Little John’s big job on Ballarat hobby farm

CARVING out their perfect patch of paradise just outside of Ballarat, the Brooks family credit ‘Little John’, their John Deere 3038E compact utility tractor, as one of the reasons their move from the city to the country has been seamless.

Right now, there is a world of expectation riding on Little John’s axle, as it plays the lead role in developing the 10 ha block for husband and wife, David and Debbie, as well as Debbie’s mum, Joan, who have chosen to settle on acreage after leaving Melbourne’s western suburbs.

While the family’s shared dream – expanding their donkey herd, from just two, Ally and Angus, into a stud equipping farmers with protective companion animals for their livestock – involves a mountain of work, Mr Brooks said they had embraced the change.

“We love it so much living where we live,” Mr Brooks said.

“The sunrises, the neighbours and the ever-changing beauty of the seasons are just incredible.

“We have had a lot happen in the time we have been here, contending with flood, drought, lightning strikes and snow, however, we are quite literally carving a home, and a little farm, out of the Australian bush so it has been immensely fulfilling.

“We have worked hard and are learning as we go, but we love the reward for our efforts.”

Mr Brooks said the move to the country had been a long time coming, as both David and Debbie have strong connections to rural Australia.

David is a former wool classer who grew up on a cattle property, and Debbie is a drover’s daughter. The pair met when working for a woolbroker and always hoped they could return their family to the land when the time was right.

David Brooks and his local John Deere dealer
“We now have a hassle-free twenty-minute drive through the beautiful countryside to get to work and we spend our weekends establishing our new home and dreaming of what will be.”

However, it wasn’t until 2021 the stars aligned and Debbie was offered a transfer to Ballarat, where David was already commuting three hours to work from Melbourne, so the family seized the opportunity.

“We now have a hassle-free twenty-minute drive through the beautiful countryside to get to work and we spend our weekends establishing our new home and dreaming of what will be.”

However, David said it hadn’t all been blissful dreaming, as the family had a huge task of cleaning up the property, which had been left littered with an assortment of scrap metal, car parts and building and fencing material – a hefty cleanup task where Little John has proved to be invaluable.

"We have picked up rusted corrugated iron, old car parts and bits of barbed wire. We have also cleared fence lines and established some internal tracks for ongoing works. Now, in my mid-50s, I needed a tool to help with nearly all of the work required. Little John has been the game changer for nearly every aspect of what we have done so far.

“I am still discovering more ways to get the best out of him. The four-in-one bucket combined with the stability is just an amazing tool to have. I carry fallen branches with it, move soil, level ground, mix compost, remove stumps, carry mulch and cart firewood just to name a few.”

However, Mr Brooks believes the biggest supporters of Little John are his wife and kids.

“I have always been the sort of person to do things by hand and wear myself out in the process. But with Little John, we are embodying the old adage of ‘work smarter and not harder’, so I am sure they are very pleased we have him.”

The Brooks family has recently added a John Deere Gator to the fold, dubbed ‘Wally Gator’ after the 1970s cartoon character. Although initially purchased to ensure everyone in the family, including Joan, who is living with a disability, could have free access to the full scope of the land, the equipment has also become a workhorse.

“We use him for mulching around the trees, carting wood, tools, hay and watering trees. He is also just a great way to get around and check fences and stock,” he said.

Mr Brooks said he was proud to be part of the John Deere family, and he believed he had the right tools for the job to ensure their small farm could reach its full potential.

There are no regrets for leaving city life behind.

“In the little cottage where we currently live, we have a deck that faces north-east and we often sit there with a nice cup of coffee and listen to two of our resident Kookaburras, who we call Stan and Gretel, sing their dawn duet as we watch the countryside wake up,” he said.

“It is a real treat and we certainly wouldn’t want to change it.”