LOCAL LEGEND: Chinchilla farmer the lifeblood of region
GRAHAM Hibbett is instantly recognised about town as one of Chinchilla's characters from the bush. His tall, angular frame and customary Akubra stamps him as a man of the land. At 83 years, Graham has a strong unlined face, dominated by startlingly blue eyes. His hands are calloused and scarred; the result of a lifetime's hard work.
Graham lives a simple life of self-sufficiency north east of Chinchilla on his grazing property, Rewan. After year of drought conditions, the pastures of Rewan are now covered in knee high grasses, bleached white from the recent frosts. There are over a thousand acres of cleared grazing country, undulating and sheltered by scattered stands of eucalyptus and hardwood.
Although he's just 15 kilometres from town, Graham prefers to spend his days on the property with the natural wildlife and his herd of Hereford cows for company. On the days Graham does venture into town, it's to buy a few supplies and seek out the company of mates. Habitually, he can be found outside the Newsagency on what locals call 'The Seat of Knowledge'.
There, Graham and other like-minded men of a certain age catch up on Chinchilla's news and share their views on local affairs. Their range of topics of conversation are wide and varied; from the recent spate of burglaries (those kids deserve a good whaling on the bum!) to the state of our bio security (useless) and coronavirus (I'm not that worried about catching it but don't understand the whole toilet paper thing!).
Other insights of Graham's reflect his 'old school' philosophy on life. As a child he lived a fairly isolated life. His family had a beef and dairy operation in the Gympie area. It was too far from town to attend the local school, so he was taught at home by a governess.
Graham understands that rewards come from hard work. He grew up pitching in and helping his family on the farm. Chopping fire wood, bringing up the cows for milking and helping feed dairy calves was a normal part of life for Graham as a boy.
"When you live on the land, you learn to survive," he says. He advocates common sense and has little patience for irresponsibility or dishonesty. Graham believes in old fashioned values like firm discipline, commitment and determination.
He married and remained in the Gympie district until 1989 when he found the grazing lands of Chinchilla suitable for his needs. He has lived on Rewan ever since with his son Bruce. For a while they raised Merino Border Leister cross sheep for the fat lamb market but an influx of wild dogs soon began to impact on their flock.
Graham prides himself on being a crack shot but despite he and the neighbours all taking part in 'drives' and 'shoots' the wild dogs decimated sheep numbers in the district. Graham and others like him gave up trying to breed sheep. He turned instead to something that bites back!
Graham invested in bee hives and currently owns hundreds of hives which he carts around the country side in search of pollinating trees and plants for his bees. Keeping thousands of bees well fed takes careful planning and knowledge of the landscape and the seasons.
"At the moment my hives are up north near Gin Gin, where the Gidgee is in flower. When that flowering is over, I'll have to move them again," says Graham.
The honey Graham produces is sent to Brisbane to be processed and bottled as Capilano Honey, now owned by the Chinese but still produced here in Australia. Graham is highly critical of our biosecurity laws that have allowed American Foul Brood Disease to enter the country and infect our bee population.
Graham indicates a stack of empty bee hives sitting in the paddock, "These all have to irradiated before I can use them again," he explains. "American Foul Brood is a highly infectious spore forming bacteria that can remain viable in bee keeping equipment and honey for up to 40 years."
The disease kills the larvae and pupae in the hive, killing off whole colonies of bees. It's a bee keeper's worst nightmare and something Graham has had to battle here in Chinchilla despite our relative isolation. It's little wonder he is critical of our biosecurity laws. Graham is acutely aware that there are no second chances when dealing with pests and disease.
Tending to his hives and his cows gives Graham a sense of satisfaction. He heats his home and cooks his meals on a wood stove, felling trees and chopping fire wood from his own paddocks. He has a lighting plant for electricity and a few solar panels to generate the little power he needs during the day.
"I don't need everything that opens and shuts," he says as he muses with curiosity the many needs of a different generation.
As an acknowledgment of his advancing years, Graham now accepts the help of Blue Care and Meals on Wheels a few days a week to help him navigate the risks that come from living alone. It makes life a little easier for him and allows him to remain on the property with relative ease. He has no plans of living elsewhere; his heart is here, anchored firmly in the landscape of Rewan.
Within sight of his dwelling sits a rusting relic of the past that was bequeathed to him by friend and neighbour, Bill Ryall. No longer in use, Bill's Go-Devil looks very much a part of the rural landscape. It was designed and built by Bill to perform a variety of useful tasks around the farm; a combination of grader, loader and excavator.
Bill didn't want it left rusting on just any old farm, so he left instructions that it be sent over to Graham's place. I guess Bill knew that Graham would appreciate the history of the Go-Devil and the kind of bush ingenuity that put it together.