Generation to generation a family powers ahead

ON the edge of the Cradle Mountain wilderness and under the shadows of Black Bluff and Mount Roland is Gaunts Farm, a pioneering property, steeped in history and the location of many firsts in the region that is beginning its changeover into a new generation of farmer.

Around 35km south of Ulverstone, at the very rear of the green, fertile swathes of land that stretch across the top of the state is Gaunt Farm, a property that has its history intertwined with the region of Nietta.

Being settled in 1886 by Thomas Oswald Button, it was the first farm in the region, the cottage overlooking the Castra Rivulet, painting an isolating image of early Tasmanian farmers. Since then, the property has gone through a number of changes down the decades and changed hands a number of times.

In 1900, brothers Rich, Sydney and Gray Gaunt purchased 600 acres including the existing property for grazing purposes, living in Button’s cottage after purchasing the land. In 1918 it changed hands to Leonard and Alice Thompson, who built the Gaunts Homestead beside the rivulet, before the property passed to Loris Bowden in 1942 and finally, to George Miles in 1946, beginning the Miles’s tenure on the property.

George Miles first came to the property with his family, his machinery and livestock arriving via train nearby from their previous property to a rabbit-infested but promising property. The family’s personal belongings arrived the following day, clearly not as much a priority, such was the eagerness to begin their next venture.

After 10 years under George’s operation, it was his son, Gordon, who took the reins, expanding the property to 1000 acres (400ha) to accommodate a growing Romney sheep flock and his treasured Angus stud. Gordon and his wife, Meg, spent the remainder of their days on the property, their 70-or-so year attachment to the property now forever immortalised with their resting place on the property grounds.

Throughout those years, the farm has been a showcase of innovation – powering the many operations on the property was something unique to a farm, a hydro system. In 1933, a defunct vertical-drop hydro system was transported from Latrobe, where it once served in a mill and to power streetlamps.

Once used to power the household or to operate basic machinery, the 240 volts, 1500kW hydro system that draws from the Castra Rivulet’s Dynamo Waterfall, a centrepiece of the property, is still in working condition, though today it is far more ornamental in nature, while in the 1960s a small 32-volt waterwheel was built to draw power from further along the creek, powering the nearby dairy. Even today the trend continues.

In recent years the Miles family have installed a hydro system of their own, a modern gravity-fed station capable of producing 640kW/hour from existing irrigation dams.

Today it is the new generation, or perhaps ‘generations’ that are making their mark on the property. Adrian Beswick is the grandchild of Gordon and has recently stepped up to the plate in managing aspects of the property that his Auntie Alison still resides on.

From a stock count of about 30 Angus cattle and 400 Rumney/Dorest sheep, the Gaunt Farm has started to make its own tracks in the fresh meat market. “The family and the farm have always traditional sold through the saleyards, but over the last few years we’ve been looking into what we can do to add value to the product we sell,” Adrian said.

“That’s how we came into selling the majority of our fat lambs directly to the market, while the remainder are sold directly to customers and consumers. “It obviously has its challenges. I’m still working professionally now, but I’ll have my youngest in kinder from next year.”

The lamb and beef boxes are sold online, and the direct-to-market sales are just some of the ways the Gaunts Farm is developing its image.

The Gaunts stall sold over 1000 home-made, home-grown lamb rolls at Agfest this year, while back on-farm, the well-kept structures of Buttons cottage, the existing barns and the hydro infrastructure that perfectly illustrates its development over the years all provide further opportunities.

“We offer Button’s cottage as an Airbnb and I’d love to one day be able to host schools here. There’s a lot that can be learnt about early hydro on this farm. We have the evidence of it’s use here from the stuff you can learn in primary school right through to TAFE.

“It’s like a little Wadamana, but here you can get down and handle the moving parts and learn for yourself.”