How many children these days could herd a mob of sheep on horseback, ride a dirt bike or skirt a fleece of wool? It’s all part of daily life for the Hammat family who are continuing a generational farming tradition in the Mid North.
Free range on the farm
Relaxing under the verandah at the end of a hard day’s work and looking out to the hills of their sheep property Baderloo, Daniel and Demelza Hammat feel abundantly lucky. When SALIFE visits, the smell of rain is emanating from parched earth as a thunderstorm blankets the Mid North sky with dark clouds that starkly contrast the dry, golden pastures.
“I never whinge about the rain – I just love it,” says Daniel. “It’s exciting to see the creeks running and if you’ve experienced a couple of tough years when it doesn’t rain, you learn not to moan and groan if it gets too wet.”
Having grown up at Baderloo, Daniel feels a strong connection to the landscape. He worked for his father into his teenage years before he moved to Clare where he met Demelza. The couple moved to Adelaide, started careers in civil construction and property valuation respectively and travelled Australia together for two years. But about 10 years ago, they answered the call to move back to the land and take over Baderloo Merino stud – situated between Spalding and Jamestown – from Daniel’s parents.
The property spans some 1000 hectares, owned by the Hammats who also run their sheep on an additional 1720 hectares of leased farmland during summer. The family’s primary business is selling their high-end rams and luxurious merino wool.
“We both grew up in the country and wanted to provide that same upbringing for our children because it’s just a lovely way to raise kids,” says Demelza. “It’s important to get out and travel because you come back motivated with fresh eyes; you see things differently. We feel that’s important for a successful business, farm and family.”
With four children ranging in ages from five to 11, as well as 11 dogs, eight cows, 11 guinea fowl, three pigs, five peacocks, six geese, six chickens, two Indian runner ducks, one pony and about 2500 sheep, moments of peace are hard-earned.
But that’s just the way they like it, especially come shearing season.
The first shearing season of the year will start this month and the second in October, when the farm erupts in a ruckus of commotion: the clatter of yard gates, barking of sheepdogs and throttles of dirt bikes. Workers whistle and electric shears hum as the hooves of rams and ewes clunk noisily on the shearing shed floorboards.
It’s like Christmas for the Hammat children who would love to be around the action but – on mum’s orders – cannot miss class at Spalding Primary School, which has fewer than 30 students.
“The kids help me peel the potatoes before going to school so the shearers can have a hot lunch; it’s all hands on deck,” says Demelza. “Shearing is a favourite time for the kids, but it’s also a huge process and you are certainly exhausted at the end of it.”
Shearing starts early. Daniel is out of the house at daylight and won’t get home until after dinner. “During our busy times we don’t see too much of Daniel, but it’s all part of it,” says Demelza. “We feed the shearers, roustabouts and our workmen, and we do it all over again every day for two-and-a-half weeks.”
Not only does Demelza prepare cooked lunches and morning and afternoon teas for the shearing team, she also makes school lunches and drives the kids to school and sport. Daniel shares these duties outside of shearing time and coaches sport, too.
“As well as being husband and wife, we’re good friends, and I think that is important when you’re working together in a business and bringing up children,” says Demelza. “We love having a good time and working hard, so it works well. We are different in lots of ways, but we complement one another.”
The family finds support in the small communities of Spalding and Jamestown and from neighbours in their immediate district of Washpool. The area was once brimming with young families but – as is the story across rural Australia – many generational farms have been consolidated into larger businesses.
“There are certainly fewer young children in our immediate district of Washpool, but similar families do exist in the area, for which we are grateful,” says Demelza.
When they’re not at school or playing sport, the four Hammat children embrace their many jobs on the farm, from droving sheep to feeding the family’s pets and farm animals. In the mornings, they’ll hop on their bicycles and ride alongside their dogs up the property’s one-kilometre driveway.
Second-youngest Elsie gets her hands dirty just as much as her brothers do. “Elsie’s good value,” says Demelza. “She is a girly-girl but she also holds her own with the boys and will put her foot down if they’re giving her any grief. She loves the horses and the animals. She’s probably a bit wild actually, which she gets from Daniel, not me.
“I’m hands-on during our busy times, but I’m not as physical as some of the other wonderful women-of-the-land types,” she laughs.
Daniel is proud his children are enjoying an experience similar to his own childhood growing up on the land, being taught everything from how to ride a horse to changing a fitting on an irrigation system.
“We were always out doing something, be it hunting or riding horses. I worked from about six years old; moving sheep in the yards, drenching sheep or feeding the animals. It’s a joy to take my kids out to do these things – it gives me a lot of pleasure,” says Daniel.
“You get such a buzz out of watching them grow and teaching them all the life skills that we got to learn. They’re now old enough that I can send them out to bring in a mob of sheep from the paddock. They love the responsibility and the freedom.
“They can hop on a motorbike and go for a ride out through the hills on our home block, which is 800 acres, as long as they let us know where they’re going. I like to give them responsibility, rather than me looking over their shoulder.”
Surviving in agriculture as a family business has meant innovating and growing. Since taking over the stud from Daniel’s parents, the couple has moved from private ram sales to an auction format, while also investing in genomic DNA sampling of animals, and, just last year, made their first land acquisition – a daunting prospect given astronomical land prices.
“In farming, if you’re not continually growing and moving ahead, you do fall behind,” says Demelza. “It’s exciting to think that we’ve been successful enough and worked hard enough to grow the business.”
Demelza says the couple is grateful for their close-knit family. There’s always someone to jump in the swimming pool with, help make dinner, go for a jog or work in the garden. “It’s never quiet here – except when they’re at school. Because I’m not heading off to a job every day, I feel like I’m not missing out on anything. I love that. I can be here to support Dan, our business, our kids and watch them grow,” she says.
“We have quite a large garden, so I’m always roping the children into helping me out. We certainly never planned on having four children but growing up in a big family is just lots of fun. It’s nice to have that out on the farm. We wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
The children say they never want to leave the farm, but Daniel and Demelza know things are likely to change as they grow older. Regardless, their goal is to keep growing so they can give their children a head start, should they choose to follow in their footsteps.
“We just love spending time with them and it’s great that they want to be with us. We’ll miss them if they all go, but maybe they will stay at home? I don’t know. You give a lot as a parent and you never thought that your heart could be so big.”
This article first appeared in the April 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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