AFTER 60 years milking cows Merv Williamson still enjoys the work and does not see any reason to stop.
Merv, 84, and his wife, Mary, 85, farm probably the last dairy business left in Whittlesea, a district north of Melbourne, which was once a peaceful village setting, and is becoming an outer residential suburb of Australia’s fast growing city.
When Merv and Mary took over running the farm, nestled between picturesque Kinglake and the Whittlesea plains, the closest traffic light was in Preston, 20 km away.
Today their 100 ha Em-jay Stud is tucked away at the end of a 1.2 km driveway, in a saucer-like dip in the landscape and it could be anywhere in south-eastern Australia, but is surrounded by 10 ha lifestyle properties.
Merv and Mary milk about 20 cows in an old-style walk-through dairy that Merv built.
Mary drops the grain supplement into the bails with a recycled saucepan.
Merv and Mary raise their own replacements on whole milk, supplemented with some grain, and also provide a few heifers for their grandchildren who are in farming.
On the day Dairy News arrived, Merv was on the John Deere tractor, mowing grass to help make the dry pastures a little more palatable.
During the hay season, Merv cuts and rakes the grass and a contractor does the baling.
It’s been a tough year, as they have no irrigation and the rainfall last year was well below average.
Stock get their water from a 50 m deep bore.
The farm supplies Floridia Cheese, a specialty Italian cheese manufacturer based in Thomastown, which has picked up a range of awards.
Born on a farm at Tatura and growing up in Maffra, Merv has been in the biggest dairy areas of Victoria, while Mary grew up on the farm that eventually became her home after she took a shine to the “farm boy” next door.
Mary attended the prestigious Presbyterian Ladies College, while Merv began work at the age of 15.
Ask him about retirement and Merv is adamant, almost offended.
While he is in good health and he enjoys the work, he sees no reason to give the job away. He believes early retirement can work against good health.
Mary agrees: “You want to keep doing it while you can.”
And Merv makes the astonishing claim that he can survive on about three hours’ sleep.
And does the family suggest they slow down?
“They try to,” Merv said with a smile.
The Williamsons have been active in their community.
Merv can recall the hey days of agricultural shows, when many farmers trucked in their cows for competition.
He and Mary got involved in the Whittlesea Show and they organised the animal nursery as a demonstration for “city slickers” for about 25 years.
In later years they roped in their grandchildren in to help out.
Their kitchen is adorned with photographs of their extended family, working on the land or showing cattle. There are certificates of appreciation for the couple’s work at the show.