Mallee farmer, 90, brings in last crop after 75 years of harvests

Mallee farmer, 90, brings in last crop after 75 years of harvests

Mallee farmer, 90, brings in last crop after 75 years of harvests

Updated 15 December 2016, 9:45 AEDT

A 90-year-old Mallee farmer is in the midst of harvesting his last — and best ever — crop, after years of drought, floods and everything in between.

Philip 'PK' Templeton has not missed a harvest since 1941, but this year stands out for two key reasons — it is his best ever, and it also is his last.

Mr Templeton, 90, has manned the header for 75 successive years.

When this harvest is complete, in about mid-January, he and his 57-year-old son Tom will lease their Mallee, Victoria grain farm to someone else.

"In the past 30 years ... I wouldn't have driven the header for more than eight hours," Tom said.

"[People] would think he gets on just for a lunchtime run or a couple of hours, but he drives it from morning to night — I can't get in there."

The pride at his father's passion is tainted, ever so slightly, by bitterness.

Tom's last harvest will be spent in the old 1974 blue truck, which lacks the air-conditioned comfort of his father's modern header.

"I measured it one day — it gets up to 57 degrees in that truck," Tom said.

"Stand out in the paddock, it might be 38 degrees and seem like it's fairly cool with a little bit of breeze."

Mr Templeton does not have much sympathy.

"I think he's getting a bit soft. The young fellas today wouldn't believe what we done," he said.

Mr Templeton's first harvest, at 15 years old, involved a five-foot stripper pulled by three horses.

"You wound it up over the stumps and put it down again and I never stopped winding all day," he said.

"Now you can do it in a few minutes, what you done in a day — and it was hot.

"They say 'Back in the good old times'. I say, they can stick the good old times."

Ninety years of drought, floods and everything in between

Mr Templeton's long farming career has been marked by drought, flood and everything in between.

In tough years he would seek off-farm labour work, including shearing, and sewing or hauling wheat bags.

He will not easily forget the worst of them.

"In the 1940s I was shearing out at Blue Hills and came home one weekend [to find] five foot of sand over the road," he said.

"There was a sheet of iron off an old house and it blew sand in and it filled the room up.

"It was dry; nearly as dry as I get when I'm on that header."

This year, his last, is a different story.

"The best year ever. It didn't stop raining the whole year," he said.

Growers right across the Wimmera Mallee region are celebrating record winter and spring rainfall, but grain prices have hit an all-time low.

"I can remember selling wheat 30 years ago for a lot more than we're getting for it now," Mr Templeton said.

"I can remember selling wheat for $440 a tonne; not anymore."

Today an average tonne of wheat would be lucky to make $200.

'The city of Chinkapook', then and now

When Mr Templeton is not working the farm he can be found tinkering in a shed behind his Chinkapook home.

Once a busy centre with a supermarket, bank, milk bar and multiple football teams, the town now hosts a total of 15 residents.

The landscape transformation has been just as dramatic, after the likes of Mr Templeton's grandfather cleared it of trees to boost farming production.

A sign describes Chinkapook as 'The place of red earth', and clouds of dust are the only sign of life to be found.

It is difficult to tell which of the old houses are still occupied and which have been abandoned.

Mr Templeton calls it "the city of Chinkapook".

It was where he was born, not in a hospital but on his parent's farm, and where he married his late wife Margaret.

It also was where they raised their seven children — "Don't be laughing, we had no television," Mr Templeton quips.

And where, once his body refuses to contain him, his spirit will remain.

"When I go up on the hill, I've got the plot next to Margaret," he said.

"I'm making my own coffin. I want to be able to see out, so I'm going to put a couple of windows in it."

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