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By Richard Snashall ·

Every two years a group of Hay district farmers and members of the sheep industry converge on the western Riverina for the Peppin-Shaw Ewe Flock Forum.

Over two intensive days, the group travel by bus and in a handful of 4WDs to properties around the region, scrutinising ewe flocks, catching up with neighbours, solving problems, looking at new technologies and comparing notes.

This year I was fortunate to be invited along on the Peppin-Shaw trip with camera in hand.

“Most graziers don’t get out that often,” laughs Tupra station manager David Rankin, also the forum’s acting president in 2017. “So it’s a good chance to talk with one another.”

But it’s not really a joke; these graziers don’t get out much as the properties they’re running are enormous and incredibly busy operations. To my mind, the farms are more easily measured in kilometres rather than acres or hectares. One of the properties we visited must have been close to 100 kilometres long!

The forum invites two professional assessors who look at the meat and wool characteristics of each property’s flock, but not in a competitive manner. For the 2017 forum, Jarrod Slattery from Wagga Wagga was on hand to discuss the lamb and mutton, while merino expert Courtney Sutherland came from Western Australia to talk fleece.

“There’s little to critique,” says Jarrod. “Everyone is doing a great job with their sheep”.

“It’s also great to see so many young people coming into the industry,” Courtney commented. “They’ve got a serious amount of passion, so I think the industry will be served very well into the future.”

With tremendous demand for lamb and mutton, and high wool prices, the farmers are feeling understandably upbeat. Combine all that with last year’s record rainfall and you have a great year to be on the Peppin-Shaw bus.

Witnessing the interaction between the graziers, industry representatives and jackeroos is a real delight. But not only that, it’s fascinating to meet the families and communities that live in and are the backbone of support for these remote farming operations. Along the 1000 kilometre plus route, the forum delegates were treated to warm hospitality and delicious morning teas, lunches and afternoon teas by locals, including P&C committees and branches of the Country Women’s Association.

For filming, this country offers up stunning scenery and different conditions every single day. Along with the on-ground filming and interviewing, it was great to fly my little unmanned aerial quadcopter (yes, more often than not called a drone) to capture the Riverina landscape in all its beauty. I must offer thanks for a few of the aerial shots to Ben Watts, also on the trip, who is not only a farmer but a drone educator from northern NSW.

The city and coast folk often refer to regions like the western Riverina as “harsh”. That word doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Sure, the climate is variable and the country provides extraordinary challenges for those who live there, but there is a great lifestyle and unmatched beauty in this part of Australia that these communities understand and enjoy very much. Otherwise they wouldn’t be living there.