It has now been 130 years since Tom Roberts, a renowned Australian artist who held…
Meet the Bartletts – and read about their outback odyssey
Eveline (aka Ev) Bartlett was born and raised around Broken Hill and Wilcannia until the mid 1960s when her father sold his land and moved to the lower Paroo region.
After schooling in Orange, Ev moved into nursing in Broken Hill. However she never really left the land as in her spare time she always returned to the family property to help her family out where she could.
Ev’s future husband Robert (aka Rob) was raised on a property in the Tilpa area in Far West NSW, which had been in his family since 1927. The eldest of five boys, his early education was by correspondence and then he and his siblings were sent to boarding school in Bathurst.
“After completing the HSC I came straight home to help on the property and within six months I was managing Toonborough, where we still are today,” says Rob. “My father purchased Toonborough in 1964 to take advantage of the Paroo flood-out country, as the Tilpa property had been in severe drought during the 1960s.”
Ev and Rob were married in 1973 and settled on Toonborough to raise their family. “As the family grew, so did our businesses with Yamaramie, Noonamah, Tilterweira and Nebea being added to the enterprise,” explains Rob.
“There have been many changes when it comes to living in the Outback since our early childhood, but the advent of rural power in 1990 was probably the most significant. Fridges, deep freezers, TV, electric shearing gear and power tools became normal. Satellite phones and computers were also big improvements.”Rob Bartlett
Rob adds that property management has also greatly improved since his early days on the farm, and he’s not one to shun modern technology and embracing the online world. “Things improved again with the advent of poly tubing, poly water tanks, solar pumps and UHF radios, but AuctionsPlus livestock selling is perhaps my pick for the biggest improvement for marketing in these remote areas. You can trade almost anything from your home office!”
The family faced many obstacles in the early days, and there are still many challenges to tackle on the farm.
“Western Division livestock management is a challenge, and droughts and feral pests have always been and will always be a part of the landscape out here,” says Rob. “Kangaroo numbers and wild dogs have also presented serious problems over the past decades. “Landholders have to work together to combat these threats.”
Rob and Ev say that working with their family has been the key to what they’ve achieved on their land over six decades.
“We’ve always been able to work together as a group, and as each generation matures, work ethics and livestock handling skills are passed down to the next. We all know our roles and that leads to good teamwork.”Rob Bartlett
The new gen of the Bartletts: Ben & Paula
“I always knew that I wanted to work in an outdoor environment and that any sort of urban lifestyle was not for me,” says Rob’s son Ben Bartlett. “Working with dogs is something I always enjoyed and that naturally led me into livestock handling.”
The couple bought their own property near Rob’s in 2013 and it was an exciting step for them – something they had long dreamt of.
One of the things Ben loves the most about life on the land are big rain events. The type that end a drought.
“You look at dry country, sometimes in that state for years, and think that it’s ruined. Stuffed. You think it will never recover again, and then the rains come and the response from the native fauna, flora and livestock is unbelievable,” he says.
Coming from an irrigation area in Coleambally, Paula enjoys the peace and space on the station. “It was a big change, but it has always felt like home here.”
And then there are the lows that any farmer knows, and while their three kids (Kate, 14, Jon, 16 and Malcolm, 18) are away at boarding school, Ben gets through them with his wife Paula and his parents by his side.
“In drought times we can’t be as involved in our children’s school lives because the livestock need us every day,” Ben says. “You can’t afford to look away for a moment because a water, feed or pest problem will no doubt rear up. Rural lifestyle has taught me that you cannot afford to be idle – there is always something to be done. If you are not doing something you are falling behind.”
Paula and Ben say that their kids have to make up their own minds as to whether they want to work on the property in the future or not.
“I’ve always encouraged the kids to undertake some kind of training and work for a few years before deciding if they want to come back here,” says Paula. “The dwindling population around here concerns me but if they want to come back after working elsewhere for a while then that would be fine, as they will have seen and experienced enough to know what they really want to do.”
Even after so many years of working as a team, Ben enjoys working with his parents because of their vast experience and knowledge.
“I touch base with my parents every evening on the phone to finalise the next day’s plan, and generally we work together about 50 per cent of the time – either mustering, fencing, driving the tractors or doing repairs to the waterways and farm machinery,” he says.
“Paula and I also do our best to instil a solid work ethic into our children, and pass on our knowledge, just as my parents gave me the solid knowledge base to build my own ideas from. They also have Paula to look up to, and keeps it all together – business, home, children. She is the force that keeps it all together.”Ben Bartlett
Lessons from the kids: Kate, Jon & Malcolm
“One of the more important life lessons I’ve picked up from working and living on the farm is that sometimes not everything goes to plan, so it’s always a good idea to be prepared to face anything that comes your way while out on the job,” Malcolm (18) says.
“It’s not always easy on the land, and I admire my parents work ethic both around the property and at the house, and my grandparents’ commitment to staying on the land for all of this time, through the good times and the bad.”Malcolm Bartlett
Malcolm loves being on the property because he likes to work with animals. “Dad has taught me all the dos and don’ts when it comes to handling and working with livestock,” he says. “And I love seeing all the livestock in good condition after a good year of rainfall and watching the sun come up on clear mornings while we are out mustering.”
Jon (16) says that farming is in his blood. “I love how every day on the farm is so different,” Jon says. “My parents taught me a lot of practical stuff while growing up, as well as having perseverance through life’s struggles. I’ve learnt from them that you should always have a go, and never give up.”
Like his brother and sister, Jon loves being surrounded by nature and livestock while out mustering. He also enjoys working with his family.
“I admire how dad imparts his wisdom when I stuff things up, mum for attempting to feed us healthy food, grandad for his bush mechanic skills, and gran for her skills in pest management. She also makes really great rock cakes!”Jon Bartlett
Kate loves being with her family in the great outdoors, with animals by her side. “You go out early each morning and see and hear new things that push you out of your comfort zone and teach you important new life skills,” she says.
“I love the early mornings of mustering while keeping a close eye on my cattle, and the open spaces with no crowds. I love the freedom, but also the fact that there is something always waiting to be done. Working on the land also teaches you how to work well with animals and how to collaborate in a working team.”Kate Bartlett
Like her siblings, Kate admires both her parents’ and her grandparents’ never-ending resilience throughout drought and other tough times. “They always pull through and they never give up,” she says. “And they usually come in at the end of the day with a smile on their face from a small joy discovered throughout the day.”
If you enjoyed reading this new generation story on the Bartletts, you might like our article, the Wilsons of Wallamore