I’m starting to think that after living on a farm for 25 years, I might now learn the art of agriculture at the age of 54. I’m starting to think, in the hierarchy of needs, it might matter more to me than journalism. Because of, well, food. As a journalist for 30-plus years, that is a hard truth. But food matters. Where food comes from matters. The landscape that provides our food matters. And if you accept those propositions, we need a conversation about what we want from our food producers, our farmers. We need to think about what we want our regional landscapes to be. Because honestly, talking to farmers as I do in my home town and in my work, I think we could look back in a decade and find we have lost a fair chunk of middle growers. The in-betweeners. What we will have left is small specialised food producers who cater to niche eaters with decent incomes and vast entities churning out cheap food demanded by markets controlling our rural landscapes and our water. In that scenario, Australia would revert to the squatters’ blocks of days past—vast estates with sporadic populations dotted through the countryside. Which is fine, I guess, if that is what Australia wants. As long as it is an informed decision.
It was the Blighty pub that tipped me over the edge. Country people are generally gun-shy of the media. You have your advocates and blatherskites, but mostly journalists walking into a pub can face a wall of stone. Not this time. Not in the 2019 federal election. Blighty is two hours out of Albury, along the Riverina Highway, in the so-called food bowl of the Murray River. It is a whiff of a town, population 138—but it has the bones of a strong community: a low-slung country pub and a football club, the ritual gathering places.
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