About Seatons' Farm
Among the twisted cypress pines and stunted grasses at the base of the Weddin Mountains near Grenfell in the central west of New South Wales, are the remains of a farm which shows how difficult a country Australia can be for agriculture.
New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are littered with abandoned farms on marginal country. The settlers who established these farms were no doubt full of hope that they could make a living from the land. But Australian droughts are so common they are in fact the climatic norm, and Australian soils are generally so ancient and tired that it is difficult to grow anything without copious application of fertiliser.
Approaching Seaton's Farm one is struck by the frugality of its former owners. Fences, high and netted with homemade chicken - a probably futile to attempt to stop kangaroos eating what little pasture there was, are made from scraps of wire twisted together. The homestead itself, and the outlying sheds are made from flattened pieces of corrugated iron, stitched together with fencing wire over cypress pine stick frames.
This was a farm where nothing was rubbish - everything had a use. Even today, the sheds still retain much of their former contents: old fencing staples, rusting coils of second hand wire, sheets of corrugated iron painstakingly hammered flat, piles of glass bottles, and machinery from another century.
The farm is completely quiet now. When wind stops and the cypress pines stop sighing, you can hear the roar of the blood in your veins. It's a lonely, isolated place. And one that frightens. As you look at the incredible amount of work that went into this farm - the hours that were spent recycling old iron and wire just to save a few dollars, the sheds and homestead made from scrap, and realise that all that work, all that effort and hope is now slowly decaying into the nothingness Jim and Bertha Seaton based all their dreams on. Incongruously, amongst the rusting debris and sheep bones of that hard life, sits a National Parks plaque, quoting a story from the Sydney Morning Herald from 1990. The plaque reads:
Jim Seaton made his own wire mesh to fence his farm; he hammered out the corrugated iron on the walls of his house to make it stretch that little further; with the help of his father, he dug a dam with pick and shovel, and he used the mud to line the walls of his home. According to the article below by GERALDINE OBRIEN in the Sydney Morning Herald in the early 1990s, reproduced on a plaque at the site, this rare example of a Depression-era farm is being preserved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
BERTHA SEATON returned to her farm this week, her first time there in morn than three years. She came back to watch the beginnings of a rescue operation.
Tucked below the Weddin Mountains, 30 minutes out of Grenfell, Seatons' farm has been quietly falling into decay, its small herd of stock long gone, the weeds creeping across its carefully fenced paddocks, the house itself threatening to he choked by scrambling grape vines and the incursions of a stand of giant bamboo.
The fences are folding towards the ground, the yards and pens for sheep, pigs and chocks are derelict; only the frogs, clamorous in the hand-built dam by the home, appear to he flourishing.
"That old bullfrog!" Bertha laughed,
For 35 years. the farm was their home, hers and her husband, Jim's, Now it belongs to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, part of the Weddin Mountains National Park, and in targeted for conservation as a rare surviving example of a Depression-era farm.
According to the service's Luke Godwin, "the fascinating thing about it is that it's virtually a snapshot of how the place was when they abandoned it is the '60s. It also gives you a strong sense of Jim Season as a person - a man who didn't have much money but knew how a property should operate; a man who built on a shoestring an orderly, logical, workable farm,"
But there was also fantasy to balance the facts of a grindingly hand life: what Godwin calls "Jim Season's 'vision splendid' of how the property should he" and he points so the avenue of trees lining the drive into the property.
"Jim Seaton was basically an itinerant worker, who had a poor 150 acres [60 hectares] that would never he sufficient to form a viable farm." But he knew any respectable property should be approached via the welcoming shade of a generous avenue of trees.
The Seatons had acquired she farm in she l930s, about 1936, Bertha thinks.
It had been won in a land ballot by a man who, convinced he could never make a go of it, offered it to Jim Season, "Yon can have it, if you're prepared so ringbark and fence it," he said,
"Jim and his parents were living a couple of mile down and he'd come up here whenever he had time and ringbark and fence the place. They moved here in 1939. Jim paid the feller, all right - he paid him four pounds sixteen [$9.60] a year till he paid it all off."
Now Seatons' farm can be read as testimony so the life of an ordinary man who tried so scratch a living from an ungenerous earth, who stubbornly refused so surrender his patch of ground but instead insisted on working it so his rules,
The Seatons couldn't afford so buy wire-mesh fencing, so Jim made by hand the property's three kilometres of fencing from bits of wire scavenged or bought second-hand. Each shed on the property stilt has lengths or wire hanging from its roof: "Jim never threw anything away." says Bertha,
He built the house with his father: two rooms, originally, of odd pieces of corrugated iron, scrounged or bought second-hand, and cobbled together in a patchwork of panels. Each piece of iron, however small or large, he hammered flat to snake is stretch just those few precious inches further.
Inside, walls of pise lined the corrugated iron, A length of guttering tied with wire to the root funneled the infrequent rains on to the beaten earth outside,
Out front of the house is the dam. 20 metres by 10, laboriously dug with pick and shovel by Jim and his father. The mud they dug out made she pise for the house walls,
Jim's mother made a garden, with marguerites, some roses and a grape vine, But she died in 1943 and, said Bertha. who had come to the house in 1949, "I don't seem to be a gardener."
She had been a waitress in the Hollywood Cafe in Mudgee when she met Jim on one of his rare trips so far from home. They were both 26.
"We were only courting for a fortnight and then we married and came here and we were married 35 years and never spent a full week away from each other. I took me time deciding if he was the right one - after I married him," she giggled.
If Seatons' farm is a monument to Jim Season's ingenuity and skill, it is also, if less outspokenly, a monument his wife helped build.
They had no children and Bertha look her share of the outdoor work, lopping the kurrajongs to provide drought feed [or she stock, chopping fodder, helping Jim hand-shear their 150 sheep ("We couldn't do that many a day wish she blades bus he'd start wish the clippers on one side of the sheep, and I'd start on she other - oh, we had fun"). The most wool they ever harvested was one and a half bales,
She went out rabbiting with him, cared for the chooks, collected water from the dam for the vegetables or to heat on the fuel stove for their tin bath, milked their three cows,
"Oh yes, we worked tong and hard," Bertha agreed. "He wouldn't retire. I'd tell him, 'Why don't you sell it?' and he'd say no, he'd hold on lt it as long as he was alive.
"And he did.
"But when he died in 1983, the farm was no good to me. So I sold it to the National Parks and shifted to Grenfell, I could suit myself what I did then."
Life was harsh, but there were compensations.
"If he went out setting traps, I could go with him. Or sometimes we'd take off and go fishing - we'd get bream or catfish and cod them days. Now all you get is European carp. But we'd leave our lines out overnight and have a competition so see who could get the biggest fish by morning.
"When I came here first I reckoned I'd be lonely. But there were that many picnics with people coming from Adelaide and Sydney. They were always going up into the mountains, especially at weekends. There was no end of people cooeeing around."
Summers. she admitted, had been "pretty warm" in the corrugated iron house. "But we'd get a breeze down from the mountain, like. I suppose we'd notice it now with air conditioning and things. But then, we'd just go outside and sit in she cool."
And inside the stand of bamboo behind the house, Jim built a makeshift pergola. "When visitors came, we'd sit there. It was always cool."
Bertha dwells now on the happy times, has pressed, she will admit in her matter-of-fact way that "is was a straggle, like. But we managed. We were happy.
"You hear many people say they get bored living in a mansion. we didn't get bored."
Jim's life as an itinerant worker never look him too far from home. Locals still say he was one of the best workers they've ever seen and he kept himself in work year-round. fencing, shearing, wheat-carting, timber-felling on the larger, more profitable properties in the district.
Watching the four men from she National Parks team arguing over how to dig in a cypress post so prop up the machinery shed, Bertha laughs: "He used to do that be himself: he'd put a little bit of wood each side of the post and just hammer it in, like.
"He could lift a bag of 'wheat and load a whole truck by himself, Oh, he was a good worker all right."
He was also a good mechanic: the scarifier, disc plough, seed drill, stripper and baler dotting the property are still in working order, converted by Jim Seaton from horse-drawn to machine-drawn.
"When the car broke down, he'd take it all so bits to find out what was wrong with it. Then he'd put is back together."
If Bertha's heart was wrenched in selling the farm and moving to town after Jim died, she won't let it show. She says there's plenty for her to do in town: bingo on Monday, cards on Tuesday, "Wednesday's me day down the street", Friday indoor bowls,
And it she doesn't allow more than a self-conscious grin when people wonder at she harsh life on the farm, she does allow herself just a touch of complacency when people admire the Iong, elegantly-shaped fingernails she now cultivates.
"Yes," she says, with a pleased smile. "People don't believe they're real."
Geraldine O'Brien SYDNEY MORNING HERALD 22ND SEPTEMBER 1990