Half century of farming at Tea Tree

By JOHN HALL

MAURICE Barwick began his farming career at the age of nine. Then, as now, it was a great success.

“Dad gave me nine acres at ‘Merriworth’ in Tea Tree to plant my first crop of peas,” Maurice recalls of the time half a century ago. “They were grey peas for pigeon fanciers.  I sold them, with Dad’s help, for an incredible 700 pounds.”  That was as much as some farm workers then earned in a year.

Maurice with his wife Peggy in front of their beautiful sandstone fireplace.
Maurice with his wife Peggy in front of their beautiful sandstone fireplace.

Five years ago, ever the farmer, Maurice invested $90,000 in seeds for a green pea crop. They were spread over 200ha and produced a 900 tonne harvest which was sold to Simplot for $350,000. “Don’t do it anymore – the price of seed has gone up and the return on investment has been reduced. Too big a risk,” he says gruffly.

The Tea Tree farmer does, however, put aside around 5ha each year for grey peas – there are still pigeon fanciers to look after. This must be his tender side.

Maurice has been hooked on farming since he was nine. He left school in Campania at 15 to help his father Lloyd with the sheep and the crops. They were living then at ‘Burnside’, another historic Tea Tree property.

They were working together on the day Lloyd died six years ago – they were baling hay with Maurice’s son Tyson when the old man had a stroke.  He was 82 and his death shook Maurice and his family.

The Barwicks have always had close ties with each other and with the land around Tea Tree.  It began in 1863 when Joseph Barwick settled at ‘Woodlands’ on Tea Tree Rd.  Now the sixth generation of Barwicks is sprouting up in the district.

Maurice did have a break from working with his father. “When I was 17 I was shearing by day and ploughing for other farmers at night,” he recalls.  In the 70s Maurice tried his hand at logging.

“I harvested 100ha of bluegum native forest in Tea Tree,” said Maurice. “Go back there today and you would never know it had been logged.”

In his early days Maurice was an avid cricketer and footballer.  But the farm boy also loved ballroom dancing.  On one excursion to Hobart to dance at the Belvedere (later pulled down for the Argyle St car-park) he met Lindisfarne girl Peggy Stuart.  They married and for a time the couple ran ballroom classes in the old Tea Tree hall.

They raised four children while living in a four-room cottage on Lloyd’s Tea Tree property ‘Woodbourne’.  Maurice and Peggy, both aged 61, now live in a handsome sandstone house they built high above Middle Tea Tree Rd.

They have eight grandchildren.  Maurice has opened up a few subdivisions and as a proud patriarch he has named a number of streets in Old Beach and Sorell after his offspring.

Maurice and his son Tyson share two passions: racehorses and fishing – especially on the east coast around Schouten Island.  And so they have named some of their horses after their fishing experiences – hence Chain Locker, Fish, Schouten Island.  “Chain Locker,” Maurice reveals proudly, “has run places in eight consecutive races.”

The horses are trained by Craig Rowbottom, who married the Barwicks’ eldest daughter Leita.

Maurice was a Brighton councillor for eight years in the 80s and in one year he was president or chairman of nine committees.  “I gave it all up – family is too important.”

Maurice’s other consuming passion is farming, working dawn to dark on the 400ha he owns in Brighton municipality and the 11,000ha he share-farms – from historic ‘Mount Morrison’ at Ross , to ‘Norley’ at Hamilton and ‘Whitemarsh’ at Runnymede.

“What I love most is improving farms – upgrading, fixing water courses, planting trees, stopping erosion – this is for future generations and for the environment,” he said.

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