First published with The Advocate – http://www.hepburnadvocate.com.au/story/4674833/our-disappearing-farmers-photos/?cs=1515
Feature image: Dylan Burns
Trentham potato farmer Alison Walsh was on her way to the Modern Art Museum Albury to view portraits of her children when The Advocate met local artist Rose Wilson at The Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Wilson’s portrait series Disappearing Farmers, currently on display in Albury, will be exhibited at the hotel from June 2.
Wilson said she wanted her community and the farmers she paid homage to in the series to see it. Moved by the decline of small family farms in Trentham, the series she devoted a year to depicts a generation of agricultural families and their working dogs, a way of life that is increasingly becoming rare.
“I decided I needed to pay homage to all the hard-working farming families I knew and how they come together as one unit to keep the family farms surviving,” she said.
“The more I got to know the farmers I decided there was a bigger story to be told, that the farmers were disappearing at a rapid rate. I did research and listened to the farmers stories. It’s a struggle for them to sustain in times of high land price and competition with imports.
“We’re losing fourth-generation, fifth-generation farmers and all their traditions are going as well. I thought we needed to make urban Australia aware of how important farmers are. We need to support them.”
There are around 134,000 farms in Australia and 99 per cent are family owned and operated according to National Farmers Federation.
Wilson works with her hands on linen cloth to create the portraits, reflecting hessian bags used by farmers and creating a transparency and technique of gradually dissipating portraits that reflects the family farms disappearance.
“They’re not complete, they are not finished. They are sort of disappearing. I use my fingers like paintbrushes,” she said.
Local farmer Alison Walsh said her children who feature in the exhibit were involved in the farming life.
“They are straight off the bus to the paddock to pull weeds in the afternoon,” she said. “They love it, helping dad and grandpa on the farm.”
“But farming in the area has definitely dropped off. It is a changing landscape.”
Portrait subject Peter Bruton started his farming journey on his uncle’s farm 50 years ago. This farm has survived the times and generations of the family work together, as Peter has come full circle to return to work on the farm today.