Like a lot of farmers, Andrew wants his kids to take over the farm. His challenge is to keep it viable. In the 1980s, his father planted native trees, which led to huge diversification. He grows timber, 28 species of banksia, and bush foods like lemon myrtle, which his wife, Jill, sells to restaurants and other customers. His sheep farm is one of the most productive in the area, and he also runs educational tours on his 500-acre [200-hectare] property.
In 1993, Andrew and I formed the Otway Agroforestry Network, a landcare group that encourages farmers to grow trees for their benefit. We’ve been on 30-odd trips together around Australia to talk about forest management, from animal shelter and carbon sequestration to growing shiitake mushrooms. It’s great travelling with Andrew, as we know each other so well. We can fill dead time in an airport by just talking, not always about work; it’s more personal than that. It’s about the legacy we want to leave behind for our family and community.
In May last year, I was on the farm by myself – my wife was in Melbourne – and my heart went off; I had an irregular heartbeat. I phoned Andrew because I knew he’d drop everything. He came straight away and drove me to Epworth Hospital in Geelong. A friendship is not just a friendship, it’s a life journey and I have that with Andrew. We both share a strong work ethic, and a passion to improve farming and make a difference to the agricultural landscape.
ANDREW: I met Rowan while I was drenching sheep. When he arrived at my shed he announced who he was. I said I knew about him from his first book. He wanted to know who owned the Italian pine trees that were on the boundary of our farm. It was an interesting introduction, as he was looking at trees and talking to a farmer who was also interested in looking at trees. We gelled from the word go.
When I went to his property, the young trees he’d planted struck me. I tried to visualise what they’d look like, and 31 years later I’m not disappointed. His goal was to address environmental issues like erosion and biodiversity decline by using trees to protect the landscape, but also to utilise commercial products that could come from the trees.
Rowan has studied the art of forestry science, to understand how trees grow, their biology and structure, and their behaviour. For 20 years he lectured at Melbourne University. He invited me to talk about what we’re doing on my farm. Rowan is a visual person. The way he engaged his students and challenged them to think laterally about agroforestry was exemplary.
His farm is educational. He calls it an «outdoor classroom». On it, he’s grown more than 50 commercial tree species. Since he began planting in 1987, more than 10,000 people have visited his property to learn about trees.
My wife Jill became seriously ill in 1996 with cancer. This was when Rowan began the first Master TreeGrower program that I helped co-ordinate in the Otways. I’ve probably never said it, but working with him during that time was invaluable. I was able to talk to Rowan. He was just there. My wife made a full recovery. His support was significant.
Rowan’s greatest strength is facilitation. He recognises people who have something to offer. In 2013, we went to Uganda to talk to 50 farmers as part of the Master TreeGrower program. He discovered these guys who made little mud brick stoves and invited them to talk. The stoves meant the farmers could cook properly, and prevented kids from falling onto ash.
On that trip, we visited the national park. The bus became full of tsetse flies. We ran around belting each other with Master TreeGrower pamphlets and hats so we wouldn’t get bitten. We never thought we’d use them for that!
Rowan’s family owns a holiday house at Moggs Creek, on the Great Ocean Road. Each January after shearing, we’d go there with the kids. Rowan would try to teach us to surf, and I’d try to teach them to play cricket. When the kids were in bed, we’d drink red wine and talk about our work in the community.
Rowan doesn’t see problems, only solutions. He always puts a positive foot forward. Our friendship gives me inspiration and the confidence to do what we do on our farm. I call myself a pragmatic greenie; Rowan is probably similar. We share a strong personal and philosophical bond. We never run out of conversation. We’re always there for each other.