Nevertire women lead the way on family farm

Published: November 2019 I By: Beverley Hadgraft, Photography: Georgie Newton

The George family has been farming in Central West NSW since 1912. The latest generation, now dominated by women, grow crops and run sheep and cattle.

Diana and Rebecca George with their father Trevor, grandmother Ilma, mother Donna and cousin Emma Billett, who lives nearby and is like a sister to them. Photography by Georgie Newton.
Ilma George, 86, moved to Forest Grove in 1953 when she married Toby. She brought up five children, who all learned to love life on the farm.

“We had our own cow, Blossom, for milk and cream, grew all our veggies, made chutneys and sauces and I raised chickens for eggs and meat.”

Ilma and her late husband Toby on their wedding day in 1953. Their house on the farm had no electricity for the first six years of marriage. Source: supplied. 

I met Toby when I was working in the garage in Trangie. I always knew I’d marry him although it took a while for him to get interested. At the time, the family just farmed sheep. There were thousands of them and I didn’t know one end from the other but I soon learned, especially when I had to help walk them between the family’s two properties: Forest Grove at Nevertire and Carlton (which has since been sold) in Trangie. It was a 33-mile [53km] journey and the road was just a track through people’s paddocks with 19 gates to go through.

Toby converted a shed to help make us a very nice home, although I was a bit of a fusspot. In fact I was so bad, at one point Toby asked if I’d like the boys and him to move to the woolshed and I said, ‘Oh that’d be lovely. Do you want me to help you pack?’ What a thing to say to your husband and two baby boys. But I did want the house to be tidy. I got over it though.

We had five children, Bernie, Cliff, Trevor, Malcolm and Maree. That is a lot but if you’re going to stay at home with one, you may as well stay at home with them all. They loved the farm and all had their little jobs. They’re still great kids and know how to work. 

Our house had no electricity until 1959 when Trevor was born. We got hot water by lighting a fire under the copper in the laundry and used kerosene lamps and a kerosene fridge that smoked and left marks on the wall. But we had our own cow, Blossom, for milk and cream, grew all our veggies, made chutneys and sauces and I raised chickens for eggs and meat. When times were hard, they were a nice income and we’d eat chicken 550 different ways. I loved my chooks and sometimes the kids complained I spent more time out with the chickens than I did with them.

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We also made our own ice cream and cream. Toby’s eldest brother’s wife was a Sydney girl and I was no better, but we got a separator and decided to put it together ourselves. It had at least 20 parts and we thought we were so smart although the first time we used it, we weren’t smart enough to put the jugs under the spouts to catch the milk and cream. It went everywhere.

The first time a plough was put to this place was to plant sorghum. At harvest time, the chap came to strip it, did half a day’s work and his machinery broke down. It then rained and we lost the lot.

Trevor George scooping up grape marc to combine into the mixer with the canola hay and wheat straw.

We tried the next year and there was a mouse plague. We were back and forth with barrow loads of mouse poison but there were millions of them and they ate the whole crop. They even got into the house once. One of the boys hadn’t shut the door properly and we came home to find mice all over the floor. 

Tractors didn’t have cabins in those days so in winter Toby put layers of clothes on to keep warm then an army greatcoat over the top. I’d have to help him get on because he could hardly move with all the weight. He also put a bit of hessian each side of the motor so a little warmth would go onto his legs. 

Our farm is called Forest Grove because of all the trees but that meant before we sowed a crop we had to do a lot of stick picking. The little kids would go out and burn the stumps. They loved it. When my granddaughters Diana and Rebecca came along I dragged them out stick picking, too, in an old pram with a tin of diesel and a shovel beside them. That was their entertainment with Grandma! 

I’ve got 10 grandchildren in all and three great-grandchildren. I was always trying to get family photos but they were villains, always disappearing or crying. I’ve got one now – but only because they’re grown up so I can finally keep them still! 
Trevor George, 60, farms Forest Grove with his wife Donna. The pair met at a wedding in Sydney, and they have two daughters, Diana and Rebecca.
“My girls will have a good go at everything. It was always a fight who’d drive the header.”

Trevor with Dash the dachshund. Trevor left school at 16 to return to the farm, which he now owns.

My older brothers went to university but I left school at 16. Mum and Dad weren’t happy but I was determined to stay here. I took charge in 1989. Dad wanted to pass on a part of the place to everyone so in 1998 I bought it although I still have a mortgage owing to Mum and my siblings.  

From 1989 to 1990 we had two wet years. We were growing soy and sorghum on irrigation and were wiped out. Our neighbour was growing cotton and they were paying their bills so in 1992, we started growing cotton too and continued until 2002 when the last drought hit. I’d just spent $200,000 doing up reservoirs and trying to improve the irrigation and then it forgot to rain again until 2010, so I wasted a lot of money there.

We don’t have irrigation any more. We were on a private scheme and the government wanted to buy back water so in 2009 we got cut off. Normally we’d put in about 100 acres [40ha] of cash crops and 500–600 acres of grazing crops but with the drought that’s a struggle. We’ve also had to de-stock our sheep and cattle significantly.

Diana and Trevor in the tractor on the family farm. 

When our first daughter Diana was born, Donna suffered postnatal depression. We had to get her through that so I took Diana everywhere with me. I remember one cotton harvest, she’d have been eight weeks old. We had about 12 people picking and you’d hear, “Baby crying!” and I’d go back to the ute with a bottle and feed her. That’s how she grew up – on tractors, motorbikes, wherever I was she came with me.

Rebecca was born with an autoimmune deficiency so she was back and forth to hospital but when she was home she was always out in the paddock, too. When we were irrigating, she’d splash happily in the water and mud and as soon as the water rose too high, we’d plonk her in another bay. That was her special treat!

We’ve also included Donna’s niece, Emma, in our family. She was having a tough time so came to stay for a few weeks when she was 15 to help with the shearing. She’s 30 now and is a champion shearer and wool classer. She calls us Mum and Dad, the girls regard her as their sister and we’re really proud of her.

My girls will have a good go at everything. In 2010, I bought a header. I worked some pretty silly hours and when the girls came home from school, I asked Donna to run them over to help me. Diana was 17 and I did a run and back with her, told Rebecca, 12, to work out how to use the tractor and chaser bin and left them to it. I was asleep before I got home but four hours later when I called them up and told them I’d have a feed and be back to help them, they told me to go back to bed.
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After that it was always a fight who’d drive the header. I’d work nights and they’d do days and if I was harvesting in November on my birthday they’d all come up and sit on the header with me and bring balloons and cake. I couldn’t see a bloody thing in the cabin but they all had a good time!

Some of the Black Angus cattle in the yard.

Both girls are volunteer firefighters, I’m Rural Fire Service captain for this area and we have a small fire truck. One time I was in Sydney and got a call saying there was a fire at my farm. I couldn’t get hold of Rebecca at first. It turned out the fire was across the road and she’d already put it out. She’s always like that.

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That get-in-and-have-a-go attitude is the same whatever they do. They get scholarships, Diana was a Rural Achiever at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and Rebecca’s been chosen a few times to go overseas for international agriculture forums with her university. 

It’ll be lovely if they come back to run the farm together. It’s not big enough to support two families but being two business people I think they’ll find a way. Whoever ends up with it, I know it’ll be in good hands.
Diana George, 27, has a Bachelor of Agriculture and is currently working as a farm supplies manager and agronomist in Victoria. Her dream is to return to the farm and work alongside her dad and sister.
“I realised everything Dad was teaching me on the farm was empowering and meant I would never be held back because of being a girl.”

Diana George with her father Trevor and mother Donna. 

One of my earliest memories is as a toddler, sitting in the front of Dad’s ute when a cow with floppy ears put its head through the window and licked me. I was crying and screaming but at the same time it was really cool and I’ve loved cattle ever since.

The other memory is when I was about four and during harvest, if Mum had to work in town, I’d be left at home with Dad checking up on me. Sometimes he’d call me on the UHF two-way radio and say, “I need a truck,” which was my cue to call the truck company on the landline as I’d been taught. I’d hold the phone up to the radio and Dad would issue instructions. Obviously that was before mobile phones!

We were doing that one day and one of the preschool teachers was on the same UHF channel and, after we’d gone through our rigmarole, suddenly interrupted: “Trevor George! Why isn’t your daughter in preschool?”

My mum Donna is from Sydney and was a dancer. She took me to ballet lessons and at seven I decided I wanted to be a ballerina, drive a red convertible like Barbie and live in the city. However, ballet lessons meant a three-hour round trip, three nights a week and we couldn’t physically do it. I was a bit sour at first but I got to the stage where I realised everything Dad was teaching me on the farm was a lot more empowering and meant I would never be held back because of being a girl.

Diana heads to the tractor to bring it back to the shed. 

Because of everything Dad has taught me with tractors and headers I can do things blokes don’t expect me to do. If I’m delivering pallets of chemicals and the farmer’s not there, for instance, I can drive his tractor and use the forklifts to unload stuff. When we got our new header, I was 17 and said: “I want to drive that!” Dad taught me what to do and then said, “Right I’ll do nights, you do days and we’ll get this finished.”
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Although I’m not on the farm at the moment, my sister Rebecca and I have always been interested in cattle and we’ve now replaced Dad’s Hereford/Angus crossbreeds with Black Angus. We’re both into showing and the three of us select bulls together, deciding which way to go with genetics. I can’t be at most of the sales so they send me catalogues, videos and EBVs [Estimated Breeding Values]. I give my opinion and Bec and I discuss spending limits because if we aren’t there, Dad gets too excited and spends too much.

What’s the best thing Dad’s ever taught me? Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do something. I may have a different approach but I’ll always get there.

Filling the feed troughs for the Black Angus cattle.

Rebecca George, 23, is finishing a double degree in agriculture and business – as well as helping her father out on the farm.

“Diana and I are the fourth generation to farm Forest Grove and the first girls. We both have lots of ideas and Dad’s already let us run with a lot of them.”

Rebecca (centre, in the pink shirt) with Diana, Ilma and Emma, who came to join them on the family farm when she was 15.

I was out in the paddocks before I could walk. Grandma had a second-hand pram she called the ‘paddock pram’. Grandpa was very into paddock maintenance so he’d be burning dead logs or spraying weeds and Grandma would wheel us out to help. 

As I got older, all my memories are of animals, especially poddy lambs and calves. Dad would bring them home and it was our responsibility to make sure they were fed. 

Dad is the only one of his brothers who had all girls but he’s always been very open to the idea of women in agriculture. We never felt he wished he had sons. 

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I love machinery and Diana and I are both very comfortable with it and both helped out with maintenance. We started by handing Dad the tools until we’d learned to do it ourselves. In around 2010, Dad bought a header so we could do our own harvesting and a bit of contracting. He showed me what buttons did what and left me to figure out the rest. 

Unfortunately we didn’t have auto steer so when Dad returned a few hours later, he looked down the paddock and, although I’d got the crop off, it had been harvested in a zigzag.

Emma and Rebecca with Pip the kelpie. 

Diana and I are the fourth generation to farm Forest Grove and the first girls. We both have lots of ideas and Dad’s already let us run with a lot of them. He’s good like that. A lot are based around the potential of drought proofing or adapting to environmental challenges like bringing in some Bos indicus [Brahman cattle] genetics to make our cattle more hardy when tough times hit.

He also let me try AuctionsPlus when it first came in. It’s basically eBay for livestock and instead of taking your cattle to the saleyards, an agent comes out, assesses each animal, takes photographs and videos and uploads them to AuctionsPlus.

Rebecca and her father keep a close eye on the mixer.

I was only 18 but Dad let me organise it with the agent and it was successful. The internet has opened so many opportunities for our industry. I’m super interested in the international aspect, and I wouldn’t mind going into a career in exports before I come home.

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