About Farming Ahead of the Curve

This blog will share farming stories from our family farm Clover Hill Dairies. What you will discover however is that farming today is so much more that growing food and fibre. By opening the door to my role in our family business I am hoping you will gain greater insights into the passion and committment of the people and the places behind the land that produces our food and hands that grow it

Sustainability is a hard to sell

Here is a great article by Steve Spencer from Fresh Agenda that I am unashamedly reblogging

Getting the pitch right

Sustainability is a hard to sell – in spite of being important to consumers.

Socially and environmentally conscious attitudes are gaining ground – thanks to media campaigns for years around environmental sustainability. But corresponding purchases and behaviours are stagnating or even heading south.

The National Geographic’s Greendex 2014 survey on Consumer Choice and the Environment across 18 countries found that though the number of global consumers who say they are very concerned about the environment (61%) has increased since 2012, sustainable purchasing behaviour has actually decreased in key markets such as US, Germany, Japan, Canada, and China.

But why aren’t consumers putting their money where their sustainable aspirations are?

The answer lies somewhere in the gap between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy.

The Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group – established to confront this “value-action” gap – says the problem isn’t with consumer values but with the value offered by brands. Over the years, consumers have been cajoled, coerced, and guilt-tripped by marketers into doing the “right” thing for the higher purpose of sustainability, for planetary or collective benefits.

However for most sustainable products and behaviours, the hard question of “what’s in it for me?” is still largely unanswered – with the most important personal value proposition still missing. On a day to day basis, purchasing decisions are centred on an individual’s own priorities and the immediate needs of their family.

While values, ethics and beliefs are hugely important when making major life decisions but how decisive a role do they play when choosing shampoo.

Shoppers are most likely to be motivated to buy a sustainable product if they also see a personal benefit.

That benefit could be functional with the promise of value for money, performance, quality, and safety; demonstrating emotional, such as delivering an intangible hit of emotion; or social which helps make a statement about the shopper to the world.

Even tiny direct benefits could close the gap and lead to behaviour change – such as sustainable eating (with less pesticides or unhealthy food additives) can lead to weight loss, or natural body care products will smell nicer and are gentle for sensitive skin.

It may seem at odds with the sustainability mantra – surely doing the right thing by the planet and future generations should be enough to persuade people to change their purchases and other behaviours. However, the more pragmatic approach is to recognise that sustainable brands also need to deliver personal and immediate benefits – even if they’re small – to cut through.

How would you market Australian Agriculture?

Brand Australia – how do we promote it?

A question that has been posed so many times by government, agriculture industry bodies and farmers for over 60 years.  A question that we still don’t seem to have an answer for on a scale large enough to have impact. Lots of ideas, lots of in house conversations and lots of bright minds like Craig Davis giving very smart advice.

In May last year Longreach farmer, entrepreneur and founder of Agrihive James Walker and I found ourselves invited to Heron Island to be part of a discussion that would potentially result in a national/ international  Australian agriculture marketing campaign. A campaign prompting our farmers and the food and fibre they produce and the challenges they face, designed by one of the most powerful NGO’s in the world and funded by a major Australian financial institution

A marketing event that clearly could potentially kick-start a very powerful new partnership era and help shine a light on and create a bright future for Australian agriculture

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Surely a dream come true for Australian agriculture.  

Ah yes James and I thought BUT we looked at each other with trepidation. The NGO was the World Wildlife Fund and the key question was would Australian farmers see the big picture vision, would they embrace an unlikely bedfellow, cast off previous grievances and be prepared to form one of the most exciting and influential partnerships ever offered to them?

It’s been an interesting year for me and I am confident equally for James.

We had two choices.

Jump on the train and be part of a magnificent journey to help create a bright future for Australian agriculture or stay on the platform at the station and be left wondering what might have happened if we had taken a leap of faith

Well I can assure you the train ride has been one of the most inspirational experiences of my life. It is amazing – absolutely phenomenal what a small dedicated, cohesive, collaborative, adaptive group of people, who never give up no matter what the challenge and how many knockers they have and are completely focused on the big picture can achieve

Agriculture has so much to learn from these people and so much to gain.  Did we take advantage of this once in a life time opportunity?

Who wouldn’t want to work with the clever and innovative a team of people who put this masterpiece together ?

And how clever is this to get attention. Pick something the majority of Aussies cant do without and no it isn’t food

Well I definitely know our farming organisations struggled and many of our research and development corporations struggled. Whilst internally they saw it for what it was – a potentially watershed marketing opportunity – no-one quite knew how their farmer stakeholders would react and no-one quite knew how to broach it with them

What has disappointed and saddened me is most of our farming organisations and industry bodies ultimately decided to put it in the too hard basket and very few of them even let our farmers know the campaign was happening. Effectively failing to give our farmers the opportunity to make up their own minds.  As a testament to farmer enthusiasm there was no shortage of excited farmers very happy to be showcased as part of the Planet to Plate Cookbook 

What is this event I am talking about – of course we all know Its Earth Hour

Today is the Grand Final.

Tonight more that 6 million Australians will turn off the lights between 8.30pm and 9.30pm to celebrate Australian farmers and the food and fibre they produce and raise awareness of the challenges they face

I have a strong gut feeling that our farmers have been widely underestimated and the train carriages are full of smart farmers who are well and truly on the journey

A call out to all my fellow farmers. Australians care about you – it’s time to say thanks

Have an event – no matter how small – invite friends, cook a meal sourced from great Australian produce and celebrate – turn off the lights and Light a candle

The following is a list of social media opportunities that will allow you to use the power of the internet to reach out and share this event with fellow Australians right across the country

Links that will help you support what others are doing

Earth Hour on Twitter https://twitter.com/earthhour_au

Earth Hour on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/earthhouraustralia

Earth Hour in Instagram https://instagram.com/EarthHour_Australia/

And for all those farmers who jumped on the train a long time ago. I salute you

Project Catalyst farmers, working with WWF-Australia, industry, scientists and Government, are leading the way in reducing the fertiliser and sediment run off that is killing the Great Barrier Reef. Meet the unlikely heroes who show it is possible to take action that is good for the farm and good for the Reef.

Some great reflections on this topic from Milk Maid Marian this morning here

Are MacDonald’s saying humans are more important than chooks ???

I am just not quite sure what to say about this

MCDONALD’S restaurants in the United States will begin serving meat from chickens that are not raised with antibiotics used to treat humans.

Because the struggling fast-food chain is one of the largest buyers of chicken in the United States – McDonald’s sells more chicken than beef – the move is likely to have a big impact on the way poultry is raised and the type of chicken served by restaurants.

The shift to chicken that was largely antibiotic-free would be phased in over two years, the company said.  See story here

In essence are MacDonald’s saying people are more important than animals?

Are they saying people are allowed lifesaving antibiotics but chooks aren’t?

In Australia the types of antibiotics that can be given to animals are very restricted. It’s always been humans come first.

It’s an interesting world we live in full of first world double standards

I was a community pharmacist once and a farmer second

Yes the use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians does need to be tightened up but we have far too many people and doctors who need to have a big rethink about the way they pop and prescribe antibiotics first.

Lets start where the real problem is and don’t punish the animals because the humans stuffed up

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Are MacDonald’s saying humans are more important than chooks or are retailers forcing industry practice changes because they are both in tune with consumer views and preferences as well as shaping those views and preferences for marketing differentiation purposes.?

Agriculture – an endangered species

MPP-hand-threat-spec-web620Just like this little cutie agriculture in this country is under threat and this can potentially have huge ramifications for access to safe, affordable, nutritious food for Australian families  

If we are going to ensure food security in this country agriculture has to be a partnership between farmers and the community

So lets investigate the Australian communities relationship with food ( please assume when I write the word food, I am referring to the two f’s-  food and fibre)

Nobody likes to be put into a box and labelled. However sometimes it’s very useful to help you make a point so please forgive me for putting Australian consumers of food  into 4 boxes.

In one box you have the million people in Australia who are labelled Food Insecure and that means 1 million people in Australia go to bed hungry every night. Yes you read that right.  5% of the people in our wonderful country go to bed hungry every night. Please take the time to read about it here

Then there is the extremely larger box that holds the people who buy their food in the main based on Cost, Convenience and Quality (CC&Q) with a huge focus on cost and convenience

Then there is a small but growing box that I am going to label the people who ‘care’. I am going to call them this because they are the group that will potentially make purchases and are prepared to pay a premium for food grown in a way that meets their values. This group of consumers are interested in the ‘how and why’ of growing food and fibre, and also environmental values, sustainability, appropriate animal care, safety, nutrition, affordability and so on.

Values are an emotion. They in the main are not measurable and everyone of us has different values and how they prioritise them so the descriptors of the word “care’ can be very diverse.

At the other end there is a little group I am going to label “Extreme” for the want of a better word. What I mean here is that this group of people have very very strong views about what the word “care’ means and these people sometimes join organisations to lobby policy and decision makers to regulate and legislate industries to align with their values

For the people who sell food direct to consumers in this country like “Colesworth” for the ‘Food Insecure’ there are initiatives like Foodbank and  Second Bite they can donate food to. Food for example that is going out of date or does not meet the quality expectations of the C,C&Q group

The C,C&Q  are easy to satisfy. Sell food at rock bottom prices and build beautiful mega stores in areas that are within easy reach.  The C,C&Q group scare the living daylights out of ‘Colesworth” and their ability to meet shareholder expectations. Selling food at rock bottom prices from stores that cost you a motza is a no-win race to the bottom for profit margins.

So the group that “Colesworth’ is extremely interested in is the people who “care’.  The group that may pay more if you can meet or exceed their values expectations and help them feel good about their food choices. Colesworth want to grow this group. What is extremely disappointing is Coles in particular have chosen fear based marketing campaigns to grow their market share. I say to you Coles – disgraceful conduct.

Our good farmers also want to grow this group and I believe for all the right reasons. We want to grow this group by having courageous and open and transparent conversations with them.

To do this we have to be prepared to ‘open the door’ to our farms and bring consumers on our journey with us and that means not only showing them the ‘how’ – paddock to plate or field to fibre process but also the  ‘why’ of growing food and fibre,

We want to show them they can trust us to farm without feeling the need to ask policy and decision makers to impose overly budensome regualations on our food and fibre industries. Unlike “Colesworth’ farmers had want to allay consumer fears and reduce stress levels

Today our good farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations

It is imperative that we take consumers on our journey with us or we run the risk of consumers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations like expecting farmers to wake up every day to produce food at rock bottom prices for nothing. Our farmers have families too and just like everybody else their first priority is to feed and clothe their families.

So the key for farmers is to work with the community to get that very necessary balance. Today more than ever agriculture is a partnership between farmers and the community.

This year the theme for the Archibull Prize will be “Agriculture* – an endangered species” (ht SK) and students and teachers will investigate the many challenges that farmers face and how we build community partnerships to ensure Agriculture can make the most of many opportunities that are on offer and gets off the endangered species list permanently.

Earth Hour 2015 will celebrate Australian farmers and the challenges they face under increasing conditions of extreme climate variability 

That the Food Insecure group gets smaller and smaller and that the people who care group gets larger and larger not because they worry about how food and fibre is produced but because they trust farmers and have the time to put their energies into causes like making sure all Australians have full stomachs every night, have clothes to wear and have a roof over their heads

I want to live in an Australia where we all care about people first. I look forward to that day and I am very proud that the Archibull Prize is helping to grow and support that vision.

Kildare Catholic College

In 2014 the Reserve Grand Champion Archibull Prize award winner from Kildare Catholic College exemplified their community – Wagga Wagga

Footnotes

  1. * Agriculture – the industry that provides us with our most basic of needs. The industry that feeds us, clothes us and puts a roof over our heads
  2. Please note this post is a work in progress. It has been updated following excellent feedback from a number of people since it was first posted it.
  3. Rider – I admit the only thing I look at when I buy eggs is how crushproof I believe the box they come in is.
  4. HT – Hat tip to SK – a lovely lady I met at the NSW Department of Secondary Education yesterday. I shared my vision with her for what I wanted to the Archibull Prize to investigate this year and we work-shopped the theme and I loved her idea

 

 

 

Learning from the past to get better outcomes for this generation of farmers

I used to be a quiet achiever in the world of pharmacy.  Today I have a fairly high profile in the world of Australian agriculture. I make a lot of noise and fight what I believe is the good fight to get a fair return for our farmers. I am not always the most popular person in the room and it’s not easy. I have learnt the hard way it’s a journey ( a long journey) It’s not how much noise you make it’s how you make the noise and who you bring with you along the way that counts

For 25 years of my life I was a community pharmacist working in the main to help support the family dairying farming business. Pharmacy is a rewarding profession even when you were like me quietly putting labels on bottles, researching drug interactions, advising how best to treat burns and talking to customers. Pharmacists have the knowledge and the compassion to guide people through the quagmire and frustration that can be the world of hospitals, multiple medications and the desire to get the best health outcomes for sick people who often see you as their first port of call

It’s a very different world to agriculture; where we are totally overwhelmed with quiet achievers and the world is leaving us behind. The majority of pharmacists can be quiet achievers because there are some very smart people in the world of pharmacy who know how important it is if you are going to be heard in Macquarie St or Canberra  you need to be articulate, know that politics is the art of the possible and you need to be a cohesive, collaborative, powerful group of networkers. You need to be loud and proud. This is the reason that the Pharmacy Guild is one most powerful lobby groups in this country

There are a lot of smart people in agriculture and that is where the comparison stops and this is what I want to change. I want the people in the offices in the hallowed halls to tremble and listen and act when the farmer lobbyists go to meet the decision and policy makers

I know there are people in agriculture who could do it better than me and chose not to. So I am on a steep learning curve and constantly seeking out people I can learn from. Figuring out how to ask the right questions and when I get the right answers who are the people to take them to who will actually do something with them. Those people are very short on the ground in the world of dairy. Every day I am reminded just how naive so many of our dairy farmers are. We pay levies and we just expect that the people in charge of our levies can read our minds and this tends to lead to a one size fits all R&D mentality that apparently works in every region no matter what your farming system, topography, soil types et all and decision making that is not always in the best interests of the majority. It also means no-one is listening to us in Macquarie St or Canberra and can’t say I blame them.

So I love to talk to people from other industries, hear what they are doing and always wondering why we don’t do that in dairy. Looking at the diversity of people I met at Crookwell Show. See post here.

Take cattle farmer Ken Wheelwright for example.

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Ken and his family realised long ago that farming today is not about working longer hours it’s about being smarter. So after talking to holistic educator Bruce Ward, Ken contacted the KLR Marketing team and became part of their Mastermind Group.

The KLR Mastermind Group is the support network for KLR Marketing. The greatest benefits of being part of this network, Ken believes is that you have access to the vital tools that enable you to profit from your livestock, in any market and he certainly gave me plenty of successful examples. Imagine the value of talking to people who can share their experiences like recognising the recent rain has meant there has been a rapid growth of grass and the cattle market is very buoyant but looking at the medium term weather forecast shows there are some extreme heat events coming which are going to burn that grass off pretty fast and it might be very smart to de-stock by 90% and take advantage of the current high cattle prices. If there is a similar range of services delivered on-line and offline, which include a unique market report like the KLR 30 Second Market report, profit calculators, teleconferences as well as mentoring days in regional areas offering in the world of dairy I have never seen it

Talking to Dr Rod Hoare reminded me how important it is to learn from past knowledge.

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Rod is an equine and cattle vet with extensive experience working for the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI). Now Chief ground steward at the Crookwell Show and farmer Rod and his partner Helena Warren run a very interesting and diverse farming operation at Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys. Rod is also the 2012 Australian Biosecurity Farmer of the Year   

I learnt a lot about a lot things from Rod as we drove around Crookwell Show in his little golf buggy.

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There are many farmers in the dairy industry that could benefit from listening to Rod talk about the protocols and systems that were in place to ‘keep the bastards honest’ in the on farm milk quality testing process when he was at the DPI. Any farmer who has moved from one milk processor to another who uses a different lab knows how huge the variation in milk quality lab test results can be and how costly that can be. For us one year that was $30K. You can do a lot on farm with $30K.  You could employ some-one for half a year. Imagine how much infrastructure repairs and maintenance you could do let alone how many trees and fencing you could do. Build a shade shelter for your cows on hot days, the holiday you could go on, let alone all the staff that didn’t get their milk quality bonus. It wasn’t much fun for them either. There is a small dedicated group of people out there trying to fix this problem on behalf of farmers but getting nowhere because for some reason “the bastards” are happy with the system. Well Rod might just have the answer; it certainly worked in his day.

On our trip to the cattle sheds Rod introduced me to 84 year old Ernie Stevenson. Ernie was a very early and influential member of the Murray Grey Society. A man with a good eye for cattle but admits he is fairly critical which often didn’t make him the most popular judge

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Ernie’s daughter Fiona with her husband butcher Mick Battiste have kept the family beef cattle tradition alive at their Woolarainga Stud where they raise Murray Grey and Squaremeaters

In September 2009 Mick and Fiona established Woolaringa Meats as a retail butcher shop, located at 112 Kinghorne Street, Goulburn. They provide free range beef from their own farm and purchase cattle from local farmers like Rod Hoare that suit their specifications. According to Rod, Mick Battiste does all his own butchering and promotion of beef. Mick works on the basis that (like a pharmacist) by taking time to share your knowledge and skills you can give people a better eating experience

The things like we farmers kno, that you make great casseroles with cheap chuck steak not prime costly rump steak

Well done Mick and Fiona running great events like Super Square Sunday  

Mick and Fiona Battiste

 

 

Planet to Plate with Love

I am lucky enough to be the ‘sunrise’ in the wonderful cookbook that can be purchased here that celebrates Australia’s fresh produce and the people who produce it – our farmers

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 Doing some promo for the book recently with Masterchef 2014 runner up Lynton Tapp

For me the whole thing has been one amazing experience after another and part of that experience is that it’s allowed me to give back to some of the special people in my life. Like local photographer and all round beautiful person Linda Faiers who worked with me in the beginning to record the journey of all my projects in pictures. Linda is such a talent and this cookbook showcases that

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A sample of the genius that is Linda Faiers – we had such fun capturing the Sunrise 

As the ‘Sunrise’ or forward to the Cookbook I am finding myself doing multiple interviews to promote it – which I must admit is giving me great pleasure – it is just so fantastic that we now have such a beautiful resource that showcases so many of our wonderful farmers, their practices and their values

These days there is plenty of material on the internet that tells people who I am and I always ensure that the journalist interviewing me has seen the ones that I believe best portray what I do, what I stand for, and why I do it

This means that the journalist interviewing me can focus on what they believe will interest the readers of the publication they write for

No matter who interviews me I get that question “why farming – there are so many other careers out there that don’t require you to work 24/7 for such a small return on investment?”

Now anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows farming was definitely not on my list of career choices when I was growing up

If I am going to be honest there was no career I wanted to do less than farm (that probably is a little extreme)

As a child I grew up in house that had a mother who thought she had married a man with the bank account the size of Robert Sangster and all she had to do was look beautiful and attend garden parties (bit harsh – I loved you mum and must admit I always fantasized about what that lifestyle would be like myself )  She soon found out that wasn’t true and farming in Australia is a tough gig and not too many people manage to support their farms without one person working off farm

When I was eighteen and had found out I had lots of options to do whatever I wanted at Uni I grabbed the opportunity and got off the farm as fast as I could

Now Rebecca Ferguson sings this beautiful song where she assures us

 Nothing’s real but love

No money, no house, no car,

Can beat love

So when just before I went to Uni I met my future husband Michael I thought Rebecca Ferguson had totally nailed it. I loved uni. I loved spending every spare minute I had with Michael.

When I finished Uni we got married.  I had a degree and an assured secure income and I didn’t care what Michael did as long as he had a career where people valued him and it wasn’t dangerous

I should have twigged that these two priorities did not sit at the top of his list when he told me he wanted to be a policeman. Is there a career more dangerous and less valued than a policeman? Well yes there is (in fact there is a very long list of them) and one of those is being a farmer.  I used to joke with Michael saying when you become a policeman I am going to become a nun and that certainly reduced his interest in being a policeman.  But six months into our marriage some-one came along and offered him a share farming opportunity and I was horrified. But as fifth generation dairy farmer himself some-one had opened a door he never even dreamt would open and nothing no matter how against the idea I was, was going to stop him accepting

I always say hate is not an emotion it is a disease and for me it was. I hated the idea of going back to the nightmares of my childhood, no money, lots of resentment and parents wanting to give their children everything they didn’t have themselves as children and couldn’t and when Michael said yes a little piece of me died and it ate away at me for over 25 years

Like most women on farms one of my roles was to open the bills and write the cheques and find the money when it wasn’t there. For me with a degree in pharmacy the answer was fairly simple just work longer hours in the pharmacy.

I was working in the new era of Night and Day Pharmacies. These pharmacies were open 7 days a week, 14 hours a day. There weren’t  a lot of people who wanted to work those hours and the people who did could earn quite a bit of money and I became one of those people.

No matter how hard I tried by the time the stress of the deregulation of the dairy industry came around I hated farming, I hated my job and the disease had eaten me away to the point where I felt dead inside.

By that time I had found out that whilst pharmacists are highly valued by the community it can be a very dangerous profession.

In 2000, the year of deregulation, which also happened to be the year our son decided he wanted to farm I was managing a very large pharmacy with a staff of 20 people  that was being held up by the same two people wearing pig masks and wielding knives on such a regular basis I can’t recall how many times it was until they were caught.

It’s the most horrible thing – the hold-ups themselves are horrendous- but watching the long term detrimental effects on the people you work with and have come to love just broke my heart.

So without going into the ugly details I found myself on farm 24/7 and it was then that I understood why farmers are so passionate about what they do. I understood the emotional attachment, the love of their livestock and the landscape and now I too share that passion

I understand why they make the sacrifices they do. I understand why they continue to do what they do when there is no future for their farm

This is why I do what I do and that is fight for a fairer future for our farmers where everyone not just Coles and Woolworths gets a fair return for their efforts

Now our son owns the farm and his father works for him. Our son comes from what many call the Entitled Generation. I prefer to call it the Privileged Generation.

All I hope is that he appreciates the sacrifices his father has made for him because Rebecca Ferguson has missed something very important and Pharrell Wiillams is right You can’t have real love without happiness and you can’t make other people happy by funding their dreams and scarificing your own

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Keep your eye out for the cook book its called Planet to Plate

Its a fabulous celebration of our farmers, our great Australian chefs and the many people who help our farmers supply the wonderful safe, nutritious, affordable food and fibre that Australia and its beautiful natural resources allow us to

Every little girl wants a pony

I have a friend who is going to do an  Alpine Horseback Safari through the Kosciuszko National Park with her family and she is the one in the family who hasn’t ridden in almost as long I haven’t

So she has found some-where in Kangaroo Valley where she can practice and ensure she doesn’t let the team down

I am assuming it’s this one . Anyway in a moment of madness I said I would go with her. So I got up on the ladder and got my old exercise saddle down from its spot it was sharing with a wasp nest in the garage and decided to clean it up.

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Its amazing what you can do with some (a lot) Ge-Wy dressing ( after you have removed the wasp nests)

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Not bad for a saddle that’s been sitting on a beam in the garage for 37 years. But I think I will give these a miss

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Who out there is my age and did the show circuit when everybody bought their saddles (except when you got snobby and imported them from Germany so you could keep up with the Jones) from D Stuart and Son at Sutherland?

Stuart and Son

 Its was all so long ago

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