Four generations on Dunolly farmer has mixed feelings for the future

Continuing the Bendigo Advertiser’s series in recognition of the Year of the Farmer, ELOISE JOHNSTONE spoke to a man carrying on a family tradition.

MARTIN Saul’s ancestors came to Australia from Germany and England by boat in 1859. 

They found themselves a patch of dirt near Dunolly and began to grow and slaughter sheep to sell around the area.

More than 153 years and four generations on, Mr Saul is still selling fat lambs for slaughter from the same bit of property his great-grandfather took as his own.

“We’re still walking around on the same property, on the same piece of dirt,” he said.

The operation has extended from those early colonial days.

Martin’s 1200 acres now encompasses a mixed-farming operation of sheep, goats and grain.

He sells cross-breed sheep, South African meat goats, cereals such as oats and barley, canola and, more recently, sunflower seeds.

“The older fellas knew very little about farming; actually they really knew nothing,” he said about his great-grandfather and grandfather.

“They just sold meat around the area and that continued for 80 years until my father in the 1930s. 

“That’s when you could say the farming actually began... clearing the land and planting crops.” 

However, the butcher’s shop is still standing behind Martin’s home acting as a reminder of the farm’s origins.

When his father died at a young age, Martin, himself only 20 years old, was pulled out of school to run the farm.

“There wasn’t much choice,” he said. 

There had been a “hell of a lot of changes” over his time as a farmer, mainly driven by changes in technology, but Martin said the fundamental principles of farming remained the same.

“All this technology is marvellous. It’s made the job more economical as there’s less wastage and it’s taken out a lot of the guesswork. 

“But despite all the technologies, we still rely on weather conditions. 

“It’s still a risky business; you can have the best hay all ready for sale and then it rains for two hours and it’s ruined. (But) that’s the nature of the business.”

Martin said cold winter days aside, it was a lifestyle he very much enjoyed.

“Being your own boss is a very attractive thing. 

“There’s lot of things that are not pleasant about it (farming), but on a day like this when the sun is shining you have to love it.”

Martin said the community aspect of small-town living was also a positive and important part of living on the land.

“I’m on too many committees to count (and) that’s part of the deal, it’s all pretty important. 

“It’s very rewarding and you know that if you need help, there’ll be a lot of people over in a flash to help you.”

Martin has been married to Moira, an aged-care nurse, for 42 years. They have four children, Narelle, Sheree, Bradley and Amanda. 

Bradley, 25, is a musician who helps out on the farm when he’s not tuning pianos, conducting choirs or playing a multitude of instruments.

Martin is urging his son to pursue his music career rather than become the fifth Saul to work the land.

“I’m not pushing him to take over the farm,” he said. 

“There’s not a lot of money to be made, we’re so reliant on world trends, and that will continue.”

Martin is semi-retired and unsure what the future holds for his farm.

“It would be sad for 150 year of history to be gone and forgotten,” he said. 

“The amount of regional farms of that era you can count on one hand. 150 years is quite an achievement. 

“But what happens after this I’m not sure.”

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