Father-daughter partnership drives Nosworthy family forward

Our Stories: Father-daughter partnership drives Nosworthy family forward

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The Nosworthy family have been farming on the EP since the early 1900s, and with father Bill and daughter Lisa steering the ship, the future looks bright.

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"If you haven't got it, you make it. If you can't make it, work it out. If you buy something that has to be put together, chuck the instructions over your shoulder and think 'bugger it, I can work it out myself'."

This is one of a plethora of catchphrase originals by Sheringa farmer Bill Nosworthy, and the 'can-do' attitude is an accurate insight into how the Nosworthy family have continued to run a thriving sheep and cropping enterprise on the Eyre Peninsula for nearly 80 years.

The Nosworthys originated from Devon, England, travelling to SA in 1847 and settling in Inman Valley on the Fleurieu Peninsula. In 1912, Bill's grandfather, Emanuel, moved to the Cummins area with his brothers, then took up land on his own near Arno Bay.

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Emanuel, his wife Esme, and their only child - also named Bill - bought Lake Hamilton Station at Sheringa in 1945, and the family have been there ever since.

Emanuel's son Bill was in charge right up until his death in 2015, and Bill senior's son Bill junior now runs Lake Hamilton Pastoral with wife Jenny - who came to the area from Adelaide as a nurse in the 1980s, with a background of family involvement in farming - and long-term worker Sam Wright.

It's said that God took six days to build the world, and on the seventh day, he threw the leftovers at Sheringa. - BILL NOSWORTHY

Lake Hamilton Pastoral is made up of three properties - Lake Hamilton Station, Spring Villa (bought in 1954) and Gibraltar (bought in 1980) - totalling 16,200 hectares.

Bill and Jenny have three daughters - Elizabeth, Meredith and Lisa - with Lisa still actively involved in the farm.

With husband Ryan Boot, and children Felicity, 4, and Arthur, 2, Lisa leases a 1620ha block at Lock called Puntharra, which was bought by Bill and Jenny in 2009.

When the Nosworthys first moved to Lake Hamilton Station, they battled rabbits and poor seasons for the better part of 15 years, and Bill has never shied away from the challenges the land has thrown at them.

"It's said that God took six days to build the world, and on the seventh day, he threw the leftovers at Sheringa," Bill said.

Despite the challenges, Bill said he had been one-eyed for farming through his childhood.

In the days before the bulk era, he was sewing grain bags by age seven. He also trapped rabbits, carting them around in a 20-kilogram box cart with wheels, which he made himself.

People always told me girls couldn't be farmers. - LISA BOOT

"I spent so much time exploring nature - and occasionally killing it - pulling various things to pieces, and tinkering with mechanical stuff and woodwork. I've always been mixed up with farm engineering too," Bill said.

Upon finishing boarding school at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, Bill came straight home, and said he had "never thought of doing anything else".

In a similar vein, daughter Lisa knew from an early age she wanted to spend her life on the land.

"I got teased at school, because I always said I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up," she said.

"People always told me girls couldn't be farmers."

Lisa's path back to the farm was not as direct as Bill's. After school, she started an agricultural science degree in Adelaide, but soon quit and pursued work in shearing sheds as a wool classer.

LAKESIDE VIEWS: Lake Hamilton, looking west.

LAKESIDE VIEWS: Lake Hamilton, looking west.

Wool handling competitions took Lisa to interstate events, as well as further afield, including to New Zealand and Ireland. It was during these competitions that she met kiwi Ryan, who was also competing in shearing events.

Lisa also dabbled in shearing competitions, having participated in a shearing school run by Craig Wheare at Lock. With no one wanting to take on a learner shearer in their team, she stuck to woolhandling, but her shearing prowess was on show early on, according to Bill.

"Lisa won a shearing comp at Yallunda Flat, pretty much 30 years to the day after I won it, beating the son of the guy that I beat. It was the first father-daughter win at the comp," Bill said.

Working in the shearing sheds as a classer was Lisa's bread and butter for nearly a decade, before she and Ryan moved to the Lock property in 2013.

"We got a bit of local run in the sheds when we moved to Puntharra - there were times when we were really busy in the shearing sheds all week, then running the farm on the weekends," Lisa said.

EXPANSION PLANS

Bill said he had always been looking for opportunities to expand, prior to buying Puntharra, and Puntharra appealed because of its differences from the land at Lake Hamilton.

"I always thought if I expanded elsewhere, I didn't want more of the same, and everything south was really expensive, so north it was," he said.

The original idea for Puntharra was to fatten Merino wether lambs, which Bill did for the first five years he had the property, during which time Lisa and Ryan settled in there.

"We weren't getting good money for our wether lambs, which were sold off at shearing time, but we were shearing until quite late in the year, coming into the start of harvest and at the end of the spring flush," Bill said.

"We were getting as little as $40 in October, everyone else who had marketable sheep at an earlier time were getting $80 or $90, so we kept the whole of that year's drop and took them to Lock, ran them for eight months, and sold them for about $100 a head, plus the wool clip."

I intend to keep working here for a long time yet, because when you love what you do, why not? - SAM WRIGHT

Soon after moving to Puntharra, Lisa and Ryan built a feedlot there. With Bill having sold off the sheep he was running on Puntharra, Lisa and Ryan bought in 550 Merino ewes - a number they reduced slightly because of the dry.

This year, 120 Merino ewes and 320 Dohne ewes were mated at Puntharra, to Suffolk rams from She-Oak Lodge, Mount Hope, and White Suffolks from Kattata Well, Port Kenny.

"We're focusing more on Dohnes because of the growth rate of the lambs, and the Dohne-Suffolk cross is working really well for us," Lisa said.

"It helped a bit that we moved to Puntharra just as lamb prices started going up. After running them through the feedlot, we averaged $60 a head profit, and in some cases up to $100 a head."

CROP CONTRACTED

The cropping area at Puntharra - about 1200ha - is sharefarmed, just like at Lake Hamilton, where one sharefarmer runs 240ha, and another runs 325ha.

"We sharefarm the cropping because others have the technology to do a better job than us - under my father's direction we were still using 1980s technology in 2010," Bill said.

A further 200ha at Lake Hamilton is cropped by Sam, sown for sheep feed and paddock improvement.

"Sam is good at fixing old things up, and is patient but able to adapt," Bill said.

"His kids gave him a GPS years ago and now he has every weed patch on the property on his GPS, so if he goes off chasing weeds, there is no guesswork, or wondering where something is. It's much more efficient."

Workman Sam grew up next door to Lake Hamilton, and turned up at the Nosworthys to help out with lamb marking in 1989. He never looked back, and now lives at Spring Villa with wife Sonya.

The pair have seven children - Lynette, Katelyn, Genevieve, Nicola, Stephanie, Christopher and Adrian, with the youngest two still at school in Cummins and the rest scattered across SA.

"There is a lot of variety in the work here, it's great," Sam said.

"Bill lets me do things my way. It's really good to be able to make decisions myself. I'm always happy to be the first person to try something, someone has to be - and if it doesn't work or people laugh at what I'm doing, I don't mind.

"I intend to keep working here for a long time yet, because when you love what you do, why not?"

CONTINUAL IMPROVMENT

With cropping a relatively small part of Lake Hamilton Pastoral, striving for continual improvement of the livestock side of things has been constant through the years.

Just under 3500 Merino ewes were mated this season at Lake Hamilton, while 1000 young sheep are about to be classed. For about 10 years, Bill has been running Dohne rams over his self-replacing Merino ewe flock, with Merino rams sourced from Allala stud, Kapinnie, and Dohne rams from Eagle Ridge, Cowell.

"We only changed to Poll Merinos about five years ago, but the sheep from Allala are fantastic, strong, good-doing sheep that complement ours beautifully, and have made our flock much better," Bill said.

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For the past three years, Bill has been joining Dohne rams to maiden ewes, rather than older ones. He says the size of Dohne lambs has its advantages.

"Because they're so small, they're very easy birthing, and we've had a big increase in lambing percentages in our maiden ewes since using Dohne rams," Bill said.

"Our lambing percentage was well over 90pc with our maidens last year - prior to that it was under 80pc."

The number of changes made at Lake Hamilton has increased since Bill snr died six years ago, and while Bill jnr admitted his father "ruled with an iron fist", there were certainly many admirable parts of his farming approach.

FATHER AND SON: Bill jnr and Bill snr, in 1990.

FATHER AND SON: Bill jnr and Bill snr, in 1990.

"The conservative nature of not running things hard was a big positive with Dad. He had a really good longevity focus," Bill said.

A focus on longevity is clearly in the genes, being at the forefront of Lisa's mind too.

Lisa's family are set to move back to Lake Hamilton later in the year, into a 160-year-old house where Bill snr and his wife Maureen had lived since 1966.

Puntharra will remain in the Nosworthy Family Trust, and will be used to run older ewes.

My sisters and I have a massive emotional attachment to the area, because we've grown up here and have really good memories. - LISA BOOT

Lisa is excited to move back to where she grew up, and says she is up for the challenge of running a large property.

"We're not too worried about leaving Puntharra, we're ready to move on and I always wanted to come back here eventually," she said.

"Lake Hamilton is quite different to and bigger than Lock, and while we have got a bit of a handle on it, there is still plenty to learn."

Lisa and Ryan will take the helm of Lake Hamilton Pastoral next year, as the family rolls out its succession plan, but Bill predicts all three of his daughters will remain interested and involved in the farm in the future.

Oldest daughter Elizabeth is a trained nurse with a biomedical science degree, and is married to Mark Dansie, a FIFO worker, with the pair splitting their time between Port Lincoln, and Karratha, WA. The pair have one-year-old Oscar with another due in September.

PUPPY LOVE: Elizabeth with kelpie puppy Ruby, in 2017.

PUPPY LOVE: Elizabeth with kelpie puppy Ruby, in 2017.

Second child Meredith is a trained nurse in Adelaide, while husband Norman Schulze is a park ranger. The pair have a one-year-old, Alana.

"My sisters and I have a massive emotional attachment to the area, because we've grown up here and have really good memories," Lisa said.

"Elizabeth and Meredith have gone off and travelled around, but they still have a really good connection to the land here, and I hope their kids, and my kids, can have that connection too."

Life on farm for the youngest generation may not be exactly the same as Lisa, Elizabeth and Meredith's upbringing, which involved a driving lesson from Bill as a seventh birthday present.

"I wasn't a particularly good teacher at anything, but driving was just about taking the girls to somewhere where they probably couldn't hit anything, and let them go - they were all pretty competent drivers by the time they were eight," Bill said.

CONFIDENT FUTURE

Bill is confident his daughters have the capacity to ensure Lake Hamilton continues to be a successful business into the future.

"The three of them are mature enough that they'll work through issues as they come up," he said.

"It would be nice to think we'll have a reasonably smooth transition.

"Off-farm income is something which puts the icing on the cake, whether it be shearing, nursing, or contracting to mining exploration, and makes a huge difference when looking at the next generation's education, and succession to taking the reins in the future.

"It's vital to build off-farm investments, so as to hand over a property without large debt on it.

"The viability of the place has increased greatly in the past 20-30 years, and there are huge opportunities here to make the business twice the size it is, and potential for a lot of improvement and output."

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