loved that country too. They drove to Cunderdin and with heart singing made an offer. We will create a bigger oasis in this beautiful land.