Monto Stories

Monto farming stalwart a dairy man for life

Grahame Sanderson might be 80 and long retired, but he still sees himself as a dairy farmer.

“Once you’re a farmer, you’re always a farmer,” he says.

“If I lived life over again, I’d do the same thing. I’m a lucky man; lucky in health; lucky to find the right girl; and, lucky to do something I loved.”

As a Legendairy farmer in Monto, the 2015 Legendairy Capital of the Subtropical dairy region, Grahame milked cows for 40 years with his late wife Molly. He farmed in partnership with their sons, contributed to the industry as a director of Port Curtis Dairy which ran the Monto dairy factory, and was also a state councillor with the Queensland Dairy Organisation (QDO).

“I could write a book about the dairy industry,” he jokes, and after hearing his passion for the industry he probably could.

Grahame’s family came to Monto and established a dairy farm in 1936, when he was just one year old. 

Nineteen years later, he and Molly made their first foray into the industry by milking cows so farmers could have a holiday. “In 1955, butter was a reasonable price because it was going to England after the war,” he said. “Dairy farmers were making a bit of money so for the first five or six months of our marriage we went from farm to farm a month at a time. We made 100 quid a month plus got to live in their house; that was pretty good money back in 1955.”

Molly and Grahame bought the family farm in 1964 and it remained a dairy until 1979 when they started two partnership farms with their sons.

These continued until deregulation in 2000. “We knew deregulation was going to be bad but we had no idea it would be as bad as it was,” Grahame said. “It would have been absolutely devastating if it wasn’t for Pat Rowley who was president of the QDO and devised a plan to compensate all dairy farmers. That lessened the blow but it was still a catastrophe. It threw the producer to the wolves.”

Within 12 months they were out of the industry.

“After you milk cows for 40 years they become a big part of your life,” Grahame said. “It was like losing a friend. I missed them like all hell for a couple of months.”

He says Monto’s honour of being named the Legendairy Capital of the Subtropical dairy region is well deserved.

“In Monto’s heyday in 1964 we had 448 suppliers to the Monto Butter Factory. Today we’ve got eight milk suppliers left in the shire, supplying Parmalat in Rockhampton. Those remaining are consolidated farmers and they supply top quality milk,” Grahame said.

In September, Grahame will proudly take part of the Legendairy Monto Dairy Festival which he says has been reignited by after the town was named the Legendairy Capital. “There were thoughts that it shouldn’t be a dairy festival anymore, just a Monto Festival, but Legendairy has helped to keep the dairy tag on the festival.”


MONTO’S HISTORIC LINK TO DAIRY KEEPS ON HELPING FARMERS

MONTO’S HISTORIC LINK TO DAIRY KEEPS ON HELPING FARMERS

One of Monto’s historic links to the dairy industry is celebrating its 70th year of helping local farmers.

In 1946, Port Curtis Dairy opened its first rural and hardware sales business as farmers enjoyed the fruits of post-war butter exports to England. 

Port Curtis Dairy was already a major driver of dairying, having opened five milk factories in the region, including Monto, Subtropical’s Legendairy Capital.

After the war, the Cooperative decided to expand into existing rural and hardware established stores in the same towns as its factories; Rockhampton, Gladstone, Biloela, Wowan and Monto.

The building had a connection to the war before being moved to Monto. It was originally an army storage shed in Eidsvold, one of several across central Queensland to hold supplies in case of a northern invasion.

Former Port Curtis Dairy director Grahame Sanderson said the Monto store was originally used for farm produce while a hardware store was opened across the road.

It was later sold to Wayne and Julie Rogers and came under the Farmstuff banner about seven years ago.

Today only 44 dairy suppliers remain from the 900 who supplied the five factories when Grahame joined Port Curtis Dairy in 1970. He resisted selling the co-operative but wasn’t able to stem the tide. “I was chairman of the co-op and didn’t want to sell it,” Grahame said.

“Pauls offered $18 a share for our $2 shares. I said over my dead body; it’s not for sale. A few months later they offered $25 a share; it was like trying to stop the tide coming in. Most of our suppliers were saying `give me the money’ so we sold to Pauls in 1994.”

Pauls later sold to Parmalat which closed the factory in 2003 but the store continued.

Agronomist and manager of Farmstuff Monto, Kendall Muller, grew up on a local dairy farm and enjoys helping today’s farmers to grow good crops and increase milk production.

He says the town’s Legendairy Capital status has given a boost to farmers and is just recognition for the industry’s importance over the past century.

“Dairy was the biggest industry in Monto when I was a child,” he said. “Originally this business would have been 75 per cent dairy; now it‘s maybe 25 per cent.

“The Legendairy Capital title is good publicity and might help out the current dairy farmers.”

Monto farmers prepare for the next generation

Monto farmers prepare for the next generation

With the highly contested title of Legendairy Capital of the country’s Subtropical region under Monto’s belt, local farmers Helen Goody and Steve Pailthorpe have their eyes set on the future.

Steve and Helen think the resilience of local farmers who battle on despite floods and low prices inspired the Legendairy win, and they hope the success inspires more interest in the industry.

Their dairy was set up so it could appeal to young people and Steve and Helen’s four children are already showing interest. “Steve’s father Ross was always encouraging the next generation to farm,” Helen said. “When they re-built the dairy they made sure it was low enough so children could easily get in there.”

With four children aged between two and 10, Steve and Helen have some potential farmers in the wings. All the children love going to the dairy. “Our six year old can name every cow,” Helen said.

Helen is happy to see her children continue the lifestyle, although she admits a better price for their milk would make it more appealing.



 

Helen but leaves the dairy work to Steve who farms in partnership with his mother Barbara.

“I don’t milk or do any of the dairy work but I help with everything else,” she said. Helen also works on other local farms.
The Pailthorpe farm has been in the family for 35 years and milks about 80 Ayrshires; an ideal number for a one-man operation. Today it’s one of only eight active dairies in the region.

“Monto was built on dairying and it’s still a big contributor, but we’ve gone from more than 400 farms to eight,” Helen said. “It’s good that a few dairy farmers are still around; they’re pretty resilient.”

They’ve had to be resilient after floods in 2013 and again this year, together with a prolonged dry spell over recent months.

Monto is home to a biennial dairy festival and will use the $2500 Legendairy prize money to upgrade yards at the showgrounds.

Helen, the Monto Show Society senior vice-president, says the work is long overdue and will help to keep dairying in the spotlight.

“The yards get used not only by the show society but by many other organisations for camp-drafts, rodeos and things like that,” Helen said. “They’re in a dangerous state and we need the upgrade for these events to continue and bring people back to Monto.”
 
The dairy festival, believed to be the only one of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, will return on September 24 next year.

“It celebrates everything to do with farming,” Helen said.

Helen hopes the Legendairy title bestowed on Monto as part of the communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry will promote the festival and help local dairy farmers. “It’s good because it’s promoting all dairy, not just one brand,” she said. “It would be great to get the word out a bit more; a lot of people in towns don’t understand how it [dairy farming] works.”

Steve supplies Parmalat and has the commitment needed to be successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“We’re paying our bills and staying ahead but the cost of living has gone up and we’re not getting the money we were getting before deregulation,” Helen explained.

But, the lifestyle continues to appeal to the couple and their family. “It’s rewarding and the kids love it. There’s still a regular cheque and we know we’re feeding the nation,” she said.

“I enjoy the lifestyle but it would be good to have holidays that last more than half a day between milking’s,” she joked.

Along with their fellow local farmers 120 kilometres west of Bundaberg, Steve and Helen have endured tough weather conditions but cope with thanks to their typical farmer resilience.

“We’re still getting over the last few floods,” Helen said. “Our fences washed away but that’s normal when you cultivate on flood flats. There were a lot of places a lot worse than us.”

Disaster brought out the best in the local community. 

According to Helen “everyone helped, people get behind you when you need it”…important qualities that help make Monto truly Legendairy and deserving of its new title.

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