We’ve been told by people to share our story about our wool to help sell it, but our wool is so beautiful that it will sell itself. So this is not a story about our wool but a story about the people, the animals and the journey. It’s a personal story and so not very comfortable. But with so many people, including many farmers like us who are also going through struggles and dealing with loss we thought it might give some hope or empathy. That mongrel black dog (depression) was always there during this journey, crouched at the ready. Sometimes with jaws clamped firmly trying to pull you down. Scaring off those around you that could only see the demons and couldn’t see the pain and courage you brought to the fight.
I met Andy in my late 40’s, when I thought I was too old and set to meet anyone, past my ‘best before’. Andy was a farmer who had spent maybe 10 years caring for his sick parents up until their deaths. He had been trying to run the family farm by himself and struggling with it. After they had passed away he was alone. He was thinking life was pretty grim and pointless for while, the past was sad and the future looked bleak. One day he just put down his beer and got up from sitting on the back step. He had decided he would try to do something to change his life’s course. He bought a computer to find himself a wife, and then he spent months cursing the screen and trying to figure out how it worked. From what I’ve been told it was lucky the computer survived the ordeal. With the help of good friends he finally got on a dating site and found me on the other side of the state. I had been an alone mum for a long while and had a few battle scars so I was a bit grumpy. I also had a wonderful friend who talked me into joining the same dating site. Andy and I were chalk and cheese but we found we both had the same values and eventually the same love of being in love with each other.
Getting back to the story, Andy’s family had bought their beautiful farm around 1900 so it was the only home he had ever known. There were generations of history and so many personal stories tied up in every nook and cranny of that farm. From the steep hills teeming with wildlife such as kangaroos, wombats, echidnas and eagles to the billabongs and lagoons, creeks and the majestic Goulburn river which was a boundary. It was a wild and beautiful farm, by no means tamed and it was always challenging and at times dangerous farming it. The years of focus on his parent’s illness as well as a long, hard decade of drought were grim. These were followed by the destruction caused by the many floods that came smashing through the river flats along with flash floods through the gullies. They all started to take their toll. It was a constant battle to be repairing fences and roads after flooding and cleaning debris off fences and paddocks to be able to cut hay just to have the water hit again. With the costs of restocking after drought, the constant repairs, costs rising and sale prices falling, as well as a run of poor spring rains the farms future was looking grim.
We tried many ideas to turn the tide, some good, some not so good and still we couldn’t get ahead and the debt was getting heavier. It was during this time that we met Geoff when we inquired about buying some Polwarth sheep. Geoff was a true blue Aussie and a real gentleman. He was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge of his Polwarth sheep to so many people. He was always there for us, gently supporting and guiding and he awakened a passion in Andy and I for the Polwarth sheep and their wool. Geoff came at a time when we needed more than sheep, we also needed hope and a friend.
We knew we were losing the farm and decided that we would rather let go and move on in our own way and time. This was an incredibly hard decision for Andy who couldn’t imagine life without his family farm. I have no doubt that he will carry the grief and guilt for his lifetime. Andy also couldn’t imagine not farming, so we decided we had to find another (cheaper and easier) farm. It also had to be a farm to suit our wonderful growing flock of Homeleigh Polwarth sheep.
We had fallen in love with these Homeleigh Polwarth sheep so we had to bring them all with us. They were lovely animals, not only for the commercial properties but also just really nice sheep. You wouldn’t have thought it was possible but it seemed like we know them all individually and recognised them. Andy and I worked really hard to keep them healthy and to try to give them long happy lives. We have not muelsed them and we don’t use a lot of chemicals on our sheep or the land. We’ve always tried to handle them in ways that doesn’t distress them and Andy’s knowledge of stock has been invaluable in creating calm working systems. Their welfare has always been really important to us as it’s at the core of our farming values. We farm because we love animals and we love the land so we try to look after both. We both knew when we found ‘Banool’ with its historic shearing shed, lush creek flats and majestic hill, that this would be the place to raise beautiful Polwarth sheep. ‘Banool’ felt like a place we could call home again.
It took a gruelling 2 years or more of planning, selling, buying, moving and resettling to finally reach our new home. The moving was intense and exhausting as we brought all of our cattle and sheep with us, we just couldn’t bear to part with them. We also brought all of our machinery and much of the farms history with us. It didn’t stop with the move though as two weeks after arriving we were shearing all the sheep. A few weeks later we were doing an AI program with 100 of the Polwarth. It was a huge effort to get here and a year later we were still unpacking and setting up the new farm. Setting up for the future as well as doing fencing and water, looking after the animals, lambing and calving.
Somewhere around this time we also managed to acquire Yarck Miners Cottage. Rather than renting it out, we thought we’d set it up as a social enterprise to benefit the community. We’ve both been very alone and we believe in building community to build health, support and resilience. We decided to make it an affordable shop for locals to sell local products. We wanted to encourage locals to start making and selling, maybe helping people develop business ideas or just supporting each other. It’s only been going a short time but we’ve already got quite a few people involved and it’s growing fast.
Our goals are similar with our wool, to make a living while creating opportunities for others. We aim to sell quality Australian wool, locally grown with care and locally processed at a wholesale price. This would then provide opportunities for people to value add, stimulate ideas and creativity for business and hobbies to grow. It’s so important to keep this wonderful wool industry going in Australia and we want to do our part. It’s a huge learning curve and investment for us which is pretty scarey but we’re having a go. We couldn’t have picked a better product than the wool from our True, Blue Aussie Polwarth to lead the way.
To continue the story,
The Homeleigh Polwarth Stud was established in Heathcote in 1940 by Ted Kemp, who began successfully showing Polwarth sheep in 1948.
After Ted’s death the Homeleigh Polwarth success and passion was carried on by his son Geoff. Geoff really knew his stuff and he continued to produce exceptional sheep that excelled at show, at stud and in commercial levels, in form, fleece and carcass. Homeleigh Polwarth gaining a reputation in Australia and overseas, making the Homeleigh Polwarth rams much sought after.
Geoff was there for us during our difficult period of coming to terms with selling the family farm and moving, often directing our thoughts away from loss and to the future. He would be in touch every few days or more to find out about the sheep, chat about sheep breeding plans and discuss husbandry jobs. But mostly just to chat about the future and the past, to share quality time and lend us support. He was our Polwarth sheep mentor and we couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgeable and skilled teacher. But Geoff didn’t enjoy good health and he was constantly in pain, it was awful to see how he suffered. He really struggled at times so Andy would often drive across to Heathcote to help him with his sheep. It wasn’t long before we all became become firm friends.
Geoff’s pain was so bad that he was struggling to manage his sheep and keep his farm. Eventually we took on his beloved Homeleigh Polwarth Stud with the proviso that he came with it. So began a new phase for Homeleigh Polwarth and all of us as a team. It was such an exciting future that held hope for all of us, but sadly not long after things changed again.
Geoff was a big man with a big heart. He carried a heavy load and bravely fought his demons to stay in the game, and he won. He ticked all the boxes and kicked goals so life was looking good and the future was full of possibilities. Then he slipped away one night and we were devastated at his unexpected passing and are still shaken to the core. We are dedicated to following the path he set with us to produce exceptional Polwarth sheep. We are committed to bring their beautiful wool to where people can share it and enjoy it as we do. Geoff has passed on his passion and love for these wonderful animals to us. We couldn’t let him slip away quietly without acknowledging his importance to his beloved Polwarth so I wrote a poem for him so people could see him as we did.
‘The Boss has left the Shed’
The Boss has left the Shed
The stands are still and quiet
Homeleigh Polwarth out grazing shorn
The rousty’s have all knocked off now
The shearers have long gone
Last rams went down the chute
Not so very long ago now
The dust begins to settle
On the boards in evening glow
Bulging bales are stacked in line
Of wool so soft to hand
The brightest in Australia
From the best sheep in this land
His job is finished here and his dues have all been paid
So he can leave his shed now and put away his blades
His work is never done though, so now droving he’s begun
Of his beloved Polwarth’s on long paddocks with vast runs
Geoff Kemp, he was a great man and knew his Polwarth sheep
His lifetime dedication created standards hard to meet
The Homeleigh name is featured throughout Polwarth history
And he leaves the Polwarth breed improved with a lasting legacy
A better man you’d never meet, great of heart and good of soul
A true blue Aussie character, a friend, father, Grandfather and more
There’s no doubt that he’ll be sorely missed by those who knew him well
That the world will be a little poorer and that it hurts like bloody hell.
Geoffrey Alan Kemp 4/10/1945 – 9/3/2018
The Great Polwarth Man and a Great Friend