Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

From horses to horsepower

When Bill Church steps into the harvester cabin he brings 70 years of experience.

LAURA GRIFFIN January 2, 2013 4:03am

Bill Church, 82, was helping his son-in-law Laurie Lawless harvest wheat in Katamatite.


When Bill Church started harvesting nearly 70 years ago, he could not have imagined the changes in machinery.

Mr Church left school when he was 13 because his older brother went to war and his father needed a hand on the Yourang farm.

He started using an 8foot header that was pulled by eight horses.

He said they woke at 4am to feed the horses and themselves. They then harnessed the horses and started stripping the wheat, broke for lunch and continued until sundown.

‘‘We thought a good day was when you did 27acres of wheat,’’ Mr Church said.

‘‘We sometimes harvested into February.’’

For the past 19 years, he has been helping his son-in-law Laurie Lawless bring in the grain at his Katamatite farm. At 82 years of age, Mr Church still climbs into the cabin.

He said another big change in farming was the scale of properties, machinery and crop yields.

‘‘It’s virtually the same, but on a much bigger scale.’’

Mr Lawless has 445ha of wheat, about 90ha of which is irrigated, and 243ha of canola.

He drives a 30foot Case header, which is a lot more technical than the machinery of yesteryear.

‘‘Here’s the monitor and when it’s off it switches the whole thing off, so my son-in-law has to turn it on, then I’m right to go,’’ Mr Church said.

‘‘We’re a bit spoilt now — we’ve got a radio, airconditioning, a cabin.

‘‘Things progress that quick.’’

He has worked in a museum in Yarrawonga and some young people did not recognise the equipment his generation had harvested with.

Mr Church said he would continue to help harvest as long as he was physically able and as long as his help was wanted. He only gave up helping shear Mr Lawless’ small flock eight years ago.

‘‘My wife Adele and I retired to Yarrawonga, but I get out on the farm as much as I can.

‘‘If I’m helping with the sheep in the yards, harvesting or even fencing, it keeps me active. It keeps your mind active too.’’

He said it was also nice to spend time with and help his family.

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