action-story | 3rd May, 2008

John Hasan: Strawberry stains on his fingers

Farmer John Hasan has grown up, worked and raised a family with the Wandin Yallock Creek always at his side. It runs as deep in his veins as the strawberry stains in his fingers.

ActionStory_JohnHasan_cornerFrom his time as a child drinking from a natural spring at the bottom of his father’s property, the 53-year-old has found it hard to imagine life without the trickling stream.
“There are always memories on the creek,’’ he says with a smile. “I never walked past that spring without taking a drink as a youngster. It was beautiful water.’’

The Wandin Yallock, a tributary of Woori Yallock Creek, splits John’s two farms that total over 60 acres and produce up to 800,000 punnets of strawberries each year.

“The creek is vital to us. We need clean water for the irrigation. If we took the creeks out of the farms then we’d just cease what we do.’’

John says he has witnessed local farmers’ attitudes to the creek change over the past 20 years.

“The condition of the creek is probably better now than it’s ever been. If you go back about 20-25 years there were a lot of carrots and potatoes being grown in the region so we used to get a lot more run-off of soil from the paddocks which used to silt up the creeks.

“But now that we’re growing strawberries we make sure we put grass between the rows. When it rains the grass traps it and holds it in there and the water is a lot cleaner when it gets back to the creek. No farmer wants half his paddock sitting in a creek making it dirty. We want it in the paddock where it’s needed.’’

He says many farmers in the region have recognised the need to pull their crops back from the edge of the Wandin Yallock and plant grass barriers to protect it from paddock run-off. Despite farmers best efforts, it appears crop-growing in Wandin is on its last legs.

“The metro area is creeping up on us,’’ John says with a hint of sadness. “As a lot of the older farmers leave, younger people come in who have different priorities. I can see us farming here for perhaps another 10 years – after that I don’t know. It is sad but it’s like everything in life – it changes.’’

But John believes the future of the Wandin Yallock Creek is in much better shape and will outlive its farming history.

“During the last 10 years of drought the creek hasn’t improved but it hasn’t got any worse either. It’s alive and thriving – we get fish and lot of eels in it. We recently heard of a guy netting fish nearby who found a platypus. That’s a great sign because they only live in good water.

“Our priority now is to clean up the creek and dams – to get in there and give it a good de-sludge. We’re losing about 30 per cent of holding capacity in the dams because they’re full of mud and sludge that has built up over the last 40 years.’’

Written by Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, May 2008