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AustralianFarmers

First Nation’s heritage plants farming in the blood

By Natalie Sommerville

I have been involved in farming my whole life. My heritage is Torres Strait Islander and I have always felt a real pull towards growing things and the connection to country. 

And while my childhood was spent in far north Australia, these days I live and farm with my husband and kids in on stunning Ngadjuri country, 30 kilometres north of Clare in South Australia. 

The past twelve months has thrown us unimaginable challenges; Covid-19, continuing dry conditions and for others drought and bushfire, but despite it all, we are still right here growing and harvesting and producing food for other families just like us. And that’s hugely rewarding! 

I was born in Rockhampton central Queensland, then at around six years old we moved up to the top of the northern territory where I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ cattle property.  

Also, like most Torres Strait Islanders, my dad absolutely loved his garden and producing food (especially root vegetables) and he shared that passion with us kids. Mum was also a keen farmer, growing watermelons on my grandparents’ place and selling to local markets.

There is nothing like a cool watermelon on a hot Territory day!  

So yes, I certainly felt that pull towards agriculture and farming from an early age. 

But back to my path to this farm here in South Australia. 

I was coming to the end of school and working and living with my family in the Northern Territory. And while I knew I wanted a career in agriculture, I wanted to do some tertiary study first.

At the time, there wasn’t an agricultural degree like this being offered in the Territory so I decided to head south and create my own sustainable agricultural degree by combining natural resource management and agriculture subjects at the University of Adelaide. 

The change in culture, environment and people was tough, I won’t lie. I had no support network and didn’t know anyone in the whole state. But then my sister had gone away to study medicine before me and I thought, if she can do it so can I! 

Despite a few rough months, I stuck with it and in time developed a strong friendship network, and that’s what helped me get through. It was also at university that I met my now husband Dane so that was a big part of why I stayed on after finishing my studies. 

Straight after uni we moved to Victoria and I worked there as an agronomist for four years. Then my husband and I moved to his family farm and also branched out almost immediately to our own cropping business.  

For me, from the beginning, it has always been so important to have an awareness of what we are doing in terms of agricultural management and impact on the environment around us. 

I’ve always instinctively known this, but now it is backed up in the studies I have done and I’m grateful to have a broader understanding of the science behind it. 

Here on our place (of 5000 acres) we grow cereals such as barley, wheat, canola and faba beans, it depends on the rotation and season. We also have a large export hay business. And because we run sheep too we use lots of legume based pastures to help with soil improvement. 

Every farm management decision we make is done through the lens of broader environmental impact. This is something all good farmers do and appreciate. 

Australian producers, and there are a lot of us, are doing an incredible job of producing good food well and I want everyone to know it! I think farmers can get a bad rap sometimes but the majority of us are working hard to produce clean, green and sustainable food that not only looks after the land, but keeps us all safe and healthy. And when farming communities are working well, this is good news for the economy too! 

What gets me out of bed every morning? My two kids! They are the big focus in my life at the moment – and at a very practical level it’s their immediate needs that get me up ever day. But also on a deeper level, agriculture ticks all of my value boxes. 

Pardon the pun, but farming absolutely feeds the passion I have for sustainably growing and nurturing food and fibre crops. Plus, there’s the flexibility of running your own family business. And also, like most farmers, I just love sharing my passion for agriculture with other people. 

I’ve recently started doing some work off-farm in the education space, assisting teachers with embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in primary and secondary school curriculum.

Because of my farming background I’m able to tell that story as well, sharing my love of farming through an indigenous lens.  

I’m also mentoring many young First Nations students and hopefully inspiring them to join the agricultural industry too. I’d ultimately love to use our farm as a training base, giving those not fortunate enough to have farming land an insight into what farming might be like as a career. 

People have never been more curious about the stories behind their food and fibre and as a farmer with many many stories to tell, that is so exciting! 

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