Matt & Nicola Templeton, Tarwin// October 2023 "Farming Conversations" Calendar
by Gippsland Jersey
How did you get into dairy?
Nicola: I’m from Queensland originally and my parents have a predominantly Jersey herd where they milk 350 cows. Matt’s family were also dairy farmers from Nar Nar Goon, before his parents bought the farm where we are now. Matt used to be a full-time cattle fitter (clipping and preparing show and sale cattle) and would spend nine months of the year living out of a suitcase, working for people all over the world. He was probably the first person to make a career out of it in Australia.
It’s definitely a niche market and you’ve got to be self-motivated to be able to do it, which, if you’ve met him, you’d see he is very driven. He did that for about 15 years, and then came home. That was how we met, through showing cows. It was at about this point that we started to make some decisions about where we wanted to end up. Both sides of our families have farms, a very fortunate, yet also heart-breaking position to be in as, ultimately, someone had to make the decision to leave their family. At the time, choosing to take on Matt’s family farm was the right choice. It worked out for the best as my sister now runs the farm back home. Really, we are so lucky to have so much support from both sides of our family; farming isn’t easy, but it runs deep in the families and there’s always lots of advice.
I suppose too, before we had settled in Tarwin, we worked together in Northern Victoria and I think this was a sort of ‘cooling off period’ in our relationship, to see if we had, as a couple, what it takes to work side-by- side every day. We don’t take for granted the awesome people we have met and formed friendships with over our journeys, and thankfully, the world is not such a big place anymore. It’s the people in dairy, and the friendships that we’ve made over the years, that have kept us in love with the industry.
You’ve had a crazy ride with your health stuff, is that right?
It all happened really quickly, and looking back, which isn’t something we do often, is quite hard. Matt moved to the farm in Tarwin in early 2017 after being involved in a serious car accident, which seemed to be the catalyst for a lot of change in our lives. I moved down with a semi load of cows in tow in late 2017. We got married in November 2018, but Matt’s health wasn’t great, something we put down to stomach ulcers and stress. With low milk prices and tough seasons we just thought stress was taking its toll. Matt did end up in hospital before our wedding, a sign of just how sick he was, only to be told to grab some Gaviscon on the way home. The week after our wedding Matt’s mum (Jan), who is a nurse, made an appointment with their long- time family doctor and he referred Matt straight to a Gastric specialist. Within a week of seeing the specialist Matt had started chemotherapy. It was an aggressive
form of cancer and at that point in time Matt was the youngest patient in the hospital’s care to ever have that specific type of cancer. It was such a strange time; we had just had a massive party with all of our nearest and dearest to celebrate our marriage, and then, a month later, we were telling them all that Matt had cancer. Fortnightly chemotherapy sessions ensued until the tumour was reduced enough to be removed, followed by more chemotherapy. Matt was really ill, but the chemo did its job. The drugs and entire ordeal, facing your mortality, changes a person. Thankfully today he is up to annual check-ups with his oncologist.
How was this for you? You’ve moved to a new state, just got married, and now you’re supporting your husband through cancer and trying to keep the farm ticking over.
When you’re in the thick of it you just do what you have to. Between Bruce, Matt’s dad, and I, we managed the farm; we prioritised. It’s hard to convey the amount of support that people gave Matt and myself. I’d say the moment it really hit home for me, the seriousness of the situation, was when I sat next to Matt at an IVF clinic and watched him sign papers. In the event he didn’t make it, I still wanted to have his children. Driving home from the city, while Matt started his first chemotherapy session, was very lonely, (Matt stayed to have his PICC line, an IV line directly to the heart for treatment).
What got you through the hard times?
I think it was just having such good people around us. The timing of it all was just ironic, to be surrounded by love and joy at our wedding and then a month later to have the rug ripped from under us. For anyone who knows us well, a big calendar event for us is International Dairy Week. An event that Matt has been going to since he was 10. It’s held in January. We didn’t show cattle that year, the first time he hasn’t shown since he started going. But, he still made it to the show, and I still think, even though I had to twist his arm to go as he knew how people would react, and he’s not one for pity, I believe being surrounded by our great friends, and doing what he loves doing, took his mind off the cancer for a little while and gave him a level playing field. It lit that fire in his belly to get back to it. He also bought a cow at that show, one who the next year would win the whole thing! We truly are surrounded by wonderfully genuine people in our industry. It was our friendships that were essentially holding us together. Matt and I didn’t actually talk much about how he was going during his illness because he was talking about it to everyone else, if that makes sense. When he stepped into our home or into the dairy, it was sort of like his safe place away from all the talk.
The Farming Conversations 2023 is brought to you FREE by Gippsland Jersey, Connect Well, East Gippsland Community Foundation, Orbost Regional Health and the Royal Flying Doctors Service.