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The Middletons share a generational love of the land

FOR more than 100 years, the Middleton family name has had some connection with Bri Bri.

There is a long gravel drive that leads from the New England Hwy at Cambooya, through fields of sorghum, past an old homestead and sheds filled with old machinery.

At the crest of the hill rests the current home of Bill and Anita Middleton, parents of Michael Middleton and grandparents to Thomas.

The long association with the fertile land is a story which Bill loves to tell.

His grandparents first came to the land in 1913, having arrived from England in 1911.

They began share-farming the land in 1913 before they bought the block in 1922.

That was when the Middleton family came to be known as farmers in the Darling Downs.

"It was left to us by our grandfather," Bill explains, mentioning his father died when Bill and his brother Robert were young.

"Dad got rheumatic fever and died at an early age.

"We inherited the farm because it was left to us by our grandfather, but was held in trust until we were 21."

Brought up by their mother Gladys Ellen Middleton on a widow's pension, Bill recalls life on the land being tough in his early years.

The Middleton family, Bri Bri at Cambooya. Michael and his son Thomas Middleton. Photo: Bev Lacey / The Chronicle
The Middleton family, Bri Bri at Cambooya. Michael and his son Thomas Middleton. Photo: Bev Lacey / The Chronicle Bev Lacey

"Life was hard when we were growing up and mum did the best she could with what she had, which wasn't much on a widow's pension."

Michael works the land and can understand the difficulties his dad would have faced on the land more than 50 years ago.

"They didn't know how to work the farm because they had no one there to show them," Michael says.

"They couldn't own the land until the youngest - Robert - was 21, so they used to have a share farmer working for them."

Bill moved back to Bri Bri in 1959, and has worked the land ever since.

The family-owned property, of which Thomas now holds the candle as the fifth generation to perhaps one day work the land, is one of the last remaining under original owner operator status in the Cambooya area.

Although he has an outside income - he operates a contracting business- he one day wouldn't mind moving back to Bri Bri to work the land full time to keep it in the family.

 

"You don't have to grow up on the farm to be a farmer, but the history and keeping family tradition is important" Michael said.

"For me, I can still remember the trucks coming home at night or seeing the header working at whatever it might be, and the sights and the sounds.

"If I look to Thomas, I wouldn't mind moving back here because to me, if you're going to be a farmer, its best to live it and grow up with it.

"It's not 100% necessary, and you don't even have to be a boy, but for me, I grew up with that passion and I would like my children to be able to experience that."

Although Thomas is just five years old and will start grade one at school this year, Michael says he would like Bri Bri to stay in the Middleton family.

With two daughters Grace, 12, and Bridie, 11, there is a good chance the passion for the land will rub off on the younger generations and keep the tradition going.

"What I enjoy is seeing the crops in a good season," Bill says.

"Now that Michael has taken over, we're using a lot more of the new technology, but just seeing the crops pop up and grow is very satisfying.

"You know the old saying - it takes one generation to build it up, the second generation to make it good, and the third generation to sell it!"

But the four working generations of the Middleton family has proven that adage wrong.

Michael says it is family and tradition that keeps the farm roots strong.

"It's nice to see your family through the highs and the lows - the good times and the bad," he says.

"The opportunities if you want to be a farmer, is not really something you can just buy into.

"The return on your investment can be pretty poor, so you can't expect to go and buy a farm and expect a consistent profit.

"It is a long term investment."