What ever happened to: Wolf Boetcher?

29 Jun, 2006 07:00 PM
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WOLF Boetcher was born in Berlin in 1932. He migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1952, later moving to Sydney where he became a successful businessman.

Deciding that he really wanted to be a farmer, he moved to Ajana in 1965 and took up a block of virgin bush and turned it into a farm.

His active involvement in the (then) Farmers' Union saw him become general president during the period of increased professionalism for state organisations and the formation of the National Farmers Federation in Canberra.

He was also the driving force behind the redevelopment of the Farmers' Union site in Adelaide Terrace and the construction of new headquarters for the organisation.

Wolf Boetcher became general president of the (then) Farmers' Union during a period of great change, with state amalgamations, a new federal body (NFF), greater resources and the need for professional staff to drive lobbying in a new environment precipitated by the election of the Whitlam government in 1972.

He found that there were many challenges and much to achieve, soon discovering that the position of general president was virtually a full-time job, a conclusion that has been accepted by all who have succeeded him in that position.

He had such a wide range of interests and experiences that many believed he would find it too boring to go back on the farm after his term at the top finished. But he proved the sceptics wrong and disappeared from public view.

When I caught up with Wolf recently, I asked him what he had done when he finished his six-year term as president: "I went back farming and made some money", was his straightforward reply.

It was a response that all past presidents could relate to, as the time and commitment put into the position of general president could pay bigger dividends if applied to the farm.

Wolf tackled his latest farming challenge in the same way that he had initially approached his farming career: He sought advice from the experts, chiefly in the Agriculture Department and, if it added up, he adopted it.

Acknowledging that not even he could control the weather, he resolved to tackle everything else to ensure that moisture became the limiting factor in determining production levels and crop yields.

Weed control was an important way of minimising moisture stress, a problem attacked in typical Boetcher fashion, starting with a trip to the Hardi factory to discuss a new boom spray for the farm.

Bearing in mind that this was 1983, the specifications for the new Boetcher boom spray included:

p 18.2m (60ft), floating boom, in three independent sections that could be switched off and on from cab.

p Tandem axle with "super singles" (flotation) tyres.

p Ability to increase volume of spray by 50pc when needed, with controls in cab.

p Provision of fresh water tank to allow flushing of spray lines and jets while moving, again controlled from cab.

Experience had shown that a spray rate that controlled weeds on the valley floors was often less successful on the slopes due to moisture stress, hence the need to increase the rate on those areas.

The Hardi manager agreed to manufacture the machine as described, commenting later that while it was in their yard awaiting delivery, three farmers saw it and wanted to buy it.

When the Department showed that deep ripping paddocks to break up the compaction layer the year before seeding wheat could greatly increase yields on the Ajana sandplain, Wolf adopted the concept but discovered that ripping immediately after seeding was even better.

Seeding during the day and then ripping with 30cm spacing and 60cm deep at night became normal practice, an operation that gave a consistent 50pc increase in yield.

After 30 years on the farm, the Boetchers decided to retire to Geraldton, with Wolf and their son Lars, plus some professional help, building a new house at Tarcoola over two years.

Wolf had once been told that 90pc of families could cope with adversity, but only 10pc could handle prosperity and so it was with Wolf and his wife Margot, as they decided to part not long after the move to Geraldton.

I was pleased to note from his comments on politicians and bureaucrats that the hasn't mellowed with age, still refusing to suffer fools gladly, just as he refused when farming or leading the WAFF.

His philosophy on life in Australia should be noted and copied by all new arrivals:

"I am an Australian who happened to have been be born in Germany, not a German who happens to be living in Australia."

Early in his farming career, Wolf met up with Paul Thompson, the Geraldton face of the ABC's rural department, becoming a regular interviewee and eventually accepting an invitation to present a scripted talk on a regular basis, partly for state distribution, but also for a national audience.

After his retirement to Perth and three years with a building company he and two old friends had started, he decided to try a proper retirement and resurrect his writing skills to produce his life story.

He started by restricting the book to the German portion of his life, beginning with his birth in Berlin in 1932 until he left for Australia in 1952, a book that he titled "Mourn not the dead."

It is a fascinating book, starting with his early life as the son of a middle class public servant, being unaware of the bigger picture around him with the depression and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler.

The war and his attendance as a boarder at a military school contain descriptions of a life beyond the comprehension of Australian readers, including the conquest of Berlin by the Russians, who later took his father away for questioning, never to be seen again.

Confirmation of his father's death came many years later from a family friend who was a survivor of the same camp.

As a 13-year-old, Wolf became the bread winner for his mother, scrounging through the ruins of the bombed city and dealing with the Black Market, eventually obtaining an apprenticeship with an electrician, sensing that any building skill in post war Berlin would have to be a skill in demand.

He eventually decided to leave Berlin, choosing Australia over America as a destination because it was possible to migrate to Australia on credit supplied by our government, while travelling to the US was strictly cash up front.

The period from 1952 through to the present time was covered in a second book, "Country of my choice," covering his time in Victoria and Sydney and his decision to travel to WA and become a farmer.

Both books were really written "for the kids" with limited print runs, but some copies are available for sale to anyone who is interested in either (or both) records of a fascinating life. I heartily recommend them both.

Ring him on 08 9386 2813.

The Future? At the suggestion of some of his German relations, Wolf is shortly off to Germany to discuss the possible translation of "Country of my choice" into German and commercial publication there.

COMMENTS

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