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A Gay Farmer on Love, Isolation, and Disrupting the Meat Industry in Australia

[ding]

[mooing]

♪ Oh my lord, take this soul ♪

♪ Lay me at the bottom of the river ♪

♪ Devil has come to carry me home ♪

♪ Lay me at the bottom ♪

♪ Bottom of the river ♪

[phone ringing]

[Jon Wright] Hello.

[Interviewer] Hey, why don’t we start

with you describing the work you’re doing.

It’s been 22 years,

I’ve been working on this line of cattle that we’ve got.

We’ve put this science on top

of what we do that makes it so interesting.

And we’re doing something that nobody else does.

My responsibility is to look after the land

but just a shame, I missed out on a lot.

Being gay in a small country town,

I guess, comes with its challenges.

The biggest thing is the difficulty

of having a partner, meeting a partner.

My mother passed away about 10, 12 years ago

and my father’s got Alzheimer’s

and is in the local nursing home.

So I’m the big boy in the house now, which is very sad.

[dramatic music]

As sorry, as I felt about myself

being a single gay, man in the country,

the sorry was never strong enough to make me change

and go and do something else.

So as much as the torment came.

It’s just pros and cons.

You know, do you want the farm?

Do you want what you’ve created to be into something?

Or are you going to just throw it away

and go and try to meet somebody in Sydney?

And I stuck it up, I guess.

I’ll keep you up at night, in my dreams,

but I mean that in a bad way.

Welcome to Coota Park.

I’m fourth generation farmer on this property.

In Australia the beef industry is responsible

for about 10% of all our emissions

as much as the whole transport industry.

Oh!

And that’s not good.

Okay, let’s try.

Do you’ll get a premium for the work that you’ve done?

We have an on-property bull sale each year

which is in a months time.

With the bulls that you sell,

it is known that you’re specializing in conversion

and you’ve got many more data than other people have.

Is it paying?

No.

No.

Have you another daughter or son?

No.

Never married.

Whether people know that I’m gay

and whether that means people won’t come

and buy bulls from me

or people know we’re talking about climate change

and they won’t come and buy bulls from us.

It sends in the market and the industry

that you’re working and trying to work out,

is it all right to say it.

[birds chirping]

[dramatic music]

Be interesting to see how the bull sale goes

in a couple of weeks.

I feel for him if he doesn’t have a good sale.

He keeps on keeping on.

There’d be times I’d imagine when he’s lonely,

but I suppose everybody’s lonely at some stage.

If they’re on their own all the time.

If he had a partner, he’d be going a lot better.

If somebody did find him, it’d be fairly handy

bloke to be hanging around, I can assure you.

My main relationship was with a guy who was

a fashion journalist in Sydney.

Which was a fashion journalist meets farmer.

Really, he was the guy who should have been the farmer,

and I should have been the guy who should been

the fashion journalist.

Jamie, the guy that I went out with for five years

he bought this house in Cowra as an investment.

And so I moved into that house and lived there.

And then he used to come

up on the weekends and that sort of stuff.

And then eventually he moved to Cowra and we both lived here

for six months or something until it broke down.

It wasn’t easy for me,

particularly at that time, just at that time.

Not that I’m saying it was only difficult for me

but just at that particular time,

is the time that mum was diagnosed with cancer

and we were in the middle of a drought

and it was a pretty dark, dark time for me.

But that’s all part of the processes of putting things

in place to enable me to get through it.

So started lining up psychologists

and lining up medication

and all this for things, whatever it took to

to try and make me better.

But I certainly had to stop going to Sydney all the time

and looking for happiness and looking for love.

I think all his friends back in Sydney

apparently were having bets on how long he’d last

in Cowra, but he tried, which was amazing.

Yeah.

I used to say I had two jobs.

One was a farmer and the other one was a husband hunter,

you know?

And it was this sort of eternal struggle, I guess

to get into space where a might meet somebody.

And then if you didn’t the depression that came after.

The day that I came home and told my parents

that I was gay at the age of 28

and my mother just asked all the right questions

and did everything beautifully

and properly and intelligently.

And my dad sort of sat there and didn’t say much at all.

It’s hard father and sons working together

can be really, really hard.

And that’s two people making one decision

or old bull and young bull and all that sort of stuff.

He built the house that I now live in.

He created my whole world I guess.

[dramatic music]

He couldn’t understand why I needed to leave so much

and needed to go to Sydney so much.

And that you marry yourself to the land

and that’s what you do.

And you can see that he had a wife and children

living with him.

And so he had everything he wanted right there.

But he seemed to stick with me and I stuck with it, I guess.

There’s lots of other people out there

who have a similar experience.

I struggled with the prospect of being gay

for probably 20 odd years.

It’s quite a lonely situation.

I don’t think I could have come out and stayed in Cowra.

The ability to translate your life from say Cowra to Sydney.

It’s a lot easier for someone like me,

than it would be for someone like Jon.

He’s a farmer, not too many farms around here.

I can tell you.

I think he’s very brave.

To go back to a country town and assume

that life’s going to be wonderful.

Well you don’t.

It can be very lonely.

I’m not saying I don’t have my periods of loneliness either.

My last partner

ended up committing suicide and it was pretty hard.

I know perhaps it must be heading up towards

certainly 15, might be more,

people I’ve known that have committed suicide.

I don’t think I will.

[piano music]

The thing I really hated doing farming

was sitting on a tractor, going round and round.

I just wished to stop thinking.

You’re always waiting for another phone call

from people saying that they coming to the sale

that they’re going to buy a bull or four bulls or ten bulls

just hoping that, you know, you might get a message

that thing is going to be all right.

Good Day Jon, it’s Rebecca.

I just wanted to let you know

that our bulls going on the track tomorrow

and yeah we’re looking at not replacing anything

til at least after the summer.

Anyway, I’ll speak to you soon, Bye.

I’m just, I just want it over and done with really,

and you just want to know, once you know, where you’re at

it’s a whole lot easier to deal with then not knowing.

So it’s a bit, every year at this particular time,

lambs to the slaughter.

It’s the feeling that I get,

where you sort of know what’s going to happen

and cause it’s a tougher year,

it’s more likely to happen, but that’s cool.

That’s cool.

That’s her choice.

[birds chirping]

[cows mooing]

It’s gonna be tough, but that’s all right.

We’ve prepared ourselves for this moment.

Of it being tough and you never know

you might get a surprise, but I’m a bit over that now.

Would you like a chair outside Harv?

It’s very thoughtful.

[dramatic music]

[Interviewer] How’s it all the cows need huh?

Yeah, I do, but anyway.

By the time the first bull starts being auctioned,

I’ll know what’s gonna happen?

If we can have your attention, please.

We’d like to get this all under way here this afternoon,

Firstly, a very warm welcome.

In what we experienced something completely different

than what we saw here last year in weather.

We all had snow clouds forming

and we were kicking up the dust.

Well, I think that anything else.

Well there we go to ladies and gentlemen,

no more wasting time straight into the first pen.

Lot number one.

Who’s gonna bid 9,000, come on give me seven, give me six,

we’ve got six to go, who’s got five, 5,000 Charlie,

Come on, who’s got 5,000, whose got four, 4,000,

four to go, four to start, four Charlie, four to go,

four to start, who’s got four to go.

Ladies and gentlemen, we won’t go below that signal five.

Some of the best bull Jon’s got here this year

and he’s pulling them there at the end of 32

and some of the best bulls he’s ever bred here tonight.

Four to go, four to start, four Charlie.

Nothing we can do about that.

Ladies and gentlemen we’ll skip that first bull aside.

[Jon Wright] Oh, Fuck.

Here we go lot number two, lot number two this time.

[dramatic auctioneering]

That completes the auction here today.

He’s hoping for a little bit of rain going forward

seems to put a smiles on many people’s faces still

considering how tough it is.

Thank you and have a good day.

[clapping]

[chattering]

Thank you.

I always compare myself to the best and want to be the best.

So that’s the hard part I guess,

a little bit is going, trying to work out

what you’re doing wrong and change it

and then trying to be more successful.

So yeah, once you get into that space, it gets quite complex

because then you realize the only way that you’re going to

make that amount of money is actually change your breed.

If I’d started with straight Angus and didn’t have

done what we’ve done over the last 22 years

I’d imagine we probably could be doing very, very, very

very, very well, but that was my choice.

So I chose to, to cross two breeds together

and give it a name and go along the line

of composite breeding, so it’s no one else’s responsibility

but mine.

We can always hyphenate and do something better.

[crickets chirping]

The more battles you create in your life,

the less time their is to hear the silence

and the emptiness.

Well latest were reviewed to the UN climate summit

by teenage activist Greta Thunberg,

who called for immediate action on climate change.

[Greta Thunberg] My message is that we’ll be watching you.

[dramatic music]

The issue of climate change is quite challenging

in agriculture.

There’s a lot of people who believe it’s not happening.

This is science.

This is not me making anything up.

It might be that part about being gay and being a gay farmer

or something like that.

And the part about coming out was just that realization,

that I can’t lie anymore.

I can’t bullshit anymore.

You got to,

you have to be real.

You have to be honest.

And that cements something pretty powerful.

The only people who aren’t talking about it is our industry.

[dramatic music]

We’re trying to do the best thing

by the land that we have and the space that we occupy

for the period of time that we do.

That’s the part that I want to live on after I’m gone.

♪Oh my lord, take this soul, ♪

♪ lay me at the bottom of the river ♪

It is not fun, it is challenging

We do something very unique.

♪Lay me at the bottom ♪

Why would I walk away from that?

♪ Bottom of the river ♪

I always looked at my point of differences

something I was never going to let that stand

in the way of what I achieved in my life.

[dramatic music]

For days, Jon is an original thought,

that what we’ve got to originality and it’s look now

here we are.

And we haven’t had to tear ourselves up and go.

We dream about might be a better place to be,

and start from scratch there again.

We’re still here in the same place.

Making the best we can of it.

I love my dad.

Of course I do, I absolutely do.

No one made me come back to the farm.

In fact, my parents pushed me away.

My father sat me down and said, here’s the rule.

You’re not coming back to this farm til your 25.

And I thank him so much.

Thank him for yeah,

because it puts the responsibility back on me.

[engine revving]

[dramatic music]

Where are my dreams at now?

What can I create that when I go has justified

the air that I breathe and the space that I took up

in being a human being on this Earth.

It’s just a reality, everybody’s trying to create

low emission products.

The beef industry has to try and do it well.

From when I could walk I was chasing the cows around

on the farm, so my love for that

was a glue or a constant or something?

I look back on that boy or young man

going around on a tractor with such anxiety

and such unhappiness and then say,

well, I’m not him anymore.

Isn’t that just unreal?

Are you all right?

That’s a bit better.

[phone ringing]

Hello, Chris speaking.

Chris, it’s Jon Wright speaking with Harvey.

Yeah wait just a second man.

Thanks.

Thank you.

[Man] It’s Harvey’s son.

Just a bit.

[Man] Jonathan you’re the cattle man.

I’m the cattle man, that’s right.

I can’t rewrite history.

I can’t rewrite my life.

What I do know is the result of what’s happened in the past

is where I am now.

And I’m really happy and really content in that.

And do I want it to be better?

Do I wish for some things that, aren’t here now, maybe.

All I can do is just keep being driven

and keep being positive.

I reckon they’ll come

I reckon they’ll come.

[dramatic music]

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