At just 20 years of age Tim Bowman was dealing with the death of his father and the responsibility of running a 4000 acre farm on his own. He says his picturesque Rosedale farm is still in the Bowman family after more than 130 years for two main reasons: an inherited determination to keep working the land and the constant flow of the Latrobe River.
“I came back from boarding school as a teenager and I’d only been here three years when my father died,’’ Tim says. “Our only workman at the time was really sick so I was left running the place on my own at 20 years old. Farming was all I ever wanted to do so I just dealt with it how I could’’. Tim’s great grandfather first bought the property in 1878 because of its river frontage and seemingly secure water supply. It was sold out of the family in 1931 and then bought back by Tim’s father in 1964.
“It was his life’s ambition to buy it back. The owners were trying to keep people off the property when they were selling it because there were floods at the time.”
“When a quarter of your property (about 1000 acres) goes under water I guess it’s not a great selling point,’’ Tim laughs.
He says the farm, which borders the Latrobe River for 8km, needs to be manned 24/7 because of the threat of flood.
“One year the family went to the Melbourne Cup and it started belting down. My son Glenn was left on the farm on his own and he had to swim 500 cows and calves out with one horse and four dogs. It took him about six hours but it’s a life or death situation’’.
The fifth generation farmer says his practices are “constantly evolving’’ because of the changing climate and water availability.
“We’ve been moving from just sheep and cattle to growing more crops now. The river is definitely changing but it’s our lifeblood and we couldn’t farm this land without it. Sometimes when there are bad algal blooms we’re told not to let the stock drink out of it. But we physically can’t do that because the stock wouldn’t have any other water source at times’’.
Tim, 56, has spent almost 15 years trying to secure financial support from Southern Rural Water for a recycling dam at the end of a polluted irrigation drain on his property.
“There is about 16 tonnes of salt flowing out of that drain into the Latrobe River everyday. It wouldn’t take much to build a 1000 megalitre dam at the end of it and then recycle the water back through specially designed irrigators,’’ he says.
“We’d be the number one winner because we can recycle the water but the community as a whole will benefit because the river will be healthier and the Gippsland Lakes will have less algal blooms, which will obviously help tourism. It’s a real challenge for everyone to keep the water quality as good as possible. It’s definitely a blessing the river gets good rainfall in its upper catchment, especially when you see the condition of the some of the other major river systems’’.