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A Bunbury visionary we can all be grateful to

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

20/02/2023

Five generations of Western Australia’s Partridge family have affectionately called White Rocks dairy home.

And over his lifetime family patriarch, 89-year-old David Partridge has enjoyed the unique privilege of knowing each and every one of those generations.

“I am third generation, and I have very fond memories of my grandfather John, who settled White Rocks in 1887, and of course my father, Walter,” David reflects. “My son Michael and his wife Leanne now run the operation and my grandson Harrison has recently finished University and returned to the farm – it’s a rather nice feeling being able to cover all generations.”

The rate of change within the industry and society over his lifetime is hard to fathom, “When I left school 72 years ago and started milking cows we didn’t even have a tractor, just heavy horses”, yet David believes that technology and mechanisation have, without a doubt, been the greatest contributor to the operation.

From humble beginnings – David’s grandfather began the business by hand milking a few Jersey cows – today historic White Rocks is one of Western Australia’s most progressive dairy operations, having enjoyed continual expansion throughout the generations.

The farm, in the Bunbury district, now consists of 1,000 hectares and a herd of over with 1,000 Fresian cows, with 800 being milked at any one time.

As innovative as his forefathers, Michael has continued to grow the operation and leverage the latest in technology, with cows tested monthly by Herd Improvement Service of WA (HISWA) for milk production, protein content and fat content to ensure a superior product.

Somatic cell counts and progressive totals of each cow’s production for the current lactation helps ensure continual improvement, and electronic ear tags which automatically control their feed ration in line with nutritional needs, for optimum health and production.

Giving dairy a strong voice

Throughout his lifetime David has been a vocal advocate for the dairy industry, and was a passionate, and practical representative on many state and national organisations.

He joined the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation (ADFF) as a WA state representative in 1977 before joining the newly formed National Farmers' Federation (NFF) board as the ADFF representative in 1979.

He was then elected in 1981 as the chair of the NFF's economic committee, a position he held until his retirement from the NFF in 1990.

Quick to downplay his contribution, David humbly describes his industry intentions over the years as ‘self-preservation’ – “I just wanted to see the industry well managed.”

Yet an Order of Australia and NFF Award of Honour, amongst a swag of industry and community awards, suggests otherwise.

David chuckles that these awards really should have gone to his wife Elizabeth – “She really was the one who had to mind the farm while I was away so much.”

At almost 90 David is still quick as a whip, recalling Hawke era government policy like it was yesterday, and his lobbying led to reforms that much of rural Australia now take for granted.

He played a key role in opening up export markets for the Australian dairy industry and steered the Hawke Government’s economic reform policy and advocacy debate to benefit all farmers.

These reforms included opening the economy to international forces through floating the Australian dollar and tariff reforms.

David was also hand selected to be part of the inaugural Primary Industry Bank of Australia (PIBA) Board of Directors in the 1980s – one of only two farmer representatives on the board.

One of his key initiatives was the establishment of "interest-only" loans to ensure farmers could remain viable by reducing the need to make capital reductions during the period of high interest rates.

This practical solutions to managing farming finance continues to help sustain farming business to this day.

“With interest rates at the time up to 17 per cent, it was simply too difficult for farm owners to reduce capital and pay interest, and together as a board we introduced the “interest-only” loan to give farmers a bit of a holiday from repayments.”

This simple measure spearheaded by PIBA, he believes, was a turning point for rural banking, with other banks soon followed suite.

From PIBA to Rabobank, the vision remained consistent

Rabobank purchased PIBA in 1994 and David says it has continued to do the rural banking sector proud.

“Rabobank is a specialised rural bank for people on the go – farmers who are ready to develop, ready to grow,” he says. “It’s a bank for the doers.”

An advocate of the co-operative model, David says the fact Rabobank has no shareholders serves clients and the community well.

“If I reflect on my lifetime, I think one of the greatest disappointments has been the passing of the co-operatives, it’s a bit sad really – once so many organisations in agriculture were co-operatives and now everything has gone corporate, and with that there’s been a definite shift in focus away from service.”

David’s grandfather opened the farm’s first account with a different local bank in 1887, yet during the early 1980’s he said the bank “got a bit toey”, which instigated the family’s move to PIBA, now Rabobank.

“After a relationship of 100 years, it’s not easy to change banks, but PIBA offered something different, something genuinely geared towards farming operations which supported our vision and goals – and that mentality extends today through Rabobank.”

Rabobank celebrates 20 years in Bunbury

With Rabobank’s Bunbury branch celebrating 20 years in the community this month, David said working with the team, in particular their senior rural manager Joe Musitano, evoked all the nostalgia of yesteryear.

“When I was a lad, the bank manager was an extremely important person in the community – they were held in awe, and it was very much a personality-type based-business.”

“Today a lot of banking seems to be paper shuffling, but I am extremely impressed that Rabobank has retained that focus on relationships.”

“Joe knows his community, knows his team and knows his clients and goes above and beyond to get the best out of everyone.”

David smiles that his relationship with Joe is particularly special, having grown up with his father Philip – a fact that reinforces the team’s strong ties to the region.

“Rabobank has been supporting the growth of White Rocks coming up to three generations now, and with Harrison now home it’s exciting to see the family legacy continue.”

“Each generation has really loved this wonderful farm, and felt privileged to have lived here.”