Recently-released book looks into lost dynasties

Recently released book looks into lost dynasties


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MEDIA identity and former farmer Richard Zachariah spent some of his formative years in the Western District of Vic and this time inspired him to write his book The Vanished Land.

MEDIA identity and former farmer Richard Zachariah spent some of his formative years in the Western District of Vic and this time inspired him to write his book The Vanished Land.

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COUNTRY TIES: The time Richard Zachariah spent in the western district of Vic while growing up inspired him to write the book 'The Vanished Land'.

COUNTRY TIES: The time Richard Zachariah spent in the western district of Vic while growing up inspired him to write the book 'The Vanished Land'.

Despite only being launched on August 19, the book has already been reprinted.

“The book has stirred up an enormous amount of interest, but it was written without any commercial expectations,” Richard said.

Richard moved to the Western District from Melbourne in 1953, aged 8, when his father took on the principal role at the Hamilton and Western District College.

“I moved there when the wool boom was at its height,” he said.

“Some the kids’ fathers were getting million pound wool cheques, which equates to $35m in today’s terms.

“Money flowed in the district and people were driving Rolls Royces. Having properties in the Western District was like having a licence to print money.”

Richard only lived in the region for seven years, but it left a lasting impression on him.

“I was there from age eight to 15, which is an enormously influential time,” he said.

While his family did not farm in the Western District, Richard’s time in the region inspired a love of primary production.

“Moving there was a big learning curve, but I loved country life,” he said.

“I’ve ended up living half my life in the country and half in the city.”

Richard worked in the media in Sydney but also a had property at Mittagong in southern highlands of NSW with his former partner, media personality Maggie Tabberer.

He also spent time working with Hereford cattle in the Gippsland region in Vic.

Until recently, he ran a vineyard and bred horses at a farm at Woodside, which he only sold last year, before moving to Adelaide. Richard has been working on The Vanished Land for four years.

“I went back to the Western District five years ago to visit a mate of mine, who had a sheep and cattle property on the Hopkins River,” he said.

“I just didn’t recognise the place, the landscape had changed so greatly.”

This inspired Richard to look into the changing landscape, travelling the six hours from his base in SA to the Western District to conduct interviews. A major theme is how many of the region’s farming dynasties had left in the past 20 to 30 years.

“We’ve now got corporations coming in, overseas investments and big superannuation funds buying old properties,” Richard said. “The face of rural Australia has changed dramatically and there’s a lot of people who have left without telling their stories.”

READ: The Vanished Land.

READ: The Vanished Land.

Vanished land explores future

AUTHOR Richard Zachariah says the title of his book The Vanished Land is wistful and melancholic, with the aim of explaining the vast change in the human make-up of Vic’s Western District. 

The book is an exploration of the Western District becoming stripped of its identity and its social elite of grazing dynasties departing for varied reasons.

“The book unquestionably recognises the importance of people and particularly the disappearing multi-generation families,” he said.

“Central to the book is the questionable future happiness of those that remain silent about their transition from significant landholders to suburban folk. 

“They must get over the inhibition and tell the stories of the generations that came before them.

“We must tell of the European experience, knowing that it is only six or seven generations old. It may be short compared to the Aboriginal dreamtime but it is all we have got.”

Richard says the book has been misunderstood as critical of those who sold inherited land, which he says is not true.

“Some have quoted the book as saying the Western District is in decline,” he said. 

“That couldn’t be further from the truth, as sheep and cattle prices are almost in a mini-boom and land sales, often to foreign buyers, continue to set records.”

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