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Farmer finds way to kill boredom in the tractor

ON THE FARM: Dave Graham, a Goondiwindi mixed enterprise farmer and "ag-vocate”.

Farmer finds way to kill boredom in the tractor

HE'S a man representing agriculture, but Farmer Dave isn't your average farmer.

After a full day in the sun fixing broken-down implements, then just before beginning an 18-hour shift planting sorghum, David Graham does something you might not expect.

Instead of sinking into the air-conditioned cab of his tractor, and popping on his favourite Game of Thrones audio book, he gets out his mobile and starts to live stream a video.

With more than 50,000 followers on his Farmer Dave Facebook page, he talks his audience through a tour of the planting process.

The tractor is running smoothly on GPS direction, so he is able to jump out of the cab and walk around the moving machinery, checking the equipment, and explaining intricacies of farming, like the depth seeds are planted in centimetres.

It would have been easier to tune into the next chapter of Game of Thrones in cool comfort.

But Dave is as passionate about promoting agriculture as he is about being a farmer himself.

While in the midst of an another 18-hour shift, Dave spoke to the Rural Weekly to explain how a country lad from Goondiwindi in southwest Queensland became a prolific "ag-vocate" in Australia and abroad.

Before we start, if you think Dave looks familiar you are right. He was a contestant on Big Brother in 2006, who famously made headlines for announcing he was gay on the show.

And, in recent years he has performed big-ticket live shows with his team of working/trick dogs around the country.

 

Dave camps out in the paddock during busy cropping times. His hound Jess is making sure no snakes get into his swag.
Dave camps out in the paddock during busy cropping times. His hound Jess is making sure no snakes get into his swag. Facebook

SHARING HIS WORK

Along with his parents, Max and Lucille, Dave manages a mixed enterprise farming business in southwest Queensland.

When the Rural Weekly caught up with him, he was planting forage sorghum on Retreat Station, which is about 80km north of Goondiwindi.

"We farm about 100,000 acres here, and we have some breeding properties north-west of St George, near Mitchell," he said.

They breed with roughly 2000 feeder cows on the buffel country near Mitchell, and fatten cattle on Retreat.

About 15,000 acres is cropped a year, which included farming chickpeas, wheat, barley oats, sorghum and mungbeans.

And, in the times when Dave is not busy with all of the above, he hits the road talking to students about agriculture in capital cities.

"I have this really big belief consumers need to understand farmers. They need to understand, not just what we produce, but why we produce it," he said.

"So in school holidays I am teaching kids all about agriculture, about farms and our way of life.

"I want to give them a connection.

"I really feel very few, if any, children in our major of capital cities have a connection to agriculture genetically.

"There is no longer the cousin or uncle on the farm - there really is a big disconnect."

Teaching kids what goes into making their hummus or Hungry Jack's is a vital, small step, but through social media Dave is reaching a larger audience instantaneously.

 

Dave loves working with livestock. His animals are stars on his page.
Dave loves working with livestock. His animals are stars on his page. Conbtributed

CONNECTING

Dave joked his live Facebook videos were the result of getting bored during "long shifts in a header".

He talks to the lens on his smartphone as though he is talking to a good mate.

"I don't see social media any different to just having a chat," he said.

"For me the page is all about giving that personal insight."

Being open means Dave shares the highs and lows of farming - it's vital to him his posts are always honest.

"I don't think it hurts to share your stuff ups," he said.

"If you make out that you are an unrealistic person then you are being a liar. If something goes wrong for me I don't see it as a bad thing, I think it's a wonderful thing.

"Like earlier on today I forgot to press a certain button on my tractor which meant I had to replant an entire row. But that's awesome, it means I will learn from it - and I bloody won't do it again, will I?"

Dave viewed his farms as having an open gate; no questions were off limits.

"If I tried and tell a story that was untrue, I think I would come unstuck in a very big way. So I am not ashamed to say 'yes, we use chemicals and this is why we use chemicals. Yes I eat meat, and this is why I eat meat'."

 

Speaking with Sydney school pupils about Australian agriculture.
Speaking with Sydney school pupils about Australian agriculture. Facebook

SHARING HIS STORY

A recent post that went viral on his page was Dave's heartfelt message of thanks to the Australian people after the results of the same-sex marriage survey was announced.

As a gay man living in regional Queensland, Dave talked about what the result meant to him.

"As a farmer on a fairly large broadacre farm I don't have the person that's just over the fence who I can ask for a cup of sugar when what I am really wanting is a hug," he quipped.

"For me my page can be about expressing who as I am as a person. That's often the liberating thing that we all need to do is just express ourselves.

"And often, white, Anglo-Saxon, male farmers are taught never to express ourselves."

He touched on the fact that not talking openly could lead to mental health issues - which impacted relationships, families and communities.

"As a society we need to remember that it's okay to have a chat. That it's okay to express yourselves. And that's important to everyone whether you are gay, straight, black or brindle."

After shedding a tear explaining what it felt like "to be regarded as an equal citizen", Dave jumped in his ute and told his audience he was late to go and plant sorghum.

 

Harvesting on Retreat Station.
Harvesting on Retreat Station. Facebook

SHARING LESSONS

In the past, Dave has been open about the difficulties he faced growing up gay in the bush.

It wasn't easy.

His message to others facing the same situation was to embrace the journey.

"Like anyone going through a transition from childhood to adulthood, you are not alone," he said.

"You're not the first person to go through this. You are not Sir Edmund Hillary, this is not Everest.

"You need to learn to enjoy the highs, and enjoy the lows.

"Enjoy the experience because you are one of a very few people who get to experience what you experience.

"In fact, you are the only one.

"You get to experience, not only what it's like to be mainstream, because that is what you are surrounded by, but also to understand what it's like to be in a tiny minority."

Dave said he felt privileged to live a life true to himself.

"I won the lottery of life to be here," he said.

"We are now fortunate to live in a society that says, 'you are okay, you are equal to us', and if someone says something to you that's a bit (crappy), you know what, that is their issue."

 

Dave Graham, a Goondiwindi mixed enterprise farmer and
Dave Graham, a Goondiwindi mixed enterprise farmer and "ag-vocate”. Conbtributed

FUTURE SHARING

With 50,000 followers, Dave is keen to continue spreading the good message about farming.

"What I have always wanted to do with social media is not to highlight my personal life, that my skin is white, my eyes are blue, that I'm sexually attracted to men not women... with all that who I am I just get the hell on with my life," he said.

"So when I started this page I wanted for young people to look at my page and say 'well there is a bloke, we all know he is gay, but he isn't always talking about it, he is just getting on with his life'. He is doing what he wanted to do, not what he was forced to do."

Dave's fierce passion for agriculture stems from his love of his family's property.

"I am bonded to my country like I am bonded within my skin. This is everything to me, it's all I have known," he said.

"My country is everything so I just want to share that incredible connection I have.

"I am so fortunate that I was born into a family of 11 kids and we could all be on this bit of land.

"It is my heart and soul... I give this everything, which makes it the most cared for part of the world I live in."

Overall, Dave just hopes there will come a time when all consumers are making informed decisions about the food they buy at a grocery store.

"I just think once they have the knowledge, they will want to eat more Australian tucker," he said.

Search Farmer Dave on Facebook to keep up to date with Dave's posts.