Retired farmers share generations of wisdom 

Published: November 2019 I By: Joanna Webber 
Each month a group of retired farmers comes together to share stories about their farming families and reminisce on Australian agriculture.

Bob Moore, Bill Swan, Ian Bender and Neville Bryant meet at the Inverell RSM Club for coffee and scones with other retired farmers. Photography by Melissa Bernard. 
THERE’S no coming between a farmer and a good yarn, especially if they have a little extra time on their hands. One place where tall tales and true are told is at the retired farmers’ group that meets at the Inverell RSM Club. 

For nearly a year, between 10 and 13 retired or semi-retired farmers from the area have been meeting for a coffee, a scone and a chance to share stories. 

“The collective experience and wisdom is amazing and together would total many hundreds of years,” says Michael Collins, NSW Farmers’ regional services manager for the northern region. Michael came up with the idea for the group with Bob Moore at an AgQuip field days event last year.

Top right: NSW Farmers’ Mick Collins stands behind the retired farmers’ group. Pictured seated, from left to right: Jack Grills, Bob Moore, Jim Hain, Bill Swan, Ian Bender, Ian Scott, Peter Smith, Neville Bryant, Ian Davidson and Robert Rainger.

“It’s always a positive thing when farmers get together,” says Bob, 82, a mixed farmer who retired to Inverell in the NSW Northern Tablelands nine years ago. 

“You hear some strange and lovely stories. We talk about important things too, such as the rivers and the drought. We’ve all seen difficult times and can reach out to those we know who might be doing it tough.”
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The gatherings are friendly and low-key. “I really enjoy listening to the stories these gentlemen have to tell about the history of farming in the Inverell area and beyond,” says Michael.

“It’s wonderful to hear how things were done and what was achieved by these men and their families. The contribution they have made to Australian agriculture is priceless.”

Ian Bender (87) Sheep and cattle farmer at Mungindi

Ian Bender drenching sheep in 1963. 


I’d worked on properties and later for a pastoral company before I bought my own place in 1962. Mertoun was a small block in Mungindi – barely a living area really – but over the years my wife Rosemary and I built it up to the 7,500-acre (3,035-hectare) property it is today. Initially we had just sheep and cattle, but during the drought in the 1980s, we started sowing crops as well.


I handed it over to our eldest son William 17 years ago. He has the job well in hand, so I only go out to Mertoun every now and again to give him a hand. Rosemary and I have a whole new life here on a small holding near Inverell.
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One of the blokes from the group I’ve known for many years. He is a third-generation farmer from Inverell, and we met on board a ship bound for England in 1962. We became good friends back then and we still are.

Neville Bryant (78), Angus cattle farmer at Urbenville, Woodenbong and Inverell

Neville Bryant with his heifers at Woodenbong in 1980. 


I grew up on a dairy farm near Lismore. I won awards doing carpentry after I left school, but my heart was always in the land. At 24 I bought my first property at Urbenville where I ran Angus cattle. Ten years later I sold it and bought 450 hectares north of Woodenbong at the foot of the Border Ranges. My wife Dorelle and I were there for 20 years, but I realised we needed to move to lower rainfall country to get top performance out of the cattle, so we sold out again and came to Inverell. We had three properties here. Our son Mark now runs the biggest of them and the others we sold.

I retired six months ago after being diagnosed with post-polio syndrome. I contracted polio as a child and sometimes the symptoms can come back. It has been a challenge letting go of the farm, but we have a lovely new home on the outskirts of town. I call myself a fringe dweller now.


I enjoy getting together with people from a similar background and talking about the land. We talk about the younger ones still farming. It’s a different world for them than the one I grew up in.

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Bill Swan (81), Mixed farming with sheep and cattle at Inverell

Bill Swan harvesting a crop of barley at Byron in the 1970s. 


My grandfather bought Byron in 1906 and I was born here. I spent two years at Hazeldean Litchfield Merino Stud in Cooma after I left school, then I came back. My wife Christine grew up on a property called Paradise not too far from here and we were able to buy it in 1973. We now have seven properties around Inverell, none of them more than 20km apart.


I’m semi-retired and still poke about on the farm, but our son Ben runs things now.


When we get together it’s extraordinary the number of lies we tell! We have a lot of laughs. My wife encourages me to go. When I get home, I always have a good story to tell her.
Bob Moore (82), Mixed farming at Torrakina near Inverell

Bob Moore, wife Robin and sons Daniel and Matthew at Torrakina in 1987.

I was born in Sydney and had bad asthma as a kid. My mother had good friends out towards Bourke and when I was nine or ten, she’d send me out there during the Christmas holidays. I got to love the bush. I had no asthma when I was out on those dusty plains and I loved being out there. I bought my first farm near Bundarra when I was 26. It was a deceased estate, 4,000 acres [1,620 hectares], granite country, where I farmed mainly sheep. I met my wife Robin and a few years later we moved to Torrakina near Little Plain with our three children. We stayed there until we retired to Inverell nine years ago.


We have 22 acres in Inverell with a lovely home. It’s the first time we’ve had a house facing the right way! I enjoy retirement. One of the old blokes said to me age isn’t for wimps, is it? I said no, it’s not, and there’s not much future in it either!


I enjoy the retired farmers’ group. We have a good chat about what’s happening and what used to happen. It’s not only farmers, some of the blokes are contractors and sundry people on the land. It’s good for the soul to get together.  

**If you would like to set up a retired farmers group, contact your local NSW Farmers regional services manager

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