Scientist-farmer Will Bignell has come full circle on his Tasmanian family farm, turning away from diversification to embrace what he calls “bread and butter” farming.
Story + Photos Andrew Bain
Near the eastern edge of Thorpe Farm, in a basin known as The Square, Will Bignell winds up the window of his ute and presses on the accelerator. Momentarily, the vehicle speeds up, before splashing into a deep pan of mud.
“I’ve been bogged here before,” he says, then smiles. “Actually, three times in one week.”
The Square – so named because it’s one square mile in size – effectively forms one of two major farmland areas on Thorpe Farm, a 2700ha, seventh-generation property at the edge of Bothwell, in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. Four years ago, The Square was a tough piece of land: dusty when dry, and a marshy lake when wet. Cropping attempts had been tried, but it proved fit only for dryland farming.
Today, The Square is unrecognisable. This small circle of mud at the basin’s lowest point is all that remains of the marsh, and along its edge stretch four lush 40ha paddocks – wedges of land that this season grow a colourful mosaic of lucerne, poppies, barley and raphano brassica. Peer across the raphano brassica and the backs of the roughly 2000 sheep grazing among it are barely visible over its tall green tops.
Above the mud pan, on a rise along the 14km dirt track that runs across Thorpe Farm, connecting The Square to the main farmhouse, Will stops the ute and steps out into the cool Tasmanian morning, looking down from the low slopes of Green Hill onto the now-fertile flatlands of The Square. Just five years after taking over management of the farm from his father John, the 38-year-old already sees this transformed basin as his legacy to Thorpe Farm.
“This was my mark, my line in the sand, I suppose,” he says.
The full version of this story was published in both OUTBACK magazine and the 2021 edition of our special one-shot magazine OUTBACK Stations.
This story excerpt is from Issue #137
Outback Magazine: June/July 2021