Potatoes and love in volcanic soil

Mary Walsh looks back on 40 years as a Trentham farmer
The Southern Farmer
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A LIFETIME OF LOVE: Mary Walsh spent four decades farming potatoes in Trentham, and looks back on the life of a farmer’s wife. She is pictured with husband Tom (dec).

IN a lilting Irish accent, Mary Walsh talks about her life as a farmer’s wife.

There is no feminist barrow to push, no demands that she worked as hard as her husband Tom – although having raised nine children, there is no doubt she has.

Instead, when Mary talks about the family farm in Trentham, she recalls the hours she spent playing with her brood, the time spent bottle-feeding lambs and the countless afternoons bent over the vegetable patch.

And potatoes – there has always been potatoes.

“What kind of an Irish woman would I be if we didn’t grow potatoes?” Mary told the Southern Farmer recently.

“My mother and father would have been so disappointed if we didn’t plant a few.”

Mary grew up on a potato farm in Ireland, moving to Kyneton to work as a nurse at the local hospital in 1958.

Lured by the promise of wide open spaces and sun, Mary found herself entranced by a young Tom Walsh.

“He was looking for a wife,” she jokes, “he was a bachelor and a farmer, and he needed a woman at home.”

Although she is 85, Mary is still as sharp as a tack.

Living on the same farm for the last 40 years, she has grown roots in the rich Australian soil.

Despite her parents’ disapproval that she married “an Australian farming boy” Mary has become as much an Aussie as anyone else.

Over the years, she helped Tom grow, diversify and expand their holding – until the property hit 700 productive acres.

Running sheep, cattle and rotational crops, the family have always taken pride in ethically farming their produce.

The potatoes, though, were Mary’s favourite.

Sitting on volcanic soil at 700 metres, the season can run up to six months in Trentham – more than almost anywhere else in the state.

In the 1960s, the farm produced around four tonnes per planted acre – by the 1970s, this had increased to 12 tonnes.

Today, the Trentham community has such a love of potatoes that there is an annual “spudfest” held in May.

“We love our potatoes around here,” Mary said.

Tom passed away earlier this year, and every day Mary misses the man who convinced her to stay in Australia.

“He was a real farmer, the kind you don’t get anymore – he could look out the kitchen window and tell you how heavy the lambs in the paddock were.”

Like many rural women, Mary deflects praise from herself.

She would rather talk about the farm, about Tom, or about her children and their success.

But there is no doubt she is the backbone of the family.

After many years on the land, Mary is still farming – slower perhaps than she used to, but out among the lambs each and every day.

“Our son runs the farm now – and I have 21 grandchildren – so I have plenty to keep me busy,” Mary said.

“But this is my home; I made Australia, and Trentham, my home – I’ll stay here for as long as I can.”

More farming news and stories can be read in the August, 2018 print edition of The Southern Farmer or click here to access digital editions.
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