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RURAL HEALTH AND NATIONAL HARMONY
by Chas Pinwill
Then came the First World War, a depression,
rural decline, and inflation. The earthy roots of a developing Australian
culture, which had shown early prospects of flowering at some time
in a distinct national cultural life, withered in the ground. Australia
slid into the international culture of concrete jungles, neo Americanism,
and an indistinct cultural ethos.
The British culture from which we grew is still deep in our make-up. The Australian experience has made its mark on social and cultural norms. But it is a very different norm from the unique "would have been" that few today, and none without family going back into that period, could so much as guess at.
At the heart of the Australian "Ocker" is I believe a patriot, yearning to have "Australianism" defined, and finding little to distinguish and identify with, exaggerates what little he can find. Thus the super-drawling, ever beer swilling "Ocker" of brutal directness spicing all with what he is pleased to call the "great Australian" adjective.
This historical and cultural growth, grievously wounded while yet in its infancy, may heal its wounds, yet shall ever carry the scars of a rural culture artificially destroyed, before time and experience could firmly establish the correct direction for growth. The destruction of rural Australia was a tragedy of tremendous proportions, the ramifications of which can only in their entirety be guessed.
The Queensland leader of the Labor opposition, Mr. Tom Burns, on canvassing his own street in Brisbane found that every single family had come from rural areas. The social impact, and the full price to be paid for the rural social upheaval is yet to emerge. One has a feeling that the longer these rural families remain the serfs of modern urbanism, the better the prospects for Tom Burns' canvassing.
THE PURGE OF AUSTRALIAN KULAKS
With Soviet domination of the Ukraine, Communism was confronted with millions of fierce independent small farmers. Quietly farming the "bread basket of Europe," as the Ukraine was known, with their wooden ploughs, the Kulaks had little taste for socialism. The collectivisation of the Kulaks was achieved only after Stalin and his henchman, "the butcher of the Ukraine," Krushchev, had starved the Kulaks into submission. The independent spirit of the Kulaks was given clear testimony, in the fact that 7,000,000 died of starvation before their submission was accomplished.
Although it was done in a different way, rural Australia was stripped of its population just as surely. From 1960 to 1970, 300,000 people left rural New South Wales for the great urban population centres. The methods used were less direct. They were certainly more difficult to understand, but the objective of centralising population was the same. The starvation that drove this mass exodus was not of a physical nature as with the Kulaks. Australian farmers were starved out through financial famine. The great industries that undergirded rural prosperity were assaulted by financial cost.
Perhaps the classic demolition job ever done
on a rural industry has befallen the Dairy Industry. In 1956 there
were 27,000 Dairy farms and farmers in Queensland. In 1976 there
were only 4,000 of those surviving. This decline is not confined
to Queensland. Of the 133,000 dairy farmers in Australia in 1956,
90,000 had been forced out of existence by 1976.
Queensland, once a great butter exporter, cannot now supply its own butter needs. But do not for a moment think that the decline has come to an end. The rate at which dairy farmers are ceasing production is as great now as it has ever been. In fact with loose talk of having 7,000 too many dairy farmers in Victoria and the almost impossible export prospects, the demolition of the dairy industry is almost certain to accelerate.
This is destruction on a massive scale. Why
have dairy farmers revolted? Why have they not resisted? These were
the men who won the Second World War. Their fathers won the first.
An external enemy bent upon this destruction would have been forced
to fight for every single farm.
To be fair they did try some things. They tried compulsory membership of their organisation in the belief that it should bring greater strength, and have had it for decades. Producer controlled, statutory, licenced, equalised and a multitude of other marketing schemes were devised and applied. All of these devices applied over the last 50 years, had if we are to judge a tree by its fruits, only the one thing in common. All failed completely.
The great thrust of efforts to salvage the dairy
industry all applied themselves to the "how" of marketing.
If one has production running at 10 units, does it matter how one
sells to an available market of 7 units. Be marketing free, socialised,
by auction or acquisition, statutory or by hawking out of wheelbarrows
by the roadside, you lose 30% of your product and income.
On a physical level Australian dairy farmers produce more dairy products per man than any others on earth. The marketing problem of getting product from producer to consumer efficiently has long been solved. With costs rising 20 to 30% per year and returns static in some sections of the dairy industry since the end of the second world war, the real enemy is the cost-price financial squeeze.
I shall not examine a multitude of rural industries
in detail, for even a short look will suffice to reveal their state
of health. The Beef Industry has in the last 2½ years had
its costs rise 30-40% and its income fall by 50-60%. Needless to
say all cattlemen are losing money. All those employed in the industry
have been dismissed and economically driven to the cities. The pathetic
spectacle of one man care-taking on a property of 40,000 head and
needing twenty men to run it even in a rough way, now has an example
in North Queensland.
There are a couple of comparatively prosperous
rural industries at the moment, in Grain and Sugar, yet how long
this will last is a matter for speculation. It now costs $100,000
for a cane harvesting plant, and with machinery costs up perhaps
100% from 2-3 years ago, the cost of replacement of that plant in
ten years may easily be $500,000.
Grain is riding high at the moment after serious
"overproduction" and a quota system to limit production just
a few years ago. It was just these stringent quotas that brought the
man now known as Prince Leonard of the Hut River to secede as his income
from wheat was completely stopped.
The most significant rural industry in Australia
is the wool industry. From the early fifties until the early seventies
the wool industry endured twenty years of a falling market for wool.
This together with constant and ever increasing inflation. There
has been something of a revival for wool. The industry is now precariously
holding its own. But holding your own in the run of good seasons
that Western Queensland has had the past few years, means that no
reserves have been built up. That means that when the next drought
of 3-4 years duration arrives, no one will be able to afford to feed
sheep, and the industry will completely fold up in those areas.
RURAL MARKETING AND GOVERNMENT FORCE
The main thrust of Rural Industries, "Politicians"
efforts to "do something" has centred on marketing. The man-hours
spent in rationalising, centralising, or devising some other method,
of what in essence amounts to using Government force, to either loot
consumers or control independent producers, would amount to millions
It is incredible that most rural industry leaders are continually crying for Government force to be used to raise prices and promoting marketing schemes to ensure that no producer can avoid selling in the prescribed way, and yet at the same time denying that Government force so used, does control their industry. The advocates of Government force to control their industry are unwilling to admit that this amounts to control of their fellows. They are in fact the advocates of willing serfdom. These are the men to whom the thirty pieces of silver or the figure thirty in the Bank ledger are preferable at least to a certain measure of their freedom.
Let us take an example. The Beef industry in Queensland is presently pleading with the Federal Government to raise the price of beef purchases by 30 cents per pound. The advocates of this are demanding that their own rights of free marketing be destroyed, as they are injurious to their security. At least they do it seems, understand that the price of looting a consumer is a confinement of one's own freedom.
Government regulated and controlled marketing applies in Dairy products, bread, eggs and sugar. What are the implications of these arrangements? Firstly, the consumer pays more and this does nothing for Rural-Urban relationships. The government increases its control over the economy, and if this happens in any area of the economy it creates in Government an increasing appetite for further controls and socialism in other areas.
Perhaps more dangerous than the other implications, is the fact that this approach to solving rural problems, misdirects endeavours to find a solution into methods of marketing, and leaves the basic problem of the inadequacy of the market itself unexamined or resolved. In so far as the possibility of expanding marketing is examined it is along the lines of getting rid of it to some overseas taker, advertising which adds to the price of the product, and has an impact of nil, since the public is quite aware of the nature of butter, corned beef and eggs. Then there is resort to the most ready market of all ... dumping and burning!
The tyranny under which Rural industry is ground down is not a result of a multitude of dictatorial orders carried out under threat. The destruction of a rural industry is always accompanied by an insufficiency of orders . . . orders to deliver product where, when and as required. Rural industry is desperate for orders . . . orders to serve. If they are not forthcoming, these orders to serve, then rural industry has no purpose to serve. Rural industries are broken up.
The one market that may be most easily expanded is surely not that of some foreign power, the Japanese, the French or some other. Whatever can be done must surely be most easily done in Australia. In considering what if anything can be done, we must look to examples.
In New Zealand, at no cost to Dairy farmers,
the price of milk in 1973 was 4c per pint and other dairy products
were selling at about half Australian prices. This was part of their
Consumer Subsidy programme. It involved no direct aid to producers
yet was of the greatest assistance to them.
According to a report in The Bulletin consumption of butter is declining at such a pace that it may halve in the next 2-3 years. Primary Producers must learn that there is no gain in belting consumers. Consumers are the producers' market. Have you ever heard of a business flourishing that beat its customers over the head or failed to do all that it could to put their product within the range of their customers' capacity to pay?
When beef was selling at record prices, consumption per capita in Australia ran at 90 lbs. per head. When prices fell, at the expense of producers, consumption rose 50% to 140 lbs. per capita. Now if prices fell by an issue of credit being applied to lower prices with a consumer subsidy, and lowering prices at no cost to producers, it is an absolute certainty that the producers' domestic market will increase, and the consumer will enjoy a better standard of living.
This is the two-edged sword effect of consumer discounts. Not only do they lower prices to consumers and lift their living standards, they expand domestic markets for producers. An increase in domestic consumption of beef of 2 oz. per day, you might say ½ of a beef "snag,' would bring a shortage of quality beef in Australia without any export market at all.
In England and the Common Market now, the policy
of artificially keeping prices up is being pursued in regard to beef.
Steak costs $3.00 per lb. and even mince is $1.60. On the level of
wages in Britain, beef is such a price that there is now less beef
consumed in Britain than there was when Hitler's submarines had her
blockaded. But that has nothing to do with the E.E.C.'s capacity
to produce. There are such stock piles of beef built up in Europe
that it is being contained only by selling it off to the Russians
at approximately the same prices as is Australia's price to the Soviets
. . . less than 10 cents per lb. producer price. Another incredible
example of belting the consumer into the ground until he gives up
using the product, and then calling upon the Russians to take the
surplus away under a completely different set of rules and price.
As a consequence of rural decline, Western Nations have developed population centralisation on a scale never before known. The vast concrete jungles of major cities are but part of the consequences of rural decay. The traffic jams, the extortionist prices of land within striking range of the cities, those high rise hellish ant-heaps in which people are stacked, all are exaggerated and under-girded by the continuing rush into the Urban areas, and the inability of any to escape to a rural based income.
The growing social problems associated with the concrete jungle are far-reaching in their effects. The sterile and cold environment of these impersonal ant heaps is producing a generation alienated from society. As people are pushed into the air, under the pressure of living space shortages, a definite madness in the most sparsely populated continent on earth, suicides rise correspondingly. Juvenile delinquency becomes an increasing problem. Moral fibre is sapped in the world of the rat race.
Perhaps the most killing impact of this population contraction (in spite of the fact that we are told constantly of population explosions) is that with the more or less constant immersion into the mass, the individual loses faith in his own worth and significance. At that point he is so demoralised that on any question beyond his own gratification he is overwhelmed by a sinking hopelessness. He loses his faith, his credence, that he can do anything to better society, or the relationships between individuals or human associations. He loses his social credence or credit.
Rural financial problems, aided by the onslaught of death duties, is progressively disinheriting young rural people. The 4,000 Queensland dairy farmers now left of the 27,000 in 1956 are the old hard liners, those established before the decline, in the most part. Rare indeed are the young people who can see any future for themselves in the dairy industry. In the declining rural industries there is little room for young people to find a place.
Ten years ago, the Rural Youth Organisation in Queensland had 5,000 members. Today it has only 2,000, and that is an artificial figure because half of those are members of high school extra-curricular clubs or city clubs. Any young people wishing to make a career on the land have to swim against the stream of developing crisis.
A survey of New York residents reveals that
over 50% would prefer to live in the country. This in spite of the
fact that New York includes some of the most urbanised people in
the world. There is developing in society a yearning for a little
clean fresh air, room in which to keep and enjoy a few animals, for
trees and fields and a few acres between yourselves and the neighbours.
The Government purchase of tens of thousands of acres around the Albury-Wodonga so-called "growth centre," has sent out waves of property hunting farmers from these areas, their pockets bulging with money from inflated land sales. They have in turn bid up land values out as far as fifty miles from the city because they don't wish to move away from families and friends built up over a life time. The farmers in these surrounding areas, who have participated in none of the public trough quaffing, now find the valuation on their land increased beyond all sensible levels. Thus their rates and their probate have risen without any increase in income whatever.
Thus it is little wonder, that with the cancerous concrete jungle eating into all farming properties that fall within its path, friends of mine close to large cities come to hate them to a surprising depth. There are of course always those who, lacking any real affinity with the land, or on the point of giving up after their long struggle, welcome a chance to grab and run.
This brings us to a consideration of what the correct relationship is between the farmer and the farm. There are several interpretations of this role. One is that the farmer is to perform in the interests of the States, as interpreted by the State. I have never met a practical farmer who had any enthusiasm for that arrangement. If one is to judge on results, with the 3% of arable land in the Soviet farmed as private plots producing 40% of total Russian production, including 30% of wheat, 50% of animal production, and 70% of egg and poultry production, and the 97% collectively farmed land producing only half as much again, or 60%, perhaps what farmers think of collectivism may have a very practical point to it.
The correct relationship between a farmer and his land is not as simple as that of ownership. It carries responsibilities and very grave ones. No farmer owns his land in the sense that he may dispose of it as he will. It is imperative that he has the right to uninterfered-with sovereignty over his land and soil. Yet his moral role is not that of master. Man is a product of the soil, not soil of man. A good farmer is a husband to "his soil. A farmer is a steward of soil, plants and stock, and no matter how many generations may follow, God's bounty shall have come through this generation of farmers to them. Be it impoverished or improved it shall bear his mark.
What then do we find. Farmers under financial pressure, for fear of losing their properties and disinheriting their families, have been tempted into practices of poor stewardship. Crop rotation is no longer practised as the cost of machinery and the pressure to limit labour costs, has dictated specialisation, or as it is called, Monoculture. Grain is grown this year, next year and every other year. Or else it is a root crop, say peanuts every year. There was once a time when every few years a paddock was left fallow. With the pressure for every last shilling bearing down, that practice is but an expensive investment in the future, which you may not survive as a farmer to see. The practice of fallowing is dead.
Today's farmers are increasingly soil miners, not husbandmen. Artificial fertiliser is poured on indiscriminately. It is well known that super-phosphate releases plant nutrients other than phosphate from the soil. These are usually released at a rate faster than the plant can use, so the rest is subject to leaching. Perhaps 2-3 times the plant nutrients used, leach below the level of plant roots through the action of water washing them down.
Soil has a need for clothes. If it be left naked, especially in areas of sudden bursts of heavy rain, and exposed, it may erode with water or wind. Last year in the Warwick district of Queensland, thousands of acres were stripped bare of all topsoil in torrential rains.
Does topsoil matter much? Every land creature lives, in spite of the vast diameter of the earth, on the top six inches only. In this topsoil there lives an average of 70 tons of bacteria per acre. Most of the primary work of turning dust and water into soil, a living organism, and therefore into a form useable to plants and thus to animals is performed by bacteria.
The solution to erosion and alternatives to dangerous malpractices are available. They are to be found in Key-Line farming, contouring, and responsible farming practice. Much of the price that shall be paid for rural impoverishment will, in the fullness of time be found to lie in impoverished soil, a diminished inheritance.
THE QUALITY OF FOOD
As C. H. Douglas has correctly said, the interest
of all but the few who regard the land as a creative opportunity
is limited to its produce. Let there be no doubt the poor quality
of produce is a penalty paid for financially insecure farmers.
There is a price to be paid for all this. The wages of sin, as Beau Geste would have reminded us, is death. If farmers are not able to operate in a system of adequate rewards they shall, not through deliberate intent, but through the pressure of expediency, poison you slowly to death. This matter of rural health is a matter of life and death for us all.
FINANCE IS THE KEY
Society is an organic body; it proceeds out of the soil and flowers forth in the industrial arts and culture. You cannot tear the right arm from the body and leave the left without disastrous consequences. The root and the stem are nothing without the proper function of each. Any argument as to which is the most important is invalid, for both are indispensable and of absolute importance.
What is required for Rural Health, for the healing of Rural-Urban friction and the development of National Harmony? Farms must have security in which to bring their creative ability into play, in which to develop an agricultural industry to bountifully fulfill the demands of consumers. Above all they must have a security in which their better instincts can prevail, and responsible farming practices pursued that ensure the continuing improvement of the soil and its produce, and the health of its consumers.
They must have a security in which their sons
can safely expect to inherit, and in which Dad is not seen as a "silly
old fool" who has wasted his life in sacrifice and hard work,
in which his sons can rightly see no future, and in deserting him
for the city, have their respect for him desert with it.
This state of security must be built and maintained
on many fronts. The security that law offers in the tenure of our
land and assets, the security that good order brings our persons,
a spiritual security which brings the ability to endure the poor
seasons and enjoy the good, all play a part.