Jan’s ties to Marshall Mount land run deep

Jan McKenzie has a powerful childhood image of Marshall Mount in the 1950s and 1960s which sadly for her, and many other families, has disappeared with the passage of time.

McKenzie has a vivid memory of waking up each morning, before sunrise, and seeing the twinkling of lights inside the dairy farms scattered around the agricultural rural district.

The lights represented the start of the day, milking time, and were seen every day of the year. The practice was repeated each afternoon.

Today Marshall Mount is still a rural area but the myriad small dairy farms no longer operate, leaving the job of milk production to bigger commercial farms in the region, with the capacity for larger herds.

McKenzie's physical and emotional attachment to the land - and in particular her family's land at north Marshall Mount valley - is so strong that she has never been able to break it, despite pressure from others to sell off her property or carve it up for development.

"It's home and it always has been," she says. "I just like the cattle and being able to have my own cattle stud and look after them and breed."

Jan McKenzie with husband Gary at Eulowarra at Marshall Mount.

McKenzie (nee Smith) and husband Gary live in her childhood home, which was passed down by her late dairy farmer parents George and Margaret Smith. Their property Eulowarra was part of a land package acquired by McKenzie's late grandparents, James and Susannah Stevenson.

"It's good land, a creek runs right through it from the mountain to the lake," she says.

"It wasn't cleared land from what I can gather when my grandfather, a dairy farmer, bought it.

"He cleared on the flats and looked after it and was able to grow productive crops to feed the cattle over the years.

"My dad was even growing crops here such as corn, oats and lucerne when I was young."

The Stevensons bought the Miala property at Marshall Mount in 1918 and then bought the adjoining properties Eulowarra, Cedarville and Rosewood for their children.

McKenzie operates the Eulowarra Poll Hereford stud on her land. Husband Gary breeds Rhode Island poultry.

"I've always been a cattle person," says McKenzie. "I had my own Friesian cattle stud when I was younger and I exhibited dairy cattle in the local agricultural shows from about the age of 14.

"Then I didn't have cattle for a while because my dad died and my mum leased out the farm. When Gary and I got married [in 1991] we decided we would go back into beef.

"Once you've got cattle in your blood, it doesn't go."

As well as living on the land, McKenzie, from the age of 10 to 25, was a voice for the rural community through her involvement in the Marshall Mount club of the Junior Farmers organisation, which was later named Rural Youth.

Junior Farmers, aimed at helping members learn agricultural skills, introduced many young people to a range of skills such as public speaking and participating in inter-club competitions. Training in citizenship was a feature of the clubs.

"All the young people here belonged to the Marshall Mount club," she recalls. "You couldn't wait until you were 10 to join."

McKenzie, who in later years would work for a children's support service, says the personal development training she received through the organisation was useful well beyond the farm gate.

"I don't think I would have been able to carry on in some of the positions I've held without the Junior Farmers background," she says.

"When I was in the full-time workforce that training and experience helped me with confidence and knowledge."

McKenzie says many former Junior Farmers/Rural Youth members, including herself, went on to support local agricultural shows for decades as exhibitors or judges.

She still exhibits her Poll Herefords at the Kiama, Berry and Nowra shows.

The organisation was also an important networking avenue for young people on the land, who were sometimes isolated during an era in which car ownership was still a novelty.

"Our only outings were to Junior Farmers meetings or to the church fellowship groups," McKenzie says.

"That's probably why we had a lot of exhibits for the shows because that's what we did with our time. We didn't have television."

McKenzie says lively discussions were often held at the Junior Farmers meetings on ways to overcome the debilitating effects of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, on farming practices.

The weather was vital to the end product.

"You had to produce good milk to get it onto the market," McKenzie says.

"The milk was always supplied to the local dairy factory at Albion Park from here.

"To get your money for the milk, you needed to have a good quality product with good butter fat. You had to feed your cows properly and you had to produce some of that feed yourself because it was too dear to buy all of it."

Even though she was brought up with dairy cattle, it was the Poll Hereford breed that McKenzie would turn to for her stud business.

"The British breeds are my preference," she says.

"Maybe it's my British ancestry. As a child I remember watching the Hereford cattle at the Sydney Royal [Easter Show] and I just loved them."

In her lifetime, McKenzie has seen substantial changes in the way people use the land in Marshall Mount.

The dairy farms have shut up shop in Marshall Mount, although some larger dairy farms are still operating and thriving in nearby suburbs.

McKenzie remembers nearly all the student population at Marshall Mount Public School in the late 1950s and early 1960s were the children of dairy farmers.

She says a small number of Marshall Mount families are involved in primary production and agricultural activities on their land, with the majority of people keeping minimal livestock, poultry, and growing vegetables and fruit for their own use.

There are constant outside pressures, she says, to change the face of the small community.

"There are pressures to sell this property and pressures to join subdivisions," she says. "I just say: 'Go away'. I'm not interested in my lifetime participating in that."

Husband Gary grew up in Wollongong, and previously worked in underground coalmines, and was happy to embrace the rural lifestyle at Marshall Mount.

McKenzie helps him with the poultry and contributes by holding executive positions at a number of clubs: she is the Dapto Poultry Club treasurer, Illawarra Rhode Island Club secretary/treasurer and Rhode Island Club of Australia vice president.

"I like the country life," she says. "I'm not a town person, I'm a country person, and I've always been that way. All my connections are with country people."

McKenzie joined the Marshall Mount branch of the Country Women's Association in 1987 and has held the title of president for many years. Her mother, aunty, and neighbours were also members of the branch, so it was a natural progression for her.

McKenzie, who is a get-up-and-go person, has been successful in promoting the activities of her branch to the wider CWA movement throughout NSW and Australia.

Although McKenzie is not a cook herself, Marshall Mount is well-known in the movement for boasting a number of star bakers in its ranks.

"I try and look around for avenues that will put the Marshall Mount branch on the map because I think the work we do and what we stand for is so important," says McKenzie of the CWA.

McKenzie's grandfather James Stevenson died before she was born. Stevenson was an alderman on the Central Illawarra Municipality from 1917 to 1920, and was elected as shire mayor in 1934. He was a Freemason and president of the Dapto A&H Society from 1935 to 1942.

In 1943, Stevenson died after experiencing a heart attack.

McKenzie says she is maintaining a legacy begun by her grandfather.

"I've been the grandchild in the family that has carried on," she says. "I have carried on his community spirit. I am always here, whatever happens to look after people."

McKenzie is a justice of the peace, so was Stevenson.

"People used to say to me that my grandfather was a kind man," she says.

"He owned a car and had a telephone when nobody else did and he was called if a cow was having a calf and there was a problem, or if someone was ill.

"He was always available and he always helped. I'd like to think I am following in his footsteps."

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