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TAS Country : November 25th 2010
16 Friday, Novem Feature farm Clyde View, Hamilton Retireme George Sonners might be 73, but the sheep breeder shows no signs of slowing down land THIS Jennifer Crawley THE red dirt of the Hamilton Plains covers his trousers, the acrid smell of fresh crutchings fills the air and the clang of sheepyard gates rings out as the farmer counts the lambs five at a time. George Sonners loves his sheep and the land they graze upon. Born and raised at Hamilton, George, 73, moved up the hill with his wife Nona to Clyde View 14 years ago. The 445ha property sits above the sleepy hamlet with commanding views across the plains and hills and a meandering Clyde River. George is nonplussed about life and its cruel blows. He had planned to use another property across the valley at Osterley to fund his retirement from farming. ''That's a story and a half, that one,'' George said. ''Everybody built trees around me and I was running quite a few head of cattle up there. ''The numbers become half because on account of all the breeding of all the wallabies and kangaroos and what have you, so I thought 'I'm going to have to join the force here and go in for trees'. ''A nice guy came here and introduced himself, used to be with Gunns. He said: 'I only want your pasture'.'' George leased the land to Forest Enterprises Australia, which is now in receivership. ''At my age I thought I could just about retire on that,'' he said. ''But they went broke.'' George and Nona have received no money from FEA apart from an initial payment 14 months ago. ''I haven't heard a word from them for 12 months, we don't know where we are with them,'' he said. ''So therefore I'm going to have to still work.'' George knows about hard work. He worked in the local Langloh pit coal mine for 12 years. ''I put my age up to 16 and went underground when I was 15,'' he said. After the mine closed, George went contracting. ''There was no work around here,'' he said. ''I managed to buy a bit of property and bought myself a tractor.'' He sowed and harvested poppies and ploughed. ''Then I went pressing wool in shearing sheds for four or five months a year, mostly camping away,'' George said. ''I had four kids in the meantime, that kept me poor.'' George was one of the first Tasmanian farmers to grow poppies. ''I even got an old combine harvester and put them in chaff bags,'' he said. George bought himself a poppy sowing drill and a header and sowed and harvested poppies. He worked as a field officer for GlaxoSmithKline before taking a redundancy in 1995. ''I was there 12 years and walked away with a nice bit of dosh,'' he said. For the first time in his life George became a full-time farmer -- ''which was about time''. However, he recognises the hardships of life on and land and believes ''farming is stuffed''. ''Parks and Wildlife locking bloody forests up, [vermin] eating you out, they don't fence, they don't poison. They bugger the grass up.'' George leases another property down the road to cater for his 1400 breeding ewes. ''I should have enough [land] but I haven't,'' he said. ''It gives me an opportunity to build my breeding stock up.'' He has changed from breeding Romney sheep to the prime SAMM -- South African Merino Mutton. ''They bought them here as well as Dohnes,'' George said. ''If you're wool-minded and had Merinos you'd have the Dohne, but I'd gone from Merinos to Romneys, which I'm just about out of now.'' George said the SAMM had more meat and were just as big a sheep as the Romney. ''The wool is 400c to 500c a kilo more value,'' he said. ''Cross-bred wool is hardly worth the cost of shearing.'' George showed some at the Huon Show last month, but did not exhibit at this year's Royal Hobart Show. ''I was shearing down there in the shearing shed, it was dinner-time, and I said to these shearers I had there 'I'm going to the show next Wednesday' and they said 'Well, you'll be there on your own, it was today' -- I'd lost complete track of the time,'' he said. George hasn't grown poppies for two years, citing costs and the dry seasons. ''I'm having a bit of a spell,'' he said. ''I'm mainly
November 18th 2010
December 2nd 2010