The next morning the earth was so sodden that the wheels of their car had sunk in so deep that Elaine couldn’t drive the kids to school (just their luck!). The Jones’ remained waterlogged all season. “By the end of that winter I couldn’t do the zip up on my leather boots, my calf muscles had grown so big from walking through the mud in gumboots!”
It’s hard to imagine these wet and wild scenes in the now parched paddocks of Elaine’s property. The area last flooded in 1993 and the Loddon River, forming one of the farm’s boundaries, moves past at a snail’s pace.
Finding ways to prosper in a challenging landscape has long occupied the minds of the Jones’. The task of managing salinity was a major one. Elaine’s late husband, Gyn (2000), was somewhat of a pioneer with the work he did for more than 30 years with the Department of Agriculture. As the children grew older the house in town became too small and they planned to rebuild. Coincidentally, “The Model Farm” came onto the market and they fell in love with the house and its geographical situation. The farm gave the family the opportunity to put into practice the farm management tools Gyn was promoting for salinity control.
“Gyn used to say, we are here as stewards of the land, of the earth where you stand. And that’s my motivation. It’s our responsibility to leave the land as good as or better than we found it,”
Elaine says frankly. She is acutely aware of the effects of climate change, continuing low inflows and the rising cost of water. “I sold most of my cattle as a management tool. To buy in the amount of water I would’ve needed last year, well the price of meat just doesn’t cover that.”
Since her four kids have grown up and moved out, Elaine has tried her luck at producing something considerably smaller and sweeter smelling. Over the last eighteen years, she’s set up a business growing and exporting herbs. And it’s fairing well. “When the herb garden is growing at full pelt, I can pull $8,000 worth of produce off about a third of an acre.”
Since their memorable, yet somewhat soggy start here back in 1973, Elaine has seen much change in the river, the landscape and the Kerang farming community. But nearly forty years worth of precious memories and significant moments in her life remain, here next to the river.
For her now, “it’s simply just a nice place to be. The birds are beautiful and the trees are lovely.” And when her children come home to visit, “they always disappear at one stage and you know they’ve gone down to be by the river,” she smiles.
Story and photos by Verity McLucas. September 2009.