'Getting My Hands Dirty': USA Harvard student Rory Sullivan travels to Australia to immerse herself in farming

Originally from a small town in rural Maine, Rory Sullivan recently graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Biology. Ultimately, she plans to go to medical school to become an oncologist. But first, she will be travelling around Australia for a year, working on farms owned or run by women. She hopes to learn about what it means to be a woman farmer by working on farms, becoming a part of communities of women farmers, and hearing their stories.

 Rory graduating from Harvard University with a degree that inspired her to learn more about women in farming and agriculture. 

Rory graduating from Harvard University with a degree that inspired her to learn more about women in farming and agriculture. 

Having just graduated from college with a degree in biology, most of my time for the past four years has been spent on my laptop, pouring through books, or conducting science experiments in the sterile environment of a lab. Yet I have been longing to spend more time outside, working with my hands, connecting with nature. I grew up in a small town in rural Maine, and much of my childhood was spend outdoors, kayaking, biking, picking blueberries, and examining the natural world around me. I understood connection to the land because I lived it through my rural upbringing, but it wasn’t until I began farming that I experienced the more profound connection to the land that comes from agriculture. A summer urban farming internship midway through college awakened a passion for sustainable agriculture in me that I could not deny.

 Rory picking blueberries in her hometown near Maine, USA.

Rory picking blueberries in her hometown near Maine, USA.

As an aspiring doctor, I realised that food is fundamental to human health, yet can be overlooked as a contributing factor to illness. I learned that reforming food systems to improve the health of humans and the environment requires changes to all steps of the process, from farming to shipping. I came to believe in a holistic vision of health, of which food is a vital element. I hoped to learn more about the ways that food and farming impact people’s lives. At the same time, throughout college I was fascinated by questions about women and their experiences. I took classes about the history of women in science and medicine, women who pursued careers that were traditionally perceived as masculine. Dipping my toes into farming caused me to realise that agriculture is another field traditionally perceived as masculine. I wondered what that meant for women farmers, how they perceived themselves and related to one another.

 Rory at her summer urban farming internship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, harvesting garlic.

Rory at her summer urban farming internship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, harvesting garlic.

 Rory showing her peers how to pick beans at the Harvard Community Garden.

Rory showing her peers how to pick beans at the Harvard Community Garden.

Full of questions about sustainable agriculture and women in agriculture, I knew that I had to learn more, and that the best way to do so was to get my hands dirty and work on farms myself. While I knew that I wanted to be in rural places, my hunger for exploration and new experiences overcame my homesickness for the rural Maine landscape of my childhood. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to pursue my different interests in a synthetic way by spending a year working on farms owned or run by women in Australia. This trip is one of my first times travelling abroad, and I chose to come to Australia because of its impressive devotion to sustainable agriculture, and because I had come across and admired the work of the Invisible Farmer Project.

 Rory with Jersey Cows in Gippsland, Victoria. 

Rory with Jersey Cows in Gippsland, Victoria. 

Reading the Invisible Farmer Project blog showed me that, in Australia, there are communities of agricultural women who care for the environment and build cohesive communities in creative ways. I hope to spend time with these women and groups sharing meals and participating in the day-to-day tasks of running agricultural businesses, such as caring for livestock or harvesting produce. I want to be a part of these kinds of networks not only so that I can learn more about women in agriculture, but also, more personally, because I feel most nurtured when I am surrounded by strong women, working toward a common goal. I hope to experience different types of farming such as growing vegetables and livestock, different approaches to sustainability, and different regions of Australia.

I arrived in Australia in the middle of August and spent a few days exploring Melbourne before moving out to Warragul, Victoria. I will be working with Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey for the first portion of my time in Australia. During the spring planting season, I hope to get involved with vegetable farming so that I can experience the seasonal rhythms of farming and connection to the land. I will be guest posting about my experiences on the Invisible Farmer Project blog periodically, as well as on the Instagram account @women_in_gippsland. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to contact me at roryrose3@gmail.com.

 Rory starting her journey in Australia working with Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey.

Rory starting her journey in Australia working with Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey.

jersey truck.jpeg

Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) Celebrates 25 Years: Reflecting on the Rural Women's Movement in Australia, by PhD Candidate Jessie Matheson

By Jessie Matheson

Jessie Matheson is a PhD candidate with the Invisible Farmer Project based at the University of Melbourne, in partnership with Museums Victoria. She is interested in the cultural history of Australian women, in particular women on the land. She is currently working on her thesis, a history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement. In this guest blog post Jessie reflects briefly on her experience of attending the 25 Year Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) Anniversary Conference and shares a copy of the speech that she delivered there on Saturday 18 August.

 Longstanding members of Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) cutting the 25 Year Anniversary cake at the Shepparton Conference Gala Dinner, 18 August 2018. Photo: Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria).

Longstanding members of Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) cutting the 25 Year Anniversary cake at the Shepparton Conference Gala Dinner, 18 August 2018. Photo: Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria).

The AWiA Conference

The weekend of the 17th to the 19th of August saw the annual Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) Conference in Shepparton, Victoria. The Conference was also a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the organisation. The AWiA was formed in 1994 and is a non-profit incorporated organisation that is “committed to ensuring that women influence the agriculture agenda” (https://awia.org.au). Over the past 25 years the organisation has had a significant impact in community, industry and government; lifting the profile of Australian women in agriculture.

 Inaugural AWiA president Dorothy Dunn launching AWiA at the 1993 Tallangata Women on Farms Gathering. Photo: this photo was displayed in the conference foyer during the AWiA conference weekend, 17-19 August 2018.

Inaugural AWiA president Dorothy Dunn launching AWiA at the 1993 Tallangata Women on Farms Gathering. Photo: this photo was displayed in the conference foyer during the AWiA conference weekend, 17-19 August 2018.

AWiA have represented a community of women who have sought to change the national narratives surrounding rural women. In the story of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement, the AWiA holds a crucial position, connecting rural women with government, globalising the movement, and fostering a community of support amongst its members. The AWiA has always had its eyes set firmly on the future of women in agriculture, however, the 2018 Conference also represented an opportunity to reflect on how far they have come, not just as an organisation, but as a vital part of a globally significant movement. Walking through the historical display of timelines and photos that was afforded pride of place in the foyer was an apt reminder of the strength and value of rural women working together to support one another.

 A photo depicting founding AWiA members Lynett Griffith, Dorothy Dunn and Cathy McGowan in 1994. Photo: this photo was displayed in the conference foyer during the AWiA conference weekend, 17-19 August 2018.

A photo depicting founding AWiA members Lynett Griffith, Dorothy Dunn and Cathy McGowan in 1994. Photo: this photo was displayed in the conference foyer during the AWiA conference weekend, 17-19 August 2018.

The 25 Year Anniversary conference was a testament to the importance of women in agriculture working together, and the strength of women on the land. It was also a lot of fun! Some highlights for me included the chance to hear from some of the impressive women who have loomed large throughout my own research including Cathy McGowan, Val Lang and Elaine Paton. Particularly exciting was Margaret Alston’s and Alana Johnson’s inspiring reminder of the founding principles which have informed past battles, and that will be taken by AWiA into the future; ‘recognition, representation and rights’. In an address at the Gala Dinner, Alana Johnson reflected:

I think there’s absolute commitment by both men and women, that involving women in the agricultural sector is a critical part to our future. So I think we can feel really hopeful, that all you young women will take your rightful place there. And we can thank the work of Australian Women in Agriculture for this.
 Jessie mingling with conference delegates at the Friday night opening cocktail event held at the Shepparton Motor Museum. Photo (left to right): Jessie Matheson (PhD, Invisible Farmer Project, University of Melbourne), Laura Coady (PhD, Invisible Farmer Project, Monash University), Maria Brown-Shephard (AWiA Board Member) and Alana Johnson (AWiA Founding Member), Photo: Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria).

Jessie mingling with conference delegates at the Friday night opening cocktail event held at the Shepparton Motor Museum. Photo (left to right): Jessie Matheson (PhD, Invisible Farmer Project, University of Melbourne), Laura Coady (PhD, Invisible Farmer Project, Monash University), Maria Brown-Shephard (AWiA Board Member) and Alana Johnson (AWiA Founding Member), Photo: Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria).

It was a real honour to be invited to speak alongside such amazing women at this incredible event, reflecting on the history of Australian rural women, and the ways in which the work of AWiA continues to be of vital significance. Below is an edited copy of the speech I gave on the Saturday morning of the Conference, in a morning session shared with titled, ‘Looking Back at Australian Women in Agriculture?  For a full conference program, click here.

 

‘Domestic Duties’: Why the ways in which women’s work is defined matters

Hello, my name is Jessie Matheson and I am a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, in partnership with Museums Victoria. Firstly, I want to thank you for welcoming me here today, I am in awe of what is achieved at these events and the powerful role you have all played in Australian agriculture. I’m particularly excited to be speaking to you all here, I was born in Shepparton, and I can’t think of a better place to celebrate the achievements of women in Agriculture.

 The Shepparton Fruit Preserving Co, circa 1930. Image: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/2317

The Shepparton Fruit Preserving Co, circa 1930. Image: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/2317

My PhD is on the history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement- a daunting topic considering I am proposing to write a history that you all have, and are, living! For those that might not be familiar with the term “Rural Women’s Movement”, what I’m referring to here is the amazing groundswell of rural women’s activism and activity that began in the 1980s-1990s in Australia, seeking to recognise and encourage the incredible and vital work women are doing, and have been doing on the land for generations.

 An image from the Rural Women's Movement: women at a welding workshop during the 1994 Glenormiston Women on Farms Gathering, Victoria, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/4342

An image from the Rural Women's Movement: women at a welding workshop during the 1994 Glenormiston Women on Farms Gathering, Victoria, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/4342

Some examples of this include; the vital role women played in the Landcare movement, the formation of the Rural Women’s Network in 1986, the Women on Farms Gatherings which began in Warragul in 1990, and, of course, the formation of Australian Women in Ag, 25 years ago! For the next few years I will be using as well as helping to build archives that document this work. This includes the archives of the Australian Women in Agriculture, and the recording of oral histories, both of which are going to be crucial to constructing a picture of the movement.

 A significant publication during the Rural Women's Movement: the Victorian Rural Women's  Network  Magazine, 1989. To read more about the Rural Women's Network, check out this interview with early founders of the Network Anna Lottkowitz and Jenni Mitchell:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/14503

A significant publication during the Rural Women's Movement: the Victorian Rural Women's Network Magazine, 1989. To read more about the Rural Women's Network, check out this interview with early founders of the Network Anna Lottkowitz and Jenni Mitchell: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/14503

I’m so excited to be doing this work. I’m deeply passionate about women’s history, and I truly believe heritage and historical context are crucial when telling any story. The Rural Women’s Movement is a great example of that. It was, and is, incredible because of what it was responding to, and the context within which it emerged. I thought I’d use my time today to offer some stories of women on the land, because I think they make the fact we are here today all the more impressive.

 Henry Haylyn Hayter, Census of Victoria, 1891, General Report.

Henry Haylyn Hayter, Census of Victoria, 1891, General Report.

I wonder if any one recognises this (above image)? It may be boring and benign looking, but it is crucial to the history of how rural women have been documented in this country;

 Another important change in the Census tabulation was made in reference to the wives and grown-up daughters of farmers, all of whom at previous Censuses were tabulated as engaged in agricultural pursuits unless some other occupation was entered. Although no doubt the female relatives of farmers, if living on the farm, attend as a rule to the lighter duties of the poultry-yard and dairy, it was felt by the Conference [of statisticians] that the statement that so many females were engaged in agricultural pursuits would create an impression elsewhere that women were in the habit of working in the fields as they were in some of the older countries of the world, but certainly not in Australia. It was therefore decided not to class any women as engaged in agricultural pursuits except those respecting whom words were entered expressing that they were so occupied, the others to be classed in the same way as other women respecting whom no employment was entered - under the head of Domestic Duties.

This mouthful was written by a man named Henry Haylyn Hayter in 1891, justifying the decision not to classify farm work done by women as farm work. Can you imagine, in 1891, all the manual labour that those women did? This quote boggles my mind, because he starts by acknowledging the work women do, in fact, he acknowledges that before now- they were reported as working in agriculture. He then goes on to openly advocate for hiding that work in the statistics, not for the good of the women, not for the good of farms or rural communities, but because of how it would make Australia look. This change was made, women were thrown under the bus, in the name of ‘protecting’ Australia’s reputation.

 Eloise Vinen hand milking cows at Channel Farm, Nyah West, near Swan Hill, 1924. Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/773890

Eloise Vinen hand milking cows at Channel Farm, Nyah West, near Swan Hill, 1924. Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/773890

What’s more frustrating, is that he succeeded. The myth that women did not work on the land, that the work they did, did not constitute farming persisted into the twentieth century as policy makers, statisticians, cultural commentators, and historians looked to this census data to find; rural women doing ‘Domestic Duties’, whatever that meant.

Only recently have researchers been challenging this. A few years ago, the historian Kathryn M. Hunter had the idea of looking at the local council rates books to fill in this story of farm women and their supposed domestic duties. She found that between 1880-1930 women rate-payers represented between 5-25% of ratepayers in rural shires. 7% of farms here in Shepparton had their rates paid for by women, those women held an average of 204 acres each.

 A single woman driving a horse and cart in an orchard in Merrigum, near Shepparton, circa 1910

A single woman driving a horse and cart in an orchard in Merrigum, near Shepparton, circa 1910

Most importantly, when these women paid their rates they would write their profession, and suddenly ‘domestic duties’ became ‘grazier’ and ‘farmer’ or  ‘dairy maid’, ‘milk woman’, ‘apiarist’ and ‘orchardist’. Hunter also found land-owning women who were butchers, publicans, factory-owners, hotel-keepers, nurses, dressmakers and postmistresses. What a more interesting picture, this paints! When women are given space to define themselves we see the full diversity of rural Australia, and the many fronts on which women contribute to these communities.

 Women and children working on irrigation channels near Shepparton in the small town of Merrigum, circa 1910-1920. Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/765157

Women and children working on irrigation channels near Shepparton in the small town of Merrigum, circa 1910-1920. Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/765157

We also see that women have been farming this land as long as we’ve been here, that the labour of these women has always been part of rural culture and the rural economy, yet for generations, when the question of rural women came before policy makers all we saw was ‘domestic duties’. Even in these rate books, the notion that women’s work was not farming spread; the rates of land-owning women did not decrease, however, Hunter found that over time, the numbers of women self-identifying as farmers, did.

 Aboriginal Australian women fishing in Lake Tyers, Victoria, ca. 1867 Charles Walter. Source: National Library of Australia .

Aboriginal Australian women fishing in Lake Tyers, Victoria, ca. 1867 Charles Walter. Source: National Library of Australia .

The history of women farming in this country started long before Henry Haylyn Hayter. Indigenous women had been fishing and farming this land for generations, and only recently has the work of Elizabeth MacArthur bringing the wool industry to Australia been properly acknowledged.

 Author of this novel Michelle Scott Tucker spoke at the AWiA Conference after Jessie and argued that Elizabeth should be a "household name".

Author of this novel Michelle Scott Tucker spoke at the AWiA Conference after Jessie and argued that Elizabeth should be a "household name".

My early research has uncovered countless women in rural communities and on farms doing incredible work in the most impossible of circumstances, like Ellen Kelly, mother of Ned who relied on her family knowledge of dairying, and a sly grog shop, to get by after being widowed at 34. There are other, less well-known people like Annie Smith, a World War One nurse who took up a solider settlement in Victoria, and would trade nursing advice for free labour. She also helped soldiers who had returned to the community suffering shell shock. Or Vera Adamthwaite, from Kerang who joined the Country Party in 1950 and advocated for more women to join politics for decades.

 Mrs Kelly and family group outside the Kelly homestead, ca 1881. Source: State Library of Victoria. 

Mrs Kelly and family group outside the Kelly homestead, ca 1881. Source: State Library of Victoria. 

Even organisations of rural women struggled to achieve national respect and recognition. Consider the Women’s Land Army, who created a community of women working to feed Australia in times of great stress, yet were not permitted to march in the Anzac day parade until 1981, and didn’t receive official medals until 2012.

 Australian Women's Land Army, 1942- 1945: Source: Australian War Memorial. 

Australian Women's Land Army, 1942- 1945: Source: Australian War Memorial. 

There are recurring themes in so many of these stories; invariably these women face the judgements and prejudices of the State, or even just from what the ‘national cultural expectations were’, but thanks to their own personal determination, and usually with help from their local communities- these women are nothing if not master networkers- they make prosperous lives for themselves, and go on to feed our nation, not just in the literal sense, but in a cultural sense.

I hope I’ve made clear, all these women were farmers- in a number of different senses- and their communities recognised and valued the work they did- yet on a national level, they weren’t recognised.

Case Study: The Mildura Fruit Picker's Case

There is one case in particular which has fascinated me; The Rural Workers’ Union and South Australian United Labourers’ Union vs Australian Dried Fruits Association and Others case, which today is better known has the Mildura Fruit Pickers Case. In 1912 a group of women, in front of their bosses and an almost entirely male court room argued for higher wages. Women’s wages had been fixed at a permanently lower rate since the Harvester Judgement in 1907, now in front of the same judge, they argued that they deserved more for their work. The Harvester Judgement had decreed that men deserved a higher wage because they were required to financially support their family, this legally positioned women as dependents, not providers. When the Mildura Fruit Pickers and Packers took the witness stand they told the court about the work they did on the land to support their families.

 A woman and man sorting and packing fruit in Mildura, circa 1905. Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/771247

A woman and man sorting and packing fruit in Mildura, circa 1905. Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/771247

As with the Rate Books Hunter studied, through this case, we get an insight to the sheer diversity of rural women’s work. The women were all members of the Rural Workers Union. They were all seasonal workers, some were pickers whilst others pitted and packed the fresh and dried fruits. Some came from farm families with their own orchids, and this work was supplementing the family income. Others were supporting whole families on this highly seasonal labour. Some lived in town, others on small properties. Some were married, others widowed, others single and never married. They all earned between three and eight shillings a day, it was standard practice that women would be paid 54% of the male rate.

 A woman and man picking and packing fruit in Merrigum near Shepparton, Victoria, circa 1910-1920, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/765101

A woman and man picking and packing fruit in Merrigum near Shepparton, Victoria, circa 1910-1920, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/765101

As a historian, the documents from this court case are an exciting resource; women talk frankly about their work on the land and in the factories, the difficulty of working outdoors in the Mildura climate, which is something I’m sure many women here are more than aware of, and the expertise required to do parts of their jobs. They refuted claims from the opposing lawyers that seasonal work was like a ‘holiday’ and a way for them to earn ‘pocket money’. Male and female workers testified that they worked as fast, and often faster than the male pickers. They also talked about their families, many of them worked alongside their teenage daughters and most of them had a family structure which relied on their income, like Rebecca Tizard a 46-year-old widow, living with four of her five children in a three-bedroom house, and totally relied on her picking income and the income of her children.

 Men and women working in an apple orchard in Merrigum near Shepparton, circa 1910s. Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/11549

Men and women working in an apple orchard in Merrigum near Shepparton, circa 1910s. Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/11549

Ultimately, Justice Higgins ruled partially in the favour of the women. He decided that the women who were picking were doing “men’s work”, and therefore deserved the male wage, however, he found the work of packers to be more “naturally” women’s work, and therefore did not require equal pay. Historians remember the Mildura Fruit Pickers case as the case which legally justified the myth that there was men’s and women’s work, and that women’s work should be paid less.

But I think that by studying the evidence of these women, we see the way rural women work is uniquely unsuited to this division. For starters, who has just one job? Many of these women were at one time or another both pickers and packers, and most of them were doing untold amounts of unpaid labour as mothers, wives and daughters. When we talk about a history of rural women, it’s not sufficient to look at how they define their employment on the census, or how much they are paid. I don’t need to tell you that the labour of rural women is better characterised as an incalculable number of tasks, requiring varying amounts of mental and physical labour, and that their contribution to a family income would be almost impossible to quantify given the levels of unpaid work that is expected of many, if not most women. The experience of rural women teaches researchers like myself that we cannot define work by a wage, we cannot define a home, or home duties by the exterior walls of a house and that we should never, ever define a woman by the job of her husband or father.

 Men, women and children sharing the fruit picking duties, Silvan, Victoria, circa pre-1930s, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/774208

Men, women and children sharing the fruit picking duties, Silvan, Victoria, circa pre-1930s, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/774208

By the way, the historian Ruth Ford looked into the background of the women who testified in the Mildura Fruit Pickers Case. Despite describing the back-breaking labour of fruit picking and fruit packing, almost every female member of the Rural Women’s Union described their work as ‘home duties’ on the electoral role. This says two things to me; the first, is that just like in 1891 their work was having a real impact, and was being acknowledged in rural communities, but was not being recognised on a national level. But it says something else too, it says that we need to look at what it means when someone identifies themselves with home duties, or domestic duties, or house wife, or farmer’s wife. Because we are talking about a radically different understanding about what it is to work in and support a home, and what is to be a wife.

The Invisible Farmer 

Let’s fast-forward to 1992, to The Invisible Farmer’s Report, the namesake of our project and a real turning point in terms of how rural women were discussed in government. The report argued that: ‘Once broader social attitudes enable the contribution of farm women to be recognised and visible, then men and women farmers will be able to work together to shape the future of agriculture.’ We could have a whole other conference on the findings of this report; it found what many people had always known to be true, that women play a crucial role on family farms and in rural communities. That this role is often unpaid, often unrecognised and often rendered invisible. It called on governments and policy makers to consider the experience of rural women and the debt Australia owes their labour.

 Julie Williams, author of the Invisible Farmer Report in 1992. To read more about this report and it's significant to the Rural Women's Movement, head over to Museums Victoria's collections here:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/14509

Julie Williams, author of the Invisible Farmer Report in 1992. To read more about this report and it's significant to the Rural Women's Movement, head over to Museums Victoria's collections here: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/14509

But I wanted to end with one final thought, or, I guess, a question. What do you think of the title, our name, 'The Invisible Farmer Project'? My first instinct was to react against it, I thought to myself; ‘how silly, women have been on our land forever, women have been sharing their stories and forming communities forever, who are we to call them invisible?’ But then I thought to myself that the term invisible does not suggest that something isn’t there, it suggests that someone is unable or unwilling to see it. My work is about making your work, and the work of the women on the land that came before you easier to see, especially to people who may not want to. Easier to see to all the people that were fooled by Henry Haylyn Hayter’s amendment to the census almost 100 years before the first Australian Women in Agriculture Conference, 99 years before the Invisible Farmer Report. 

 A powerful visual demonstration of "invisibility" and what happens if you type the words "Australian Farmer" into Google in 2018 - the majority of images representing men. This slide was taken from a previous presentation by Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria, Invisible Farmer Project).

A powerful visual demonstration of "invisibility" and what happens if you type the words "Australian Farmer" into Google in 2018 - the majority of images representing men. This slide was taken from a previous presentation by Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria, Invisible Farmer Project).

 A small sample of stories/images that have been collected thus far by the Invisible Farmer Project, aiming to make women's stories and histories more visible. This slide was taken from a previous presentation by Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria, Invisible Farmer Project).

A small sample of stories/images that have been collected thus far by the Invisible Farmer Project, aiming to make women's stories and histories more visible. This slide was taken from a previous presentation by Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria, Invisible Farmer Project).

I would urge you all to consider the ways in which you define your work, and the work of others, and imagine what it could mean to the future generations of women on the land, and also to the men and women who determine national rural policies. I would urge you all to continue the work you are doing, to force people to recognise the work rural women everywhere are doing to sustain our communities and feed our country.

 Women participating in a tour during the 25 Year AWiA Conference, 19 August 2018.

Women participating in a tour during the 25 Year AWiA Conference, 19 August 2018.

I would like to end by asking a favour of all of you; I’ve begun my research by focussing on the context in which the Rural Women’s Movement emerged. My next work will be to collaborate with the women involved to determine the ways in which the Movement was important to them, to you. If you were involved in the Movement, what does it mean to you? What was it that spoke to you, as a woman on the land? Was it the work of the Women on Farms Gatherings and their focus on upskilling, or succession planning? Was it Landcare, and what it expressed about the importance of sustainability or political action? Was it drought policy, which I’m sure is on many of your minds at the moment? Is it something I haven’t even thought of?

 Women on a tour at the 1994 Glenormiston Women on Farms Gathering, Source: Museums Victoria. 

Women on a tour at the 1994 Glenormiston Women on Farms Gathering, Source: Museums Victoria. 

I hope I’ve shown today that the stories of rural women are not always in the documents left behind, that the work we are doing on this project is about preserving your stories, and what’s important to you, for future generations.

Finally, I want to congratulate you. I said at the beginning of this presentation that I am in awe of everything the women in this room have achieved and I would like to reiterate that now. The Australian Rural Women’s Movement was unprecedented, and had global implications. This weekend is a celebration of that, and a promise to direct that creative energy towards the next 25 years, and the challenges they will bring, and I am so very grateful for your time.

 

Get in touch

Were you involved with the Rural Women's Movement? Do you have a story that you would like to share with Jessie? If so, please get in touch with her using the below form:

 

Name *
Name
*If you would like to submit your story confidentially, feel free to use a pseudonym

 

Works Cited

 Hayter, Henry Heylyn Census of Victoria, 1891, General Report (Melbourne, 1893)

Williams, Julie ‘The Invisible Farmer- a summary report on Australian farm women’ (Canberra, 1992)

Ford, Ruth. “‘I Am Not Satisfied’: Identity, Unionism and Rural Women’s Labour in 1912 Australia.” History Australia 2, no. 1 (2005): 1–12.

Grimshaw, Patricia, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath, and Marian Quartly. Creating a Nation. Melbourne: McPhee Gribble, 1994.

Hunter, Kathryn M. “The Drover’s Wife and the Drover’s Daughter: Histories of Single Farming Women and Debates in Australian Historiography.” Rural History 12, no. 2 (2001): 179–94.

Lake, Marilyn. “Annie Smith: ‘Soldier Settler.’” In Double Time: Women in Victoria - 150 Years, edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly, 297–305. Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, 1985.

———. “The Trials of Ellen Kelly.” In Double Time: Women in Victoria - 150 Years, edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly, 86–97. Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, 1985.

Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu : Black Seeds Agriculture or Accident? Broome: Magabala Books, 2014.

Tucker, Michelle Scott. Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2018.

White, Kate. “Vera Adamthwaite: A Countrywoman in Politics.” In Double Time: Women in Victoria - 150 Years, edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly, 431–37. Ringwood, 1985. 

"A Rewarding Career in Ag'": Rayali Banerjee

Rayali Banerjee was born in India and spent her childhood in Malaysia and Singapore before her family moved to Australia in 2003. Rayali became fascinated by farming and agriculture whilst travelling in rural India at the age of 13. She went on to study a double degree in Agricultural Sciences and Business at La Trobe University (Melbourne) and is now pursuing a career in Australian agriculture. She is currently working as a graduate Analyst in the Regional and Agribusiness Banking segment at Commonwealth Bank. In this blog post Rayali reflects on what she learnt during her travels through India, her experiences of studying Ag at University and working in the Ag sector, along with the challenges and highlights of coming from a non-farming background. She also leaves her readers with a call to action and encourages YOU to get in touch if you have further questions about pursuing a career in Ag.

 Rayali Banerjee on a farm in Temora, New South Wales.

Rayali Banerjee on a farm in Temora, New South Wales.

Dear readers,

My name is Rayali Banerjee and I have just completed a double degree in Agricultural Sciences and Business at La Trobe University, Bundoora. I was approached by the college of Science, Health and Engineering to share my story regarding my motivations for undertaking a degree in Agriculture (Ag), the challenges I faced not being from a farming background and the opportunities I chased that allowed me to kick-start a rewarding career in Ag.

My Background and Journey into Studying Agriculture

To give you a bit of a background about myself, I was born in India then moved to Malaysia with my family and lived in Kuala Lumpur for 2 years. My family then moved to Singapore and we lived there for 6 years before moving to Melbourne in 2003. Growing up in Singapore and Malaysia I had a childhood that was predominantly "urban" due to the fact that I was surrounded by concrete jungles and high-rise apartments. I certainly did not grow up on a farm, however I was drawn to nature and animals from a young age and remember dragging my parents along to playgrounds and interacting with wildlife at the local zoo or beach. 

 Rayali enjoying an outdoor park in Singapore as a toddler.  

Rayali enjoying an outdoor park in Singapore as a toddler.  

Although I didn't grow up on a farm, agriculture and its challenges have been a part of my life from a young age. I was thirteen when my family took me on a trip to visit my grandparents in Kolkata, India. I remember driving through the countryside on a hot summer’s day to visit some temples (places of worship) when my family stopped to visit a farming community on the way. The images of huts made from straw and clay, wooden beds and lack of infrastructure are still vivid in my memory.

 A photo taken in Kolkata, India, showing Rayali (left) holding a baby goat. "This is where it all began", recalls Rayali, "I had my first interactions with farmers in this village, and spoke to them about the farming challenges that they faced." 

A photo taken in Kolkata, India, showing Rayali (left) holding a baby goat. "This is where it all began", recalls Rayali, "I had my first interactions with farmers in this village, and spoke to them about the farming challenges that they faced." 

As a curious thirteen year old, I questioned some of the farmers about their livelihoods. These farmers spoke to me about their sorrows and desperation they faced trying to save their crops from pests, disease and drought. They mentioned that they did not have access to basic Ag inputs, farm management knowledge and government funding to sustain their livelihoods and feed their families.

This phenomenon led me to ask many questions throughout my teenage years including: how is it that in Australia we always have access to fresh food? How did some of the poorest farmers in India support their families and work towards addressing the nation’s food insecurity issues? How is it that farmers who are unable to sustain their own livelihoods were the happiest and most giving people I had met? When it came to choosing a degree at the end of year 12, I knew I had to study something that allowed me to apply my curious and innovative mind-set and nurture my passion for supporting farmers, the environment and animals.

 "This is one of my granddad in his home in Kolkata sharing his wisdom with me. My granddad (and grandmother) is one of my biggest sources for my inspiration and he is currently helping me grow one of my start-ups, even at the age of 81!"  

"This is one of my granddad in his home in Kolkata sharing his wisdom with me. My granddad (and grandmother) is one of my biggest sources for my inspiration and he is currently helping me grow one of my start-ups, even at the age of 81!"
 

 "This photo was taken in front of my grandparents house. The man with all the plastic goods on the bicycle does his rounds selling his product everyday in my grandparents neighbourhood."

"This photo was taken in front of my grandparents house. The man with all the plastic goods on the bicycle does his rounds selling his product everyday in my grandparents neighbourhood."

My mum found the double degree at La Trobe and after speaking with Peter Sale (previous Ag Science course coordinator) at the La Trobe open day, I was convinced that the double degree was the best option for me. An aspect of the degree which appealed to me was the 3-month work experience component which equips students with vital hands-on experiences. I remember that on my first day of University I was so excited to get to class that I forgot which buses and trains I needed to take to get there! Luckily, I left three hours before my class began and made it just in time.

 A photo during Rayali's studies at La Trobe University: "This photo shows a stall that I set up at La Trobe. Along with my course co-ordinator and professors, I attended the La Trobe open day where I was speaking to students from year 10-12 about careers in Ag and advocating for the Ag Science degree at La Trobe (one of the best ones going around)!"

A photo during Rayali's studies at La Trobe University: "This photo shows a stall that I set up at La Trobe. Along with my course co-ordinator and professors, I attended the La Trobe open day where I was speaking to students from year 10-12 about careers in Ag and advocating for the Ag Science degree at La Trobe (one of the best ones going around)!"

Looking back, the first year of Uni was the hardest as I had big goals that I wanted to achieve but those goals seemed distant as I struggled to understand basic Ag concepts. When I spoke to my peers who had grown up on farms, they were always on top of the content and through many discussions it became evident that coming from a farm helped immensely. However, I did not let this stop me and although I did not know it at the time, I believe with the benefit of hindsight that coming from a non-farming background was actually the biggest advantage I had.
 

Agricultural Work Experience in Bangalore, India

Throughout first year, I was knocked back from several internships so I began to brain storm ways in which I could turn my adversities into opportunities. I thought about the reason I wanted to study Ag which is my passion for enhancing the livelihoods of farmers. To act on this passion, I liaised with the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India who accepted me as a student intern and allowed me to have the experience of a lifetime. Upon arriving in Bangalore and working with farmers, I immediately noticed that not much had changed. Farmers still did not receive funding from the government and lacked basic farm management skills.

 Rayali whilst interning with the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India. Here she learns how to till soil manually with a local farming group.

Rayali whilst interning with the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India. Here she learns how to till soil manually with a local farming group.

 Rayali sharing some chocolate with a local boy in Bangalore, India.

Rayali sharing some chocolate with a local boy in Bangalore, India.

I worked with a senior agronomist who provided agronomy services to thousands of farmers and this meant he did not have time to advocate for farmers’ rights. This fuelled my motivation to make a difference in the lives of as many farmers as I could reach. I worked 14 hour days, seven days a week to put my plan into action. I compiled research and travelled to many parts of Bangalore to speak to local governments regarding funding, I conducted industry workshops to empower farmers to start selling their produce nationally and internationally and worked with agronomists to generate integrated pest management (IPM) programs.

 "The village Panchpir where I was working with smallholder farmers. In this photo, I had just bought the kids some chips and chocolate (shop pictured behind us)."

"The village Panchpir where I was working with smallholder farmers. In this photo, I had just bought the kids some chips and chocolate (shop pictured behind us)."

   
  
   
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  "This is an innovative version of a pesticide sprayer made from an old scooter", says Rayali. 

"This is an innovative version of a pesticide sprayer made from an old scooter", says Rayali. 

It was such a thrill to see that my hard work started to pay off during and after my work in Bangalore; many farmers began to successfully implement and see reduction in pest populations; they also began to sell outside local markets and secure funding from their local government for basic Ag inputs such as pesticide sprayers and fertilizers. This experience was exhilarating, rewarding and fulfilling. As well as the direct Ag work, I also enjoyed being able to work with younger Bangalore students and help to teach them English in the classroom, as well as sharing stories with this younger generation about farming in both Australia and Bangalore. It was an amazing overseas internship opportunity and I learnt a lot.

 Rayali teaching students English in a classroom in Bangalore.

Rayali teaching students English in a classroom in Bangalore.

The power of networking and persisting despite setbacks 

Once I arrived back in Australia, I took the energy and inspiration that this project had given me and decided to do something meaningful with it. I knew I still had a long way to go to develop and nurture my leadership skills and experiences in the Ag industry and I wanted to gain more experience to implement this. I applied for an internship with a multinational (MNC) company (Syngenta) that I had been following for a few years. I took the knowledge I had and thoroughly prepared for the interview. I found out a few weeks later that I did not get through and although it was another setback, I immediately started brainstorming ways I could create an opportunity with this company.

I had been following a senior leader who worked for Syngenta on social media for a while and although he was based in Singapore at the time, he was attending a conference in Melbourne and I jumped with joy as I thought I had finally figured out a way to meet him. The next barrier to entry was that the conference entry was $2500 USD. However, I did not allow this to be a barrier and I picked up the phone and called the company who were organising the event. They were based in New York and Hong Kong and so that involved a lot of late nights, emails and persistence. I was finally given the opportunity to attend this conference where I would be amongst Australian and international leaders in agribusiness, members of the government and producers.

 Rayali believes that conferences and public Ag events provide a great opportunity for networking and career growth. Image taken at an Intercollegiate Meat Judging Association (ICMJ) event that Rayali competed in. 

Rayali believes that conferences and public Ag events provide a great opportunity for networking and career growth. Image taken at an Intercollegiate Meat Judging Association (ICMJ) event that Rayali competed in. 

Throughout the day of the conference, I had the opportunity to listen to inspiring, funny and insightful panel speakers. I remember during the first break I was looking around at a room full of CEO’s and thinking “how do I approach someone so successful without anything to offer?” To overcome my thoughts and insecurities, I pictured the big goals I had in my mind and I took a leap of faith and approached the Managing Director of a successful Australian agribusiness. The conversation I had ended up being one of the most important to date.

During the next few breaks, I spoke to almost everyone who attended the conference and through my conversations with the attendees, I realised that my passion and my willingness to go above and beyond was my strongest asset. Attending this conference was a turning point for me as I met some of my most inspiring mentors here. During the conference, I wrote down every piece of information I was given and afterwards, I followed up with all the connections I made. Because of my persistence and willingness to step out of my comfort zone, I was given the opportunity to undertake an internship with a Melbourne based agribusiness and the MNC that had knocked me back just a few months prior.

 Part of Rayali's work experience and internship: "Here I'm immersing myself in beekeeping. On a side note,   did you know that 65% of agricultural production in Australia depends on pollination by European honeybees and that one in every three mouthfuls of food that we consume comes from the aid of pollination by honeybees!" 

Part of Rayali's work experience and internship: "Here I'm immersing myself in beekeeping. On a side note, did you know that 65% of agricultural production in Australia depends on pollination by European honeybees and that one in every three mouthfuls of food that we consume comes from the aid of pollination by honeybees!" 

During my time working with the Melbourne based business, goFARM,go I had some amazing hands-on experiences on farms and spent a lot of time with beekeepers, biosecurity officers, farmers and on the company farms that grew grains (wheat and barley).  My work was wide and varied; I researched and investigated potential investment opportunities in the apiculture industry; I learnt about bee keeping and visited apiculture farms; developed an understanding of agricultural asset management, due diligence and return potentials for various high value cash crops; generated cash flow and predictive models relating to current and future investments; managed goFARM's relationship with leading apiculture professionals and provided recommendations and strategies for investment opportunities in apiculture to senior board members and stakeholders. 

 Part of Rayali's work experience and internship involved visiting lots of farms, including grain farms: "grain bags filled with grain right after harvest has finished. Grain bags are suited for short-term, high volume grains to assist with harvest logistics."

Part of Rayali's work experience and internship involved visiting lots of farms, including grain farms: "grain bags filled with grain right after harvest has finished. Grain bags are suited for short-term, high volume grains to assist with harvest logistics."

During my internship I always had access to senior management and worked in an environment where I was encouraged to make the project I was given my own. I was supported to travel, visit farms, network with stakeholders, attend conferences and undertake any opportunity which I deemed would be necessary for the success of the project. I also had the opportunity to present and make my own recommendations to the board. These experiences boosted my confidence, equipped me with essential corporate skills, allowed me to strengthen my networks and make a positive contribution in an industry I am passionate about. Having access to senior management was incredible as I learnt about each team member’s journey regarding where they began their career, challenges they faced and the successes they made from their hardships.

Travelling throughout developing countries in Asia

After this stint, I travelled around Asia with Syngenta and I was able to make a contribution towards Ag in developing countries. During these travels I met some incredible people and learned about new methods of farming. Together with community members and farmers that I met, we worked towards creating initiatives that would enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers; an essential part of these initiatives was the time I spent communicating with many smallholder farming communities.

   
  
   
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    "This is me with a bunch of smart primary school kids who are ecstatic to have had a system built in their school which will provide them with access to clean drinking water." Photo taken during Rayali's travels throughout Asia.

"This is me with a bunch of smart primary school kids who are ecstatic to have had a system built in their school which will provide them with access to clean drinking water." Photo taken during Rayali's travels throughout Asia.

This travel and work was busy and exciting - I immersed myself in corporate social responsibility projects, flew to a new city almost every day, networked with members of government and the global Syngenta team, learned how to breed rice for varying climatic and soil conditions and implemented apps and created business plans which support the efficacy of data collection in Ag systems. The words that come to mind when I reflect on these overseas experiences are inspiring, challenging and life-changing. 

 "Sharing jokes with Naik, a woman who advocates and inspires other women to pursue a career in Ag."

"Sharing jokes with Naik, a woman who advocates and inspires other women to pursue a career in Ag."

Pursuing my career in Australian Ag

After arriving back in Melbourne, I continued to network with everyone I had interacted with during my internships. Alongside this, the inspiring experiences I had with passionate people continue to fuel my own passion for Ag. This allows me to implement my life motto which is to wake up every day and pursue my passion in Ag. I continued to attend national and international conferences, grow my network and strengthen my understanding of Australian Ag by competing in various student based agricultural competitions and gained hands-on experience in farm management through working in dairy, cropping and beef properties as well as on a research farm. These empowering experiences added value to my personal brand and equipped me with essential soft skills. I was able to secure a job before I graduated with Commonwealth Bank in their Regional and Agribusiness Banking graduate program.

 Rayali gaining work experience on an oyster farm in Wonboyn, New South Wales.

Rayali gaining work experience on an oyster farm in Wonboyn, New South Wales.

Words cannot describe the extent to which these experiences, leadership opportunities and my academic and professional mentors have inspired me to excel in my studies and supported me to kick-start my career in Ag. Once I had a clear picture and a pathway to my goals, I went from being a credit average student to a high distinction student. Because of the inspiration, motivation and life-changing experiences I have transformed into someone who is constantly seeking knowledge, creating ideas, innovating and curious about all things Aussie Ag. I have found that not being from a farm has been the biggest blessing as I am always questioning the norm and providing solutions to do things differently and more efficiently in farming systems.

 Rayali gaining work experience at a cropping farm in Balranald, New South Wales.

Rayali gaining work experience at a cropping farm in Balranald, New South Wales.

Aspirations to make a difference and help others

From a young age, I have undertaken humanitarian work with charities, orphanages, animal welfare organisations and in various other areas. In my spare time, I teach English to Sudanese refugees, mentor young students, travel to developing countries once a year and run different initiatives to empower smallholder farming communities. My humanitarian-focused philosophy has been ingrained in my mind-set since I was very young. This, alongside my experiences in the Ag industry so far, has instilled my aspirations to make a difference in the lives of farmers, farming communities and provide the opportunities I have had to students studying agriculture and any related degrees.

 Rayali's graduation in December 2017, La Trobe University.

Rayali's graduation in December 2017, La Trobe University.

I have founded two start-ups because of my personal philosophy. The first is focussed on providing sustainable and affordable electricity to rural communities in developing countries. The second is a national initiative which is all about connecting consumers and farmers and providing students with access to global internships, career boot camps, conferences and mentoring opportunities. I encourage my readers to get in touch with me if you would like to hear more, get involved, take up internship and conference opportunities and fast-track your career in Ag. Even if you are not studying Ag and want to know how to find your own path, or learn more about Agriculture, get in touch with me as I run a mentoring initiative part of which aims to educate young people about careers in Ag. 
 

 Rayali on a farm in Temora, New South Wales.

Rayali on a farm in Temora, New South Wales.

Advice to young women considering a career in Ag

Here are the most important lessons I have learned so far. I hope these lessons inspire you to begin your own journey into an area you love:

1.     When choosing a degree, make sure you study a topic or many topics that you are curious about. If you have a vague idea about what you like studying, follow it and take every opportunity to unravel the layers to discover what your passion is. You could start by joining student associations, attending career fairs, networking events and undertaking internships. Don’t study a degree for the sake of it or because it’s what your friends and family want you to do. Do your research, talk to people in your chosen industry and find out about the career opportunities.

2.     When you come across an interesting organisation, pick up the phone and give them a call. Most of you probably have unlimited calls to Australian numbers and you may have minutes allocated for international numbers too. Employers love initiative!

3.     Make sure that you have a coffee with EVERYONE. You never know where it will take you, what you can learn from them, how you can make an impact in their life and what opportunities will come out of it.

4.     It is quite normal to have a vision about life and how it should work out. However, if it doesn’t happen and we have setbacks, we often think of giving up. But life is a test and a trial and tests are not meant to be easy. If you are expecting ease from life and life gives you lemons, make lemonade and do not blame life for that. It is OKAY to fail, fall and have setbacks. When you fail, accept the failure, get back up and work even harder to achieve that goal, because you value the hard work it takes to set yourself on the path to success.

5.     Break down your goals into yearly, monthly and daily goals. When I used to glance over an entire semesters worth of work, I would stress about the quantity of the content. I soon realised that we all have the potential to do more if we break things down. My daily goal was to read five chapters a day but break it down to complete one chapter an hour. After each hour, I would then take a break and do something I love such as tend to my garden, ride my bike or chat to my family. To achieve your goals, you must apply discipline and be consistent everyday. When you begin the semester, plan ahead and strategically write down what you wish to accomplish everyday. Hard work truly works. You will feel successful after the semester is over when you reflect on your accomplishments. Do not be afraid to jump in joy when you have succeeded in something you set your mind on but remember to keep moving forward.

6.     Once you find yourself running forward and progressing along your path, don’t forget to look behind you and help someone else out. Don’t aspire to just make a living, aspire to make a contribution in all walks of life.

7.     Soak up the perks of being a student especially when it comes to attending events, reaching out to your teachers and interacting with leaders and peers in your chosen industry. Do not forget that you are the future of the industry and employers, companies and leaders who are already established want you to flourish to ensure the future of that industry stays successful.

8.     Happiness in life, career, studies and other aspects that you value lies in gratitude so take the time to reflect on how far you have come. Be grateful and make the most of each and every moment. 

 

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'My deep connection to agriculture': how 21-year-old Laura Lewis quit her academic studies in Melbourne to pursue a lifelong dream to live and work on an Outback station

By Laura Lewis

21-year-old Laura Lewis grew up on her family's sheep and cropping farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Western Victoria, and now lives and works at Riveren Station in the Northern Territory. She is passionate about the agricultural industry and is currently studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management by correspondence with Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga). We would like to thank Laura for submitting this story about how she came to find herself working in the Australian Outback, and what led her to quit a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne to pursue her passion for farming, agriculture and Outback life.

 Laura Lewis on horseback at Riveren Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura Lewis on horseback at Riveren Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

I grew up on my parents’ sheep and cropping farm, Nerrin Nerrin, in Western Victoria. I am the middle daughter of three girls. Having all daughters ultimately forced my dad to have a gender-equal workplace – whether he wanted to or not! But, especially as we entered our teens, Dad loved capitalising on his home-grown workforce. Having my incredibly capable mother involved on Nerrin as a role model also shined the way for us to have confidence in our own strength and brains, just as she did on the farm. Mum’s work was limitless and included mustering and working sheep with quad bikes and kelpies, all the yard work from drafting to drenching to rousabouting at shearing and crutching, operating a plethora of machinery for both the sheep side and cropping side of the farm (such as front-end loaders and tractors for feeding sheep), working the paddocks for sowing, and then learning to operate the air-seeder and boom-spray, carting grain with chaser bins and trucks, and spending endless hours on the header at harvest time. We did all of these jobs between the ages of 12 and 18. I remember that, at the time, I didn’t feel all that capable when compared to a lot of other farm kids, and it wasn’t until much later that I came to have a little pride in what we did as kids for our family farm.

 

 Laura as a child on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura as a child on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

 Laura as a child with her two sister on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura as a child with her two sister on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

When I finished high school in 2015, my favourite subjects were English Literature, Music and French. I felt that I had two distinct sides of myself each pulling me in a different direction for my future – my love for language and my deep connection to agriculture. My ATAR score was good enough that I could do whatever I wanted, but I felt that this made my choice that much harder. After hours of emotional deliberation, I enrolled to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and commenced in February 2016. I hated it! I rang my mum in tears night after night, wondering why I wasn’t happy. Not only did I feel like I didn’t fit in, but I couldn’t find any sense in what I was studying – where would this lead me? How could I use this degree to live a life that I wanted? I spent exactly four weeks living on campus at Ormond College and studying the degree. Eventually, in one of our teary phone calls, Mum said to me; “It’s ok Laura. You can stop if you want. You always have a job on the farm if you want it.” So, I deferred the next day and returned home to Nerrin to work for the next 5 months, paying back my parents for the cost of college.

 Laura and her sister Alice on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura and her sister Alice on the family farm in Nerrin Nerrin, Victoria, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Frustratingly, I was still unhappy. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Like I was doing the same things over and over and not learning anything new. I wanted more. My Mum, younger sister Alice and I went on a road trip that June around country New South Wales (NSW). We visited a few friends on sheep and cattle stations around there. The weekend that I turned 19, we were at a friend’s station near Lightning Ridge, NSW, and I was inspired. I decided I was going to look for a job on a station. It was something I’d always dreamed of doing, but never felt like I was capable enough. I didn’t care where the station was and I didn’t care if it was sheep or cattle – I just wanted to try it. I was terrified and doubted myself immensely – I had no experience with cattle or horses or anything like that, and above all, I just didn’t think I was tough enough to handle station work or lifestyle. Nonetheless, I eventually got a job through my parents’ friends on a cattle station called Inverway, in remote NT, as a gardener (with no experience in gardening). I arrived mid-July 2016.

 A road trip selfie from Laura's travels with her mother and sister in the New South Wales Outback, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

A road trip selfie from Laura's travels with her mother and sister in the New South Wales Outback, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

 A road trip photo from Laura's travels in the New South Wales Outback, Clay Pan, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

A road trip photo from Laura's travels in the New South Wales Outback, Clay Pan, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

I remember my first few phone calls to my parents. They said it was happiest I had ever sounded. And I was! After a few weeks, one of the backpackers in the stock-camp left. I pestered our headstock-person, a girl named Samantha, every single night to tell the manager she needed an extra pair of hands for the next day’s job so that I could come along. Eventually, everyone just accepted that I was part of the stock-camp! And I absolutely loved it. I was learning something new every single day. I was using muscles I had never used before and falling into bed every night exhausted and exhilarated. I learnt to ride a two-wheeled motorbike and a horse, and to use them to muster cattle. I learnt to work cattle in a yard starting with the simplest things like vaccinating, ear-tagging and working the race, and moving up to things like pound-drafting, working the back-yards and dehorning at branding. I had my fair share of injuries, and during that September spent 2 weeks in Darwin Hospital after I jammed my finger in a gate and a cow collided with it, chopping off the top of my finger. It was in those two weeks that I decided to return the next year after the wet season – I knew I hadn’t had enough of the experience yet and, besides, I still didn’t know if or what I wanted to study.

 Saddling up at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Saddling up at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

 Mustering at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Mustering at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.


In 2017 I spent a full year in the stock-camp on that same station. I continued to learn so much and grow my skill-base, including doing jobs such as bore-running and road building. That year, our stock-camp was made up of 5 females and 3 males. It was a great balance, and all the girls stepped up to take on jobs that I had only ever seen done by boys. It was inspiring; every shred of praise I got from our head stockman, Rick, or our manager, Gavin, I held on to for weeks. I wanted to be the best and the strongest and the most efficient at everything! It was tiring but I loved it.

 Helicopter mustering whilst working at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Helicopter mustering whilst working at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

The neighbouring station was owned by the same company as us, and we shared a helicopter for mustering, which meant their pilot, Jamie, was often working and living with us at Inverway. I fell for him as soon as I met him, back in mid-2016, but we didn’t start ‘dating’ (as much as you can ‘date’ someone 600 kilometres from the nearest town!) until mid-2017 when he had moved to Inverway to be the overseer. By the close of the year, he and I had been offered the overseer’s position at the neighbouring station. I was incredibly nervous, having only been working on a station for barely 18 months, but I see now that this job is by no means for one person. Despite dealing with the odd accusation of having ‘slept my way to the top’, I know I can maintain that I have enough skills and natural leadership to uphold this position with pride.

 Helicopter mustering whilst working at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Helicopter mustering whilst working at Inverway Station, Northern Territory, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

So just before Christmas in 2017, we moved next door (150kms away) to Riveren Station. It is now mid-June and we have been overseeing the workings of this cattle station for over 6 months. I am mostly in the office or bore running, as well as managing my garden (not sure if 2016 me would have seen this coming – back in the garden)! We have a crew of 10 staff; some complete rookies and some who’ve been working in the industry for 10 or more years. I have definitely found this hard – not only from having just 2 years of station experience, but appearing to be in a position of authority because of my relationship status. I’ve learnt to select wisely the people whose opinion matters to me, and to always be able to prove myself if I ever feel the need. Every so often, I get called out to fill in for a yard day or branding, and it’s definitely satisfying to remind everyone, including myself, that I can do this work just as well as the next ringer. Every single day presents new challenges. As with any agricultural enterprise, sometimes we hate it and sometimes we love it. Most of the time though, I just can’t imagine living anywhere else or doing anything else.

 Laura with her partner Jamie, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura with her partner Jamie, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

 A common daily view for Laura as she studies her Bachelor of Agricultural Business remotely, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

A common daily view for Laura as she studies her Bachelor of Agricultural Business remotely, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Just before we moved over to Riveren, I applied to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management, part time, by correspondence with Charles Sturt University in Wagga. I have just finished exams for my first completed semester, which I had to do at Inverway with my old boss as my examiner, as I’m too far from a remote exam centre! While figuring out the work/uni/life balance has been, and still is, a challenge, I am really enjoying not only stretching my brain again, but being a part of a community striving for change in the agricultural industry. It was actually through one of my subjects that I came across the Invisible Farmer Project and came to be sharing my story today.

 Laura captions this photo of herself, 'demonstrating OHS principles in the office'! For Laura, her duties include a combination of office work and outdoor work, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura captions this photo of herself, 'demonstrating OHS principles in the office'! For Laura, her duties include a combination of office work and outdoor work, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

I think that the most important idea I want to share with women through this platform is, to not be afraid. I know it’s intimidating stepping into an industry that appears to be dominated by males – but, in truth, there are women everywhere out here. I was always scared that I wouldn’t be ‘tough’ enough to measure up with the ringers out here, especially the boys. But I am, and you can be too! It’s all about getting through that first step of ‘scary’ and being open to learning. If you always aim to be the hardest worker in the yard, people will want to teach you. Once you’ve started, opportunities keep arising and things happen. Your knowledge and skills and strength, both physical and mental, will compound and grow. Try to have the confidence to start – to make that first baby step, whether it’s asking around for any kind of farm work or moving to the territory as a gardener with a secret plan to become a station hand! Whatever it is, there is an ever-growing place for women in agriculture – make the most of it! I'm sure glad I had enough confidence to make my first step into the ‘scary’. I hope you all will be too.

 Laura with two of her female colleagues at Riveren Station, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

Laura with two of her female colleagues at Riveren Station, image supplied by Laura Lewis.

'Mira will always love the land': Reflections on the life of 94 year-old wool classer and farmer Mira Galvin

By Catherine Keneley

Catherine Keneley is a postgraduate student completing a Master of Cultural Heritage at Deakin University. Catherine has a passion for history and culture. She is currently a volunteer at Melbourne Museum and has been working on the story of Mira Galvin.

For over 60 years Mira Galvin worked as a wool classer and a farmer at her family's property, "Coralya", near Holbrook NSW. In this blog Melbourne Museum volunteer Catherine Keneley reflects on Mira's career as a wool classer, her love of nature and her experiences of living and working on the land. 

Ever since I was a kid I have always had a great interest in history, culture and museums. Now as a young woman studying history and cultural heritage I have been able to develop an understanding of the value of history in recording the past, and in influencing beliefs and values in contemporary societies.

 Catherine Keneley working at her desk at Melbourne Museum.

Catherine Keneley working at her desk at Melbourne Museum.

 Catherine Keneley holding the letter that was posted in to Melbourne Museum from Aileen Spangaro. 

Catherine Keneley holding the letter that was posted in to Melbourne Museum from Aileen Spangaro. 

I am currently a volunteer at the Melbourne Museum.  Through my role with the Invisible Farmer Project with curators Liza Dale-Hallett and Catherine Forge I have discovered a wealth of stories about the lives of women living and working on the land. The everyday experiences of these incredible and resilient women add a human layer to our interpretation of the history of Australian farming and of life on the land. Sharing their stories is so important in highlighting their value as part of our national heritage. These stories also help wider society and people of all ages to understand the vital role women play in Australian farming and agriculture. 

6 months ago at Melbourne Museum I received a package filled with a treasure trove of photos and articles that had been posted into the museum by Aileen Spangaro about her sister Mira. This package arrived in an A4 envelope and contained a plethora of images and a beautifully hand-written letter. I soon came to learn it was an incredible story about Mira Galvin and her career as a wool classer and a farmer.

 An array of photographs and newspaper clippings that were sent into Melbourne Museum by Aileen Spangaro

An array of photographs and newspaper clippings that were sent into Melbourne Museum by Aileen Spangaro

As I read the letter that Aileen had written and perused the photos I was amazed by Mira’s story, her role within her family and as a farmer, and the challenges she has experienced living on the land. Written correspondence and phone calls with her sister Aileen, along with researching the physical documents that were sent in to us, has all been part and parcel of this wonderful and inspiring journey of documenting Mira Galvin’s story. Like many other women living and working on the land, Mira has always done what needed to be done and has made extraordinary contributions to her family and to Australian farming.

 Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 2003. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 2003. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

Mira Galvin was born on August 24, 1923 to Michael Ignatius Galvin and Winnifred Matilda ‘Minnie’ Josephine Galvin (née Parsons) at “Killarney” 20 miles outside of Holbrook (NSW). They moved to their current family home “Coralya” in 1948. The second of nine children Mira helped her mother with household chores and cared for her siblings. She studied by correspondence and had to ride 5 miles every week to post her homework to the school in Sydney.

Growing up Mira was also involved in helping her family in the shearing sheds and out on the farm. As a young woman Mira was no stranger to hard work. Milking cows, looking after livestock, ploughing the fields and planting crops were all part of daily life on the farm.

“She milked cows and did all the usual farm chores that had to be done daily”
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)
 Mira helping her Dad (Michael Galvin) harvesting oats, 1952. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

Mira helping her Dad (Michael Galvin) harvesting oats, 1952. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

In the 1940s Mira helped her father and her siblings clear scrub land for cropping and grazing pasture. They also produced Eucalyptus oil for 5 years. The Eucalyptus oil would be extracted through a process of passing steam through the Eucalyptus leaves in a sealed tank causing the oil to vaporise. The mixture of oil and steam leaving the tank would become cooled and then  liquefied – the oil becoming separated from the water.  

 Distilling Eucalyptus oil in tanks. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

Distilling Eucalyptus oil in tanks. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro

A talented horsewoman Mira competed in many equestrian events at the local shows in Holbrook and winning best and fairest awards at polocrosse carnivals.

 Mira Galvin (middle) with her Sister Joan (right). Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin (middle) with her Sister Joan (right). Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira would always enjoy spending time with her nieces and nephews during school holidays. Going on walks through the bush Mira taught them about the farm and to be “one with nature”. Mira’s nieces and nephews have fond memories of "Coralya" - fishing, horse riding, caring for baby animals and learning about nature and the bush.

 Rebecca Spangaro (left) with her sister Gabrielle (right) holding a calf, 1974. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Rebecca Spangaro (left) with her sister Gabrielle (right) holding a calf, 1974. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

They would say to their mother Aileen that their favourite memories were of visiting the farm and spending time with their Auntie Mira.

 Mira Galvin teaching her niece Rebecca Spangaro how to milk the cow, 1976. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin teaching her niece Rebecca Spangaro how to milk the cow, 1976. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Wool classer

At a young age Mira had her heart set on becoming a wool classer. When Mira was five she would help her father in the shearing sheds picking up wool and putting it into a bale while her father used hand shears to shear the sheep. Later on her father used a machine where Mira would turn the handle around and he would shear the sheep. Mira also swept the floors and was responsible for rolling and baling the fleeces. It was from her father that Mira began to learn about assessing the quality of sheep wool. While women were often not allowed to work in the wool sheds Mira’s father encouraged her to follow her passions.

“Dad always believed that you do what you like and you should be independent”
(Mira Galvin, The Land Magazine, October 30, 2003)
 Michael Galvin (Mira's Dad) at "Coralya", 1948. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Michael Galvin (Mira's Dad) at "Coralya", 1948. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Attitudes towards women’s role on the farm never affected Mira’s decision about becoming a wool classer. The shearing sheds were a place of welcoming and Mira says that she never felt disrespected by the men she worked with. Mira began her wool classing course in Holbrook after seeing an advertisement in the local newspaper. She then moved to Henty and to Wagga Wagga where she received her wool classing certificate in 1953.

 Mira Galvin receiving award for her wool classing examinations. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin receiving award for her wool classing examinations. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

The “only girl w’classer”, Mira was one of 4 other students out of 200 to pass the wool classing examinations with a distinction grade – her achievements were accredited in the local newspaper (“The Observer”).  Mira sees this as a very significant achievement in her life. Her sister Aileen remarked that, “right from the start her teacher was proud to have her in his class and the other students accepted her as one of them.” Mira’s determination and her supportive family helped her to pursue her passions and succeed in following a career as a young female wool classer.

Some of the roles that wool classers perform include: assessing the quality of sheep wool based on factors such as the breed of the sheep, grade, the length and strength of the fleece and the spinning capacity of the wool. For almost 60 years Mira Galvin was responsible for classing her family wool clip and ensuring her wool would sell at best market value.

 Mira Galvin classing wool at "Coralya", 1980. Photo: supplied by  Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin classing wool at "Coralya", 1980. Photo: supplied by  Aileen Spangaro.

Like many other wool classers Mira has held an important role on the farm and has been actively involved in decision-making processes surrounding the management of the family property at "Coralya".

Challenges

Mira has experienced the “best and the worst” of the challenges of living and working on the land.

Mira has experienced first-hand the challenges of gender inequality – one that many women face working on the land. Every year Mira would go to the wool sales in Albury where she would sell wool and complete a refresher wool classing course. The story follows as such:

Mira walked into the room and the teacher said, “Can I help you miss?”

Mira replied, “I am here to do the wool classing refresher course.”

“Well this is no place for a lady”, he said.

She replied, “I will be fine”, and sat down.

When it had finished she went out onto the floor to check the family clip. Almost every man in that class came up and apologised for the teacher’s behaviour and encouraged her to continue classing wool.

 Mira Galvin (right), "The Observer", 1953. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin (right), "The Observer", 1953. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

The fluctuating changes of prices for livestock and wool within Australia’s agriculture industry have been difficult issues that have affected Mira’s livelihood and the viability of her farm. The stock piling of wool in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was a significant crisis for the Australian wool industry. The impact of this ongoing event hit close to home for Mira’s family resulting in the shooting of the family’s merino sheep. It was a tough day for Mira and her Mother (who was in her nineties) to watch the men take their guns and shoot the sheep, they were given a small cash incentive for each beast.

Living on the land Mira has also dealt with the harsh conditions of droughts, bushfires and diseases in livestock. On January 25, 1954 (her Mother’s birthday) Mira and her family experienced the worst fire on record. Mira’s Sister Aileen recalls the devastating impact of the fire that destroyed 100 houses and took 3 lives. The fire approached the property on 2 fronts that was divided by the Jingillie Road. Aileen along with Mira and the rest of their family vividly remember the image of the glowing 100ft wall of fire destroying everything in its path.

“It looked like a bar on an electric heater … destroying everything in its wake the shearing shed yards where the sheep and cattle were all burnt, fences, machinery”.
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)

As the fire approached the house there was a “roaring blackness”. Pieces of burning wood sprayed sparks as they went flying through the air. Branches from the willow trees crashed into the creek. Minnie guided Mira's younger siblings up the hill through the darkness and chaos into the house.

As the fire approached the farm house Mira and Joan climbed onto the roof and saturated the house with water. They then ran up the hill beside the house dropping matches to start a fire break burning back to the approaching fire. Mira and Joan then rushed inside to escape the fury of the fire and joined their Mother, Father and 3 brothers and sisters. They held their arms around each other as the house shook and the windows rattled amidst the “roaring blackness pounding the house”. Mira and her family gazed in disbelief at the destruction caused by the fire.

 “…the hens were little black balls on the charred ground, stock lay dead and everywhere others staggered about burnt and dying”.
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)

At the end of the day Mira’s mother sat the family down and made them all a cup of tea. The family would start over again and life would go on.

A woman of the land

Mira Galvin wears many hats - a farmer, a wool classer, a sister, a daughter, an auntie. Mira has a wealth of experience in farming and the wool industry. She is a well-respected member of her family and her local community.  

 Mira Galvin, "In a Class of Her Own", The Land, October 2003. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin, "In a Class of Her Own", The Land, October 2003. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira has always been a quiet achiever. Always taking initiative, helping others and doing what needs to be done. In cases of emergencies Mira would be out with the local fire brigade fighting the fire alongside the men; everyone working together as a team and all totally focussed on the job at hand. After which she would rush home and help the other women prepare food and drinks for the men. 

Despite the hardships she has experienced throughout her life Mira has always been positive and resilient.  She believes,

you [have to] prepare for the worst and hope for the best”.
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)

Mira has always done her best in taking care of her family and the farm. Like many other women on the land Mira was just doing what needed to be done.  

 Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 1964. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 1964. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

In 1945 there was a long drought. Mira’s father and her two brothers had gone away to drove sheep as there was no feed for the stock at the farm. It was up to Mira and her sister Joan to make sure the other animals had plenty to eat and water to drink. Mira crushed wheat and with a horse and cart carried the wheat five miles to feed 500 pigs. Mira also had to take care of her six younger siblings and look after the household as her mother went to hospital for the birth of her ninth child.

Another major drought in the 1970s led Mira and her younger brother Nicholas to drove a mob of 5000 sheep from Holbrook to the Queensland border in search of feed for the flock. Times were tough for a lot of farmers trying to get enough feed for their livestock. Each day Mira and her brother would go out and see how far away water was – this determined where they would stop to feed the sheep. They used their own feed reserves and then had to rely on the feed reserves available in the paddocks. When the rains came Mira and her brother returned back to the family property with their livestock.

Mira and her brother Nicholas then ran the family farm together.

 Mira Galvin working in the fields, "Coralya", 1965. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin working in the fields, "Coralya", 1965. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

“He ploughed all night while she ploughed all day. They planted the crops, shore the sheep and did all the never ending tasks that farmers do”.
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)

In 1970 after 5 years of illness Mira’s Father died at Mercy Hospital in Albury. Mira’s Mother and Sister Joan returned from Albury. Everyone worked hard to look after the family and keep the farm going.

Over the years Mira’s wealth of knowledge, experience and skills have shone through in everything that she has done. Mira was involved in all aspects of life on the farm. She classed the wool, and ploughed and planted the crops. She always checked the paddocks and the livestock for any sign of disease or illness. She assisted with the delivery of the young lambs or calves when necessary.

 Mira Galvin (left) with her niece Rachele Spangaro (right) drenching the sheep, "Coralya", 1982. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin (left) with her niece Rachele Spangaro (right) drenching the sheep, "Coralya", 1982. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

At home Mira cooked, cleaned, washed and knitted, croched, smocked and made lovely clothes for her family, including wedding dresses for her nieces. Family members sing her praises for her cheesecakes and the best trifle they have ever eaten. Mira also enjoyed travelling. She walked to the top of Uluru at age 70.

 Mira Galvin taking care of an injured kookaburra, "Coralya", 2018. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin taking care of an injured kookaburra, "Coralya", 2018. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Now at 94 and retired Mira still enjoys living on the land, inspecting the sheep and shearing sheds and spending time with family and friends. Her family will also take Mira out with them on the farm to check the livestock and crops.

Mira loves living on the land. She enjoys the wide open space and watching the changing seasons.

Feeling the sun on her back and the wind in her face being surrounded by nature … Mira will always love the land”
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)
 Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 1975. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin at "Coralya", 1975. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Minnie Galvin

Likewise, Mira’s Mother Winnifred "Minnie" Galvin (25-1-1900 – 27-2-2000) is another woman of the land who was important for the success and well-being of her family.

 Winnifred "Minnie" Galvin at 95 years of age, 1995. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Winnifred "Minnie" Galvin at 95 years of age, 1995. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Minnie was described as the peacekeeper in the family. No shouting or misconduct was tolerated. She was a resourceful and hardworking woman who invested all her efforts into caring for her family and the home against the harsh conditions of the Australian bush and having no access to electricity, water, refrigeration or a telephone. She nursed her children through times of illness and raised her family to live in peace and with dignity.

“She was shy but strong and resourceful, cut from the same fabric as pioneer women”
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)

Like her daughter Mira, Minnie Galvin also wore many hats. Minnie was the bookkeeper and oversaw the farm’s financial management. She arranged appointments and always made sure the banker got his reports. At the same time Minnie kept a nice clean house and made sure that everyone was well cared for. 

Minnie would make extraordinary meals using only a few simple ingredients. Mira and her siblings were treated to golden syrup dumplings (a family favourite), as well as rice custard and beautiful plum puddings at Christmas time. She loved being in the garden surrounded by the bush and nature and cared for all creatures.

 Winnifred "Minnie" Galvin (right) at "Coralya", 1970. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Winnifred "Minnie" Galvin (right) at "Coralya", 1970. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Minnie was the one who listened quietly to all the talk about the day’s work, as the family sat down for their evening meal.  She was the “glue” that held everything together on the farm and in the home. She lived to 100 years of age and was always there for her family.

Reflections

The Invisible Farmer Project is an opportunity to share the stories of women of the land and to celebrate their contributions to their families, to their communities and to Australian farming and agriculture.

“Women on the land are the silent ones who make a huge contribution to the success of farming in Australia”
(quoted by Aileen Spangaro)
 Mira Galvin classing wool at "Coralya", 1970. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin classing wool at "Coralya", 1970. Photo: supplied by Aileen Spangaro.

Mira Galvin is an extraordinary woman whose efforts have been greatly important to the success of her family. Her contributions to her family and her community, as well as to the agriculture industry reflects more broadly on the vital role women play for the well-being of their families and for the success of farming in Australia.

On a personal note I would like to thank Mira’s sister for sending this letter and for allowing me to share this incredible story about Mira. It is wonderful to learn about the stories of the amazing women who live and work on the land. I encourage others to share their stories with the Invisible Farmer Project so we can learn more about the role of women on the land and how important they are to the success of Australian farming and agriculture.

'Something Magical about Farming': 24-year-old Emily Mueller of Glenbrook Dairy, Murray Bridge, South Australia

By Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project, Museums Victoria) with Emily Mueller (Farmer, Murray Bridge, South Australia)

Industry: Dairy farming
Name of enterprise: Glenbrook Dairy
Location: Murray Bridge, South Australia

 Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243774

Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243774


Emily's Story:

‘I’ve been around farming my whole life so it’s second nature to me… I guess it’s hard to get it out of your blood when you’ve been around it so long… I’m just passionate about the farm.’

24-year-old Emily Mueller [nee Miegel] was born in Murray Bridge, South Australia, in 1994 and spent her childhood and teenage years growing up in Coonalpyn and Murray Bridge with her family. Emily’s family were livestock and grain farmers, and Emily reflects that farming was in her blood from a young age. As a child and teenager Emily worked both indoors, and outdoors. 'I have fond memories in the shearing shed and being in the piggery doing daily duties', she recalls: 'The best part of living on the farm was walking up through the paddock to Grandma's house to do some baking, and I also loved tractor rides with my Dad, and having little lambs to look after.'

 Young Emily and her brother with lambs on the family farm, image supplied.

Young Emily and her brother with lambs on the family farm, image supplied.

 Emily as a child holding her toy cow, image supplied. 

Emily as a child holding her toy cow, image supplied. 

 Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243766

Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243766

With her passion for agriculture only growing as she got older, Emily was educated at Urrbrae Agricultural High School and subsequently completed a TAFE certificate 3 in Business. ‘I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a farmer’, reflects Emily: ‘I guess it’s just that interaction with the land, interaction with the livestock, and just that feeling of being on the farm is an incredible thing. You just can’t put it into words.’

 Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243771

Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243771

Emily holds a firm belief that there's ‘something magical about farming’, and in many ways her own journey into dairy farming has a magical element to it. ‘I always had dreams to marry a farmer’, Emily reflects, and these dreams became a reality when she married her dairy farming husband Trent in 2015. The wedding was held in Murray Bridge with photos taken on Trent’s parent’s farm. ‘We wanted our wedding photos to reflect us’, recalls Emily, and ‘were so happy our photographer was happy to work the farm into our memories.’

 Emily Mueller on her wedding day, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographer: Deb Saunders Photography, Source: supplied, Emily Mueller. 

Emily Mueller on her wedding day, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographer: Deb Saunders Photography, Source: supplied, Emily Mueller. 

 Emily and Trent Mueller on their wedding day, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographer: Deb Saunders Photography, Source: supplied, Emily Mueller. 

Emily and Trent Mueller on their wedding day, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographer: Deb Saunders Photography, Source: supplied, Emily Mueller. 

The fairy-tale for Emily and Trent began years before the wedding though, back in 2009 when the young couple got to know each other through a chance meeting at the Royal Adelaide Show. Trent’s family were presenting a dairy heifer named Begonia at this Show, and Emily took a liking to the sweet-natured, mild-tempered cow:

I went up to Trent’s family, and I asked them if I could borrow this cow, Begonia, to participate in a handlers class… A couple of years after she kept coming to the Adelaide Show and she’s become quite a pet to us now. Trent and I both look at her as being a bit iconic, because she got us together in many ways. She’s a bit special I think.
 Young Trent and Emily at the Adelaide Show with Begonia, image supplied.

Young Trent and Emily at the Adelaide Show with Begonia, image supplied.

 Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243754

Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243754

 Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243769

Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243769

Since marrying in 2015, Emily and Trent have welcomed a daughter, Renae Alma Mueller, and the young family now live and work together – alongside Trent’s parents – on the family farm. Named ‘Glenbrook’, the enterprise produces approximately 3 million litres per year and is spread across three properties; the main dairying operations in Murray Bridge (approximately 500 acres), the cropping and pastures down the road (approximately 1000 acres) and another property in Meningie holding livestock.

 Emily Mueller feeding the chooks, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243781

Emily Mueller feeding the chooks, Murray Bridge, South Australia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243781

 Emily on the farm, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria; https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243756

Emily on the farm, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria; https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243756

Emily currently works on the farm in a number of capacities, both indoors and outdoors, including bookkeeping, accounting, farm safety awareness, cooking, domestic duties, yard work, tending to the animals, maintenance and management of staff. Indoors, she spends more and more time helping her mother-in-law with the book-work: ‘I’m starting to help out doing some book-work, starting with doing some wages and invoices.’ Emily enjoys spreadsheets and computer work, and has been pleased to bring the skills she learnt studying her Certificate 3 in Business at TAFE to the farm business.

 Emily Mueller at her laptop computer doing accounting and book-work, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243782

Emily Mueller at her laptop computer doing accounting and book-work, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243782

Emily is increasingly involved with the outdoor operations on the farm, including the research that goes into milk productivity, breeding and nutrition: ‘I’m starting to learn the milk side of it now, the nutritional side of it – different things that they change in the feed, to different aspects that we can change in the dairy, and to one day make it more productive.’ In order to enhance their farm skills, Trent and Emily attend local Leading in Dairy courses, as well as Farm Safety courses. They have also been actively learning about cow knowledge, and cow breeding, from Trent's father: 'It's incredible the amount of cow knowledge that Trent's Dad has accumulated over the years. I hope we can keep this knowledge alive as well as we can.' Emily believes that there are a lot of benefits from inter-generational farming, and sharing ideas between older and younger generations: 'there are so many various things to learn off the older generation, but then I still also believe there's a lot of things that us younger people can help with, such as doing the wages electronically and so forth.' 

 Trent and Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243776

Trent and Emily Mueller photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, South Australia, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243776

More recently, Emily has attended some women’s dairying events, including the 2017 Dairy SA Ladies Luncheon, where she has been able to mingle with other like-minded women in dairy. Emily believes that her connection to the local community has grown through attending courses, events and workshops, and in doing so, she feels that this community networking has helped to enhance and grow her confidence on the farm. ‘I definitely feel like the networking has helped me to learn more about my role on the farm, and to grow more confident in my abilities’, she says.

Developing confidence has been of importance to Emily, particularly given that both her farm work, and her off-farm work at a local pig abattoir, have both seen her working in a ‘very male-dominated sector’. According to Emily, she has sometimes felt the need to prove herself to her male bosses, or break through stereotypes that women can’t perform as well as men:

I think sometimes women aren’t particularly looked favourably on in the farming sectors... Women sometimes find it a bit harder to talk and to portray themselves to male bosses. Just personally, it can be a bit daunting. The males can be a little bit dominating. But it’s good that the women are standing up, and it’s an equal playing field out there now, which is good for the older generation and the males in our industry to see as well. I think males now are starting to realise that if there wasn’t females around, there wouldn’t be much happening. Without the females in their lives, it would be a whole different story. And I guess the older generation is starting to see the capabilities that women bring to the farming industries, which is really good to see.
 Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243772

Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243772

Reflecting on the older generations in her own family, Emily notes that things are different for her own generation when compared with her grandmother’s generation: ‘I’m thinking back to my grandparents that were on the farm. My grandma stayed inside and cooked and looked after the children.’ Now though, according to Emily, more and more women are taking on multiple roles on the farm and increasingly balancing the domestic roles her grandmother performed with more hands-on outdoor and manual roles. In doing so, Emily believes that these women are helping to change public perceptions about farming and farm life: ‘it’s the women who get out there and really give it a go who are changing the minds of people in the future.’

 Emily on the farm photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243777

Emily on the farm photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243777

At Glenbrook Farm, the family’s dairying enterprise has received resumes for contract work from female milkers, and Emily has been happy to see that ‘one: women do put in their resumes for farming and two: it’s not looked negatively upon.’ The farm currently operates with four milking contractors, two of them women:

Half our workforce here on the dairy farm is now female which is just amazing, compared to how it would have been 20 plus years ago. The dairy industry tends to be male-orientated unless you’re born into it or married into it, but it’s good that two of our milkers out of four are female, and they are doing a great job. They are good to the animals, and good to the farm.  
 Emily on the farm photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243761

Emily on the farm photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243761

Emily herself doesn’t regularly milk cows, and when asked the question, ‘would you call yourself a farmer?’, she initially responds with hesitation: ‘I wouldn’t technically call myself a farmer’, she answers, ‘but I guess it’s still the stereotype of people thinking that a farmer has to be out on the tractor or milking all the time. When you start thinking about it though, what I do on the farm is really a full time job.’

 Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria:  https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243773

Emily with her favourite cow, Begonia, photographed by Catherine Forge, Murray Bridge, Source: Museums Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243773

Emily’s job with Glenbrook Farm is multi-faceted, and her roles are varied and diverse, indoors and outdoors, on-farm and off-farm, domestic and technical. Farming for Emily – and for many women in dairy farming – is a job that incorporates multiple and diverse roles. So while Emily might not always be out milking every day, she plays a vital role on the farm – a role that she hopes will only increase more and more as time goes by:

In the future I want to still be farming. I guess it’s a pretty simple, straightforward answer. It’s something that I’ve always dreamt of continuing to do… I’d love to be a productive farmer and be able to have something which can give back to us in a positive way. Having good, happy, interactive workers, both male and female. Going forward, I’d just love to be able to carry on the good work that our grandparents and parents have set forward for us, and take it into the future.
 Emily looking over the farm, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Catherine Forge.

Emily looking over the farm, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Catherine Forge.

As she ponders her future and the likelihood of one day inheriting the family farm, Emily is aware of the challenges and hardships associated with dairy farming; the long hours, the tough times, the variable and ever-changing climate and the difficulties that come with working 24/7. ‘You have your hard times’, comments Emily; ‘you’ve got climate to worry about, you’ve got milk prices to worry about, and you’ve got workers to worry about.’ With the recent dairy crisis, Emily is also increasingly aware of mental health concerns among farmers, and the fact that ‘depression in farmers can be very traumatic.’ She hopes that more can be done in the dairy industry to support farmers, and that more can be done to increase consumer awareness of the hard work that goes into producing milk. ‘I guess some people just expect that cows get milked and its simple and just happens’, she says, ‘but they might not be aware of the background work that needs to be working well to be able to produce good milk from good cows.’ Emily has recently been working on a program called the Little Foodies Program, and ‘getting little kids aware of where their food comes from.’ She hopes to get more involved with consumer awareness into the future, and help play a role in promoting the hard work of dairy farmers.

 Emily Mueller with her mother-in-law Julie Mueller and baby daughter Renae, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Catherine Forge.

Emily Mueller with her mother-in-law Julie Mueller and baby daughter Renae, Murray Bridge, photographed by Catherine Forge, Source: Catherine Forge.

Towards the end of my interview with Emily, I ask her one more time: ‘would you call yourself a farmer Emily?’. She responds more surely this time:

Yes, now that I’ve had time to think it over, I’m definitely a farmer and  I’m a farmer because it makes me feel happy. That’s about as simple as I could put it. Yes, there’s always a lot of long hours that has to go into farming, but I don’t think that I could imagine not being around the farm now. I’m just passionate about it all – the animals, the land, everything! And I hope we can do our family, and the wider dairying community, proud.

Want to Know More?

2017 Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Kirsten Abernethy on Supporting & Recognising Women in Seafood

By Kirsten Abernethy

Kirsten Abernethy is a fisher-woman, social scientist and researcher based in Port Fairy, Australia. In 2017 Kirsten was awarded Victorian Rural Woman of the Year by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC, now Agrifutures). She used this award to give a voice to women in the seafood sector, and to encourage women to seek out positions of leadership. In this guest blog post Kirsten reflects on her experiences in the fishing industry, along with her hopes for a vibrant and sustainable future for the industry, and the women working within it.

 Kirsten under Point Lonsdale Pier, near her parent's house, at the heads to Port Phillip Bay, 2017, image supplied.

Kirsten under Point Lonsdale Pier, near her parent's house, at the heads to Port Phillip Bay, 2017, image supplied.

My name is Kirsten Abernethy and I have been working in wild-catch fisheries for more than ten years. It is hard to put my finger on how I got here. Unlike most people involved, I don’t have a family history of fishing. I was raised in the suburbs of Melbourne. But on school holidays to the beach, I’d always try to convince someone to go fishing with me. And from the moment I stepped onto my first professional fishing boat I knew I was in this job for life. There is a romance about fishing – they are the last of the hunters. There is also a great potential for a sustainable source of nutritious wild food. I think it is this combination of romance and culture, with my views on sustainability and food security that drew me to fishing. I’ve worked in different capacities in fishing communities - as a researcher, a teacher, and as an advocate. My partner is a fisherman, so I guess we are now starting our own family history in fishing.

 Kirsten out abalone diving at Lady Percy Island, Port Fairy, 2017. Kirsten's job as 'deckie' is to meaure each abalone (industry-led data collection used to monitor the fishery) and pack them for sale as a live product, image supplied.

Kirsten out abalone diving at Lady Percy Island, Port Fairy, 2017. Kirsten's job as 'deckie' is to meaure each abalone (industry-led data collection used to monitor the fishery) and pack them for sale as a live product, image supplied.

I’ve worked in fisheries around the world, from Cornwall to the Pacific. I have seen a lot of fisheries facing a challenging future. In 2011 to 2014 I worked in the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. These communities absolutely depend on the sea for their food security, and I saw the effects of the changing environment and how the communities were working together to respond. When I came home and started to work with Victorian fisheries, the potential I saw was unique. There is a lot to be proud of in Victoria, and in Australia more generally. Our fisheries are highly ecologically sustainable, often harvested using methods and knowledge passed down through generations in families, and they provide beautiful fresh and healthy local seafood for our tables. Our fishing families are the stewards of the sea, they are our eyes on and under the water, and are fundamental to the fabric, history and identity of our coastal communities.

 Kirsten on Ataúro Island, Timor-Leste, in 2012, pictured alongside a local woman selling dried fish. During her time at Timor-Leste, Kirsten worked with a research and development organisation called 'WorldFish' that aimed to better understand the role of women in fisheries and their participation in governance systems, image supplied.

Kirsten on Ataúro Island, Timor-Leste, in 2012, pictured alongside a local woman selling dried fish. During her time at Timor-Leste, Kirsten worked with a research and development organisation called 'WorldFish' that aimed to better understand the role of women in fisheries and their participation in governance systems, image supplied.

The Slow Food movement in Melbourne has embraced the Victorian fishing industry. Slow Food is an international movement which seeks to preserve local food traditions and reignite people’s interest in the food they eat – where it comes from, how it tastes, and the impact of food choices. Alison Peake, who heads up Slow Food in Melbourne, has become very interested in Victoria’s local sustainable fisheries and ways to support and secure our local sources of seafood. So much so, that Alison and chef Rosa Mitchell decided to showcase the local catch at the inaugural Slow Fish Festival held in April this year in Melbourne.

 Locally-caught fish being prepared at the Inaugural Slow Fish Festival, 2018, Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

Locally-caught fish being prepared at the Inaugural Slow Fish Festival, 2018, Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

 Books for sale at the Slow Fish Festival, 2018, Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

Books for sale at the Slow Fish Festival, 2018, Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

The Slow Fish Festival went beyond tasting local seafood, as the public learned how to cook seafood, fillet fish, and hear the stories of the fishers and the challenges facing Victorian fisheries. The Slow Fish festival gave consumers the chance to talk to and put a face to the fisher, as well as to those who market, and really understand how seafood gets all the way to Victorian plates. There are sardines caught in Williamstown, sea urchins caught in Port Phillip Bay, and prawns caught in East Gippsland, to name a few. What is clear is that not many people in Victoria know what we have on our doorstep. When they find out what's on offer they want to support our local fisheries, through their purchasing choices, but also politically. The rights of the Victorian seafood consumers to access local fish have not been adequately defended, and we have witnessed a huge reduction in fish caught in Victoria due to competing interests with professional fishing. Now Slow Fish wants to be part of the conversation and demand rights for seafood lovers – the largest stakeholder group given the seas are a public resource. It was an honour to be asked to speak at this Slow Fish Festival, and to be part of Australia's emerging Slow Fish Movement.

 Promotional logo for the Inaugural Slow Fish Festival, 2018.

Promotional logo for the Inaugural Slow Fish Festival, 2018.

 Women mingling at the Slow Fish Festival, 2018,  Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

Women mingling at the Slow Fish Festival, 2018,  Photographer: Llawela Forrest.

I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work among passionate, motivated, and innovative women involved in the fishing industry here in my home state - whether they are women who are on the boat or behind the computer supporting the family fishing businesses, women working in the wholesale, processing and retail sectors, women in science and research, or women who want to promote and advocate for local fish on our plates, like Alison and Rosa. I met with a group of women in fishing last week – women who had spent their lives around fishing and the family business and are proud of their industry and what it contributes. Fishing and the way of life is intrinsic to the identity of fishing families, and also to the coastal communities that have depended on it for generations.

In 2017 I had the honour of being presented with the 2017 Victorian Rural Woman of the Year award. To be honest I was quite surprised to win this award, especially given that the fishing industry is a bit isolated from other agricultural industries. However it was an experience that I am incredibly grateful for, as it has introduced me to women from other sectors and given me the opportunity to promote the work of other women in our industry. I have a firm belief that more needs to be done to support women in the fishing industries. Although women make up half of the worldwide seafood workforce along the chain, less than 5% are represented in decision-making or executive positions. A 2015 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for example, highlighted that approximately 56 million women work in the seafood industry worldwide, but significant barriers stop the majority of these women from advancing into management and decision-making roles. The report argued that “the work women engage in is often low-paid or unpaid with unofficial status, and this is a barrier to access to financial resources and policy support for these women.”

 Kirsten at the RIRDC Rural Women of the Year awards with Westpac sponsor Roddy Brown and rural women's advocate Alana Johnson, image courtesy Alana Johnson, Twitter (@alanatjohnson)

Kirsten at the RIRDC Rural Women of the Year awards with Westpac sponsor Roddy Brown and rural women's advocate Alana Johnson, image courtesy Alana Johnson, Twitter (@alanatjohnson)

In Australia women have actively networked and lobbied for greater support and recognition. The Women’s Industry Seafood Network Community (WINSC) was established in 1996 and aims to:

  • Recognise and enhance the skills of seafood women.
  • Develop effective partnerships with government agencies and other industry stakeholders.
  • Take a professional approach to all activities and relationships with other stakeholders.
  • Create a supportive environment to ensure women of the fishing industry reach their potential.
  • Actively encourage the involvement of seafood women.
  • Provide community education on all aspects of the seafood industry.

I am an active member of WINSC and am always encouraged by the support and leadership that women show to each other, and with their communities and fisheries. These women work tirelessly, unpaid and often unrecognised, to promote what they know and love about wild-catch fisheries, the people and the way of life, are an inspiration to me. However there is still a long way to go.

 Conference Booklet from the Women's Industry Seafood Network, 2015.

Conference Booklet from the Women's Industry Seafood Network, 2015.

What is clear to me is that women are good at telling stories about what it means to be in the fishing industry, the pride in being a fishing family, but also how hard it can be and how dangerous, and how it is so different to any other way of life. Women are good at seeing the connections between fishing families and their businesses, and the economic and social outcomes in regional communities. Women are good at encouraging people to try local fish and learn more about professional fishing. I think women can provide an important and different perspective when given the opportunity, especially when confronted by discourses of greed, mistrust and over-fishing, which can often dominate public perceptions, perceptions that have not been informed by facts.

 Kirsten posing for a promotional photograph after becoming Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, 2017, image supplied.

Kirsten posing for a promotional photograph after becoming Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, 2017, image supplied.

I believe this is one of the biggest challenges facing the fishing industry in Victoria and Australia – demonstrating to the seafood consumer that the industry can be trusted to take care of our seas and provide a beautiful source of healthy wild-caught food, and convincing the public that the fishing families have the biggest stake in ensuring the future sustainability of both the fish and the communities they live in. If we can demonstrate to the public what we already know is true, and get the support of the people behind professional fishing, then I believe our industry can thrive. Supporting and recognising women in fishing could be one key to unlock this support.

A love for the outback: Lisa Shannon reflects on her life on the land

By Lisa Shannon

Lisa Shannon [nee Stanmore] is a woman of the land - she is a cattle musterer, farmer, stockwoman, businesswoman and mother based near Mundubbera, Queensland. Lisa shared her story with the Invisible Farmer Project in 2017 via a Facebook post. Following on from this Facebook post (which received over 50,000 interactions within the first week), Lisa was invited to speak at a Melbourne Cup Day luncheon in Jandowae. This guest blog post from Lisa is an edited version of the speech that she gave at the Jandowae luncheon. Lisa reflects on her personal experiences in the agriculture industry, along with the highlights and challenges that she has undergone through living and working on the land. 

I grew up on “Eurella” Station, near Ivanhoe in NSW. It’s not the type of place that is commonly described as God's own country, unless you come from there. It’s bloody hot in summer. Winter is bloody cold. My Dad’s family has been on the property for over 100 years. That sort of history gets imprinted into your DNA. I no longer live there or call it home, but when I go back I feel a glow of belonging.

 Lisa's father Chris Stanmore with his sister Jenny outside the old Eurella homestead, c. 1957, image supplied.

Lisa's father Chris Stanmore with his sister Jenny outside the old Eurella homestead, c. 1957, image supplied.

 Lisa having a 'Sunday Picnic' at Eurella with her father Chris Stanmore, c. 1988, image supplied.

Lisa having a 'Sunday Picnic' at Eurella with her father Chris Stanmore, c. 1988, image supplied.

My Mum and Dad lived on "Eurella" with Dad’s parents all my childhood. My Grandparents were very traditional. Grandma looked after the family and the house. Grandad did the farm stuff; he was an artificer in World War II so there was nothing he could not fix. When Mum and Dad got married times had changed a bit and Mum was more involved on the farm. Mum and Dad encouraged us to be involved on the farm and when we got old enough it did not seem to worry Dad that his free workforce was 3 girls.

 Lisa washing her poddy calf "Harry", c. 1990, image supplied.

Lisa washing her poddy calf "Harry", c. 1990, image supplied.

 Lisa mustering with her father Chris Stanmore, c. 2002, image supplied.

Lisa mustering with her father Chris Stanmore, c. 2002, image supplied.

In 2001 I finished school. As my friends went off to schoolies and partied in the city, I went to the Hay Races with some mates and then headed home to help out over the holidays as it was very dry and they were about to start carting water for domestic use. Dad had a broken ankle so Mum and I or Grandad and I would cart water for both houses. Grandad taught me to drive our old red Intertruck and some of the first trips were a bit hairy! Mum and Dad totally destocked the entire place and continued to cart water for domestic purposes on and off for 7 years. They still refer to that period as the 10 year drought.

I started at Dalby Agriculture College in 2002 and I loved it. We partied hard and had a whale of a time. I had 2 jobs, one washing dishes from 6-10pm Thursday and Friday nights, then the graveyard shift from 10 through to close on Friday nights at the seediest pub in Dalby. Pouring beers was not my preferred side of the bar, but a price I paid for my social life! We went on a College tour to the Northern Territory in 2003 and for me it was love at first sight; I was hooked! I applied for and was awarded a cadetship with Heytesbury Beef at Anthony Lagoon Station on the Barkley Tablelands and started there in February 2004.

 Lisa and her friend Sarah Hawthorn at Anthony Lagoon Station, c. 2004, image supplied. 

Lisa and her friend Sarah Hawthorn at Anthony Lagoon Station, c. 2004, image supplied. 

Our stock camp was made up of 4 girls and 4 boys, which was a pretty common mix. I was determined to learn as much as I could from whoever I could. I guess my eagerness sometimes made me come across a bit pushy! I loved station life and relished the comradery and mateship in our camp.

I learnt to ride a horse when I was growing up, but the sort of riding we were doing in the camp was totally different from anything I was used to. Daylight till dark mustering, which made you feel parts of your body you forgot you had. I learnt what it was like to really work, and how to work with other people - how to work through jobs I didn’t like and how important it is to do a good job. I also learnt how to work when you were that physically tired that all you could focus on was the task at hand and I got a very good understanding of my own physical and mental endurance. I got some pretty handy skills under my belt like how to operate a grader, a loader, a bulldozer and how to weld.

 Flood fencing with friend Sarah Hawthorn at Anthony Lagoon Station, c. 2004, (Lisa left), image supplied.  

Flood fencing with friend Sarah Hawthorn at Anthony Lagoon Station, c. 2004, (Lisa left), image supplied.  

When I went back to Anthony Lagoon in 2005 I took on the position of Leading Hand. Now this is a position I can say is the top of the bottom and the bottom of the top. There were 6 of us in the camp, no head stockman - just assistant manager and manager.  I found the position a bit lonely I guess, however I threw myself into learning all I could and was very well supported by the assistant manager. It was from him I learnt the most about cattle!  He taught me how to really look at cattle, how to read and interpret what they were going to do. I learnt about what rush and noise were, where to use it and where not to and that position is everything no matter what size the mob. I learnt how to set up a mob for success and how to position the inexperienced ringers so that the more experienced ones could be best supported. The assistant manager's name was Cameron Shannon. He was adored by the camp and showed us all the wonderful gift it is to have a true leader. Cameron and I remained friends after we left, and today he is my husband.

 Lisa met Cameron while working with him at Anthony Lagoon station, and they married in 2016 at  Boondooma Homestead, image supplied, photographer: Lynette Vicary.

Lisa met Cameron while working with him at Anthony Lagoon station, and they married in 2016 at  Boondooma Homestead, image supplied, photographer: Lynette Vicary.

I moved on the next year and went to the Beautiful Kimberly’s to Argyle Downs station. Then to Yarrawonga Weaco, a Santa Gertrudis stud.

In 2007 I applied for and was given the position of Head Stockman at Quinyambie Station north of Broken Hill on the edge of the Strzelecki desert. Quinyambie Station is 1200km squared. It runs 1200 head of cattle. The manager Paul used to say if you couldn't do something you needed to try it the other way. Work it out and use your head, you have one for a reason. All of the stock work was done on motor bikes, which I was extremely inexperienced at. So ask yourself why did Paul Jonas give a 24 year old girl who could not ride a motorbike the position as Head Stockman on Quinyambie station? Because I was the best goddam person for the job! Not the best woman! Not best man! The best person - I had experience, I knew cattle and I was not dumb.

 Quinyambie Station, image courtesy Quinyambie Station Facebook page (with permission): https://www.facebook.com/Quinyambie-Station-1429880467055380/

Quinyambie Station, image courtesy Quinyambie Station Facebook page (with permission): https://www.facebook.com/Quinyambie-Station-1429880467055380/

 

A few girls came and went throughout the year but usually I was the only female. I got the respect from the camp that I deserved. I worked out I did not have to be stronger or tougher. I definitely was not the best motorbike rider, but I equalled their physical endurance and I could out-think them. I led by example. I always did the best I could do and I expected the same from them. My only challenge came from within the corporate sector of the company as at the time I was the only girl Head Stockman, but I chose to ignore it. I was confident in my own ability, I now believe that small mindedness is an incurable disease!

The desert country is so fragile and beautiful that 20 points of rain will see the ever moving sand hills burst into flower. Names of places amused me, lake poverty and lake starvation! Hot artesian bores watered the livestock and at some of the bores there were bathtubs set up at the pump jack. When we were camped out we could have a hot bath at night. We trucked the biggest bullocks I have ever seen there fattened on the seed of protein packed desert herbage. I did not agree with some of the decisions that were being made in the company office and then expected them to be applied on the properties. So I did not go back the following year, instead I followed my heart back to the NT with Cameron who was contract mustering for AACo (the Australian Agricultural Company) on its Barkly properties.

 Quinyambie Station, image courtesy Quinyambie Station Facebook page (with permission): https://www.facebook.com/Quinyambie-Station-1429880467055380/

Quinyambie Station, image courtesy Quinyambie Station Facebook page (with permission): https://www.facebook.com/Quinyambie-Station-1429880467055380/

In 2009 Cam’s contract with AACo was revoked un-expectantly and without for warning. As we learnt later on all contractors were put off, collectively referred to as AACo corporate road kill. We had people lined up for jobs and our plant was all up there we were a bit stunned. I don’t like holding grudges as it’s not healthy but the effect that decision had on Cameron was in my mind unforgivable. If our relationship needed a test just add financial and psychological stress to it!

We could have gone and got another contract I guess but life is all about choices. We already had an interest in a big undeveloped block called “Lorella Springs”. It had feral cattle and scrub bulls on it. We formed an agreement with the owner on shares in the cattle, doing up the fences and getting rid of the bulls. This choice changed my life forever! We moved our gear there and built a camp, with the caravan under a tarp and a half 44 gallon drum as an oven. Later on it developed into quite a palace with a concrete floor and real toilet. I had never worked for myself or had to spend days on end with the same infuriating hot tempered stubborn loveable human being! Who I’m pretty sure felt the same about me! Nothing went unsaid!

 Lisa and Cameron's camp at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

Lisa and Cameron's camp at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

 Lisa welding up end stays while fencing at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

Lisa welding up end stays while fencing at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

We did a few small contracts for private people yard building and a bit of stock work because running feral cattle and bull catching is not an instant money make. The contract had stopped but the financial commitments were the same! We armoured up a short wheelbase land cruiser with sheet metal, tyres and a rollover. We affectionately referred to her as “the Cherry” and she was the first catcher in a number that we had. The Red Rocket and Turbo also had their hours of fame. Cherry and the Turbo had hydraulic arms on them, which was the most valuable part on them - made the bulls easier to catch and didn’t knock them around too much.

 "The Cherry", image supplied.

"The Cherry", image supplied.

Bull catching is not for the faint hearted! I got a very quick stiff education in handling feral cattle and bull catching. Cameron would drive and when the bulls were caught in the hydraulic arm I would put a rope on their horns and we would tie them to a tree, then come back in the goose neck when we had a few and load them, take them back to the yard for educating and ready them for sale. We ran portable yards with the help of a chopper to muster the cows, then educated them with our team of dogs and either trucked or walked them home for branding and more education. 

 Bull catching in "the Cherry", image supplied.

Bull catching in "the Cherry", image supplied.

For the adrenaline filled 5-10 minutes it takes to catch a bull and the excitement of running yards, there are hours of hard work before and after. Shifting portable panels, set up wings of hessian, picking up bulls, trucking cows and keeping the fleet of ancient vehicles going.

 A truck load of bulls caught at Lorella Springs, image courtesy Lisa Shannon. 

A truck load of bulls caught at Lorella Springs, image courtesy Lisa Shannon. 

Our closest place for stores and supplies was Borroloola. We bought our fuel and stores from there and relied on the unreliable post office to keep our mail. Borroloola has a high Indigenous population. I found some of the social issues very confronting. In a town of 1000 residents there was cause to build the town’s own rental unit. The women’s safe house had 13 beds and every night at least half those beds were filled with kids, and sometimes 2 sibling children per bed. Drugs and alcohol are an ongoing concern for the whole community. The Borroloola Campdraft/Rodeo is the highlight of the year for the locals, it is not on the professional circuit so everyone has the opportunity to compete. The skylarking laid back atmosphere is infectious – a very important weekend on the community calendar.

 Lisa's working dogs. Left to right: Clown, Blip, Willie, Dennis and Burr, image supplied.

Lisa's working dogs. Left to right: Clown, Blip, Willie, Dennis and Burr, image supplied.

We had Jessie Jane in the Albury Hospital in 2010 while staying with my sister. Cam and I returned to Lorella Springs when Jess was just 10 weeks old. We were getting our female numbers up and selling the bulls and steers to local buyers who were then selling them onto live export. I found this time a bit tough -  a new baby, being a new mum, I felt a bit isolated. My role was now different. I had to make appropriate changes so she was safe but so we could still do what we had to do.  

 Lisa with her daughter Jess, mage supplied.

Lisa with her daughter Jess, mage supplied.

Live Export was stopped in June 2011. The ripple effect felt across the whole of northern Australia was unbelievable. We no longer had a market for any of our cattle. This pushed us to look for another opportunity. The property next door to Cam’s parents came up at the end of 2011. So we set out to make that happen.

Beautiful Buckley Shannon was born in April 27, 2012, and on May 20th Cam left for Lorella Springs for a final muster. I stayed behind with my parents and the kids. This was a very hard time for me. I knew what it would be like when Cam got there - flat out. We had very limited finances and the success of our new block rode on the success of the muster.

The muster was a success but Cam’s trip home with the cattle was a nightmare! The cattle were in light condition as there had been very poor wet. He was stopped at Horse Paddock yard Mallapunya with ticks, when he got to Blackall sale yards to sell the steer and Mickeys, the market was bottoming out. I have kept the print out from the sale. We sold 268 head that day with only 24 making over $1/kg the average for our sale was $202 a head. Cam rang from Blackall and both of us struggled through the phone conversations barely holding it together. I have no words to describe that day.

In August 2012 our precious females all walked off the truck after a 3000km journey into their new home foot sore and hungry but every single one of those old girls had what we needed - ovaries! We joined them to some good Hereford and Santa bulls, they formed the basis for our herd today.

Coming home from Lorella Springs was a hard time emotionally and financially. I didn’t want to unpack all my stuff that had come back from Lorella Springs, because that was my other life the one when I was out helping and doing productive things and a part of the show. I am no house keeper and gardening is not really my thing. I guess I missed the freedom. Cam was gone all day for the first 12 months cutting timber so we could try and catch up financially. I worked out if I was going to cope I needed to find ways to be involved.

 Lisa and her children working the sheep on the family's current property, 2017, image supplied.

Lisa and her children working the sheep on the family's current property, 2017, image supplied.

Cam’s Mum was a big help and after I had Bonnie in 2014 I actually started to get someone to come to our home to help me out once a week with the kids. This gave me a very precious invaluable day. Kids are no short term contract. I love being a mum. That one day saved my sanity! I could pull my head out of mummy mode and enjoy helping Cam in the paddock, or catch up in the office knowing that the kids were safe and cared for.

Our property is light forest spotted gum and iron bark country. There were not many improvements on it. We made the commitment early on to explore every opportunity to ensure we made use of every square inch to the maximum of its ability. We split up our paddocks put in more waters and are continuing to control regrowth timber. We manage our native forest as a sustainable enterprise. Most years its' income equals that of the livestock. We got a fencing grant with BMRG and embarked on a high security fencing project so we could diversify into sheep. We bought a guard dog 'Frosty', our ‘Lambassador’ and trained him on a small mob near our house. 

 Lisa with her children and their dog 'Frosty', 2017, image supplied. 

Lisa with her children and their dog 'Frosty', 2017, image supplied. 

We built a sheep yard instead of going on a honeymoon. Once the sheep arrived in November 2015 we had the driest time since owning our place. Half our cattle went away on agistment and we were feeding our sheep, then when we had a bit of rain. We were tailing the sheep everyday so they could have a feed outside the high security fence.

 Working sheep in the 'Honeymoon Yard', 2017, image supplied.

Working sheep in the 'Honeymoon Yard', 2017, image supplied.

The drought sucked the absolute life out of me. The relentless when will it rain, why won’t it rain, have you checked the weather? I reached my absolute lowest point, and I was only just surviving. I neglected all my relationships with my husband, parents and friends. I put a wall up and no one was allowed in. The only thing that kept me going was running. My body lent itself more to the couch than the racetrack, but the ability it gave me to shut up the constant chatter in my head was a saviour. I did the South Burnette Leadership Programme in March and realised that it all starts with me. If I want a change I have to make it myself. 

 Lisa planting 'Pangola Grass' after cyclone Debbie, 2017, image supplied.

Lisa planting 'Pangola Grass' after cyclone Debbie, 2017, image supplied.

In all of that I wrote a Facebook post for the ‘Invisible Farmer’ project. I have asked myself a number of times why write it in the first place? Ego? All those likes on Facebook were pretty good. But it was only the fluff I was writing about, me in a snap shot! I have realised now that I was worried that maybe the person I wrote about had gone. That strong independent girl who did cool stuff and worked on stations and caught bulls and rode motorbikes and ran the stock camp... she might have been gone. If she was gone who is left behind?

That was a bit confronting.

Lisa Shannon is my name and I was not left behind; I have just evolved. Who am I? I am a wife and a Mum, a daughter and a daughter in law. I am dedicated to my family. I am a business woman, a bookkeeper and Shannon family PR agent. I am a passionate believer in the continuing prosperity of my industry. I am a lover of horses and a wanderer of nature. I CHOSE this path. I have never wanted any special treatment just because I am a woman.

 Lisa, Cameron and their children Jessie Jane, Buckley and Bonnie married in 2016 at  Boondooma Homestead, image supplied, photographer: Lynette Vicary.

Lisa, Cameron and their children Jessie Jane, Buckley and Bonnie married in 2016 at  Boondooma Homestead, image supplied, photographer: Lynette Vicary.

Women have played such an important part in the history of our Australian agricultural industries over the years, from the role Indigenous women played in providing food and fibre, to the first settlers, to the Australian Woman’s Land Army in WWII. It’s not like we have only just arrived on the farm; it’s just the recognition has not been there! In the early days the government did not want to have a young Australia appear as a country where women worked in the fields! Until 1994 the legal status for farm women was still “sleeping partner, non productive”.

Today I look around and see young women doing great things and planning for a career in agriculture or farming in every field. BUT I still find the board rooms and corporate sector wanting. On average in Australia’s peak state agriculture lobby groups women only represent 20% of the boardroom. Is the government hearing our voices? Is the consideration made that a woman’s perspective may be different?  

 Lisa at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

Lisa at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

Women’s contributions to the farming economy are difficult to calculate specifically! Our roles are so diverse. Apart from direct contributions like labour and administration, we need to calculate the hours of unpaid domestic work, the contribution of off-farm jobs and the value of moral support. Possibly it is we women who undervalue our own contributions too! Maybe we need to own it and start with ourselves and appreciate ourselves for the effort we put in! If women think that they are an unimportant undervalued cog in the wheel of farming then stop doing it all and see what happens!

In the words of Mr Patsy Durack, one of Australia’s early settlers and explorers, “Just where would we be now without the woman folk?’

 Lisa riding out in the early morning to muster with her dogs, 2017, Image courtesy Lisa Shannon. 

Lisa riding out in the early morning to muster with her dogs, 2017, Image courtesy Lisa Shannon. 

 

 

Farmer or Queer? Researching the Herstory, Challenges & Triumphs Surrounding Lesbian & Queer Farmers

Guest post by Jacyln Wypler, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Jaclyn Wypler is a Ph.D. student in the departments of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this guest blog post, Jaclyn chronicles her passion for uniting farming and sociology, and sharing her research on lesbian and queer sustainable farmers across the mid-western United States. She is currently based in Melbourne and expanding her project to LGBT+ farmers across Australia and New Zealand. 

 Jaclyn on a farm with a donkey named Zorro, Wisconsin, 2016, image supplied.

Jaclyn on a farm with a donkey named Zorro, Wisconsin, 2016, image supplied.

Though I grew up in the “Garden State” of New Jersey, USA, I lacked a connection to farms in my densely populated New York City suburb. This all changed in my early 20s when I was studying sociology at Dartmouth College and visited my college’s organic farm—a vegetable plot nestled along a river in New England. I was enthralled by rows of sun gold tomatoes bursting with sweetness and lettuce growing in tilapia fish tanks. The manager described his journey into farming through the back-to-the-land movement, igniting my passion to meld farming and sociology in order to learn about the lives of those who grow and raise food.

 Dartmouth Organic Farm manager instructing Jaclyn on harvesting cucumbers in a retrofitted greenhouse, image supplied.

Dartmouth Organic Farm manager instructing Jaclyn on harvesting cucumbers in a retrofitted greenhouse, image supplied.

I gained insight into farmers’ experiences by working on small farms in the United States and with women farmers in Peru. As a queer woman, I was supported and out on one farm, hoeing weeds alongside another queer employee who shared thoughts on gender identity and expression. On another farm, I remained closeted, feeling apprehensive and alone as a result of a coworker’s homophobic remarks. I wondered: Did other LGBT+ farmers find acceptance or isolation? How did they fare among fellow farmers and within their communities? Entering a sociology Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison allowed me to research this question, focusing on lesbian, bisexual, trans, and queer sustainable farmers in the Midwestern United States.

Friends initially reacted with surprise to this research focus, doubting that I would find such farmers. American conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh expressed similar—though deeply political—remarks in 2016: “I never knew that lesbians wanted to get behind the horse and the plow and start burrowing. I never knew it.” Despite such incredulity, lesbians have a deep legacy on farmland, notably within the landyke movement. Beginning in the 1970s, the movement drew on back-to-the-land and radical feminism to establish communal lands and intentional communities. On these lands, women grew food, practiced rural skills, and hosted events in order to serve as socially- and environmentally-just land stewards.

By attending women farmer events and sustainable farming conferences, I have met and interviewed 42 farmers for my project. Ranging from 20 to 70 years old, the farmers were predominately white, lived in rural communities, and also identified as artists, veterans, mothers, scientists, musicians, mechanics, librarians, and engineers. While some were new to farming, others had decades of experience, like Nett who has been raising organic vegetables in rural Minnesota for 35 years. She coined the term ‘landyke’ and co-founded Lesbian Natural Resources—a non-profit organization that supports lesbians living and working on the land.

 Jacyln with Nett on her Minnestota Farm, image supplied.

Jacyln with Nett on her Minnestota Farm, image supplied.

Trained in ethnography—“the science of hanging out”—I collected data by visiting farmers and attempting to gain insight into how they see and move through the world by doing what they were doing. On farms, I helped pull weeds, herd goats, hoe beds, butcher chickens, and trellis tomatoes. I accompanied farmers to markets, on deliveries, and to run errands, all the while recording our conversations or typing field notes into my phone.

 Longtime participants of Jaclyn's research, Lori and Leann, with goats on their Wisconsin farm where they run  Lucky Dog Farm Stay.  They also own a local food restaurant in their town,  Cow and Quince,  a means to support other farmers and a safe space for members of the LGBT+ community, image supplied.

Longtime participants of Jaclyn's research, Lori and Leann, with goats on their Wisconsin farm where they run Lucky Dog Farm Stay. They also own a local food restaurant in their town, Cow and Quince, a means to support other farmers and a safe space for members of the LGBT+ community, image supplied.

Four years into the research, I am learning that while the farmers did not center their sexuality, identifying first and foremost as women or as farmers, they encountered unique hurdles and opportunities tied to their queerness. Networks between farmers provide an example of this duality.

Though many farmers in the project drew on women farmer groups for support and resources, one farmer ceased attending a regional conference for women farmers due to participants internalized patriarchal values. Women at the conference fed cattle, cleaned stalls, and milked, yet defined their role on the farm in relation to their husbands, calling themselves ‘farmer’s wives’ and not ‘farmers.’ This mentality was “too heterosexual and too dairy” for the lesbian farmer, so she no longer participated and potentially missed out on fruitful resources. Another farmer felt at odds among other sustainable farmers; she was the sole queer vendor at the farmers market and the straight farmers did not acknowledge her queerness. At the same time, her queer friends—non-farmers—did not understand why she had to leave watching queer television shows early to milk her goat. “My queer community is not my farming community and my farming community is not my queer community,” she told me. She felt as if she had to pick one of her main identities: farmer or queer.

In contrast, farming and queerness united during the 2017 season on a Missouri farm. The farm owner Liz, a lesbian, ended up with three lesbian workers for the season. She did not actively seek lesbian workers, nor did the employees search for a lesbian-run farm, but the arrangement provided pathways for young lesbians to have support and solidarity in agriculture, catalyzing their long-term visions for a career in sustainable farming.

 Liz on her Missouri farm, image supplied.

Liz on her Missouri farm, image supplied.

Miserable in the insurance industry, Amanda quit her job and began working on Liz’s farm. “I can’t remember if it was the first day or soon after I got here, but she [Liz] asked me, ‘Are you a lesbian?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and she was like, ‘DYKES, YEAH!’ and was screaming in the field, so excited about it,” Amanda recounted. “It was pretty welcoming.” Amanda had been closeted to her Catholic family for ten years before coming out and still struggled to feel positive about her sexuality: “I’m not super comfortable being out and being gay, and it’s not something I’ve been particularly vocal or proud about.” Being on the farm around Liz, however, provided her with a role model to imagine embracing her queerness. According to Amanda, Liz created a “safe space”:

It just feels really like this is a place where I can be myself and I feel comfortable talking about me and my partner. At the gym that I work at, I do not feel safe there. It’s just not a place where there are a lot of other lesbians. And I just haven’t known a lot of lesbians in my life or gay people in general, so it’s just been really awesome to have other lesbians around me that I can lez out with. And Liz is just so like, ‘F*ck it.’ She’s so proud and she is who she is and she’s a role model for me, where I can be like, ‘Oh, it is fine to be this person. Look how successful she is and she doesn’t give a f*ck and you should not give a f*ck too.’ Sorry for cursing.
 Lauren, Amanda and Kerry on Liz's farm.

Lauren, Amanda and Kerry on Liz's farm.

Amanda planned to work on Liz’s farm for as long as she could, but was aware that she would move when her partner completed graduate school. Amanda wanted to pursue another farm job at that point and described criteria for a boss:

Definitely a woman farmer, if possible. I feel like we have to support each other and I just feel more comfortable around women, especially since the assault. I just kind of struggle with males in general and so I think in all future endeavors that’s going to be a big factor. And I think that I wouldn’t want to work for a place that would be uncomfortable with me being gay and so I think it would absolutely be a factor in deciding where I go. Big time.

In light of her experiences on Liz’s farm—where her sexuality was celebrated by a proud lesbian role model—and a recent assault by an unknown man that left her hospitalized with multiple skull fractures, Amanda desired a career in sustainable agriculture, yet working for women-owned and gay-friendly farms.

Despite issues in women farming and sustainable farming networks tied to sexuality, some farmers in my project found the unique opportunity to work on lesbian-owned farms, blooming in their queerness and blossoming dreams of a farming career. They did not have to pick: queer community and farming community could be one in the same.

 Jaclyn working on a tractor, Minnesota, 2017, image supplied.

Jaclyn working on a tractor, Minnesota, 2017, image supplied.

I am excited to now extend my project to LGBT+ farmers in Australia and New Zealand! I am looking to interview farmers in person or over the phone from mid-February to mid-May. Participants' names and identifying information remains confidential unless the person requests otherwise. I aim to publish the findings in academic journals and eventually a book. If you are interested in learning more about the project or would like to share your story, I would love to hear from you! I can best be contacted at wypler@wisc.edu, or via the below form. Thank you! 

 

Register your interest 

Name
Name
*Feel free to use a pseudonym if desired

** Excerpts taken from an article written by Jaclyn in 2015, full text here: http://ourlivesmadison.com/article/queering-the-farm/

Making History: An Interview with Liza Dale-Hallett, Invisible Farmer Project

By Kira Middleton (Student Intern, University of Melbourne)

My experience exploring curation at Museums Victoria

As an undergraduate history and anthropology student at University of Melbourne, I have a passionate (and somewhat nerdy!) interest in history. Throughout my studies, however, Australian farming and rural women had never been presented to me as subjects with a history that would draw my attention. I have never considered myself to have any background, or even any interest, in farming, and I have never lived outside of major cities. Through a Bachelor of Arts course at university, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on the ‘Invisible Farmer’ as a student intern, however, this prospect was initially daunting as I felt overwhelmingly disconnected from the subjects of the project, and unsure of how I could ever be qualified to write about these women and their experiences.

 Student intern Kira Middleton working at her desk on blog posts for the Invisible Farmer Project website, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

Student intern Kira Middleton working at her desk on blog posts for the Invisible Farmer Project website, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

On my first day, however, curators Liza Dale-Hallett and Catherine Forge launched me into a wealth of knowledge and understanding, that has permanently altered not only the way that I think about women in farming, but how I think about farmers and farming industries in general. Throughout my internship, lead curator of the project Liza has taught me not only about the many strong and innovative women who tirelessly feed, clothe and house Australia, but she has taught me how to study, record and present history with a completely new mindset. I interviewed Liza as part of my work on the project, and I hope that her experiences and knowledge shared here can increase understanding of the both the project and the museum industry, and continue to shine a light on the contribution of Australian women in agriculture and farming.

 Chas Dale (Liza’s twin brother, left) and Liza Dale-Hallett (right) rounding up sheep at their family farm, Tynong, 1967, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Chas Dale (Liza’s twin brother, left) and Liza Dale-Hallett (right) rounding up sheep at their family farm, Tynong, 1967, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Liza has worked as a museum curator at Melbourne Museum for thirty years with a focus on rural women's histories, and her connection to the project is personal. Liza’s family owned and ran a sheep and beef farm from the time of her birth until she was in her 20s in the 1980s. After developing a strong interest in history at high school, Liza completed her bachelor degree with honours in history at Monash University.

Liza began working with Museum Victoria in December 1987. Her first curatorial role was to complete the installation of the first exhibitions at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland, in time for the opening in April 1988. She then worked in the newly created Social History Department at Museum of Victoria and developed the Work in the Home Collection. In 1993, she became the curator of primary production and responsible for the Museum’s agricultural collection, which is one of the most significant collections of its kind in Australia. Through this, she has led projects such as the H. V. McKay Sunshine Collection, the ‘Future Harvest’ travelling exhibition, the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings collection, the Victorian Bushfires Collection and of course, the Invisible Farmer Project. It was a thrill to interview Liza and to learn about innovative curatorship and the role of oral history in the Invisible Farmer project. I hope you enjoy reading this excerpt from the interview recorded in July 2017 in the Conservation Sound Studio at Melbourne Museum.

 Liza Dale-Hallett at Lake Eyre, 2017, Image Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett   

Liza Dale-Hallett at Lake Eyre, 2017, Image Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

 

Excerpts from my interview with Liza Dale-Hallett

In as few words as possible, can you explain the purpose of the ‘Invisible Farmer’ project?

I suppose fundamentally, it’s to redefine ‘farmer’, to include all parties, men, women, and children, who are responsible for producing the things that we enjoy as consumers… It’s also to uncover and record the untold stories of women on the land. It’s to facilitate conversations about the critical need to understand where our food and fibre comes from, and who produces it, and why gender equality is so fundamental in addressing issues that keep emerging such as climate change, rural decline, globalisation and urban sprawl.
 

 Liza Dale-Hallett (left) being interviewed by Kira Middleton (right), Melbourne Museum, July 2017, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) being interviewed by Kira Middleton (right), Melbourne Museum, July 2017, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

What would you say your view of ‘history’ is as a history curator? Specifically, how you think it should be presented to us and how should it be defined?

The single most important take-away from my university history degree was the word ‘relevance.’ So that’s my touchstone. That is the most important part of how I determine why it matters, what to do and how to do it. The other key words that shape my view of history are: impact, meaning, community ownership. And recognising the fundamental continuity between the past, the present, and the future.

So when I think about history, this is history. We’re making history now as we sit here doing this interview. This is a moment in time that keeps passing, and I keep sharing my ideas, and that gets recorded, and the people who listen to this in the near future, or the long future, they’ll engage with it as a piece of history. But it is actually history right now, too.

I like to think that the museum has a role to play that makes a difference, that adds value to people’s lives, that stimulates positive outcomes in the community. And I think the only way that you can know that you are going to contribute something of benefit is to be relevant.

Every museum has a huge responsibility - they are assumed to be holding and creating our memories for future generations. As a history curator, I can’t look at the past without also looking at the present. It is important for museums to look outside all the time, and as a curator to look at the big issues of the day, and ask ourselves how does history help us understand how we got here, and how the museum might help to facilitate a space that allows people to understand, appreciate and perhaps think creatively about their own lives and futures. 

So for me, history is a dynamic space, it’s about continuity. It’s about being relevant and responsive. It’s all about story and community, and helping individuals to participate in a very active way in making meaning.

 

 Liza-Dale Hallett (far left), Rhonda Diffey, a member of the Women on Farms Heritage Group (second from left), Alan Rendell (third from left), Merlyn Rendell (second from right) and Georgia Harvey (far right) working on the Museum Victoria Heritage Displays, Women on Farms Gathering at Horsham, 2004, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90816

Liza-Dale Hallett (far left), Rhonda Diffey, a member of the Women on Farms Heritage Group (second from left), Alan Rendell (third from left), Merlyn Rendell (second from right) and Georgia Harvey (far right) working on the Museum Victoria Heritage Displays, Women on Farms Gathering at Horsham, 2004, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90816


Given that artefacts and objects have such limitations, how have you gone about engaging the community and capturing their stories?

When I became the curator of primary production in 1993, I went on a little investigation of the collection, which is one of the most significant collections of agriculture in Australia, and I looked around and I thought, well, where are the women? Where are their stories? I couldn’t see them. I could see lots of agricultural technology, but I couldn’t see how it was possible to make sense of women’s lives through that collection.

So that was a provoking question. Where are the women? And, how do I access those stories, and how do I document the role women have played over the generations in agriculture, to fill those gaps?

 Liza Dale-Hallett at a workshop, Women on Farms Gathering at Glenormiston, 1994, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90502

Liza Dale-Hallett at a workshop, Women on Farms Gathering at Glenormiston, 1994, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90502

The 1993 Women on Farms Gathering at Tallangatta, was my way in to trying to answer that question. And what I found, at that Gathering and the many other Gatherings I attended, were women who were coming together, supporting each other in the face of very critical changes impacting those communities and those agricultural industries. They were learning new skills, investigating, exploring all sorts of alternative forms of agriculture. They were daring to call themselves ‘farmers' and challenging terms such as 'farmer's wives' or 'helpmates'. They were really extending themselves into spaces that would hopefully sustain them and their families and their communities. And they were also using story, and symbols, as a way of making meaning and connecting with each other.

 Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with Anna Lottkowitz (right), who developed the Rural Women’s Network in 1986 and is now a partner of the Invisible Farmer Project, at the Women on Farms Gathering at Horsham, 2004, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90830

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with Anna Lottkowitz (right), who developed the Rural Women’s Network in 1986 and is now a partner of the Invisible Farmer Project, at the Women on Farms Gathering at Horsham, 2004, Source: Museums Victoria, MM90830

So, through these Gatherings I was able to witness history being made and expressed from all parts of Victoria. The stories and symbols, which were a central feature of these Gatherings, helped me see creative ways to document these untold stories. The Gatherings also helped me make connections with any number of people and to develop partnerships which have been fundamental to my practice as a curator and which continue to inform the work I do.

The Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection is the basis from which the Invisible Farmer project has emerged.

 Icons that form part of the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection, a cowpat from the 1992 Numurkah Gathering, a Mallee sands and seeds bottle from the Ouyen 1998 Gathering and a computer motherboard from the 1997 Bendigo Gathering, Source: Museums Victoria.

Icons that form part of the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection, a cowpat from the 1992 Numurkah Gathering, a Mallee sands and seeds bottle from the Ouyen 1998 Gathering and a computer motherboard from the 1997 Bendigo Gathering, Source: Museums Victoria.

Why do you think it’s important for curators to reflect the process of ‘making history’ and what does this process entail?

History is a construction. It’s a collection of things and stories that are either deliberately preserved, or accidentally preserved.

As a curator, I’ll have certain questions and areas of interest that I want to pursue and document. And then when you listen to people, they also have a story that they have framed in a particular way, that they consider important and meaningful. And so you come into this space where you both are curating that story and making judgements about its significance.

This is an important part of the concept of living history - it’s never just about the past. The history could be generations old but still be very powerful and personal space to be in - it still needs to be handled very carefully. I think enabling the agency of each person - allowing them to help shape how their history should be documented - is really important.

We all make history. And we all need meaning in our lives. The Women on Farms Gatherings taught me the power of collaboration and the Future Harvest project demonstrated how critical it is to involve the community in framing relevant questions.

That process of making history and making meaning, in partnership with communities and individuals, is very powerful and can be really transformative for those involved.

 Liza Dale-Hallett (left) and Robert Zugaro (right) filming for the Invisible Farmer Project at the Warragul Farmers Market, 2017, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) and Robert Zugaro (right) filming for the Invisible Farmer Project at the Warragul Farmers Market, 2017, Source: Supplied, Catherine Forge

How important do you think images are in recording history and how relevant are they to this project, to work in conjunction with the oral histories that you’re collecting?

One of the most graphic ways of demonstrating the invisibility of women in agriculture and farming, is just to do a Google Image search. In every ten images you’ll be lucky if you find one woman. Most of them are white, middle aged blokes. It’s such a discrepancy with the reality. The fact is that women create half of the real farm income in Australia – but their half of the story is missing.

So, there we have a resource, which most people, and certainly every child, considers as a go-to encyclopedia presenting images that don’t reflect reality, that present a very skewed view of farming.

Part of what we’re trying to do is fill in these gaps.  Sometimes images are a good way to do that, as it might not be possible to collect artefacts…perhaps there isn’t an artefact that properly represents that person’s life but there is an image that does. Images are a really important tool for social history, to understand some of the changes that happen over time. They are a great compliment to interviews and oral histories.

We live in an age of images, you know, everything is visual. Social media is peppered with fabulous photos. So we sort of have to use the medium to try to help shape people’s understanding about the diversity of the ways in which women are involved in production on the land in all its many guises. Using images is a prime tool in our social media campaigns.

The other critical thing about images is you can’t inspire girls and young women to participate in agriculture if they can’t see images of other women in agriculture. There’s a lot of innovative women, but unless you represent them visually, you can’t inspire a new generation towards that field of endeavor. You need to have the images to make that sort of shift; and also to challenge the assumption that the farmer is always a bloke.

 An image taken for the Invisible Farmer Project depicting farmer Amy Paul, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

An image taken for the Invisible Farmer Project depicting farmer Amy Paul, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

What do you think the role of language is in this project and in the wider rural women’s community?

Language is a tool to connect, to communicate, but it can also be a tool that excludes whole communities. So that’s why ‘farmer’ is so important. Why should it be only associated with men? It’s a word that describes a commitment, an activity, an involvement, a connection to the land, and to primary production.

So language is a critical part of this project because we’re wanting to redefine those cultural assumptions, those cultural habits. And through the stories of women we are revealing the complexities and diversities of ‘farmer’.

‘Invisible’ has been a word that provokes a response. There’s a lot of women who aren’t invisible. Clearly they’re not; they’re leaders, they’re active community members. The word is intended to provoke people to make more visible that which is not so visible from any number of perspectives. Whether it’s Google Images, or the person in the supermarket who hasn’t got any idea that women are involved in producing all of what they eat, or the stories we choose to remember in our national histories.

The Invisible Farmer project is wanting to create change. We are stimulating discussion, we are getting people to think about what matters, and hopefully the words we use will do that.

 An image taken for the Invisible Farmer Project depitcting farmer Sallie Jones, Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick (Victoria), 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

An image taken for the Invisible Farmer Project depitcting farmer Sallie Jones, Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick (Victoria), 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

 

You wrote a wonderful tribute to your mother on the ABC Open ‘Invisible Farmer’ website. How much of your interest and your dedication to this project would you attribute to your personal history, specifically your mother?

My family owned a farm in Tynong, Gippsland. It was a weekend farm.  We lived in Melbourne and every Sunday (rain or shine) we worked there.

My mother was a farmer. I think we were all farmers. Though father would have identified himself as THE ‘farmer’; but he definitely couldn’t have done it without us, and certainly not without my mother.

Everything was undeveloped when they bought the property.  In the 20 plus years we had the farm there was never any power connected. They built everything by hand, that meant all the fencing, yards, sheep dip, sheds, and the whole house was built by hand. The clearing was all done by hand. So everything was very physical, very manual. My mother did as much work as my dad did. But she probably did more because she also had to feed us all after a full day’s work in the sun or the rain.