New life was breathed into the genteel Victorian high-country property “Delatite” when Mark and Fenella Ritchie took the reins.
Story By Genevieve Barlow
It's drenching day on Delatite Station, drizzling and cold as charity, and the steel-fenced sheep yards are a mud bath. It’s no day for falling in love with farming. Yet here in this nest of history once roamed by the Taungurung Aborigines and squatted on by Scotsmen, where in the depths of the north-east Victorian winter the wind blows a chill from the white-topped mountains around, two young descendants of long-time Merrijig and Mansfield families revel in their work.
“Where else would you want to work?” beams Kane Lovick, handsome and happy, his six black-and-tan kelpies circling him. Kane, 33, is a fifth-generation Lovick from Merrijig, 20 kilometres away. The Lovicks are mountain-country people and Kane is delighted to have outdoor work so close to home. Alongside him is Cameron Bruce, 30, of Mansfield who started work on Delatite just over a year ago. Both are full-time.
Their boss, Mark Ritchie, is embarrassed about the mud bath but reasons that it’s a lot better than the dust bowl of 2006, when the place his family has farmed for four generations was parched with just 40 percent of its annual rainfall.
At 10 years old, the sheep yards on this once-sprawling station are relatively new. Not so the shearing shed. Stepping inside requires vigilance because the overhead beams sit low. They were erected in earlier eras when men were shorter. ‘Matt Robinson 1892’ and ‘Bill Reid 1892’ are scratched into two of them.
The sheep are pushed through the shed and around to a covered but otherwise open-air area and through a bugle run to a conveyor belt, which lifts them from the ground. A few metres further on, Mark stands waiting with the drench gun. The drench pack is suspended from a hook on the ceiling. His foot operates the belt’s stop-and-go button. There is no lifting or drafting, no grunting or back-breaking work. This snazzy invention has made drenching no quicker than it might be in a drafting race but it’s a lot easier. “Too often in the past graziers haven’t looked after their health with good facilities,” Mark says. The old wool baskets that have been part of Delatite’s long shearing history are on wheels now. For years they were dragged around with up to 150 kilograms of wool inside. The gates in the shed are weight-lifted not swung, requiring minimal effort to open. Long gone, too, are the horses that once mustered the sheep and cattle. Utes, quad bikes and Kelpies do that job now. Contrasts like these are everywhere on Delatite Station: old is giving way to new as Mark and his wife, Fenella, bring a fading agricultural beauty into the 21st century.
This story excerpt is from Issue #73
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2010