Soil2Soul at its core is a Love Story. A story of people following their hearts and their passion. The land here attracted Peter’s family here back in 1949 when his grandmother and her sons purchased Echo Hills, an untouched brigalow block North East of Roma. It was little more than a goat track to here back then and pretty much solid standing timber. Peter’s father John fell in the love with this land seeing its potential and willing and wanting to work with it. He was young and fit and had just met his bride-to-be Nancy – so the journey began.
Peter is the second of three boys with Geoff and Ronald as his siblings. This has always been his home and he to me is indigenous to this land – knowing it like the back of his gnarly hands. Peter had no other dream than to live and work on Echo Hills. Boarding school was a necessary part of his education and he also had some short stints at Uni studying agricultural engineering but his heart was always here.
Fortunately, he did head away as that was when he met me! It was a ‘Love at First Sight’ thing for us both – totally unending my plans post-university. Rather than heading overseas after I finished studying physiotherapy, I headed west towards Roma and the Maranoa. Young, naïve, energetic- the world was our oyster. More our mussel really- I did try cooking those in the early days. No further comment is needed…
Our three children Jamie, Ingrid, and Andrew were born in the ’80s. Being raised on a farm, in my humble opinion, is a pretty good way to spend your childhood. Open spaces, animals, and plenty to keep you entertained. Something our grandkids enjoy when they visit from the city now.
That is no way negates the heart-rending challenge that needs to go away to boarding school creates for both parents and children. Again it can be one of those aspects of life that only in hindsight shows its deeper gifts and at times the scars that also grew over the wound of separation.
Love is such a strong emotion and our hearts are both so capable of holding immensity and so easily hurt.
Always underneath the story of our family was the land. We lived, worked, and played here. That doesn’t mean we don’t get away and enjoy travel, but this is our heart base.
Peter’s parents retired to Toowoomba in 1985 so the beginning of succession planning happened. As anyone with small children knows life is hectic, unpredictable, and exhausting. Everyone is juggling the pieces and we were no exception. Succession planning is never an easy thing, yet with deep commitment, open communication, and good proactive strategies in place it can work well. Which ours has.
We had our fair share of challenges – brucellosis in 1988 caused the need to destock and a beautiful Hereford breeder herd that had been John’s passion had to be destroyed. It was hard but together we made it. We both had some resultant health challenges after that.
Droughts and floods came and went. Our kids began to head to school in town – so many miles on those then dirt roads. Life revolved around school buses and me getting out the door to head to work in town as a physio. I never let that go despite some external pressures at times to do so. I was better at treating people than sitting on a tractor as Peter can well attest.
At the time those events can feel so hard, but they can also serve as signpost forwards different ways of being and doing. And these were most certainly part of the many events that have helped steer us to how we interact in agriculture and life.
Echo Hills had started as a grazing block – sheep initially and then cattle. Whilst Peter enjoyed the stock work, his heart really lay in farming and working with machinery on the land. Farming had been used as a method to work with brigalow regrowth which is where that began. You will learn more about brigalow on this journey- an amazing species.
For many years we were growers of high-quality wheat, even winning the Australian Golden Grower National Wheat cropping award in 1998. Peter has always been an avid reader, learner, and experimenter- willing to try new things, adapt and innovate.
The land here is suited to mixed enterprises. There is high variability in our soils, our weather has always been unpredictable, it is undulating, and there is no homogeneity which I find to be a blessing. It keeps you adaptable.
Over time our practices changed as knowledge and information grew. Never have we been high-input farmers but living from a philosophy of working within the constraints of our ecosystem to produce high-quality foods. Using natural ways to maintain and improve fertility.
Our highly uncertain summer dominant rainfall meant we were big users of Round Up in the past as we endeavoured to keep moisture in the ground during the fallow season.
Bench marking studies had our mixed style of land management as one that was highly resilient to the vagaries of nature.
For many years it was a model that worked- we raised our family here, and the land was well cared for. Money and effort were always going back into the care of the land.
Looking back, had we either rested on our laurels then or tried to ‘up the ante’ and get bigger my sense is we may have well either slowly gone broke or began to cut corners in how we worked and started to rob future generations of the gifts of this amazing land.
But life as usual had a big surprise for us not far around the corner.
You will have to wait for the next blog for that………..
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”