Generous gift of land for Sustainable Farms

Kent Keith recently made a gift of land to help improve farming communities.

He donated his Ballanda Park property—406 hectares near Boorowa in NSW—so its proceeds can benefit the Sustainable Farms Initiative.

The Sustainable Farms Initiative is a five-year project to promote the production of food and fibre while managing the interconnections between farming and its broader environment, at the same time enhancing the financial viability of farms and the mental health of farmers.

Kent Keith has already devoted much of his career and retirement to similar outcomes.

He and his first wife, Noel, purchased land near Hall in the 1960s with the aim of matching the right breed of cattle to that environment, trying breeds from Scotland that would eat weeds. Kent lived and worked at that time in Canberra, and his out-of-town work as a grazier was a labour of love.

They later acquired the Ballanda Park sheep property in the early 1980s, and managed it in such a way that native plants and animals returned.

Kent’s career as a wildlife biologist with CSIRO offered a wide range of projects to develop his personal expertise.

In the 1950s, he participated in a wildlife survey to study the how the ibis could contribute to grasshopper control in Australia. He served as Biologist in 1956 on the 9th Australian expedition to Macquarie Island, between Australia and Antarctica. He assisted Professor Frank Fenner in studies of rabbit control via myxomatosis, collecting blood samples in the field.

In the 1960s he joined a marine expedition mapping the east coast of Australia and tracking bird populations there. At other points he was seconded to study the cattle tick by trapping and handling native animals. He was part of an offensive upon mosquitos causing Dengue fever.

During the 1960s and 70s, Keith was part of virology team working in the Sepik region of New Guinea, as well as several sites within the Murray-Darling Basin in Queensland and Victoria.

After 26 years at CSIRO, in 1979, Kent was “invalided out” at age 50, due to chemical damage to his lungs from pesticide and fumigant exposure during his work.

Kent and Noel weathered additional hardship when Noel became ill with leukaemia. Under the direction of Ian Prosser, a haematology specialist at ANU and Canberra Hospital, a small group of specialists was formed to look after Noel. Noel got nine and a half years of quality life until the cancer overtook her in her final six months.

Noel at the time determined to donate her portion of their estate to medical research at ANU. Noel and Kent formed the Keith Family Research Endowment to support clinical research and trials in haematology.

A few years after Noel passed away, Kent met Marion. Marion’s family were long-time residents on land near the Keith family’s country property. Kent left his city home and the couple moved to Ballanda Park.

Marion’s life work had been as a mothercraft nurse, going into homes to care for new mothers and their infants. She is still in touch with several of the families she worked with.

The couple has a deep connection to the land they settled on.

“Ever since I’ve had the place, 30-odd years, it was a bit of untouched country,” Ken says. “Some had been cleared, but nothing for the past 35 years. What had been a hill of shrubs is now a hill of forest. I’ve always loved the flora and fauna. We just loved it out there. The wallabies would jump in the fish pond to swim.”

They moved to Marion’s family land closer to town about eight years ago. Marion has decided that proceeds from her own property, called Burnbrae, will someday also be donated and added to the Keith Family Research Endowment.

Recently Kent decided to donate the Ballanda Park property to support the Sustainable Farms Initiative at ANU. The George Alexander Foundation has facilitated the gift by accepting the land donation and taking the responsibility to sell it under terms that will preserve Kent’s conservation goals for the property. Proceeds of the sale will go to ANU.

“I am proud to support the establishment of Sustainable Farms,” Kent says. “I believe passionately in the value of wildlife ecologists working with graziers like myself, and the benefits their knowledge brings to regional communities.”

The initiative is founded on 20 years of ecological research. It will move its knowledge and tools into the community through a Farmer Network, providing farmers with recommended practices to manage their farms and natural capital.

The Network will also influence policy makers, industry and educators toward supporting sustainable agriculture in the present, without compromising the future.

The initiative has already received generous support from the Ian Potter Foundation, winning its Environment and Conservation grant, which funds research into excellence and innovation.

The Sustainable Farms Initiative is a cross-disciplinary collaboration at ANU. Researchers from three colleges will work together toward the project’s goals: to support and improve ecological balance, mental health and financial well-being in farming communities.

If you would like to support the Sustainable Farms Initiative, or help in other ways, write to science.advancement@anu.edu.au or call Mary Anne King at 02 6125 1120.