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Reflecting on the Morgan family’s proud farming journey

Posted by Rabobank Australia on


Mary Morgan is a rare force – a no-nonsense family matriarch with the bush in her veins, moulded by the highs and lows of almost 80 years of life on the land.

As a young newlywed, foreign to the flat plains of Condamine, Queensland, she shared in her late husband Godfrey’s (Goff) aspirations to develop their virgin brigalow block, Myall Grove, and breed a superior Shorthorn herd.

Today, over 60 years later Goff’s vision has well and truly been realised, with their sons Spencer and Godfrey continuing The Grove Shorthorns’ legacy as one of Australia’s most significant shorthorn operations – and Mary remains in the thick of it.

Her home, surrounded by her beloved garden, is nestled amongst the paddocks Goff developed in the 1960s, and is within cooee of her two sons and their families.

And despite their proximity, and the complexity of an intergenerational family farming operation, she acknowledges it’s a structure that works well – most of the time.

“During harvest time I always tread cautiously,” she smiles. “I check in with the young chaser bin driver each morning before I phone the boys for an update, just so I know what the mood will be!”

While Godfrey and wife Megan are at the helm of the cropping operation, Spencer and Sophie run the cattle enterprise, with Mary clearly proud of their strong and collaborative work ethic.

“It’s not always the way with brothers and their wives working together, but if I were feeling boastful I’d like to think it’s thanks to the way they were brought up.”

“Their father was very inclusive, and responsible – whenever the boys went out with him he would always tell them what he was doing and why, Goff was a great communicator, which is so important for a family business.”

“Godfrey does a fantastic job with the wheat, and Spencer is terrific with the cattle, and our third son Damian is in the media industry in Brisbane, and I visit him regularly also.”

Damian owns a number of regional newspapers in a further nod to the family legacy, with the Morgan family forefathers newspaper men. The family continues to own and run the Donald Times in Victoria which it founded in 1875.

“I feel very happy to see the way the family all gets on, maintaining traditions and friendships, and it’s nice to still be here to enjoy it.”

A bush girl from the beginning

Mary, a primary school teacher who taught in her home town of Biggenden before marrying Goff, didn’t take long to adjust to her new region. 

“It was so different to the rolling hills I was used to, but I became very fond of Condamine once I became involve in the community.”

With the Morgan family generous contributors to the annual Condamine campdraft, Mary was responsible for the event catering, and today – some 58 years later – she continues to help cook for the much-loved community campdraft.

Explaining that she’s no longer as active in the community as she once was, the fact she recently opened her garden to the Murrilla Garden Club suggests otherwise. 

As the source of purpose, and joy, during her later years, she believes gardens form a strong basis for any home, and garden clubs are a great way for people in the bush to remain connected and inspired. 

“I have always thought that a house in the country without a garden seems a bit lonely, and I really enjoy being in the garden, watching it grow and keeping it going, even if it’s just shrubs and lawn.”

“It’s a bit of a challenge during the dry weather, but I manage to get a bit of water to the garden before my sons start yelling at me to stop!”

A lifetime of agricultural progression 

With Goff highly regarded as a progressive, visionary farmer, Mary has born witness to most of modern agriculture’s greatest achievements. 

“I guess when it’s happening, you don’t really notice, you’re too busy doing, it’s only when you look back that you realise how far you’ve come.”

She recalls their first wheat crop – one of the earliest in a district now renowned for its grain growing capacity. 

“It was 1978 and there was so much grain we had to store it on the ground,” Mary explains. “One of the neighbours said, now listen my girl, you won’t see this again – and he was right, it was such a good yielding crop.”

Machinery and technology have made the task of farming so much easier, and she recalls the days of harvesting with one header and carting with just one truck. 

Today, The Grove’s grain harvest is a synchronised dance of headers across the golden plains. 

An avid diary keeper, Mary continues to record the daily happenings on the farm, a habit she began in 1998, and her diaries – or ‘scribbles’ as she describes them – are no doubt a treasure trove of valuable history and data. 

“Agriculture is continually moving forward. If you’re not moving forward what’s the point, and The Grove has been a journey of constant progression and change.”

And this change extends to the weather.

“I used to say ‘Don’t talk about climate change’, but now you can’t help but think things are changing, the weather events are just so extreme.”

The 1965 drought – the year she was married – remains the most devastating. 

“We had to put the cattle in my garden just to give them something to eat, it was dreadful, but thankfully you live and learn, and now we have silage and feed stored away prepared for drought, so we tend to handle them a bit better these days.”

The 1965 drought broke during the July in a flurry of sleet.

“The children were delighted thinking it was snow, it was so unusual – it had never happened before and has never happened again, weather is a very curious thing.”

Breeding a Morgan family – and beef – legacy

Goff aspired to breed a superior Shorthorn underpinned by simple breeding goals, with fertility being their most valued trait, and today The Grove – whilst steeped in history – continues to look to the future.  

Their breeding program consists of a mix of both artificial insemination, embryo transfer and single-sex joining groups, with fertility and superior quality carcase attributes which can be used across a range of environments remaining their most important objectives.   

Every animal bred is performance-recorded with Breedplan, so sires can be accurately described genetically for full transparency and assurance. 

Further testament to The Grove’s continuing strength are over 24 years of strong results in the prestigious RNA’s Paddock to Plate competition, including overall wins in 12 of those, and securing Reserve Champion pen six times.  

With Spencer and Godfrey having expanded the operation significantly in recent decades through property acquisition, diversification into Wagyu, feedlotting, and most recently branded beef, Mary reflects practically on the progress. 

“Goff was a good cattleman, it was one of his greatest passions and he built a strong foundation from which the boys have been able to grow The Grove – which they’ve done exceptionally well.”

Their vision and hard work is showcased annually at The Grove’s on-farm bull sale, and in September the family held its 40th sale and enjoyed a new, six figure sale price record for a bull.

For Mary, bull sale time remains one of great excitement, and nerves. 

“I still remember our first ever bull sale, after which Goff and I vowed to never, ever have another!”

“Prices were poor and the bulls didn’t sell well, but each year we had another crack and now the sale is one of the highlights of the business – and a great opportunity to catch up with producers from across Australia.”   

With eight grandchildren, many now young adults, their operation will soon look towards another generation of Morgans on The Grove – and Mary hopes to remain close at hand, pottering around the paddocks and garden. 

“I’m 80 next year, so I know I should start to think about moving into town, but I don’t play cards, I don’t play golf – I really don’t know what I’d do.”

She’s dubious as to whether her role on the farm keeps her fit and youthful “I don’t think anyone would consider me youthful”, she laughs, “But I do feel youthful, and I certainly love where I live and enjoy staying busy.”

Celebrating 20 years of the Rabobank Dalby Branch

Previously Primary Industries Bank of Australia (PIBA) clients, the Morgan family moved across to Rabobank when it acquired PIBA in the 1990s, and are one of the branch’s original clients. 

With the branch celebrating 20 years in the community this month, Mary said it’s been a long, and happy relationship between the family and Rabobank.

“We work closely with Troy Frizzell and Claire Warburton, and we’ve enjoyed working with all our managers over the years.”

“The come out to our bull sale and campdraft every year and really go above and beyond – it’s that extra personal support that you wouldn’t expect from a bank which I think sets Rabobank apart.”

“Plus,” she smiles, “Tony and Claire often come out on farm and keep me up-to-date with what’s going on – they’re very inclusive and they treat me like I’m still young, so naturally I do like them a lot!”

The Dalby Branch will celebrate 20 years in the community on March 22, where Mary will be on hand to cut the cake. 

Clients and the community are welcomed to mark this milestone, which reflects the commitment of Rabobank to local farmers, and the community.