“We’ve got 54,000 acres here, all owned by the family, but with several homesteads on it. My grandfather started all this, and my Dad, that’s O. J., well, he built it up. He cleared 20,000 acres in 20 years. The wheat area’s defined by the rainfall. You ought to have at least 11 inches, which you won’t get much farther east. Government Rabbit Proof Fences also help set the boundary. One runs 1,140 miles from north of Port Hedlund to the southern coast.”
Danny poured a steaming cup from an insulated jug. He looked dubiously at me. I nodded. He poured another. “Didn’t know Yanks drank tea,” he said.
“Bickies?” He held out a tin of biscuits (i.e., a can of cookies). I took some.
“This Yank likes both. Thanks.”
“Besides rainfall,” Danny said, “we’ve got to worry about this business of quotas. We’re not always allowed to produce all we can.”
The quota problem has forced farmers to look for other crops that aren’t subject to restrictions. Some have found one that seems to have exciting possibilities. By pure luck I met along the road the man who has done most to produce and promote it in the Gerald-ton region: Stanley Peck, first president of the Uni-Growers Association.
“That’s white lupin,” he said, pointing at an area of unfamiliar herbage. “Also called sweet lupin. Costs less to plant than wheat and brings more per acre. It’s 31 percent protein, edible as a vegetable or in concentrates. It’s a legume, so it doesn’t need nitrogen; it puts nitrogen into the soil. And its stubble carries more sheep than that of wheat.”
“Sounds almost too good to be true,” I said. “Why is anyone growing anything else?”
“Ah, well, you see, this is new. We only started with it a few years ago, we being mostly English farmers—Pommies,’ they call us—in this area. The fact is we Poms aren’t as conservative as the Aussies. And lupin does have a few minor drawbacks. You can’t just keep planting it, or disease will develop. You rotate it with other crops. Also, your harvesting has to be spot-on or you’ll lose the lot: The seed pods tend to ripen and open all at once. Production is still small, so marketing isn’t what it should be.”
There’s no marketing problem for Gerald-ton’s marine harvest. Its crays—or rather, their tails—go mostly to the United States.
“They’re too pricey for Australia,” said Dick Matthews, manager of the Golden Gleam fish company. “The whole catch here is brought in by 385 boats. There won’t be more. The licenses are all taken. If you want to fish, you’ve got to buy a boat that’s already licensed.