Legacy lives on

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

As Simon Broun sends the header around his wheat crop, he can’t help but remark that he’s treading on a bit of history.

After all, it’s the family’s 120th harvest at their Beverley property, Southbourne.

Simon farms 1600 hectares with his brother, Jamie, and they are working the same soils that their great-grandfather did in the 1890s – a legacy that few WA farmers can boast.

James William Broun had cleared the original 1000ha farm by hand, but while he was to become a successful farmer, James William wasn’t the first Broun to farm in WA.

In 1832, Peter Nicholas Broun, who journeyed to the new Swan River colony in 1829 as the first colonial secretary, took over Stoke Farm in West Guildford and renamed it after a family property in Scotland. The 3896ha farm would later lend its name to the area, and the suburb of Bassendean was born.

Fast-forward almost 180 years and Simon believes the family’s long connection with the land helps him to have faith that tough times pass.

Beverley rainfall records dating back to 1886 tell the tale of dismally poor seasons that would have seen farmers walk off their land, ironically followed by bumper grain crops.

This year is just one of four in which the district has seen less than 10 inches, or 250mm, of rain fall — 1894, 1914 and 1969 were all abysmal drought years.

“Unless we get a huge amount of rain in December, this will undoubtedly be the driest year we’ve had, ” Simon said.

“So far, I’ve had 165mm for the year, which is equivalent to about 650 points.

“However, 1914 was a very bad year, they got just 851 points. In fact, they got 198 of those points in December and 47 points in November, so they hardly had winter rain that year.”

But in 1915, the situation rebounded with 22 inches of rain.

It was a similar story in 1894, which was followed by a wet year.

In 1980, just over 10 inches fell, but winter 1981 saw more than eight inches of rain.

“It just shows you that there is no rhyme nor reason to it, ” Simon said.

“I believe that weather is cyclical and perhaps we’re going through a drying period at the moment, but there is hope.

“It can rain and these records give you faith in the country that although you might have had a very dry year, there’s every chance the following year could be a very good one.”

That being said, Simon can remember what it was like to start his own farming career 40 years ago. Off the back of an exceptionally dry year and another below-average season, Simon returned home to Southbourne in 1971.

“Because the 1960s were wet years, there wasn’t much provision for water storage on the farm, ” he said. “You just relied on the normal farm dam and it seemed to rain every winter.

“But 1969 was particularly dry, 1970 wasn’t a very wet year and 1971 was another dry year. So the early 1970s, when I came home from school, I spent a lot of time feeding sheep and carting water. It was seven days a week.

“There are farmers now that have been farming for perhaps four or five years and know nothing but frosts and drought, but I’m sure things will change.”

Ever optimistic about the future of farming, Simon said there was nothing more he would rather do.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails