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Walking in the footsteps of his dairy forefathers

BRENDAN Cunningham walks in the footsteps of his ancestors as he moves about his Nar Nar Goon farm.

The Legendairy farmer still works the same West Gippsland property that his great-grandfather Thomas was eking a living from in the early part of the 20th century.

In the 100-plus years that have passed since the Cunningham clan first moved to Nar Nar Goon, the original farm grew in size before almost being lost to the family.

When Brendan’s father Barry decided to leave the land in favour of politics, Brendan managed to keep hold of a section of the farm, before gradually purchasing and leasing back the rest of the Cunningham land.   

It’s an achievement that brings him no small amount of satisfaction as he looks over his 850 acres that supports between 400 and 500 cows.

“I enjoy having that link with the past,” he said.

“They were potato growers and dairy farmers but I gave the potatoes away when I took it over, just because I really like the cows.”

Spend a few minutes watching Brendon interact with the herd and it’s clear the feeling is mutual.

The animals and their owner have an easy connection that is built on year-after-year spent in each other’s company.

For Brendan, life on the farm is a labour of love.

“I’ve always really loved rearing calves and that side of it. I used to get up and help Dad feed the calves and milk the cows before I went to school, so it all started back then.

“We look after them pretty well. When you like the cows, they know it. You look after them and they look after you. That’s the way I like to do it.”

While animal husbandry is a passion, Brendan is also keen to see the industry innovate its way to a stronger future.

On his own farm, the 53-year-old has been running an automatic cow identification and feeding system in the rotary dairy for more than 15 years and has also been a keen participant in Landcare programs that encourage replanting of native vegetation.

While they are all practical initiatives, looking at the bigger picture of both the farm and the industry is something that has been ingrained in Brendan since childhood.

In the 1970s, his father Barry was involved in the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) during a particularly difficult period for the industry.

Later, he would become a Federal MP and party room Whip in the Hawke government.

During that time, Cunningham senior was on the Rural Policy Formulation Committee that oversaw the Kerin plan for deregulation of the dairy industry in the mid-1980s.

“I used to sit around the kitchen table while all the big wigs of industry were discussing what was going on. It gave me a real insight into how things were done,” Brendan said.

“I took the farm over from Dad when he went into Federal Parliament and he was also secretary of the UDV for a while in the 1970s.”

From the tough early times of farming the swamp lands of Nar Nar Goon to the heady heights of decision making in the nation’s capital, the Cunningham name has been linked with dairying for more than a century.

For Brendan, the chance to work the same land as his forefathers is something he appreciates right down to his bones.