Tom drives history home

St Arnaud’s Norman Simpson Memorial Pipe Band march to the woolshed at the Guthrie family's 150 years celebration.

RELATED: Farming in the Guthrie family

Everyone’s got a story, says Tom Guthrie.

And for him it is his family's story of The Longest Drive.

“It's an Australian family history story but it's set in the context of the Australian wool industry because that's what our family was involved in,” he says.

"But I guess the wow factor comes from the sheep driving exports."

The Longest Drive tells the story of exactly what its name suggests – “the longest ever droving trip with sheep” as the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame called it.

It started in September 1882 when 11,000 sheep left the Guthries’ property at Rich Avon, in the Wimmera.

Sixteen months and 3500km later, they arrived at the family’s newest property, Avon Downs, on the Barkly Tablelands of the Northern Territory.

“What I’m hoping to do in some ways is bring to life what life was like in those times and what they had to put up with, the risks they took,” Tom says.

The book was launched this month as the Guthrie family celebrated 150 years of continuous farming at Rich Avon, their property near Donald.

Tom’s great-grandfather, and his namesake, Thomas Guthrie, bought both Rich Avon and Avon Downs, and is the main character in the book.

“Way back in 2002 I read my great-grandfather’s memoirs. It was quite a lengthy document and there was a lot of stuff there.

“When I finished it I thought, ‘Wow, what a great story’.”

Afterwards, Tom read an article called “The longest sheep-driving journey in Australian history” in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame newspaper.

“It was only a page and a half but it was the story of this sheep drive which began here with 11,000 sheep all the way up to the northern territory and it was by the drover.

“So once I read that I thought what a wonderful excuse to go outback and try to work out where they went and visit Avon Downs that had once been in the property.”

Twelve years later, Tom had written a valuable piece of his family’s history.

“Good books are about stories. They’re not about facts and figures and how many acres and how many sheep,” he says. “What you want is a good story.”

 “I’m sure you all know somewhere at home, in the back cupboard, where there are diaries of similar stories of times gone by.

“They’re just great stories.”

Tom’s younger brother, Chris, runs Rich Avon today, while Tom and his family share their time between a sheep farm and a winery called Grampians Estate in Willaura, western Victoria.

"Our lives today are so free of risk, they're comfortable, they're easy compared to life then," Tom says.

"For me, it's that aspect of the challenge of the outback, and distance, and communication, that made it such an intriguing story."

For more information about The Longest Drive, or to buy a book, visit www.grampiansestate.com.au or call 5356 2400.

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