They were high-powered Sydney lawyers climbing up the corporate ladder and making their mark in their legal careers, but the rat race was wearing thin.
- Two Sydney lawyers traded city life to breed cattle on a farm in rural NSW
- The millennium drought forced them to innovate and take their skills online
- They set up a collaborative online platform to make legal services accessible in the bush
It was particularly the case for farm boy Richard Bootle, a sixth-generation grazier raised on a 120-year-old family farm in Bogan, New South Wales.
“I just didn’t want to be in the city,” he said, standing amid the 250,000-acre cropping and cattle property.
“At one point I was thinking we had to make a choice, and there [are] generations of not only my family but families across Australia doing that: Do you want a career or stay on the farm?”
His partner Ian Perkins was tossing up moving to London to do banking law when Mr Bootle asked him to make a leap of faith and join him on the family farm.
“I had a few friends who thought I was stark raving mad,” Mr Perkins said.
Together, over nearly 20 years, they built one of the biggest legal conveyancing firms in the country, all from the banks of the Bogan River.
Innovation born from hard times
Nowadays, ‘farmer’ might roll off the tongue just as easily as ‘litigator’, but Mr Bootle said it was a stark brush with devastating and relentless drought in the mid 2000s that forced their hand.
Mr Perkins said he had been expecting a crash course in farming until that point.
“We probably intended to be part-time lawyers — it always helps to have a day job when you’re a farmer — but we hit the millennium drought and so it had an innovative impact and inspired us to create that alternative income stream,” he said.
The couple decided to create an online portal for lawyers, real estate agents, accountants, and other professionals to collaborate, share and sign documents.
“What we’re doing is just delivering it in a more convenient way,” Mr Perkins said.
“We’ve just removed the paper and the driving around the city.”
The quest for more rural services
It was risky, but as Mr Perkins pointed out, “We were farmers in Western NSW, so risk was just part of life”.
When they expanded the technology in 2007, Facebook was still in its infancy, only 20 per cent of the country had broadband, eBay was new, and online banking was deemed fraught.
However, a contract to oversee the dissemination of $3 billion worth of water allocations for the Murray-Darling River through their technology provided the backing they needed.
The platform has now seen a boost in uptake due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s a personal motivation too.
Having now spent 20 years in the bush, the pair are hell-bent on getting rural access to services.
“I think people in remote Australia have limited access to the whole range of professional services,” Mr Perkins said.
‘Just be brave’
Always on the lookout for the next challenge, Mr Bootle and Mr Perkins are currently developing their own cattle breed, a cross of akaushi or red wagyu cattle and their own Hereford Bogan genetics.
It’s a topic that makes Mr Bootle’s eyes light up when he details his plans.
They want to market the beef as high-end, with a focus on ethics, environmental credentials and welfare, and have partnered with a local abattoir to help them supply the lucrative Sydney market.
It’s yet another leap of faith for the passionate couple, who say the bush is calling anyone open to chasing their dreams.
“I think that’s one of key drivers of innovation in Australia.
“It’s not the corporates who are captured by their portfolio shareholders, it’s individuals and small businesses and family businesses and groups of people that research an industry and take a risk.”
And his advice for anyone thinking of living on the land?
“Don’t sit back and wait for your city life to somehow change, because it’s not going to,” Mr Bootle said.
You can watch Movin’ To The Country on ABCTV at 7.30pm Fridays, or stream on iview.