Clayton South has overcome plenty of life’s curve balls to be at the leading edge of sheep management.

Story and Photos Jill Griffiths

As a young boy growing up on the family farm in the Western Australian wheatbelt, Clayton South’s dreams of his future revolved around football and cricket. “I never really thought I’d come back to the farm,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table of the farmhouse he grew up in and now shares with wife Polly and their two-year-old son Dallas. “I thought I’d be a footballer or play cricket for Australia.” Clayton takes a sip of his coffee and shrugs, “But doesn’t every young boy?”

Clayton left the farm to go to boarding school in Perth, then stayed in the city to go to university, initially with the idea he would become a physiotherapist, and still dreaming of playing AFL or wearing the baggy green. Instead he did a degree in sports science and played in the West Australian Football League. He worked as a personal trainer for a few years before heading overseas to see the world.

“I lived in London for two years and came back to Perth in 2006,” he says. “Dad had had enough of the farm by then and was ready to hand it on. He would have sold it if I really hadn’t wanted to take it over, but I was happy enough to take it on. I like how tactile farming is. You see something for your work.

“I got married in 2008 and we changed the trading name over in July 2009. Mum and Dad retired down to the coast but Dad kept coming back. He’s still coming back. He’s more than happy to come back and drive the header, and that sort of thing, but he was sick of the mental load of running the whole show. He’s let me make my own little mistakes but stopped me making huge ones.”

The ‘whole show’ these days comprises about 5000 hectares of land north-east of Wagin, mostly owned but some leased, running a mixed cropping and sheep enterprise. In the 10 years that Clayton has been in charge, things haven’t always run smoothly, on the farm or in life. His first marriage ended in divorce; a marriage breakdown that Clayton says almost bankrupted the business in 2014-15. The sudden loss of a friend and next-door neighbour early in 2015 added to the personal challenges, and he still feels acutely the loss of his sister who died in 2017.

“The business has expanded almost three-fold since 2010, which, coupled with a divorce settlement, has seen a relatively manageable debt level rise to the current point where there is little room for error,” Clayton says.

The fact that he describes this as a good motivator to continually do things as productively and efficiently as possible says something remarkable about Clayton. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #123

Outback Magazine: February/March 2019