Farming families series: A historic passion

In 2014, the International Year of Family Farming, the Bendigo Advertiser is running a series on local farm families. The Mannes family have had their farm for five generations...

FIRST FEATURE: Somerville family  - From horse to tractor and still on Strath land

If asked to imagine what life was like for our relatives living 150 years ago, most of us would probably struggle.

But in the case of Bernie Mannes, 61, the task is remarkably easy. After all, he and his brothers Paul, 58 and Tony, 56, run the same Strathfieldsaye farm that their great-great grandfather established in 1854.

Tony even lives in the same house they grew up in as children, a small cottage on the property that is about 10 metres from the original, while Paul and Bernie are just a stone’s throw away.

The Manneses have survived droughts, financial hardships and a phylloxera breakout but have always found a way to push through and continue the passion for farming that evidently runs in their blood.

When asked what it is he loves about farming, a big smile creeps across Bernie’s face.                       

“The whole kit and caboodle,” he says. “You’re your own boss; I like working outdoors with animals – they don’t talk back to you.

“You’ve got the environment around you and you make a dollar along the way.”

The Mannes family history dates back to Franz Mannes, the 23-year-old German who migrated to Australia in 1853.

In the days when most came to Bendigo with dreams of striking it rich in the goldfields, Franz instead chose to take up the advice of Dr Dean Backhaus, Bendigo’s first Catholic priest, and make an honest living off the land.

The Catholic Church owned 65 hectares of land in nearby Strathfieldsaye, and in 1854 Franz became its first tenant.

He originally used it to grow grape vines for wine, but eventually ditched this in favour of apples, pears and plums.  

In the early 1920s, with Bernie's grandparents at the helm, the family bought the property from the Catholic Church and turned it into a dairy farm.

“We’ve been selling milk to Bendigo since 1929,” Bernie proudly informs.

And since 1993 they have been using completely organic farming methods, being only the second Victorian farm to be awarded a Level A Certification from the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA).

Unfortunately, however, the three brothers will be the last generation of Mannes to farm the land.

Bernie says the high farming rates don’t reflect the income that can be made off the property, so once he and his brothers have passed away, the 485-hectare property will be subdivided among surviving relatives.

Bernie admits this prospect makes him feel “a little sad”.

“When my granddaughter was living here for six months she was the seventh generation to live off the property…so yeah…,” he says, tailing off.

But even after the farm is gone, Franz Mannes’ mark will certainly continue to be felt in the Bendigo region.

Bernie estimates there are now about 2,000 descendants of Franz, with approximately half still living in this area. With the Greater Bendigo population being about 100,000, if Bernie’s calculations are right there’s a chance that roughly one per cent are somehow related to him.

Bernie says that Bendigo is a community in which “everyone cares for each other” and his great connection with his farm is clear.

“You sit here and go and look out at the creek and think, ‘You can’t get any better than that’.”

Do you know of a farming family with an interesting story? Email cos@bendigoadvertiser.com.au or phone 54344 432.

I like working outdoors with animals – they don’t talk back to you - Bernie Mannes

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