Picture this — it’s 1991.
On Landline there were pictures of a woman steering a header through a grain crop. She’s a farmer, right? Wrong.
Thirty years ago a woman’s legal status in agriculture was sleeping partner, non-productive.
Rural bankers expected the “farmer’s wife” to leave the room after she’d set tea and biscuits down so he could talk to her husband, the “farmer”.
In 1994, Australia’s first Rural Woman of the Year awards were held and the status of women in ag hasn’t looked back — and the law has finally caught up.
“Now women happily say they’re farmers and no one questions it — it’s not seen as odd or unusual,” said Landline host Pip Courtney.
“It’s just part of the fabric of rural life.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changed.
The Landline of 2021 is a country mile from what began as a half-hour daily studio-based program in early 1991. It became a weekly program later that year and a Sunday staple.
“Like most rural people I grew up with Landline,” said Landline’s Northern Territory reporter Kristy O’Brien.
In the early days, the reporting team and the budget were both small.
Founding Executive Producer Kerry Lonergan said: “I decided that the only way to sustain it was to fill it up with some freebie stuff.”
The program featured regular segments like book reviews, cooking, finance and country music clips produced by Landline.
“To get the opportunity to make a clip on Landline, I thought I was king of the hill. I couldn’t believe it.”
Landline even won a Golden Guitar for a country music video featuring Greg Champion and a song called Fridge Full of Coldies.
But Landline also tackled the big issues, just as it does today.
“In the nineties, Landline tackled lots of issues that even mainstream media wasn’t really tackling, which were to do with the environment and climate because that rules everything if you’re a farmer,” said former presenter Catherine Phillips, now Executive Producer Cathie Schnitzerling.
There were stories explaining carbon farming and trading, erosion and the growing Landcare movement.
Presenter and reporter Pip Courtney met many of the land-repairing and tree-planting pioneers.
“It’s now called regenerative agriculture and followers say it means while protecting biodiversity they’re last into drought and first out.”
The program has covered more than its fair share of droughts, floods and fires and the impact that has on mental health, producing award-winning stories about “the black dog” of depression.
Diverse voices and audiences
Land rights and the Mabo and Wik rulings were regular interview topics when the program first began.
Now, Indigenous agriculture and land management practices are regular Landline stories.
“It’s so important to capture the story of Indigenous stockmen and Indigenous pastoralists,” said reporter Kristy O’Brien, who covers much of northern Australia for Landline.
She said covering stories with Australia’s First Nations people gives the audience a greater chance to connect with our country.
And that audience is not just in the country.
“Most of our audience in numbers is in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth in the inner city,” said Kerry Lonergan.
“They may not agree with us all the time but they love us.”
The program is renowned for its pictures of some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Australia and the way of life of the unique characters who inhabit them.
But it also has a focus on the future, featuring the latest in high-tech cloud-based farm technology, machinery and innovation.
That of course includes the changing tastes in food and the consumer’s desire to know where it comes from and how it’s been treated.
“Now it’s very much front and centre.
“I think things like the 2011 Indonesian live cattle crisis was a wake-up call.
“Some of those disasters made livestock producers aware of their duty of care all the way through from conception to consumption of the animal.”
Landline’s aquaculture reporter Sean Murphy has covered many stories about emerging food markets.
“There’s now a wellbeing sector of the market,” he said.
“There’s now a push for meat alternatives, plant-based, veganism, gluten-free.”
‘We show you the lot’
Landline stories do not always make for comfortable viewing: droughts, abattoirs, the damage done by feral animals and the efforts to control them, and intensive livestock operations.
“We go after those stories because that is what paddock to plate actually is,” said reporter Kerry Staight.
“People often don’t see much more than the paddock or the plate but on Landline we show you the whole lot.”
That’s not a problem for diehard fans.
Apple grower Fiona Hall from Central Western New South Wales said: “If I need inspiration and have missed an episode, I’ll jump on iview to get a bit more mojo.”
Landline’s mojo has stood the test of time.
“A wise old head I used to work for in television said the definition of a successful program is it runs for seven years,” said founding producer Kerry Lonergan.
“Here we are 30 years later.”
Landline’s celebration of 30 years is on ABC TV 12.30pm, and 3:00pm in WA, on Sunday, March 21.