IT WAS sudden and unexpected.Before the party meeting Hendy was boss; after it, it was Max.New National Party leader, Max Trenorden, will be exposed to an array of suggestions on how to retrieve the situation for his besieged traditional farmers’ party following its ignominious One Nation encounter on election night.As someone hailing from a long-established central Wheatbelt farming family Mr Trenorden is well equipped to be able to distinguish between bold new ideas and old ones wrapped up in flash words and meaningless jingoistic huff and puff phrases.I’ve known Max and his brothers since I was knee high to… The Trenorden family were long time farmers by the time I reached Wyalkatchem, so long ago.I briefly attended school with one of Max’s brothers, and played football and basketball against two of them.Both Max and I eventually left Wyalie, he to Northam, I to Perth, at about the same time.The main problem with WA’s wheatbelt towns is that they have too few people, lots of sheep, and efficient wheat growers, meaning employment opportunities are scarce and people, especially young ones must leave.In other words we were both – for different reasons - part of the move towards the coast, a trend that’s long been and is still being experienced across Australia.There’s no doubt he knows all the problems towns like the one we spent our childhood in continue to have.The problem when a phenomenon like a major demographic shift occurs is that all sort of things and people are wrongly blamed.The main reason WA’s wheatbelt towns have shrunk is that farms have become larger.When I reached Wyalie, 600ha was spoken of with some deference. When I left 15 years on anything below double that was seen as falling behind.Today a respectable farm needs to be around 2000ha. Tractors and headers are bigger and travel faster, and other machinery also ensures speed and economies of scale.Fewer farmers now employ full-time workers.When it was standard practice there were naturally many more children attending local schools. Fewer people means smaller post offices, fewer shops, few (if any) banks, fewer fuel depots, and so on.When Max and I were Wyalie lads there were two primary schools and a high school. Now there’s just the district high school.Not all these trends can be laid at the feet of technological progress and farm size.Many farmers sent their children to private schools in Perth – not to the local high school.Indeed, if WA farmers hadn’t adopted and clung to that practice most up-market private colleges in Perth would have had a harder time.Farmers also travelled to the city where they bought cheaper goods and groceries, thereby diminishing local shop turnovers.And Farmers had (and have) what can only be described as a very negative attitude towards mining in their regions.Mining simply doesn’t exist in the wheatbelt. And Mr Trenorden’s party must take a good slice of the blame for that.The last time I raised this issue in print a failed farmer wrote a letter to the paper I was with claiming I was a “lackey of the mining companies”.It’s facile views like that that have hastened the demise of WA’s rural townships.My critic was, of course, comfortably ensconced in a big Perth suburban home.Mr Trenorden would be wise to enter into serious discussions with WA’s mining sector to explore how exploration and mining across the South-West Land Division could be carried out and help enhance life in the bush.If the wheatbelt had a sizeable series of mining ventures – like say at Greenbushes (tin and tantalite); Boddington, (gold) Pinjarra (bauxite), Three Springs (talc) and mineral sands at Capel – economic life in the bush would be improved if for no other reason than employment, something in short supply out there, would be boosted.I once raised this ticklish issue with a geologist who’d found sizeable gold reserves near Lake Grace and Katanning and a small platinum deposit near New Norcia.He said the farmer ban on mineral exploration in the wheatbelt meant we were largely ignorant of this region’s mineral potential. There simply hadn’t been enough exploratory work done.If a network of productive wheatbelt mines emerged over coming decades they’d be in a region well endowed with an electricity and water supply network, and road and rail services, meaning such projects could come on stream with relatively little extra infrastructure and public capital outlay.Mr Trenorden emerged from the party room in which he was elevated to National Party leadership stressing he’d be a listener.Let’s hope this means listening to proposals he may instinctively believe are unpopular with farmers, but, if acted on, would undoubtedly be good for their declining communities and all Western Australians.
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