The final year Rural Science student and aspiring plant doctor is a Cotton Australia Young Farming Champion and a committee member of the NSW Young Farmers Council.
He has ridden a postie bike across Australia, raised $10,000 for charity, racked up tens of thousands of views on his blog The Farming Game, and accomplished a life-long dream of flying. But at 21 years old there’s a lot left on the to-do list for Martin.
The big dream, he says, is a job in agronomy or precision agriculture consulting. The long term dream is to own a slice of black soil plains north of Moree and farm a mix of cattle and cropping. In the ultimate dream there’s a plane parked in a hangar out the back for when time allows for contract work as an agricultural pilot, mustering livestock or spraying crops, flying below the tree line at 200km/hour: “Anything really — as long as it’s that more challenging type of flying,” he says understatedly. Adventurous yet laid back – that is Martin’s style.
Moree has been home since the age of ten when Martin’s family relocated from a rice and sheep farm near the Riverina city of Griffith and his dad took a job in town with Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association. At the age of 16 Martin started casual work on cotton properties in the district, a welcome relief from the monotony of filling orders and stacking boxes at a local pizza shop. “I absolutely loved it,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed the work and the environment, it was great.”
“Then I was at boarding school in Sydney when we had a recruiter come around one day from Consolidated Pastoral Company… they gave a bit of a talk to the agriculture students and at the end asked who wanted to sign up. I think all but one of us in the class signed up, so the next year we all went up north to various stations.”
“Up north” for Martin was Humbert River Station, five hours from Katherine in the Northern Territory, where days revolved around fencing, bore runs, loader work and putting out cattle lick blocks. With a bit of spare time on his hands and inspired by the popular reality television series at the time, Keeping Up With The Joneses (which followed the daily life of the Jones family on Coolibah Station, NT) Martin created a blog about life at Humbert River.
“At the time I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing,” he says, “but I thought I could tell a few good stories about what we were doing and why we were doing it. It amazed me — and still does — the range of places that view The Farming Game. On the stats page I can see there are viewers coming from all over Australia, the USA, South Africa and all sorts of little countries across Asia and eastern Europe.”
Martin started a Twitter account to plug The Farming Game and quickly found a crowd of other ag-enthusiasts tweeting and retweeting about agriculture. It was around the same time ABC’s Four Corners aired ‘Another Bloody Business,’ about the slaughter of Australian sheep in Pakistan. Suddenly people involved in all aspects of Australian agriculture were taking to the internet to counteract the flow of negative media headlines aimed at the industry.
When Martin returned to New South Wales to start a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England, Armidale, and resumed farm work around the area, his blog took on a more cotton oriented theme.
The Farming Game and Martin’s Twitter account attracted a broad audience and it was there, interacting with other vocal, social media savvy farmers on Twitter that Martin first came across Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions founder Lynne Strong.
Keen to expand his connection with urban audiences Martin was excited to be accepted into the Young Farming Champions program in 2013, thanks to sponsorship from Cotton Australia. He says the skills instilled through the program have become invaluable.
“The main thing I have taken out of the Young Farming Champion program is the public speaking skills,” Martin says. “The first day of the first training workshop we each had to do a three minute talk about ourselves in front of the other Young Farming Champions. That first talk, my heart was beating a million times a minute, I was staring at my feet for most of it and I just felt really uneasy, really nervous.”
Over the next two days communications expert and Young Farming Champion trainer Ann Burbrook worked with Martin on relaxation and breathing techniques, voice coaching and tips for feeling comfortable in public, interacting with an audience, knowing what to say and how to say it with meaning.
“I found the training with Ann really great. It improved my ability to be calmer, more relaxed, and more confident in how I carry myself on stage,” Martin says. “And I learnt that I am a lot better at public speaking when I can remember or write down a list of certain topics I want to hit, rather than reading off a written script.”
Martin’s public speaking skills were put to the test when he visited Cloncurry State School and All Souls St Gabriels School in Charters Towers to talk about the cotton industry for the 2014 Archibull Prize.
“It was great! All the kids were enthusiastic… they were really involved and seemed to take a lot from my talk,” he says.
“Cotton Australia had provided me with some cotton seeds so in Cloncurry we planted cotton seeds in milk cartons and the students watched them grow. In Charters Towers we did everything from brainstorming sessions on what their Archibull artwork would look like, to an irrigation syphon demonstration with a clear piece of garden hose. After I’d demonstrated what we do on a cotton farm and talked them through the physics behind it, all the students had a go at stopping and starting the syphon — they all enjoyed it.”
Martin’s enthusiastic demonstration was an obvious influence on the final Archibull creation from All Souls St Gabriels School. Their irrigation themed Archie won Champion Archibull for Region 1 and was a national finalist in the Best Artwork category.
Martin says he loves being involved in the Young Farming Champions and Archibull Prize programs because they fill a gap that’s emerged in Australian society where many young people and students don’t have opportunities to learn about where their food and fibre comes from. “From my own experience of boarding school in the city I met many young people who don’t know about life in rural Australia,” he says. “When they do have opportunities to engage with farmers they have so many great, left of field questions to ask.”
Life in rural Australia is both a reality and a passion for Martin. When he and university mate James “Macca” Mackenzie came up with the idea to ride their postie bikes from Moree to Broome, it seemed natural to do it for a good cause. The pair raised $10,000 for charity Aussie Helpers, which helps Australian rural families in times of hardship.
“We set about preparing the bikes,” Martin says. “And we made a website, Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube account — which we filled with various things when we got back – and we set off from Moree, headed for Broome.”
The journey took 10 days, eight and a half spent riding their Honda CT110s across some of the most remote, unsealed roads in Australia. For Martin the trip highlight was crossing the Tanami from Alice Springs, NT, to Halls Creek, WA, in two days. “It’s a very rough, corrugated road and absolute hell to do on a postie. But it was just an amazing part of the country. You get this nothingness that goes on and on for miles,” he says.
“We had a couple of incidents throughout the trip. On the Plenty Highway – from Boulia to Alice Springs — at one stage my front wheel dropped into a hole and locked up with bulldust. I went from 60km/hour to zero in a heartbeat and flew over the handlebars. Luckily I landed in bulldust.”
Then, just 180 kilometres from Broome, Martin’s postie completely broke down. The East to West Post Ride for Farmers was certainly an expedition about the journey rather than the destination. The boys spent less than 24 hours in Broome before their bikes were transported home while Martin and Macca hitched a ride, ready to get back to work and university.
Martin has since re-built his postie’s engine but there are no plans for another ride — yet. For now he’s spending more time in the air. He regularly hires a Jabiru J170c ultralight from the Moree Aero Club and his Recreational Aviation Australia Pilots Certificate allows him to fly anywhere in Australia, excluding controlled airspace.
Flying has always interested Martin. At 17 he applied for a pilot program in the Army but was knocked back in the first round due of an old leg injury. Fresh out of school and working in Moree, he spent his first pay check on a trial introductory flight at the Aero Club. “I absolutely loved it and everything I love about flying just went from there. I love the freedom and the change of perspective. You get a better view of the country and you can just appreciate things that bit more,” he says.
When on the ground he works on cotton properties around Moree, enjoying the vast outdoor office and the challenges that come with each day. “There is always a problem to solve and I love the practicality and satisfaction of working out how to fix it,” he says.
“I love doing something different every day and cotton is a really enjoyable crop to work with. I think cotton is a great industry, a growing industry. It has a lot of potential and a strong future.”
Now Martin’s playing a more active role in securing that future. He was elected to the NSW Young Farmers Council committee and has since attended events such as the Future Farmers Network’s Youth Ag Council and National Youth Council of Australia forum. He’s enjoying the opportunity to talk over policies and ideas for enticing more young people into agriculture and ensuring a positive, sustainable industry for years to come.
“I believing in being a part of team making the changes that will impact your future,” Martin says. “I want to be the one putting forward the ideas that will affect my life down the track. I like to determine my own fate. And I want to do what I can to make sure it’s a good one.”
Featured Image: Martin Murray
This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.