Northcliffe Stories

Charcoal art honours bushfire and farming legends

A series of charcoal sculptures that commemorate the resilience of survivors of the 2015 Northcliffe bushfire in WA will be unveiled on November 26 as part of Dairy Australia’s Legendairy Capital program.

The `Rising From the Ashes’ sculptures by Bridgetown artist Kim Perrier cast 43 local people in charcoal, including people who lost property, members of the fire brigade and dairy farmers who battled the huge blaze.

The sculptures are in trees along the 1.2km Understory Art and Nature Trail and reflect the resilience of the native forest during the devastating fire which burnt for 14 days and damaged 150,000 hectares of bush and farm land.

Project coordinator Fiona Sinclair described the art as hauntingly beautiful. “It’s a little unsettling but it’s highly appropriate for the story it tells about community spirit and resilience,” she said.

“The subjects say it’s uncanny to see themselves portrayed that way but they appreciate being part of such a unique art project.”

Ms Sinclair said the charcoal art commemorated the role dairy farmers played in helping to contain the huge bushfire, and their overall contribution to the remote south-west community.

Northcliffe was named the Legendairy Capital of WA in 2015. The ‘Rising From the Ashes’ sculptures have been funded by a Legendairy Capital grant.

“Dairy is hugely important to Northcliffe,” Ms Sinclair said. “Northcliffe has an interesting dairy history, but what’s more exciting is that Northcliffe has a positive dairy future.

“We’re going through a very exciting time with a $20 million investment in Bannister Downs’ new creamery, which is backed by Gina Rinehart’s Hope Dairies. It’s a bold and innovative venture that’s well supported by the community, and our dairy industry is really flourishing.

“As a town we think we have a significant role to play in the dairy future of the state.”

Ms Sinclair said being named the Legendairy Capital of WA recognised community partnerships forged with farmers, the sustainability of the industry, and the role that farmers played in the bushfire.

“The sculptures have been hugely successful and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without the support of Legendairy Capital,” she added.

One of the sculpture subjects is 82-year-old Dennis Smeathers who is one of the original dairy farmers in the area.

The launch of the ‘Rising From the Ashes’ will begin at 12.30pm on site on Saturday, November 26. Artist Kim Perrier will give a free guided tour to explain the stories behind his creations. 

Dairy Australia’s LEGENDAIRY Capital program celebrates outstanding communities in dairy regions by encouraging a national community focus and highlighting the invaluable contribution

Science proves what the heart knows for Northcliffe farmer

Science proves what the heart knows for Northcliffe farmer

Sue Daubney can use science to explain why Northcliffe is Western Australia’s Legendairy Capital but she’s just as likely to let her heart do the talking.

Sue, who has a Bachelor of Nursing, a post-graduate Diploma of Education and a Bachelor of Science, says Northcliffe’s climate provides a perfect recipe for dairy.

“On a scientific basis I can give you data from all around Australia that proves Northcliffe is the best place for dairy with the combination of rainfall and temperatures,” she says. “We have a higher minimum and a lower maximum but we have the rainfall equivalent to Tasmania. It’s the perfect formula,” she said.

It’s been an amazing turnaround for the Legendairy farmer and managing director of Bannister Downs who was initially cautious about country life.

After Sue moved from Perth to the Bannister Downs farm settled by her husband Mat’s family in 1924, she pined for the big city, an 800km round-trip.

“It was a big adjustment,” she admits. “In the first year after we were married I’d look for every opportunity to go to Perth. Now, I avoid it as much as I can and do what I have to do and get back as quickly as I can.”

Today Sue has no doubt Northcliffe deserves its Legendairy Capital status.

“We can validate it scientifically but I just love being on a farm; I love where we live. It’s a very small town and it’s just beautiful. It makes you grateful to be alive.”

Sue and Mat’s four children, aged 10 to 16, are now the fourth generation on the farm which continues to grow after taking a “sink or swim” decision in 1999 to start processing, packing and distributing their own milk.

“We were finding it tough in 1999 and it got worse with deregulation,” Sue admitted. “We were seriously considering getting out or looking at other farming options but the whole place was set up for dairy and that’s where Mat’s passion was.”

Selling their own milk emerged as the best option, particularly as they were getting only 18 cents per litre from their processor at the time.

“We had to make sure our product would be different or better than what was on offer,” Sue said. This involved innovative packaging, assembling a top team determined to eliminate any errors, adopting a low temperature pasteurisation heat treatment method, and maintaining full control right through to the customer. 

It took a while, but eventually the gamble paid off with Bannister Downs now home to more than 2200 Holstein Friesian cows, the state’s first Automatic Milking Rotary (robotic dairy) and exciting plans for a new creamery that will open up the farm and the industry to the broader community.

Perhaps oddly, Sue believes the $1 milk price war was the turning point. While $1 milk seemed to be the worst-case scenario, Bannister Downs had 5 per cent growth in the month it rolled out.

“That gave me the confidence that the consumer does care and thinks beyond today,” Sue said. “Our growth was an example of people with their hand in pocket making a good decision and taking a stand. There are growing numbers of consumers aware that $1 milk is a false economy. We’ve put a fair price so we can pay our people, look after our cows and grow our business.”

Bannister Downs now has 46 full-time employees spread over 60 people. Sue hopes the planned creamery complex will reinforce dairy as the cornerstone industry for the town and shire.

“There are only seven of us left in dairy in Northcliffe but we’re getting bigger and being the Legendairy Capital has raised awareness. It’s got the town talking and put us front and centre so people can see there is great potential for dairy. We really haven’t hit our straps yet.” 

The creamery will show people the supply chain from cow to retail product with the latest technology and robotic milking on show, along with a function centre and education centre.

Sue hopes that like the Legendairy communications initiative and the town’s Legendairy Capital status, the new creamery will spread good news about the industry.

On her frequent visits to Perth, Sue finds people are fascinated by dairy. “It’s great that we’re going to be opening our doors and giving people the opportunity to find out more,” she said.

Now at home on the land, Sue couldn’t see herself doing anything else. “I once had a politician ask what would happen if a Chinese buyer offered a lot of money to buy our business.

“I said we wouldn’t sell. This is what we do; it gives us a sense of purpose and we feel we can make a difference and really achieve something. It’s not related to money; we’ve been given responsibility to produce food for Australia and that’s fantastic.”