action-story | 3rd Jul, 2008

Russell Muller: The story of a 100 year old family farm

Russell Muller stares out from his kitchen window across the picturesque paddocks he has worked all his life and knows the Glenburn farm's days are numbered.

ActionStory_Russell Muller (1)The family has lived here so long Russell and his mother have trouble pinpointing the year they first came to own it. “It must have been about 1910,’’ Russell muses. “I’m 60 years old and a 250 hectare farm is pretty big to be looking after by yourself. I’ve got no kids so it’s probably the end of the family legacy. Fuel costs are rising, we’ve had to take on more cattle and water is suddenly scarcer than it has ever been”. “It’s usually too wet here but our dams are extremely low at the moment. I can virtually drive a car anywhere around the paddocks in the middle of winter without getting bogged, and that’s unheard of’’.

At the rear of Russell’s property lies the Yea River – the clean water supply that has supported the farm and the homestead for close to 100 years. Russell believes the decline of farming in the area has mirrored the decline in the Yea River’s flow levels.

“I remember as a kid my cousins would come over and we’d go and fish down there. Most of the holes where we put a line in don’t have any water in them now. Even the cows can walk across many parts of the river.” “It’s hard to think the river could deteriorate further and it’s not something I like to think about. If the same level of deterioration of the past 20 years happens in the next 20 years it won’t survive. There are more people living along it and pumping from it’’.

Russell says erosion caused by an increase in wombat populations is also worsening the river’s condition, as well as posing a health and safety concern. “I recently reversed my four-wheel motorbike on the river bank and accidently went arse over head into a big wombat hole.

Fortunately the bike didn’t tip all the way over on top of me but I still had a bloody crook back. The wombats are making an enormous mess around the river’’.

Russell says he is one of the few genuine farmers still working in the area, and the emergence of hobby farms had placed extra pressure on the Yea River.

“This all used to be farming country through here but there aren’t too many genuine farmers left now.”

“There are quite a few farms and farmlets but a lot of them are owned by Melbourne businessmen. You can’t call them genuine farmers because they don’t rely on it as an income.”

“All the little paddocks need dams and if you look at this area from the air there are an enormous amount of dams. That hasn’t been a problem in the past but in these dry years every extra dam has to be filled and that restricts the flow going into the river.”

“I guess we just have to hope we’ll get some good rainfall again. I don’t know how long I’ll be here – I suppose I’ll die here unless something goes wrong. There are a huge amount of memories on this farm’’.

Written by Daniel Clarke, Environment Victoria, July 2008