'None of the uncertainty' in Australia - SA farming couple who moved Down Under

A Kangaroo on the Colmar Estate vineyard in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. (Bill Shrapnel, AP)
A Kangaroo on the Colmar Estate vineyard in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. (Bill Shrapnel, AP)

Cape Town - It can be extremely difficult for South African farmers to settle successfully in Australia but, once you've made the leap, it is absolutely worth it, say John and Sharron Pretorius.

The couple emigrated from their farm in KwaZulu-Natal to Australia around 18 years ago to start a macadamia nut farm in the small town of Alstonville in New South Wales.

"We came from a relatively good position in the sense that we had the funds to set ourselves up," John, 63, says during a telephonic interview. "Back then, the exchange rate was also much more favourable. Of course now, land here has become extremely expensive because it's such a desirable place to live."

Nevertheless, many young South African farmers are taking the leap, and John says there are seven South African families living down the road from them.

For the Pretoriuses, farming in Australia is an entirely different ball game to farming in South Africa.

In Empangeni, they farmed on 718 hectares with, among other things, sugar cane, macadamia nuts and cucumber.

In Australia, they have 16ha and John and Sharron do all the work themselves.

"We had a big farm in Natal and employed hundreds of people. We provided them with housing, schooling, clinics… but we started having a lot of problems with the unions. We decided we just wanted to be farmers, not managers of people," John explains.

"The lifestyle here is fantastic. People accept you for what you are. It's hard work and can sometimes be difficult, but we do what we want and there is none of the uncertainty there is in South Africa, or any of the issues that occupy South African farmers' minds, like crime and security."

Farming is in the Pretorius blood. John's father side travelled from Robertson to settle themselves on a farm in Dealesville in the Free State in 1860. Even so, they don't regret leaving South Africa, calling it an "economic decision" they were able to make because they were still young.

According to John, they're seeing more and more young farmers move to Australia to settle, while the older generations stay in South Africa because they can't sell their farms.

"It can be extremely difficult to settle here, especially for older people. It takes you a while to get into your groove, and when you're planting macadamias, it'll take five to six years before you see an income," John says.

"That said, there are two South Africans here aged 81 and 87, who are still going at it and are very successful."

John echoes the sentiments of some local farmers in response to recent developments in South Africa, regarding land expropriation without compensation and the Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton expressing a desire to allow "persecuted" white South African farmers to enter Australia on refugee visas.

"Land is such an emotional subject in Africa. It's very hard to see where this whole thing is going. The land expropriation without compensation might just be political talk because of the election of people, which could cause real trouble for farmers," he says. "Fortunately for us, we took the decision all those years ago and made the change."

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