The Loddon has been a constant companion for John Baulch. He’s a farmer out at Lake Charm, about 30km north of Kerang. Pretty much since birth, he has witnessed the changing nature of the Loddon; from being half empty, to empty, to overflowing with fish. He thinks he’s changed a fair bit over the years too.
From happy days throwing in a line and catching Red Fin, to battles with salinity, and from floods engulfing the farm, to green pastures the following season: the Baulch family has loved and worked this place for the last 60 years. Their 600 acre property sits right on the Loddon River and although it’s looking a little worse for wear after prolonged dry conditions, John is optimistic. “Dad used to say, it will always rain after a long dry spell. So I reckon it will.”
John’s father purchased the property, ‘’Loddon Downs”, in 1949 and he and his two brothers worked it in partnership along with a neighbouring property and land at Bael Bael, purchased by John’s grandparents in 1927. John helped out at the farm for many years until his uncles’ partnership came to an end in 1994. Then he took over.
The farm house is just ten metres from the Loddon River, a position that has provided tons of fun and learning. “Our favourite pastimes as kids were fishing, rabbiting and spending lots of time camping and socialising along the river with mates.”
Living here has also brought its fair share of drama. Every square inch of the Baulch’s farm has gone under water during the big floods. “We’re right in the middle of the floodplain so it’s a matter of trying to evacuate your stock before it comes, then work to save the house and surrounding sheds. You win some, you lose some,” he says.
John thinks the river, in all its extremes, is a great place to be near even when times get tough. “You just go sit out there, have a look around and get rid of your tunnel vision. You wouldn’t find a nicer place to be.”
John wants to see birds like Curlews and Kingfishers again, along with carpet snakes and echidnas whose numbers have all declined dramatically in recent years.
“I’d love to be able to see those animals again before I peg out. Just through a bit of kindness from the people who live along the river, myself included, to see what we can do to give it a bit more life.”
John is in the midst of negotiating with the North Central Catchment Management Authority to get his frontage completely fenced off from the river. “If you live on the river and don’t try your hardest to look after it, then you’re a bit of a dill.” Over the years, it has degraded with erosion from sheep and cattle trying to drink. “The goal now is to revegetate and get the river back somewhere like it was when I was a kid,” John says hopefully.
A regular flow in the river would also be very helpful, he thinks. Asked when that might happen, “well it’s like asking, how long’s a piece of string?” he replies. Either way, John, his wife Janine and kids Aaron, 10 and Carmen, 8 are making the most of what’s there now. “We still go down and spend time with friends. We had a BBQ in the dry bed of the river the other week,” he laughs.
Story and photos by Verity McLucas, September 2009.