It used to be Gypsy Day, it became Gypsy weekend, then it took a week and now dairy farm numbers have expanded so much the pressure on home removal and stock transport firms is such it’s more like Gypsy month for dairy farm staff and their cows.
Dairy employment contracts go from June 1 to May 31 and hundreds of sharemilkers, dairy workers and managers change jobs and homes at the end of a season. That has an impact not just on the people who move but the communities they move to and from as well. A school with 100 pupils might have a 20% change or more in pupils as some come and some go.
That affects the whole school and a principal tells me that a child can lose up to a term of optimal learning each time s/he changes school. However, he said he’s noticed that more parents are trying to change jobs within a school catchment or shift less often so it’s less disruptive for the children.
The transitory nature of dairy farm work makes it harder to retain community cohesion too, although that was happening anyway. When our daughter started school in 1990 it had about 80 pupils and we knew all their families. When she left seven years later the roll was down to about 30, thanks to the ad-sag, and we knew only about half the families.
The district population has increased again as irrigation has brought more dairying – two years ago there were eight houses on our road, now there are 13. But it’s not as easy as it used to be to get to know new neighbours.
A couple who moved in to a house on the farm next door six years ago have moved out again and I never met them. The house is about four kilometres away from ours on an unsealed road we rarely use, so it would have taken a special trip to see them; and I did phone to invite them for a meal a few times but it didn’t suit. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact I didn’t make more effort and I’ve resolved to do better with the new occupiers to ensure that another Gypsy month doesn’t come around without us meeting.