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- Leaving the land: a study of Western Division grazing families in transition
- Webb, Trevor; Cary, John W.; Geldens, Paula M.
- This study explored the social and cultural dimensions that influence the decision-making processes of graziers under adjustment stress. It focused on the grazing family as the basic unit of study with the research located in the Western Division of New South Wales. The study combined in-depth interviews of those who, despite financial difficulty, had continued to operate and survey research with families who had exited from pastoralism. There were two general conclusions that can be made. Firstly, those graziers and their families who were, at the time of the research, operating their grazing businesses were very reluctant to pursue an avenue of exiting from pastoralism. This was often despite their difficult financial situation. The second general conclusion was that those who had, at the time of the research, sold their property and exited the industry considered themselves, post-exit, to have an improved quality of life. This was despite the traumatic and usually distressing process of exiting from their property. Data from semi-structured interviews with 23 pastoralists from 12 properties was combined with the survey responses of 79 individuals from 44 properties to develop an understanding of the factors influencing grazier decisions about industry exit, and the impacts of following through with such a decision. The survey sample comprised individuals who had been Western Division pastoralists who had exited at the time of the research. The in-depth interview component included both exited pastoralists and those who were operating their business at the time of the research. Two main factors mitigated against graziers voluntarily exiting their properties. These were a strong identification with pastoralism as an occupation, and a strong place attachment to their property. Six dimensions of a generic pastoralist identity were identified from the interviews. These were: independence; physical labour; pride; passing on a family tradition; a differentiation between rural and town; and optimism and perseverance. These aspects of self-identity supported and sustained graziers in their employment and life on their properties. The same aspects appeared to work against a voluntary exit from the industry. The pastoralists interviewed expressed strong attachment to their property. Properties were more than bio-physical assemblages, they were cultural landscapes that had been socially constructed. They were imbued with individually, socially and culturally relevant meanings and symbols. Places on the properties marked important past, present and future events. Exiting from pastoralism was not just about leaving a place of employment, but also leaving a place of residence, and in many cases it also involved leaving a place upon which they were reared. Exiting required breaking these people-place bonds and such a disruption results in a grief like response. This strong identification with the property as a place mitigated against a voluntary exit from the industry. Despite the difficulties and trauma associated with exiting, many graziers have exited and have re-established themselves in a new place. In doing so approximately two-thirds of respondents who had exited accessed some form of financial planning or business advice services. Accountants, rural financial counsellors, pastoral house staff and bank staff were important providers of these services. Fewer respondents accessed either personal and family counselling services or employment, retraining and career counselling services. Rural financial counselling services were important providers for the former services, though of less importance for the latter. Respondents who had used rural counselling services were highly satisfied with the service they received. The average length of time to find employment after leaving the property was 3.5 months, with more than 50% finding employment within 2 months. Respondents noted that the lack of formal qualifications and lack of relevant experience were frequent difficulties in securing employment. Once re-employed, issues concerning personal autonomy were highlighted as difficulties in adjusting to the new work environment. Overall, those who had exited considered that their quality of life had improved since leaving their properties. Access to services, educational facilities and regularity of income were three quality of life dimensions for which respondents reported the largest improvement compared to the two years prior to leaving their property. The research focussed on the grazing family and defined a successful transition from pastoralism as one that is seen as successful from the perspective of the family. Change in subjective assessments of the quality of life dimensions were used to measure success. Transitions that improve economic or environmental sustainability at a broad industry or sectoral level do not necessarily represent successful transitions at the grazing family level. Approximately 90% of the respondents considered their situation had improved after leaving their property. This represents the group of grazing families considered to have had a successful transition from the industry. However there were no distinctive features that differentiated this group from the remaining 10% who were considered not to have had successful transitions. It is clear that the decision-making process regarding exits was complex and there was no simple mechanistic ‘recipe’ to predict or explain the behaviour of graziers under adjustment pressure. However the study did highlight the importance of pastoralists’ sense of identity and their attachment to their properties in this decision process. Issues surrounding alternative employment and where families would reside if they left the property were raised as concerns about exiting. These two concerns represent the material manifestations of the importance of pastoralists’ sense of identity and their attachment to their properties. Successful transitions are more likely to occur where graziers have been able to readily secure post-exit employment. The research showed that while this was a concern those that had exited found employment within several months. Similarly more successful transitions are likely to occur where grazing families have been able to develop attachments to a new home in a new locality. Those families who had owned a residential property they could move to may find the development of attachments and associated social and friendship networks less difficult than those without. In this manner the town home may provide a stepping stone to ease the exit from the property and thus enhance the success of the transition for these pastoral families. This report documents findings from a single region at a single point in time. While we have made assertions about the process that grazing families go through in responding to adjustment pressure a complete understanding can only be obtained through appropriate longitudinal research. This research represents the first step in such a project. Only through documenting the decisions and behaviours of grazing and farming families through time can we develop a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of the process of adjustment and the decision-making of grazing families.
- Publication type
- RIRDC Publication no. 02/056
- Publication year
- Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2002 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. All rights reserved. By request of the publisher the full text of this report is only available from the website (https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/02-056).