WHEN former Newcastle Knights player Blake Tremain-Cannon returned home in 2008 to his family's farm in central western NSW, it was with a heavy heart.
He was 23, had just secured a job in Newcastle worth $100,000, was being paid up to $1000 a game to play football and was living with his partner Danielle.
Despite being a farmer, by birth and by inclination, he had made a good life for himself in Newcastle.
But when he found out in April 2008 that his younger brother Jordan had been diagnosed with bowel cancer, Mr Tremain-Cannon and Danielle moved back to his family's merino sheep property at Peak Hill to help his parents who had separated the year before.
In a Sydney Supreme Court hearing late last year, Mr Tremain-Cannon said he worked 80 hours a week for no pay and lived off his savings.
Deep in drought and financial trouble, he said he negotiated with the farm's creditors and invested his own money under the belief that his parents would honour an alleged agreement to transfer one-third of the farming business and land to him.
But when his mother, Leanne Tremain, refused to do so, Mr Tremain-Cannon took action in the NSW Supreme Court, backed by his father Ray Cannon, seeking one-third of the family's farming business and land.
In a judgement handed down this week, Justice Joanne Harrison ruled in favour of Mrs Tremain, finding there was no proof she ever agreed to enter into a binding contract with her son, or any contract at all.
Mrs Tremain denied she made any promises or assurances about the future of the farming business.
The court heard of a 2011 email written by Mrs Tremain following a family meeting where she indicated she wasn't interested in a "succession plan".
In contrast, Mr Tremain-Cannon gave evidence that when he was living in Newcastle his mother would regularly call him raising concerns about "going broke" and asking him "what are we going to do about it".
He said he declined an offer to work as a truck driver at the North Parkes Mine because he was "led to believe that the family was relying on [him] to work on the family farm".
He told the court he had numerous conversations with his mother, either over the phone or face-to-face in the presence of his wife Danielle and father Ray, usually at the family's Westray merino stud, where his mother said if he left "the whole lot would have to be sold".
In 2011, Jordan died and left everything to his brother Mr Tremain-Cannon, including a sheep stud business known as Grow On.
For the next four years, Mr Tremain-Cannon said he put the income he received from Grow On, $99,750, into the family farm because of "the promises that Ray and Leanne made to [him] in words to the effect 'you will benefit from this in the future when you own the lot'."
"As a result of what Ray and Leanne said to me, I stayed and worked on the farm because I was led to believe that I would be included in the partnership and land or paid a wage as the family farm would eventually be mine," Mr Tremain-Cannon said.
"Had these words not been said to me, Danielle and I would have left for Newcastle shortly after Jordan was to pass away. I continued to work for the partnership without payment."
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The court heard that the family had several meetings about the future of the farming business, but no official partnership agreement was drawn up.
Justice Harrison said she had "no doubt that Blake was led to believe that the family farming business and the lands from which it operated would one day be his".
"Several references in the evidence make that clear," she said. "Many conversations refer to the future."
But Mrs Tremain said that any alleged agreement was invalid because it was not in writing and therefore not enforceable.
She submitted that her son had other reasons to stay at the farm, not the alleged inducement of a partnership.
"He was getting by with money from playing rugby league and living rent free on Lynlee [one of the family properties] with some of his living expenses paid by the partnership," the judgement reads.
"Ray and Leanne had agreed he should be paid for his work on the farm, even though the partnership could not afford to do this until 2013."
Justice Harrison ruled Mr Tremain-Cannon could not rely on what was "supposedly promised", unless the promises were clearly documented and confirmed.