114 years of dairying ends
Out along the flat at Nashua, across Byron Creek and down the hill a bit, the grass is higher than it has been for a very long time, and the country stillness is broken only by bursts of birdsong and by the occasional car going past.
It has taken just one month for a growth spurt in the paddocks, paddocks where grass had been kept down by a long line of dairy cattle. But the cows were sold off at auction on May 30 when a fourth generation of the James family ceased dairying after an unbroken 114 years.
Neil and Selwyn James, grandsons of the first James dairy farmer who still live in the lovely old house on the hill built by their parents in 1930, have a wealth of stories to tell of a lifetime on the farm.
“My grandfather came up from Bundanoon in 1895 because of a drought on the south coast,” said Neil, “to look at a farm for sale.
“He caught the steamship to Lismore, and then walked along the railway line to Nashua.”
Grandfather William bought the farm for a thousand pounds, and sent for the family whom he settled in the romantically named ‘Flower of the Forest Hotel’, a watering hole that catered to the men building the railway line onward from Nashua, while he set about dairying.
Neil’s father Harold was born in the Flower of the Forest, and he in turn took over the farm in 1930, though not before he had tried out another profession in Sydney, that of Methodist minister.
But Harold found getting up in front of people way too stressful, and returned to Nashua with his new bride and back to the security of the cows.
Harold’s three surviving sons also attempted a life away from the farm, but only one did, with both Neil and Selwyn returning to the security of the known, like their father before them.
“What I was cut out for was teaching,” said Neil, “but I didn’t have the confidence.”
But then Neil went to agricultural college and realised that ‘this is the life for me’, though his plan to increase the now subdivided farm was thwarted for 40 years, and only in the 1980s was he finally farming in the way he had always intended.
Neil retired in 1991, at last able to devote himself completely to the teaching he’d always longed to do, in volunteer work with youth clubs and religious education in schools.
Another generation of James built a brand new bails 15 years ago and the industry continued, until Malcolm James had a stroke recently, and he was no longer able to continue getting up at 4am each day for his commute from Byron Bay to the long, hard grind that is the 365 days a year lot of the dairy farmer.
“It’s sad,” said Neil, surveying the bails now eerily empty and utterly silent.