Bush spirit alive

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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The Roe family, who farm on Northam’s aptly named Christmass Road aren’t afraid to spread a little Yuletide joy — even if it comes after one of their driest years on record.

It’s a pun they’ve certainly heard before, but Christmas on Christmass Road has remained a family tradition for nearly 130 years.

Third-generation farmer Norman Roe has tilled Mannalea’s soils for 50 years, with wife Anne by his side for more than 40 of those.

It hasn’t always been easy, but the couple readily admit that the land has provided them with a wonderful life.

“If I had my time again, I’d go farming again,” Norman said. “To go to work each day and think I’ve got to put up with another eight hours — I’d hate that, I really would.

“To make yourself operate at full capacity, you’ve got to be optimistic, and unless you’re looking forward to something, you’re not going to put maximum energy in.”

But as their son, Peter, with wife Alicia, braces to continue his farming career on Christmass Road, Norman admits the agricultural industry is in a state of flux.

This year, the family received just 140mm of rain in the growing season, and Norman said the margins have become tighter over the past decade.

However, Peter and Alicia believe that while the face of farming might be changing, being optimistic and realistic go hand in hand.

“For us, it’s about coping with and adapting to change,” Alicia said.

Peter said that included being prepared for the possibility of a drying climate. “We’ve had three (dry years) in 10, which is getting too regular for my liking,” he said.

“We’re concentrating more on making sure we’ve got some short-season varieties and that will be one of our focuses if it stops raining.”

The young couple don’t know what the future holds and whether their daughters, Phoebe and Amy, will grow up to be fifth-generation farmers, but they are, for now, enjoying life on the land.

It’s a sentiment Norman can relate to. “That’s what life is all about,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next year or the year after; things change.

“But I’ve always enjoyed farming and the past 50 years — well, most of them have been good years.”

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