Our Elders profile series: Rod and Ruth Holmes

Rod and Ruth Holmes at Griffith's Lookout. Photo Bruce Jacups
Rod and Ruth Holmes at Griffith's Lookout. Photo Bruce Jacups

Ruth: We met at a protest meeting in Bellingen in 1972. I hadn't long been back from travelling the world. The shire council wanted to hike the rates up 20 per cent a year. My father had passed away and I was managing the farm. I marched in wearing my little hot pants.

Rod: I'd been organising all the farmers and Bellingen people for this protest. All these Dorrigo people came down to have their say and that's where I met her. We ran a dairy farm at "The Meadows" on North Bank Road. There were so many floods in the '50s and '60s, you'd lose all your crops. Moving to Dorrigo was pretty attractive.

I got a job as the ranger at Dorrigo National Park. In 1978 we'd only been in our house six months when head office called me in and said: "You've been transferred to Tibooburra permanently." That's 350km north of Broken Hill and 450km west of Bourke. We were there for five years - Corner Country. The kids started in school there. School of the Air. We had no TV so they learnt to use their senses, be observant and learned a lot by experience.

I also worked at Warrumbungle and Gibraltar Range National Parks. When the kids finished school at Glen Innes and went to the University of New England, we decided we'd come back home.

Ruth: I've always called this home. I look at out at that mountain over there, 'Old Man Dreaming'. I see the rainforest, it is my place. Gumbaynggirr scholar Michael Jarrett recently told us the names for the landforms in the area.

Rod: It's about land management. It's been the favourite part of my working life. Making sure the land's better than when you arrived. Looking after it. And that's why we got involved in Landcare so much. Still are.

Land management has been the favourite part of my working life

Rod Holmes

Ruth: When we started the Dorrigo Mountaintop Landcare Group in 1991 there was quite a movement in the area that was very right wing. They thought Landcare was a communist infiltration to take over the land.

Rod: That was the actual quote - 'communist infiltration'. It wasn't even that long ago: 1994 or so. A few people even had to stop helping us officially because it was affecting their business.

Ruth: By then there was funding from the government for Landcare, so when we received it we'd just quietly work on the land. We'd have field days and people would come and look, and again in another couple of years to see what's grown. Then we did Griffith's lookout. It was wild up there, so many weeds.

We tidied up along the road, cared for it. We planted trees on the south western side to protect it from the wind and make it more welcoming for visitors. We did an overall plan for the area with native plantings forming wildlife corridors across our farmland and fenced off the creeks. We all worked together. They could see that this Landcare wasn't so bad after all. On our farm we fenced off 350 acres of rainforest.

Rod: Landcare and involvement in communities are our passions. Both our families were always involved in community things like sports and Junior Farmers.

Ruth: Or local politics. My dad was a shire councillor. When the floods were on he'd get the half-draught horse and go down "Ferny Face" real early in the morning to check on the Darkwood people, take them bread and see what was happening with the bridges and roads, then he'd come back in the afternoon and we'd have the cows in ready for him to milk. That's what you used to do as a shire councillor.

The grandchildren, when they come up here, like running down the hill after oranges when we shake the tree, looking in the cattle troughs to see the tadpoles and checking the infrared cameras for different species in our wildlife corridors. We encourage them to be citizen scientists.

After 47 years, nothing much has changed - we are still protesting about the rise of shire rates!