The so called ‘new normal’ means that we are learning to do without. Many of life’s pleasures have been removed. Unfortunately for the Bellingen Shire community this also includes the weekly drama played out in the Bellingen Courier Sun’s ‘letters to the editor’, or as many call it ‘Darcey’s Page’.
His reliable contributions to our weekly rag have certainly divided the community, but Darcey Browning assures me that all he ever sought was some ‘balance’. “I believe that you shouldn’t be nervous of expressing an opinion. Bellingen is a very diverse community now and I’m of the old school, so my opinions can spark debate and controversy. But debate is healthy,” says Darcey.
Darcey, (or the Mayor of Darkwood as he is affectionately called by the bulk of Thora residents), has lived 13 kms along Darkwood Road for more than 50 years. “I love this country.” Chatting to him one realises that his very strong opinions are based on his own observations and life experiences, rather than scientific evidence. He despairs what he sees as bias in any debate about climate change, logging or land management, but then does confess that his ideas have softened over his 77 years. “These days I’m nearly a hippie,” he laughs. Mmmmm….
Darcey has taken on the responsibility of representing the farmers and loggers in all local debate. Or as he would say, he is just giving some balance to the story. He despairs the possible demise of the Courier Sun and his chance to express his views weekly. “I couldn’t think of a single thing that would upset me more.”
So we decided to give Darcey his voice back…….
Darcey can you describe your earliest memories of living in the Bellingen Shire?
My father worked in the timber industry, which brought our family to Bellingen. We lived in a tiny timber shack in Kalang with no electricity. In fact the only thing it had going for it was ‘air conditioning’. The wind howled through the walls day and night.
When I was eleven we were in the process of building a house in Boggy Creek when my father was killed in a logging incident. My mum was left with four kids to raise, so you could say it was a difficult upbringing at times. But I never went hungry.
People ask me what I miss most about those days. It was the freedom that we had. We respected the authority of the law and police but we had so many more freedoms then. These days we are controlled by rules.
Can you describe how your father’s death impacted on you personally?
I had to leave Bellingen Public School at the age of twelve to start working for my uncle near Casino on his property. I stayed there for two years then moved to Western Queensland to work on a cattle station. I moved around a bit back then working on a prawn trawler for a while, fruit picking in the Riverina and then started working in the logging industry. I eventually made my way back to the Bellingen Shire.
How did you end up on the farm in Thora?
I was a hard worker and good saver, having saved every cent I’d made. I was 25 years and married to Pauline when we decided we wanted to buy this fully operational, 140 acre dairy farm on Darkwood Road, believing we had enough saved for a deposit. We secured a loan and took over the farm, both working 80 hour weeks, seven days a week to manage the dairy business. Not many people would work like that any more.
Years later I heard from a friend that the bank manager who approved our loan described me as a skinny little bugger with a lot of pluck. He took a chance on us- something that would never happen these days.
Why have you been so vocal in our local newspaper?
I suppose I started writing letters because I had an opinion that differed from the new majority of the Shire. I got such a response it encouraged me to continue.
The population here has changed so much as the farmers are replaced by the city folk with urban ideas. Farmers and those with a history in logging are no longer represented- not on Council or in the paper. I’m a voice for the farmers.
These days you could be described as a Council basher. Why?
Look, I have nothing against our Councillors personally. But just look at the make-up of council now. Where are the farmers? Who is representing their needs? Let’s face it, farming is still an important part of the landscape, particularly in Dorrigo and therefore, their needs should be met. Fortunately, Cr Desmae Harrison listens to her Dorrigo constituents. But across the board if you lined up our current Councillors they would struggle to pick a heifer from a steer.
All I’m asking for is some balance. Of course, we can’t blame the Councillors, it’s the current voting system that’s to blame.
My other gripe is that back when I bought my property there were eight Council administration staff. Now there are more than 80. More people and the advent of computers has meant more regulation and red tape, making everything so difficult. These days if I want to put a new water tank in I need to get a DA.
There’s only one thing worse than not enough information and that is too much information. The introduction of computers was supposed to reduce the need for more staff but the reverse has happened.
Have you ever run for Council?
I’ve run second on a ticket a couple of times without success.
You admit you’re a timber man and yet you cherish the land you’re on, abutting stunning areas of national park. What are your views on logging?
I worked in the logging industry in the 60s. We had never heard of environmental controls and certainly never thought about environmental consequences, run off or erosion. We would clear right up to water courses. It is my opinion that modern logging practices are safer environmentally. Riparian zones are left intact and there is more concern for erosion.
Living in such close proximity to the regions that have been logged over the years, I’ve witnessed regeneration. We need to remember timber is a renewable product and the ridges are ripe for regrowth.
Do you believe there is a connection between logging and climate change?
I don’t believe there is a connection. Timber grows back. I’m not a climate denier but I do think the subject is overdone.
Mind you, I do notice changes on my farm. Mango trees now flower in June or July, which is a definite change.
You have admitted to changing your own land management practices though. Why?
I witnessed the devastating effects done in the past by clearing land too close to the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers. The big flood of 1950 was an eye opener for many farmers, who had traditionally cleared all of the flats and left a shallow riparian zone of trees. The flood came in behind the bare strip of trees resulting in hundreds of acres lost to erosion. The rivers have never really recovered. I admit, this would bring tears to a glass eye.
As a result of these practices, the rivers have become shallower and shallower. Originally the river was self-cleaning because the flow was stronger and more powerful in the middle. Now the floods create a strong flow across the whole river, cutting away at the edges and resulting in worsening erosion.
So yes, I can change my land management when I see the effects first hand. And there is no denying it- humans are chewing up the earth.
If you were Mayor what would you do?
I would try to halt the urbanisation and improved the efficiency of the Bellingen Shire. I would ensure that the make-up of our Councillors was more representative of the whole Shire, including our farmers.
There was a time that we produced and exported right here from the Shire. A return to more local industry, producing greater revenue and a reducing the need and focus on tourism would be my wish. Back in the day we could purchase everything we wanted right here. We didn’t travel to Coffs Harbour, but rather understood the shop local, supporting local ethos. That was what community was for us.
The rural character is being replaced with a city vibe, which upsets me. I would like to see a return to more self-sufficiency and home gardens. If you arrive here just ask your neighbour about what works or how it’s done. That was how it use to work. Modern folk google but nothing beats the advice from the old timers who are already doing it successfully. I want to see dirt under the finger nails again.
The Mayor of Darkwood is awaiting the reemergence of our weekly paper with baited breath. But should that not happen, he is more than happy to have a chat and share his opinions regardless. And despite some of his views being controversial, he is one cherished member of the widely diverse Thora community.