Changing patterns of land ownership across Australia are reshaping our rural and regional communities in profound ways.

Story By Amanda Burdon

More than a century of farming heritage went under the hammer at an auction house in August, when the Landers family sold their 2284-hectare beef property on the Macleay River near Kempsey, in northern New South Wales. “Farm sold at more than double the asking price,” The Australian Financial Review headline screamed in an article that highlighted the impressive $2.65 million price-tag and lively competition from international bidders.
In truth, Towal Creek Station sold for its reserve and the result was bittersweet for vendors Pauline and David Landers. “It was a very, very hard decision to sell,” 69-year-old Pauline says. “We felt a big responsibility to keep the property in family hands. David [now age 74] has never lived in another house in his life, but our generation can’t afford to retire without selling. We can’t get a pension because we are asset-rich but cash-poor and at our age the sense of isolation was becoming more of a worry.”
Towal Creek Station was well set up for one family, but Pauline and David felt they had a responsibility to each of their five children and 12 grandchildren. “In farming every generation has looked after the generation that follows,” Pauline says. “But it was impossible for us to divide the farm between them and have it continue as a viable property.”
When the dust settled, the couple took some consolation from the fact that their eldest son, David junior, was appointed manager by the new owner, a Sydney businessman. Still, Pauline says she “felt sad for the land”. A man of few words and not prone to high emotion, David senior simply reflects: “I could never go through this again”.
They may not be among Australia’s best or biggest beef producers, but the Landers’ predicament provides a snapshot of the challenges facing many smaller farming families in Australia today. Part of an ageing farming demographic and pressured to increase productivity to keep up with declining terms of trade, a growing number of families like them have witnessed – and, indeed, joined – population shifts away from rural communities that have accompanied the decrease in farm numbers. As they know all too well, it’s not just the physical landscape that changes when land is sold.

This story excerpt is from Issue #56

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2008