The agri-terrorism being encouraged by groups such as Aussie Farms is real and it’s happened to Charters Towers producer, Kylie Stretton and her family.
Kylie was speaking out in the wake of news that anti-farming website, Aussie Farms, was encouraging name-and-shame activity targeting primary producers across Australia.
While the map’s purpose, described by Aussie Farms executive director, Chris Delforce, as “forcing transparency on an industry that's dependent on secrecy”, has been defended as listing publicly available information, Kylie said it was very different and had the potential to cause lasting harm.
Six years ago, a lone activist made a Facebook page, using a photo of Kylie and husband Shane’s children, Clancy and Ella-Beth, complete with an address and a map, encouraging readers to come and scare her children.
Words used included "This is where the murderers live" and "Let's scare their kids so they feel afraid like we feel afraid when we see footage of cattle being slaughtered".
At the time, Kylie was actively administering the Save Live Export Facebook page.
Police officers made sure the family wasn’t under immediate threat from the intimidation, and after sustained pressure from supporters, the page was taken down after three or four days.
“I was home alone, with two small kids. I didn't know where this person was based – were they interstate or just down the road,” Kylie said. “I was in a blind panic and mother guilt was raging. Had I put my kids in danger by being outspoken?”
The hate campaign by just one person was especially hurtful to their son Clancy, who couldn’t sleep properly for four years afterwards.
“After a stretch of sleepless nights, he was cuddled on the couch with his dad who asked him why he couldn't sleep, something we'd asked a lot,” Kylie said. “He answered ‘I'm scared about those people coming to get me’.”
Kylie said they’d addressed the issue and he now slept much better, but she wanted people to understand what being targeted and mocked by animals activists could do.
Read more: ‘They want a martyr for their cause’
“People are hellbent on confronting us, in our homes,” she said. “Aussie Farms is an organisation, it’s a lot bigger than what we had to face. The law needs to stop agri-terrorism and these hit lists.”
She noted that in farming there was no delineation between home and work, which farm children were intricately involved with.
“You cannot target a farm without affecting the children. Australia must make a stand to protect of our children from acts of terrorism.”
Preliminary advice to the federal government indicated it didn’t have powers to block Aussie Farms from publishing farmers’ addresses on its website, and that state governments administer trespass and criminal laws.
Kylie said that given the anti-agriculture agenda of some states, she didn’t hold out much hope of that happening without sustained pressure.
As well as urging concerned people to get behind the #protectourfarms and National Farmers' Federation campaigns, to ensure that measures were taken to prevent similar acts of intimidation from continuing, she said messages producers were giving out needed to be clear and credible.
“Eighty per cent of my Life on Red Hill Facebook page readers are women between the ages of 24 and 44,” she said.
“That’s a good age to target – these are the women making decisions on the family’s diet, their children’s education, and they want to know how the family’s food is produced.
“We have to build those connections before they’re lured to the other side, but we’ve got to make sure our message is on point.”
Think before you post
It’s a point Kylie emphasised in what could have been a confronting post a few days earlier, when she headed an educational post on animal welfare with a photo of two calves in the back of a buggy, covered with tree branches.
As various comments on the post attest, it looked at first glance as if the calves were dead.
As the story unrolled, Kylie explained how the tiny Brahmans had either been planted by their mothers or were unable to keep up with the mob being mustered, and so they’d been placed in the vehicle for their welfare.
The calves were restrained with belts, the only item available.
“They still had plenty of room to breath and weren't being hurt, they just couldn't stand up and jump out. Their safety and wellbeing was our number one priority,” Kylie said.
They were understandably unhappy with their position and while Kylie’s first instinct was to soothe and pat them, she realised that if they smelt too much like humans their mothers might reject them.
“Thinking like a human in a bid to look after an animal is not very often a good idea, so I had to think like a baby Brahman, and think what would calm them,” she said.
Tree branches were the solution, giving them a similar environment to that of being planted under a tree in a paddock.
Both were eventually reunited with their mothers in the yards, none the worse for their adventure.
Kylie said she had deliberated for days on whether to post the photo or not, saying that beef industry members had gotten to the stage that they were always wary that what they did or said could be misconstrued and used against them.
“So then we become a bit guarded and not tell the good story in case it could be seen as a bad story,” she said.
The post went viral, being seen by 120,000 people, liked 5000 times and shared 500 times.
It received mostly positive comment from around the world, with people commenting that it was a “brilliant insight into the natural behaviour of the breed” and “it was such an informative and true story”.
Others were less positive, saying it wouldn’t change the mind of those she was worried about, but Kylie responded that she didn’t want to waste her time with them, but wanted to talk with those sitting on the fence.
The way in which producers engaged was vital, as illustrated by Kylie’s post.
“Don’t just chuck something online. If you think it might be a bit confrontational, or you’re worried about how it will be perceived, think hard about how you should do it,” she said. “Don’t think, like it or lump it – that attitude is what gets us in trouble.”
She also said the news of the map of hitlisted properties, and news that Animals Australia had offered thousands of dollars in payments for footage of distressed animals, was a wake-up call for livestock producers.
“We’ve absolutely got to have best practice all the time,” she said.
Related reading: Aussie Farms map a toolkit for terror