2019, 362 p.
I sought out this book after reading an article in the November 2019 edition of The Monthly (yes, I am just as, if not even more, delayed in reading The Monthly as I am in listening to podcasts.) The article was titled ‘Bait and Switch‘ about the contentious issue of dingo-baiting. At the end of the article it mentioned that one of the protaganists in the dingo/wild dog debate, David Pollock, had changed the landscape of his pastoral property in the Murchison River region, eight hours drive north of Perth. Where there had been dust, there was now grass and shrubs, and while we welcomed the dingoes, he had rid the property of kangaroos and goats, which cause the most damage to the landscape. I was also prodded into reading this by Ross Garnaut’s recent book Superpower, where he argued that Australia could seize the opportunity to farm carbon-sequestrating plants as a deliberate agricultural and strategic choice. It was only when I saw the ‘As seen on Australian Story‘ sticker on the front that I remembered seeing advertisements for the program about a farmer who had eschewed traditional practices and opinions of his neighbours in his quest to regenerate his land.
David Pollock is not a natural writer, and there is a self-consciousness about his writing that gives a slightly stilted and defensive tone. Nonetheless, he captured really well the experience of growing up on a remote pastoral property, where his mother’s hospitality in opening her house up to tourists meant that it teetered between profitability and ruin. He did not necessarily intend to become a farmer, having spent much of his early adulthood travelling the world, and as the second son, it would have been more conventional for his older brother to step into his father’s shoes. But his father, who was obviously a flexible thinker, asked both sons to spell out their vision for the property…and gave the management to David.
He then goes on to describe his decade-long experiment on returning the land to an earlier state. Unlike his neighbours, he chose to run cattle instead of sheep; he greatly reduced the stocking rate; he embraced the return of the dingo as a sign of progress; and he shot the kangaroos and goats that threatened to overrun the property and undo all that he had achieved. This set him up for conflict with his neighbours and with the local Land Conservation District and the Pastoral Land Board. He disdains bureaucrats and distrusts government, but is not backward in asking for welfare. Actually, he’s a pretty prickly fellow, and you can sense why he might alienate people around him.
In many ways, and as he admits, he was ‘saved’ by the publicity that he attracted from the ABC’s Australian Story program. After the screening of the program, money and interest came pouring in, and although he felt uncomfortable about it, Australian Story and the ABC returned several times. The television audience was drawn to the romance of his story, an angle that you feel he tolerates in order to get the larger story out to a larger public.
The book is repetitious in places, largely because he needs to fight the same battle over and over again. At 362 pages, it felt like a long book, and it could perhaps have done with tighter editing. On the other hand, it is his voice that booms through it. He becomes strident at times, which could be a reflection of his personality, or maybe a measure of his passion for Wooleen and his project.
My rating: 7/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library