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Scholar Profile: 1982 Scholar Bill Poynton (Scholar No 71) Warrnambool, Victoria

Prepared by Bill Poynton in June 2020, this profile follows the format used by Nicola Raymond, Program Operations Manager, in interviews with early Nuffield Australia Farming Scholars.

1. Please confirm family history and members including children, grandchildren?

(The Poynton’s have been farmers for as far back as we can trace – about 1715, so it is little wonder this tradition continued after their arrival in Australia (at Adelaide) from Lincolnshire in 1853. A short time after arrival they travelled to and settled in Western Victoria. In addition, my Mother’s family, the McLachlan’s, are recorded as farming at Morvern in Western Scotland in 1841. As part of the Scottish Clearances, they emigrated to Australia with the assistance of The Highland and Island Emigration Society in 1854 (disembarking at Portland, Victoria) and progressed to land ownership in both Victoria and New South Wales. In a similar vein, my wife Judy’s family, the Waterson’s, were pioneers of the beef cattle industry along the south coast of N.S.W. around the Bega area with Judy’s branch of the family later going to the Riverina. Therefore with both of our children choosing to reside in rural situations, our grandchildren are the 7th generation to be involved with the land since their forebears arrived in Australia.)

I am the eldest of three sons whose parents were in a family dairying partnership at Macarthur in south western Victoria and then successful WW2 Soldier Settlers at Hawkesdale, 50 kms north of Warrnambool in south western Victoria. I married Judy (Waterson) in Wagga Wagga in 1973. Judy’s family farmed near Wagga Wagga and we met whilst we both worked for a period in Sydney. Her father had attended Yanco Agricultural High School and in the 1940’s introduced silage and millet fodder crops to their dairy farm on the Murrumbidgee River flats outside of Wagga Wagga. We have a son, Andrew who holds a senior position in computer management at The University of Melbourne and married to Britt, a senior nurse at Kyneton Hospital. They have two sons and a daughter and live outside Woodend, a township north of Melbourne. Our daughter Amie is the Financial Manager of a large Warrnambool based fuel distribution company and is married to Grant who is an electrician specializing in instrumentation and working at the Origin gas plant at nearby Port Campbell. They live outside Warrnambool and have a young son and daughter. I was aged 38 in 1982 when undertaking the scholar ship and our children were under three years of age.

2. Please outline a brief version of your business history?

After attending Warrnambool Technical School to year 10 (Intermediate Certificate), I completed the three year Longerenong Diploma of Agriculture (LDA) in 1962. (2007 Nuffield Scholar David Jochinke who is currently President of The Victorian Farmers Federation is also a Longerenong graduate.) Following graduation I joined the staff of the newly established Victorian Department of Agriculture Hamilton Pastoral Research Station as a Field Officer, predominantly working with stocking rate and sheep reproduction research. I give credit to this early period of my working life to subsequently appreciating research and especially objective decision making practices. I also purchased my first farmland during this time. In 1969 I was successful in gaining a Victorian Young Farmers Club exchange award to New Zealand for three months sponsored by The Bank of New South Wales.

After returning I decided to leave, for a period at least, agriculture, the Public Service and Hamilton! Between 1970 and 1975 I worked in the Sales Division of Australian Paper Manufacturer’s (now AMCOR) in both Melbourne and Sydney, holding both technical and sales positions including acting NSW Paper Sales Manager.

After our marriage, Judy resigned from the NSW Department of Main Roads and I took 12 months leave of absence (available from some companies in those days) and travelled extensively for six months through Mexico, USA/Canada, UK and Europe. In 1975 after purchasing additional land adjoining the family farm and close to other land I already owned, we commenced full time wool and beef production at Hawkesdale and after our travels and being of the Beetle’s era, named our property “Kintyre”! Judy and I both gained Wool Classing qualifications by four years of evening study and within a few years were finalists in the Victorian Elders Flock of the year competition and successful in local wether production trials. We also offered “Host Farm” accommodation in a log cabin style cottage on the property. Following the Nuffield Scholarship in 1982 we increased our pasture improvement program and production regimes – to then suffer the wool reserve price crash. Shortly after this I applied for and was appointed to the staff of Glenormiston Agricultural College located at Noorat, just under a 100kms to the east of our farm. Travelling daily, I lectured in Animal Production subjects in the Diploma of Farm Management and Farm Secretarial courses. I also established a TAFE level course for the Certificate in Wool Classing for college students and district wool growers. With Judy increasingly involved with the running of our farm, I continued in various roles at Glenormiston for 17 years and retired when the University of Melbourne terminated their control in 2002. I found the period at Glenormiston passing knowledge to and being involved with over the years some hundreds of young people who would themselves become valuable members of the agricultural industry, most satisfying. With my Nuffield background it also often presented me a privileged position of being able to pick up the phone and literally arrange to visit with students the movers and shakers of Australian agriculture – of course a number of them being former Nuffield Scholars. Judy and I have successfully relinquished our farming interests in recent years and now live in the coastal city of Warrnambool on a large block with “elbow room” and a river frontage.

3. How did you hear about Nuffield Farming Scholarships?

Whilst working at the Hamilton Pastoral Research Station, we were visited by Richard Steele, a 1966 English Nuffield Scholar. It was the first time I had heard of Nuffield and he was a very interesting visitor and explained the Nuffield philosophy. After that I kept in my mind to apply for a scholarship if and when eligible – of course Victorian opportunities only came around every three years in those days! I actually still have the rural press article inviting applications for the 1982 awards.

4. Please Confirm your topic and why did you choose this topic?

Pasture Renovation in High Rainfall Areas. – In the late 1970’s cereal cropping was increasing in what was considered high rainfall areas of the Western District of Victoria – predominantly at the expense of the grazing industry. Traditionally wet winters meant cropping was risky in this high rainfall belt however crop varieties were improving and “raised bed” cropping was being instigated in some extreme situations. Direct drilling and herbicides were also starting to have an impact. Pasture renovation in wool growing areas appeared to be slipping so the aim of the scholarship was to investigate how pasture renovation techniques were being implemented in the United Kingdom and Europe – and could we learn from them?

5. Can you confirm who was on your state and/or national panel?

My scholarship was an additional scholarship to the two that were available annually at the time. By rotation, scholars came from Victoria and Tasmania that year. Past Scholar Robert Beggs was instrumental in securing some financial assistance towards a third scholarship from the Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society to commemorate their Centenary Sheep Show. Applicants had to be from the sheep and wool industry. A number of applicants were interviewed at the Ballarat Show Grounds by a selection panel that included Robert Beggs, I believe Show Society Secretary Kevin Irwin and several others. After being announced as one of the three applicants to go forward to the National Selection Panel to be held at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds, I realized I would be on a family holiday at Palm Cove in Far North Queensland on the advised date! I knew that “you had to be in the Melbourne Cup to win the Melbourne Cup” so I flew back for 24 hours to attend the interview. The other finalists from Ballarat were Graham Harvey and John Troup. The Victorian Farmer Scholarship was awarded to Chris Hindhaugh from Balmoral and the Tasmanian recipient was John Bignell from Bothwell. The Nuffield Annual Report for 1980 – 82, lists the Selection Committee as – George Wilson (Chairman), Ron Balderstone, Ian Roberts, Hon. Bert Kelly, Sir Roger Darvall and Sir Robert Southey. Announcements and presentations were made at quite a large dinner at the RASV and it was some time later before I actually got to dine at the Melbourne Club!

Above: George Wilson (1952 Sch), Bill Poynton (1982 Sch), Ron Baillieu (1958 Sch)

6. What questions were you asked and were any particularly memorable?

I recall pointing out on a large map of Victoria spread out on a table where I farmed and was also asked towards the end of the interview “how was I accepted back in the local farming community after being away for several years doing other things?” – in those days a relevant question I thought.

7. What countries did you travel to as part of your study?

Firstly, the scholars in the 1982 group were fellow Australians Chris Hindaugh and John Bignell, New Zealanders Peter Jackson and Alan Pye, Terry Hinde from Zimbabwe and for the first time a scholar from France Alaine Vendryes. After meeting Nuffield Farming Trust Director Captain John Stewart O.B.E at The Farmers Club and several days of briefings in London, the group departed in a self drive mini bus to Paris with visits to Rungis Market and the Paris Agricultural Show. Continuing into Belgium, visits were made to more farms and E.E.C institutions. After returning to London cars, provided by the Milk Marketing Board, were collected and we headed to our First Farmer Host, my host being Geoffrey Hyde, “Swallowshide”, East Burton, near Wool in Dorset. His wife was from Australia and the family produced fat lambs and grew a range of crops. Re grouping, we toured East Anglia before continuing with our own arranged study. Around this time Judy, accompanied by Andrew (who was to have his third birthday in Holland) and Amie aged 16 months arrived. For a time we based ourselves at “The Dovecote”, a flat at “The Mill House”, Olney, in Buckinghamshire courtesy of Captain John Stewart and his wife. Thereafter as I travelled we all stayed occasionally at Bed and Breakfast places and also for an extended time in Woburn at a house recently vacated by a former Victorian Department of Agriculture colleague. In those days it was not common to visit other countries although some scholars did so at their own expense. Towards the end of the scholarship period, as a family, we travelled to Holland to visit Dutch friends.

8. What dates did you travel and how long were you overseas?

After flying Qantas – who as a major supporter of Nuffield provided the tickets (and also provided the opportunity to visit the flight deck during the flight), I met other members of the group plus Nuffield Farming Scholarships Director Captain John Stewart OBE in London on 1st March 1982. Judy, I and the children returned in July via Singapore where we stayed with a relative of Judy’s for a week in a company owned unit. During the stopover I worked on preparing my Nuffield Report – remember there were no computers at that stage and back in Australia Judy subsequently typed many drafts before the final report was submitted for acceptance and publication.

9. What were your most memorable travel experiences?

Staying with my First Farmer Host, travelling with a group of switched on scholars and particularly the opportunity to both meet senior EEC staff and sit in on a session of the Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament were memorable. By arrangement following meeting the Victorian Agent General in London, Judy and I received an invitation to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace which we duly attended. It was also interesting to attend the Royal Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh and meet with the Patron of Nuffield, H R H The Duke of Gloucester. Visiting both the International Wool Secretariat Technical Centre at Ilkley and the British Wool Marketing Board at Bedford allowed me to write comparative articles that were published back in Australia in local and rural papers. Being a Nuffield Scholar meant you were welcomed at not only Government and corporate Institutions but many commercial businesses that would usually be very difficult to visit.

Above: Bill and Judy Poynton, Royal Garden Party, July 1982

10. As a result of your study, what management practices changed in your business?

Increased emphasis was put into pasture renovation and a Conner Shea direct seeding drill fitted with New Zealand designed “Baker Boot” tines was purchased and was also then hired out to district farmers. A more efficient Boom Spray was acquired. We also ventured further into Host Farming which was becoming organised to some degree – at one stage I was on the committee and treasurer of Victorian Host Farmers Association. Anne Box, the wife of Life Member Nuffield Scholar, the late Graeme Box, was also on this committee. For several years we undertook artificial insemination of our commercial sheep flock using fresh semen from “hired” performance recorded rams for rapid genetic improvement – something which at the time was pretty well confined only to stud use. My Nuffield experience and this groundbreaking insemination program was later cited when in 1993 whilst at Glenormiston I upgraded by external study my Diploma to a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agriculture through the Dookie Campus of The University of Melbourne. Striving for labour saving efficiencies and technical improvement, one of the earliest raised board shearing sheds in the district was added to existing facilities.

11. How did you disseminate your study outcomes to the wider industry?

Immediately after returning there were a number of interviews and speaking opportunities including a major seminar at my former workplace, the Pastoral Research Station at Hamilton. It was also observed “over the fence” that we put into practice management changes, predominantly relating to pasture management.

In 1986 I took on the role of Lecturer in Animal Production at Glenormiston Agricultural College and no doubt the experience of my scholarship assisted me in providing management education to a large number of students over the years. I also annually organised a major cutting edge seminar for farmers – topics included sheep dairying, ostrich and alpaca opportunities, goat fibre production and various performance recording systems as computers became more common. My 1982 Tasmanian Nuffield Scholar travelling companion John Bignell had attended Glenormiston and more recent scholars who attended the college during my time include Andrew Nagorcka and Phil Hatty.

12. Who has had a long term positive impact on you within the Nuffield family and why?

Nominating the following in no way discredits so many other outstanding Scholars. In 1982 you just had to respect the dedication of George Wilson and how he instilled in you respect for your good fortune. Ron Baillieu was his hands on accomplice. Ian McIntosh and Graeme Box along with Chris Hindaugh, Terry Hehir, Jim Geltch, Brendon Smart, Max Jelbart and Russell McKay are also Scholars of my era who I had a good relationship with. I also include Bert Kelly who expressed his concern a number of times regarding my scholarship being underfunded to quite a degree compared to the other two scholarships in 1982 as Nuffield Australia did not add to the lower amount contributed by the Ballarat Centenary Sheep Show Committee for the scholarship. (A matter which my wife is still 100% in agreement with Bert!)

13. Please outline industry/community leadership roles you have served?

While President of the Hamilton Young Farmers Club in 1969 I was successful in gaining a Bank of NSW three-month exchange award to New Zealand. I represented the Victorian Western Zone of APEX in their National Public Speaking competition the year it was held in Alice Springs. Locally I was secretary to various committees including the Hawkesdale Branch of the Victorian Farmers Federation, and Hawkesdale Recreation Reserve. Other President roles included Willatook Hall Committee and Koroit APEX whilst membership of other local groups such as TAFE agricultural committees and Victorian Host Farms Association occurred. Naturally, I undertook my turn as Chairman of the Victorian state committee of Nuffield and had various roles in state selection over the years.

14. What were the three major benefits of completing your Nuffield Farming Scholarship?

  • Improved knowledge and understanding of agricultural matters on an international basis – especially when they are related to Australia/UK/EEC relationships.

  • Increased knowledge and confidence in pasture renovation and production methods in line with the scholarship aims.

  • Knowledge, especially of International agricultural matters, that I could confidently pass on as I became involved in agricultural education. The contacts overseas and in Australia that Nuffield provided were also invaluable.

15. Finally, what are your future plans?

Judy and I moved to Warrnambool in 1999 and over a period of time have divested ourselves of our agricultural interests and I also retired from lecturing at Glenormiston. I am approaching my 77th birthday. With five young grandchildren we do our share of childminding at Woodend and locally. We have travelled overseas several times since retirement and have become involved with several four Wheel Driving groups and as well we ourselves continue exploring many outback areas of our country and on occasions calling in on Scholars living in pretty remote places including staying with Ashley and Lyndee Severin a number of times at Curtin Springs Station on the Lasseter Highway between Alice Springs and Ayres Rock. Meeting up with Annabelle Coppin as she stepped down from flying her helicopter into Marble Bar will also be long remembered. We are members of the Twin Rivers Mixed Probus Club in Warrnambool, play Petanque weekly and fortunately keep reasonably good health. I have been both Secretary and Club Captain in recent times of the Warrnambool & District Historical Vehicle Club Inc. We enjoy driving from time to time a 1956 Standard Super Ten sedan that has been in the family since new and also parading at times a restored 1924 Garford Fire Engine, one of a handful remaining from the 49 imported into NSW from America in the 1920’s and purchased from Australian Paper Manufacturers whilst working for them in Sydney. Finally, by keeping in contact with a number of Nuffield Australia Scholars, I satisfy, at this stage of my life, my interest in cutting edge agricultural developments rather than hands on farming. I can safely say though my career has been agriculture with components being research, farming and education. I commend returning Scholars on their reports and for their insight and revelations plus the opportunities Nuffield Australia and social media now provide to disseminate material.

As Jim Geltch can verify, I tend to hang onto things and still have much of the material provided both in Australia and the U K to scholars back in 1982 to assist them in their studies. Much of it, and many photos, have been scanned and a coffee table style photo-book produced for the family to peruse in the future.

July 2020

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Wayne Johnson
Wayne Johnson
13 nov 2023

Great post. It made me think of warrnambool. I was able to find many warrnambool images which once again brought back memories of this beautiful city. Will definitely go back there again.

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