Rewards of the Balanced Landscape


   THE old order changes, of this there can be no doubt, and thesechanges are rapidly taking us away from the older, unplanned, haphazard use of land,with its emphasis on the next crop or the next wool clip. The mining of the fertilityof the soil will soon have no part in Australian agriculture; and if the changeson my own properties are a glimpse of the future ahead, then the vision is indeedsplendid. In contrast to the former yellow dead earth, poor grasses and sparse trees,we have now the darkening soil, the longer-lasting, all-pervading green of the pasturesand the new luxuriance of the trees as striking evidence of the influence which thenew design can have on the whole landscape.

   Convincing the skeptics is usually an easy matter if the skepticswill come back again, and those whose interests in the land brought them back to"Nevallan" two or three times are now the most enthusiastic expoundersof the principles and techniques of Keyline.

   For myself, the whole development of Keyline, of which the firstexperiments had no real point until the problem of producing good soil from almostnothing had been solved, has been a fairly long task. In every way it was much moredifficult than an ordinary manufacturing or construction project where, after theplanning, there follows the "tooling-up" for the job. But originally therewere no plans, only the search for a plan; and there were no tools to tool-up forthe job; and until the plan started to emerge there was no way of really knowingjust the type of tools that were needed.

   I was always interested in water control, and whether experimentingwith "wild flood" or contour furrow irrigation or getting oneself saturatedwatching run-off in heavy rainfall, the flowing water seemed to hold many of theanswers to the questions of land.

   There was so much trial-and-error work to be done which in thefirst place involved miles of levelling work, and usually I did myself, in orderthat we could determine where water would flow and where it would not, that a simplelevelling device which could be used by anyone became an absolute essential. Thedevelopment of our own level was a big step forward, as it put into the hands ofthe farmer himself, as well as our own men, an important necessary tool. Then, aftermy own earlier and somewhat heavy implements, the redesigned chisel plow was of outstandingassistance for the more intimate control of the soil climate, an essential approachin Keyline. Our early contour map must surely have been of great assistance in thefinal understanding of the agricultural land shapes of Keyline, and the applicationof aerial photographs and solid models, made the teaching of Keyline, which was notquite the simple task I had at first imagined, an easier matter. There were manydesigns which were developed and tried in the construction of farm irrigation dams,and long and sometimes costly experiments were completed before I finally decidedupon the cheapest and fastest method of constructing them, together with their waterconservation and irrigation drains., Since the water conservation drain and the damsof Keyline were to be the most permanent man-made structures on the land, these designswere of outstanding importance.

   Good soil is the secret, and everything that is planned andeverything that is done on the farm, the sowing or the cultivation of the soil, oreven just the moving of stock from paddock to paddock, all have to be planned andcarried out, always bearing in mind the effect that these things can have on thesoil. The cultivation of the soil in such a way that the pasture is not destroyedand the best conditions of moisture, warmth and air, are created, became a preciseStudy, since cultivation can destroy as well as improve the soil. But when all thesethings were put right, everything looked just fit and proper, with the trees in theirwide belts appearing as sentinels guarding the soil and pasture which they are sometimesthought to destroy.

   The voice of the visitor (usually men and women from the landand also including many from other walks of life) has been one of acclaim for Keyline,and the Sunday afternoon farm walks, which became a special feature at "Nevallan",have been a source of pleasure to me and to many others, and also led to the discoveryof new knowledge.

   The vindication of the whole work has been in the test of time.At the moment, there is a sense of pleasure and great relief being felt over muchof eastern Australia occasioned by the breaking of a drought (end of January, 1958)and an 18 months' absence of run-off, but there is something very much more thanthis in our own farm people. There is an infectious feeling of excitement and achievementabout them that could hardly have been greater if each one had been directly responsiblefor the recent beneficial rains.

   When our manager returned to "Kencarley" in Januaryfrom his holidays he found the place somewhat of a disappointment. He had expecteda big improvement from over an inch of rain which fell just after Christmas and whilehe was away, but there was only the dust previously churned up by the machines andthe heat of high summer and the general look of drought. Still, the seeming miracleof soil change does not take place in one year, particularly when it is a droughtyear. By contrast, the picture at "Nevallan" from brief rain at the endof December was a different one altogether. There, the rich, deep, but now dry soilabsorbed the rain and almost immediately the place responded with a remarkable newgrowth. However, back in the middle of the recent short yet severe drought, I hadinsisted on carrying out our programmes despite the dry conditions. We continuedto sell fat cattle and replaced them with a new breeding herd, and the flock of sheepat "Nevallan" were kept there throughout the whole of the drought. I hadplanned also that the old dams which had been originally equipped with four-inchoutlets through the wall, would be emptied and the small pipes replaced with eight-inchlockpipes. It had been found that the large lockpipes greatly speeded up the workof irrigating and the big flow of water had improved the even distribution of theirrigation water. The cutting of the big V-shaped excavations through the old walls,which were about 24 feet high, appeared to be quite a big job; however, it was accomplishedvery simply, but now four large dams in the main valley of "Yobarnie" stoodempty, and we did not know, of course, that there were ten further months of droughtto come. Following the floods in the early part of 1956, the succeeding twelve monthsfrom June, 1956, to June, 1957, provided only seven inches of rain, and we were togo on for over eighteen months without any run-off. However, "Nevallan",in its first drought, had come through well and our many visitors remarked on itsexcellent condition. It produced an immediate response from the rain at the end ofthe year, and with the coming of heavy rain at the end of January, the effect ina few days had been a complete vindication of our belief in the overpowering influenceof good soil. In the last week of January there was over six inches of rainfall,and, exactly as expected, three inches were promptly absorbed into the soil beforewater started to flow in the water conservation drains.

   At "Kencarley", near Orange, the depressing effectof the dry spell has gone. There, after 2-1/2 inches of rainfall, the drains beganto flow. A large water conservation drain carries the water from higher country througha low saddle into the valley of "Kencarley" Basin, which is our largestdam. The drain is over ten feet wide at the bottom with flat sloping sides and itis three feet deep. It, like the pasture paddocks and the walls of all the dams,had been cultivated and sown to grasses with a dressing of superphosphate. "Kencarley"Basin was still empty, but after 2-1/2 inches of rain the biggest drain started toflow, and with the rain continuing, everyone on the property was watching the ratherimpressive sight. Although with three million gallons now in the Basin, it is littleenough compared to the size of the dam which will hold 120 million gallons when filled,but it must have been exciting for the men responsible to see their work tested andproved by the big stream of flowing water. This large drain empties water, as I havementioned, through a saddle to flow into the valley of "Kencarley" Basin.The valley floor of the Basin, formerly a wet marshy place of almost useless land,had dried out in the drought and had been cleared, keyline cultivated and sown topasture grasses right to the wall of the dam. Yet the large volume of flowing waterspread widely in the cultivated land of the valley and moved into the area of thedam as a broad, flat and shallow sheet. There was no movement of the plowed soil.The water now in this dam covers less than two acres of the dam's 40 acres of waterline area, so that until there is further run-off rainfall the rest of the 40 acresof the floor of the dam will probably be our best new pasture paddock. Of course,"Kencarley" Basin could fill in a few days if we get rains of the typewe had in early 1956, before work on the dam had started, or we could go two yearswithout seeing it filled. It has been an experience of ours over the years for someoneto always predict that each large dam, as we built it, would never fill. So morethan one person has predicted that the Basin will not fill. "Kencarley"Basin is our latest experimental dam and our largest farm dam. It is built with steeperbatters to the wall than any wall we have built as large and as as high as this one;and as part of the experiment there are other features under test. So while it maydo any number of things, we feel certain about one thing, namely, that this largedam will fill up with water.

   There is a dam at the bottom end of the gorge on "Kencarley"which is probably the most interesting farm dam we have yet built. It has a capacityof 12 million gallons, and, aided by its steep catchment, is fairly well filled atpresent. It is holding our first irrigation water, but 800 acres of irrigated landon "Kencarley" is our minimum target. Now, the big change will be in thesoil where this rain, the first soaking rainfall that the new work has received,will start the real cycle of soil improvement. There have been very big changes thisyear in the landscape, with the dam building and the clearing on the Keyline pattern,and the cultivating and sowing of the pasture areas, so that soon the real soil improvementshould start.

   The rewards (and there are great rewards in land work that resultfrom seeing the plans of development unfold so rapidly) are well worthwhile. Theplan of the work that has been laid down is like a trustworthy and successful friend.The plan seems to promise that if the work is done according to the design, thenthe results will be very rewarding, not only in themselves, but to the farmer, whofeels satisfaction and pleasure in work well done, but knows also that there w illbe the monetary profits that must be the proof of all successful working of land.

   I realised a year or two ago that another book on Keyline wouldbecome necessary, but it was not until three months ago that I felt any urgency aboutthe matter. I was talking to a farmer on his own land, a fine and highly productiveproperty. His home was comfortable, with the gracious and secure look from treesplanted years ago, and altogether with his wife and family this was a man whom manypeople would envy. Inevitably, we talked of land and soil; of hills, ridges and valleys,and soon I was interpreting the shapes and forms of Keyline on his own land and probablyproducing in his mind a picture that he found good. Then he said, "If I didnot own this land, I'd buy it." He told me he had read "The Keyline Plan",indeed several times, but that what I had just said was not in that book and he wantedto read it in a book. Like everything that is alive and vital, Keyline had to growand expand, and, if in Chapter VI, by setting out the shapes of land in better sequencethan in my earlier book, "The Keyline Plan", I am able to make the farmersee the value, and interest him in, the shapes and form of his land, then my farmerfriend, I hope, will be answered and satisfied.

   There has been this sense of urgency in the writing of the booknow, as 1958 is rapidly unfolding glimpses of successes to come for Keyline. Therehave been enquiries from official sources in Australia and other countries, advicesought on broad important national aspects of land and water, and there have beenmore visits from overseas agriculturalists. One overseas agriculturalist spent weeksstudying Keyline and left convinced that his own country must adopt it widely. Innumerablesuggestions have come from our many new friends. Some have been practical, some impractical,others very simple if they had only included the money with which to carry them out,but all indicating great enthusiasm for what should be done now about Keyline. Ihave recently learned that Keyline will be the subject of an important agriculturallecture to be delivered in England this year by a visiting Australian scientist whowill present it as a discovery of some value. This is probably one of those once-in-a-lifetimehappenings, and, quite apart from the fact that a trip I had proposed to make wasplanned from the middle of last year, I feel I should not miss such an event.

   Although the work of developing and improving land, which constitutesreally the building of a new landscape, is never done, yet with this book now finishedI do feel that the development of Keyline as a theory and practice is completed.I suppose one could say that the whole scheme has constituted years of hard work,although I have never felt that way about it, as the improving of land always involvedthe proving of men too, and so the making of new and genuine friendships has madethe work one of pleasure as well as all-absorbing satisfaction.

   Yet there is something more to go on with. Although I do notwant to emphasise any one aspect in the overall planning of land on Keyline, thereshould be a further mention of the farm dam. Over the recent years there has beena tendency on the part of many farmers to regard the possibilities in these structuresmore seriously. Since 1944, many thousands of people have seen our farm irrigationdams, and no doubt much of this awakening interest in the farm dam has been occasionedby our own work and by those who, having seen the work, have commenced their own,water conservation schemes on the larger scale which we have always employed. Therehave been also increasing suggestions that something more should be done officiallyon farm water conservation. In N.S.W. there was enacted in 1946 a farm water supplybill aimed at assisting farmers. At that time the whole matter consisted in providingfinancial assistance to farmers to build dams, and it was assumed that everythingwas known about the matter and that the farmer only needed financial assistance.The usual stereotyped plan was issued but has not greatly encouraged any rapid increasein dam construction, although the few engineers employed have more work than theycan handle. In 1946 there was need for something more embracing and which would involvethe whole agricultural outlook, so that the farm dam could fit into the picture inits most valuable form. At that time, also, as has been mentioned, the matter wasalmost completely divorced from agriculture, and this alone was a tremendous handicap;and then the whole scheme depended for success on a few engineers, but the task wasso big that only good designs, which would have enabled the farmers to effectivelycontrol the main work themselves, could have succeeded as broadly as the scheme merited.

   Without being too emphatic about the matter, I do point outthat the type of wide investigations that were necessary then have now been largelycompleted by my own experiments in this work, and that if Governments do follow theline now developing in public opinion and do decide to fully investigate the almostlimitless possibilities of the farm dam, then I suggest that in the first instancea full investigation of our own experiments and development methods be undertaken.These cover a somewhat broader field than is presented in this book. For instance,we have repaired broken dams which have failed, after being constructed by others,for farmers on their own properties and investigated the reasons and the cause offailure. In the occasional cutting of the wall of an old dam which we had constructedourselves, experience has been gained on the effect that various construction methodsproduce in the dam wall after ten years or more. As farmers sometimes react to largedams by thinking that they are on occasions waste of land, this aspect of the matterhas been studied and investigated to determine the most practical uses of such adam in a general farm water conservation scheme and to determine also the methodsof construction that will leave the dam in a position when empty to be used as veryvaluable country for the growing of special crops. As mentioned earlier, explosiveshave been used in various ways to cure dam seepage, and we have been able to determinewithin reasonable bounds just where they are suitable for certain purposes. Whilethere are further investigations that I believe should be made, it is also apparentthat our own work will indicate where these investigations should lie. In the firstplace, a critical examination of the basic designs for dams as set out in this bookshould indicate whether there is any merit in my suggestions.

   If my own view is accepted that the present approach and useof farm conserved water is completely inadequate, then it would also be apparentthat the wide investigations, many of a trial-and-error nature, that would otherwisehave to be made would involve the expenditure by the Government of a very large amountof money and many years of work to cover the experiences that we have had over abouttwenty years, fifteen of which were in the agricultural field and all connected withfarm water supply. However, the full results of our work are freely available toour Governments and could be put into effect at once. It is to be hoped that in recommendingaction, however, any investigation committee would do so, not as the result of acasual inspection of a few hours or a day, but only after thorough study had provedthe outstanding worth and value of this wide new approach to the problem of farmwater supply.

   The work of providing the farm dams that are necessary is agrandiose enough scheme for any of our planners, and if the dams are required, thennothing should be permitted to stop rapid progress in the work. As for money, ifthe amount spent in one week in wartime were made available to finance the initiationof a scheme, then its completion would be definitely assured.

   Even as this is being written, very good rains are continuingto fall on our properties and over much of N.S.W. Everywhere around us great quantitiesof valuable water are being wasted as run-off, and destruction by river floods isagain taking place. Although this is not the big flood with wide overflow of rivers,water is not only running to waste, but much soil is being swept away with the floodwaters.

   From the effect of the heavy rainfall anyone who has visionmay see that Keyline has readily achieved on our own land complete agricultural watercontrol, and that it can not only do this on any farm, but it will also produce andmaintain its fertile soil in good heart indefinitely.