Barry and Rosey Warburton brought dairy farming, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the effects of poor water policy into the spotlight when they recently featured on the SBS documentary Struggle.
The couple were facing their second year with zero water allocation over summer 2018-19 when their dairy life was beamed across the country as they battled physical and financial stress, to survive and feed their Illawarra herd.
The couple were approached by SBS after receiving help from the charity Aussie Helpers.
It is fair to say Rosey was reluctant to participate from the very beginning and on the first day the camera appeared she took off with their two young kids Lincoln, 6, and Anabella, 2.
“I didn’t want the cameras here. Putting ourselves out there was just to confronting for me, but Barry agreed instantly because he wanted city people to see first hand what is happening to our farmers,” she said.
The SBS one-man crew fitted seamlessly into their lives and made the process so relaxing Rosey returned and ended up featuring prominently in the documentary.
Over the four-part series we see the family struggle with the impact of being unable to feed their cows properly over a long hot summer, the breaking down of a bore and the heartbreaking decision to sell part of the herd.
In a bid to cut costs they also put the herd on once a day milking.
We get a glimpse of Barry’s love for showing cows at the Deniliquin show and Lincoln’s first time in the show ring.
The couple relieve the terrible moment Lincoln got stuck in the rotary and the possibility he might have suffered irreversible damage.
There are tears (mostly from Barry) and not too many joyous moments over the period of filming but the couple make it through.
“Somehow we survived but I am not sure how and I still can’t believe how bad it really was,” Barry said.
They have found watching their life in replay stressful - especially the part about Lincoln.
“We both cried when we watched that. I don’t think we had time to grieve at the time and that was very hard to watch,” Rosey said.
It has also helped the couple make the hardest decision of all, to sell Barry’s beloved herd in December, and move interstate.
The genetics in Barry’s herd can be traced backed for generations and the history behind some of the cows is fascinating.
In 1909 Barry’s great grandfather JJ King walked an Illawarra, Lady of Nestlebrae 40km over four days to attend the Bangalow show. The walk was certainly worth the while after she was crowned champion cow and won a massive 20 pounds for the effort.
He also bred the highest producing Illawarra, Nestlebare Nellie 2nd who produced a record 1600 pounds (700kgs) of butter fat in 365 days. She was fed on a diet of sweet potato runners and had a fat test of 6.4 per cent.
An Uncle of Barry’s, JJ Cole, managed the Scottish Australian Investment Fund and one of their cows Melba 15th of Darabalara knocked Nellie off the top perch.
Melba produced 1,614 lbs. of butterfat in 365 days.
“Melba was famous around the district and one old fella told me when he was a school kid they used to line up for her milk because her high fat test meant it tasted better than all the other cows.
“When she died (a bull broke her back) she was put on a cart and taken down to the river by a team of bullocks where they dug a hole and buried her by the river. She was a much-loved cow apparently.”
Barry has a strong love and Illawarra history on both sides of his family, and the breed has always done very well.
But that doesn’t pay the bills and without water, the couple have made the tough decision to sell.
“We scraped through last season borrowing money from the family. We didn’t even bother going to the bank because we knew what their answer would be, and we decided we can’t go through that ever again.
“Even though circumstances were different last year with a lower milk price combined with exorbitant feed cost, we just don’t know how much longer this drought will go on for.”
Barry said poor water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has ruined the area.
“There are no drought clauses in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to elevate water pressure and the federal government aren’t doing anything to help either and it is just too stressful and hard,” Barry said.
The couple have had a lot of support from the public who have been grateful they shared their story.
They even received a card in the mail from two pensioners with $20 addressed to Barry and Rosey (SBS Doco) dairy farmers Deniliquin, thanking them for producing food for the country.
“I think Struggle Street brings home to people just how tough it has been and with this season shaping up to be the same we have decided to exit and start again somewhere else,” Barry said.
It won’t quite be the end of dairying though as Barry is planning on taking a few of his favourite Illawarra’s with him in the hope he can still share the joy of showing cows with his young family in the future.