Transcript from Australian Story 6th July 2009

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Transcript from Australian Story 6th July 2009

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Right As Rain - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 6 July , 2009
RAY MARTIN, PRESENTER: Hello I'm Ray Martin, about 10 years ago I came across an amazing bloke, a farmer named Peter Andrews. In the midst of Australia's worst drought, his farm was lush and green, all the neighbours around him we're hand feeding their cattle and turned on their irrigation sprays just to survive. Now I tried to do a story about him, but my boss at the time wasn't interested and that's the way it had been for about 30 years. Politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, even farmers ignored what he was doing or rejected his simple ideas. But about four years ago Australian Story featured Peter Andrews, and the response was overwhelming. Since then, there has been some progress, but many of the old frustrations still remain. So tonight the continuing story of an amazing bloke called Peter Andrews.

PETER ANDREWS: These wetlands are returning because, even though the stream is still a metre and a half deeper than it should be, we’re able to put these contours in which artificially reinstate the natural processes of the landscape.

GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: It’s strange, even now it happens all the time. If I go somewhere, they look at me "Oh, Oh whatever happened to that bloke? What’s his name?" And I said "Peter Andrews". "Yeah that's his name, that Australian Story" and they all want to know where it’s at.

PETER ANDREWS: Well four years, it just proves bureaucracies move very slowly. I mean, 30 years of me bringing this to people’s attention and then another four years when the public all seemed to understand. Yet we are still labouring along with a bureaucratic process that, well maybe it’s getting there – maybe.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: It has been said that there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And Pete’s idea came and it’s what everyone’s screaming for. I’ve heard from friends in the bureaucracy in Canberra, they can’t believe that a fellow who’s been sidelined by the system keeps getting up. And people keep saying "What about Peter Andrews?" And they’re thinking, "Haven’t we stopped this bloke?" They’re absolutely seething that Peter Andrews looks like he’s going to reincarnate again. They’re furious that people in powerful positions are saying, "hey, we’ve got to support this bloke".

DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: I’m hopeful that we’ve been through a lot of learning processes since you did the story before. I’m hopeful that there is people who are staying with Peter now and supporting him. But I know it’s going to be difficult, because Peter Andrews, with all his innovation and insight and genius, is not an easy person to manage and to keep focused on getting those things in place.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: The whole story began more than three decades ago. When he purchased Tarwyn Park it was an environmental wasteland. It was a landscape that people just said you could do nothing with. And within years he transformed it. He reversed the salinity, he re-hydrated the landscape, he re-fertilised the floodplain.

PETER ANDREWS: I realised 30 years ago that there was a major threat. We've failed to recognise in this country that it had some unique qualities that made it sustainable in its own right. Biodiversity and the ability to prevent water evaporating. They were the really simple things. I saw that for land to go through a drought, you had to have reserves of water somewhere. And there were shapes in these sediments in the flood plains which proved that they worked like a series of giant sponges that filled up and they trickle-fed the rest of the system through the dry periods. And so I said, well let me see if I can do that. Maybe I’ll fill up the floodplain and see what happens.

STUART ANDREWS, SON: The first thing he did was tried correcting the constantly eroding creek so he brought in a bulldozer and he battered the banks down and he built some structures in the creek and planted willow trees and reeds and certainly lot of the neighbours were a little bit worried that he was taking all the water by blocking it up in the creek. They'd call in the authorities, quite regularly. I remember lots of heated discussions with neighbours out the front of the house. People concerned about what he was doing.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: The bureaucracy was dead against what he was doing. He was planting willows, when you get Government grants to take them out. He was planting reed beds, when people thought you pulled them out of swamps. Everything he did was contrary to what everybody was being told by the authorities. He was seen as the heretical bloke up the valley. The nutter who wouldn't listen to anyone, and who just did his own thing.

PROF DAVID GOLDNEY, LANDSCAPE ECOLOGIST: I came to Tarwyn Park when it was a pretty degraded area. There was lots of saline patches. Lots of bare ground. But I saw something there that just kept drawing me back. And in that period, I've seen it transformed into an extremely productive agricultural landscape.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: It became an obsession with Pete. He’d call everyone he could think of. He’d talk to everybody in a position of power he could. He was just ridiculed. He was derided. He was saying all these things that were opposite to what the scientists were saying. But in the end they couldn’t refute the evidence.

PROF. DAVID MITCHELL, WATER ECOLOGIST: What Peter Andrews has done has opened our eyes to an alternative way of managing water resources across our landscape. What really made a difference is the current drought. For many people it is the most serious they've experienced, and yet if you go to the properties where Peter Andrews has been working, those properties, from the air, are green. The neighbouring property is brown. So people are beginning to be interested. And there are a considerable number of people who are quite distrustful.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: So in a time when all our other landscapes are going backwards despite the billions of dollars we’re pouring into them, here’s this broken down old cocky from Mudgee, with no scientific training, who’s done something that our best science couldn’t. Finally it looked like he was getting somewhere. An R&D (Research and Development) project was set and unfortunately it came to grief and Peter lost his property through bankruptcy.

ANNE ANDREWS, FORMER WIFE: We always believed in his work but it was very difficult because we were also trying to run a business and breed horses and the horses and market horses, and the horses really took a back step. Unfortunately because he was so involved doing what he was doing in trying to spread the word and trying to convince people that what he was doing was right, the horses just stayed in the paddock. Although I tried to support him as much as I could and his ability with horses I’ve never questioned that. However we did agree eventually to go our separate ways.

PETER ANDREWS: See I’ve had to stand up and forego all for a process. That’s pretty stupid isn’t it? But yeah, I did it.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: His son Stuart was able to arrange with the bank to buy a part of the property. The rest was sold to other people. It wasn’t like somebody losing a million dollars. It wasn’t like somebody just going broke. It was somebody who’d spent 30 years building up this priceless national asset. That’s how he saw it in his mind.

STUART ANDREWS, SON: When dad lost the farm it was like someone had just torn the ground out from underneath him. It was everything to him. The farm was his life and I suppose it’s difficult. It would be difficult for anyone that has lost something that’s so dear to them, and he just feels wronged by it.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: It was everything he’d worked for. It was his absolute passion. And he can’t believe that when he did something that he thought was there to benefit the whole country, that his very natural laboratory was taken away from him. Peter was really in a wilderness of his own. He’d been talking to Gerry Harvey for years. He went up to his Baramul horse stud and he said, I can fix this. Gerry Harvey thinks outside the square. That’s how he’s got to where he is today as one of Australia’s top businessmen. He bets on long shots. He took Peter on and it’s paid off.

GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: I’ve been a great sceptic in the early part because I’m thinking, this guy, he’s away with the fairies, but I’ll back him because I like him and maybe he’s right. And I’ve backed him over all these years and now I’m seeing there’s no doubt he’s right, no doubt whatsoever. So the first thing Peter did when he got here is to put some barriers in the creeks. They’re sort of manmade barriers but made out of rocks and some old logs and put reeds in there and types of grasses and just any growth you can get there and build this barrier so that the next time a flood comes down then it will hit this barrier and you get the water level rising and you go down the creek now and the water level’s up a metre in places. So originally what used to happen is the water would come down the creek. It created all this erosion and the water would come down and go zoom and straight to sea and take a whole heap of soil and fertility with it and plant life. Now we’re blocking all that, we're holding it and we’re creating this environment that allows us to retain all of this water and build all the plant life and the fertility.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: Peter’s improved the biodiversity of his country very simply and very unconventionally. One of Peter’s main secrets is he uses weeds and ground cover. Australia’s fragile soil needs ground cover 100 per cent of the time. He slashes his weeds. Eventually the soil improves so much that the weeds don’t grow, the better things out compete them. The weeds aren’t needed any more. They’re just repair mechanisms.

(Excerpt of footage of Peter Andrews demonstrating grass and soil formation)
PETER ANDREWS: Once you get the hydrology right this grass mix will stand five months or more.
MAN: That's fantastic.
PETER ANDREWS: So that's five centimetres of soil formation.
(End of Excerpt)

PROF DAVID GOLDNEY, LANDSCAPE ECOLOGIST: I go over farmland all across the central west and you never see soil being built. You see it being degraded. Now here in 18 months you are seeing soil made on top of sand by a very simple process and the organic layer is quite significant, that black layer that starts to form. I think it’s the most significant contribution to landscape restoration that I’ve seen in Australia.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: Gerry bit the bullet. He said, right, let’s get the scientists in and they put a four year program in place where they documented everything they were doing.

(Excerpt of footage of Richard Bush and Annabelle Keene testing creek water)
ANNABELLE KEENE: What's the water quality like?
PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: Fantastic, certainly biologically active.
(End of Excerpt)

PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: Well we started monitoring Peter Andrews’ natural sequence farming at Baramul in 2004. There was anecdotal evidence of success with what Peter Andrews was doing but there was no scientific evidence. And the State and Federal Government wanted to see if there was some scientific evidence to support Peter Andrews’ ideas. I’d resisted going out to see Peter Andrews for about nine months only because I was aware that the mad farmer who, once you got involved with him, would not let up. So I sort of come to the table kicking and screaming. But we started to get surprised within 12 months by the change in the landscape. Some of our findings are startling. The river is recovering by developing pools and riffles which is habitat and which Australian rivers and Australian landscapes need. That’s taken place on Baramul in a period of two years. And from a textbook understanding of these types of landscapes, you’d be thinking 10 or 15 years for this sort of change. And in fact, it’s turned out that that has resulted in a river recovery to our knowledge unprecedented in Australia.

GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: He goes out there and he tells his story to anyone that'll listen and he's got a list of 1000 people who could or have helped him in the past, and he just stays, he's like a dog with a rag, he won't let it go. So he's doing all things possible to try and make this thing work. And everyone, lots of people like me and others come along and "We'll help you, we'll help you, we'll help you", and we all do. But it sort of runs into the bureaucracy and it's difficult.

DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: I think there has been progress in trying to find implementation of Peter’s ideas. It hasn’t been a total success.

(Excerpt of footage of Peter Andrews talking to farmers)
PETER ANDREWS: What you're being told is just a high profile sales gimmick. It's not science.
MALE FARMER: Farmers have gone by generations of adopted best practice, informed best practice and that's where we find ourselves now, in a bit of a quandary don't we.
PETER ANDREWS: Absolutely.
(End of Excerpt)

DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: When people engage with Peter and he comes to their farm and implements work, he doesn’t have a piece of paper that describes what he’s done or a set of instructions of how to work into the future and so it’s not documented. And I believe however that is something that with proper work we could actually do. One of major constraints is when we think we’re getting to a stage of making progress in an institutional arrangement which can incorporate his knowledge in a way that will take us forward, we find that, I find that, that fundamental pain and anguish and hurt that sits inside Peter explodes.

PETER ANDREWS: I couldn’t describe what going to meetings when in fact I’m telling them the best message and I’ve got to go there and say, "Well, this fella went bankrupt".

DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: The pain of that is profound to Peter, and it continually impacts on his ability to actually help us work with him to make progress on taking his learning forward so we can use it more widely.

PETER ANDREWS: People ask me, well why would I do that. You went broke. It’s disgusting. I don’t know how anyone expects me to stay very nice and congenial when in fact one mob of thieves and liars did one thing and I’ve got to go there and say "oh well, I just move on, it doesn’t matter". It does matter. We have to fix these things.

STUART ANDREWS, SON: I suppose if it wasn’t me that owned it and it would be somebody else, he’d probably just have to get over it and that’d be it. But because it’s in the family, he still comes on the farm. He brings people here to show them around, show them what he’s done. It must be heartbreaking for him because he’s no longer in control of it. Dad has a new family now. He has a lady friend and a couple of young children. At first when I first heard about it I was probably a little bit shocked, but I’ve got used to it now. It’s a little bit difficult to deal with the fact that his children are actually younger than mine.

ANNE ANDREWS, FORMER WIFE: They come over here quite a number of times because Peter and Jo come over to help with the horses. I have some of their horses here that I look after. But he’s just the best horseman and if anything has to be done I like him to be able to do it if possible. So I see them as much as possible anyway, he’s very busy these days.

JOANNE STAR, PARTNER: He’s always in demand 24/7. The phone never stops til about 10 o’clock at night, every night. He’s under a lot more pressure than he lets on. He never says it very much, but he hides it well.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: All over the country people said, this is what we have to do. They formed Natural Sequence Farming Associations. They just wanted to get involved with Peter. They just wanted him to come to their place or their area and say, what can you do for us?

PETER ANDREWS: I have travelled from Perth and I’ve been to the Geraldton area, right to Townsville, and pretty well everywhere in between. The clear evidence is that the destruction of vegetation has created a situation where the landscape is just falling apart.

GREG DONOGHUE, LAND OWNER: When Peter first came on the property the first thing he did was looked at where the erosion had occurred. But, strangely enough, looked upstream from where the erosion was. Most of the other people had done things at the erosion site. The very first thing he did was install this dam wall at the apex of that run through there which acted to stop the water from coming down in quite such a gush. And then we built sort of contour channels coming out from the left and right, going across to the edges of the property. So when, probably only two or three times a year that we get a rain event it spreads across those two spurs and turns around here and then goes back down into the dam. Before Peter did those interventions, the water would just come down there in just massive sheets. All our nutrient, our organic matter and our water was just being exported off the property and taking with it our top soil or and our subsoil. So we stopped that, stopped the water flow in its tracks. Just de-energised the water, stopped the velocity, spread it out over the property and then we’ve introduced some organic matter at strategic locations so that the water would actually rinse through the organic matter and spread it over the property as well. We just took a truckload or a semi-trainer load of local chicken manure, untreated, unprocessed, straight from the chicken farm and we just dumped it there. And you can see now that we’ve got saltbush that we’ve planted which is just gone gaga. We’ve got a self seeded Tagasaste tree, some tussocks of grass, that are all sprung up as a result of having water and organic matter.

PETER ANDREWS: It’s had an opportunity but it doesn’t have the range of plants which would recover it in a very short period of time, but it has recovered dramatically.

STUART ANDREWS, SON: That's where I think his special ability is, is with the water. His ability to be able to work with nature and have the water and move the water around as he sees it needs to be done to get the water into the ground. If it’s done the wrong way, water can destroy you in a very, very quick time. It can also improve your property in a very quick time.

GREG DONOGHUE, LAND OWNER: What I’d like to do now is I’d like to cover the place with whatever will grow. I’ve seen evidence all over the country at Peter’s place and at other places, where allowing weeds to grow, improves the soil. And eventually they die out. But the way the legislation is now, is that it’s illegal to grow those plants. If I have Patterson’s curse on my farm, or willows, or thistles, I am legally required to get rid of them. Which really means I’ve got to spray them. And I have absolutely no intention of spraying them on this property. If I could, if I legally could, I’d actually plant them.

PETER ANDREWS: Our farmers are all going broke, and our landscape is dying and most of them can’t afford expensive options. The cheap option, as I’ve been keeping on saying, is biodiverse groups of plants, like the noxious weeds that have been declared. We are declaring the plants that are most capable of fixing the conditions of that degraded property, noxious.

PROF. RICHARD BUSH, HEAD ‘BARAMUL’ SCIENTIFIC TEAM: Peter Andrews’ views or understanding of the landscape is not necessarily in step with the scientists’ views of the landscape. Nevertheless, some of his management practices have resulted in some tremendous benefits to the Australian landscape. I think up until Peter Andrews there was very much a view that, you know, the landscape was degrading and it was all too big to be able to address. Whereas he’s demonstrated that in fact, the common landholder, the average landholder can make some changes that can be very, very significant.

DR JOHN WILLIAMS, NSW NAT. RES. COMMISSIONER: Peter is worth persevering with because he’s a person who has got insight that we need. He’s got an insight to the landscape that very few other people have and he’s also operating as a farmer, landscape rehabilitator mix, and we don’t have a lot of people like that.

GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: I’ll back him til the day I die because I know, I know that what he’s doing makes a lot of sense. I’ve witnessed it for years, I’ve watched it happen. It’s an indisputable fact. It’s just a matter of how much further you can go with it.

PETER ANDREWS: Well I’m at the point where I’ve had enough, you know, I thought I was when we spoke four years ago. Today I really am at the point where either we do it or something dramatic has got to change.

(On Screen Text: Next Week)
PETER ANDREWS: Mad? Absolutely. I’m happy to get out there and give it a real burst and show you exactly what all this means.

STUART ANDREWS, SON: Some days you could say he’s a genius and some days you could say he’s a whacko, that’s just the making of the man.

PETER ANDREWS: He asked me to fix the creek. And I’m saying, you’re kidding me. You teach people. You tell ‘em, you turn your back and suddenly they go and do the dumbest thing that ever happened.

JOHN RYAN, REPORTER WIN TV, DUBBO: They can’t believe he’s coming back again, this time not only with some of the wealthiest people in Australia supporting him, but the former Governor General.

MAJOR. GENERAL JEFFERY: I think he’ll pass on a very happy man because he will have done one of the really, really great things for this country and that’s why I’m keen to help him along for heck or high water.

GERRY HARVEY, RETAILER & STUD OWNER: When he said to me, the Saudis are talking about me greening the desert, I said "You’ve got to be kidding". You know, but they were serious. And I said, "Can you green the desert, the Sahara Desert?" And he said, "Well I’ll give it a go".

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