Grahame Sanderson might be 80 and long retired, but he still sees himself as a dairy farmer.
“Once you’re a farmer, you’re always a farmer,” he says.
“If I lived life over again, I’d do the same thing. I’m a lucky man; lucky in health, lucky to find the right girl and lucky to do something I loved.”
As a Legendairy farmer in Monto, the 2015 Legendairy Capital of the Subtropical dairy region, Grahame milked cows for 40 years with his late wife Molly. He farmed in partnership with their sons, contributed to the industry as a director of Port Curtis Dairy which ran the Monto dairy factory, and was also a state councillor with the Queensland Dairy Organisation (QDO).
“I could write a book about the dairy industry,” he jokes, and after hearing his passion for the industry he probably could.
Grahame’s family came to Monto when he was one and established a dairy farm in 1936.
He and Molly made their first foray into the industry in 1955 by milking cows so farmers could have a holiday. “In 1955, butter was a reasonable price because it was going to England after the war,” he said. “Dairy farmers were making a bit of money so for the first five or six months of our marriage we went from farm to farm a month at a time. We made 100 quid a month plus got to live in their house; that was pretty good money back in 1955.”
Molly and Grahame bought the family farm in 1964 and it remained a dairy until 1979 when they started two partnership farms with their sons.
These continued until deregulation in 2000. “We knew deregulation was going to be bad but we had no idea it would be as bad as it was,” Grahame said. “It would have been absolutely devastating if it wasn’t for Pat Rowley who was president of the QDO and devised a plan to compensate all dairy farmers. That lessened the blow but it was still a catastrophe. It threw the producer to the wolves.”
Within 12 months they were out of the industry.
“After you milk cows for 40 years they become a big part of your life,” Grahame said. “It was like losing a friend. I missed them like all hell for a couple of months.”
He also bristles about $1 litre milk. “That was an indictment on the government,” he said. “I thought surely the government would step in and pull the supermarkets into gear and set a base price on milk but they didn’t do it.”
The forces of deregulation and the later price war forced many farmers out of the industry, but Grahame keeps in touch with those remaining.
He says Monto’s honour of being named the Legendairy Capital of the Subtropical dairy region is well deserved.
“In Monto’s heyday in 1964 we had 448 suppliers to the Monto Butter Factory. Today we’ve got eight milk suppliers left in the Monto shire supplying Parmalat in Rockhampton. Those remaining are consolidated farmers and they supply top quality milk,” Grahame said.
In September, Grahame will proudly take part of the Legendairy Monto Dairy Festival which he says has been reignited by being named the Legendairy Capital. “There were thoughts that it shouldn’t be a dairy festival anymore, just a Monto Festival, but Legendairy helped to keep the dairy tag on the festival.”