Young Farming Champions: Celebrating and Supporting Young Women Farmers 

By Lynne Strong and Mandy McKeesick

Lynne Strong and Mandy McKeesick are part of the Art4Agricutlure organisation. As National Program Director and Founder of Art4Agriculture, Lynne Strong is passionate about highlighting the important role of Australian farmers and encouraging young people to become involved in the agriculture sector. In this blog Lynne and Mandy reflect on the unique stories and experiences of young women that have partaken in Art4Agriculture's Young Farming Champions (YFC) Program.


Our Young Farm Champions (YFCs) are enthusiastic young women (and men) with a passion for agriculture. Through workshops and mentorships our Young Farmer Champion program develops them into confident public speakers who are media savvy, highly visible and capable of engaging the community on agricultural topics.

Since the program’s inception in 2011 we have trained 75 YFCs, including agronomists, scientists, geneticists, extension officers, wool brokers, accountants and traditional farmers. Nearly three quarters of these (55) have been women.

We’ve asked our female YFCs to identify the issues and biggest challenges they face as young women in what was once considered a male domain, and here are the top four issues they told us about:

Isolation

Isolation appears in many forms. It can take a physical form as is the case for Bessie Thomas. Bessie lives and works with her husband on a 70,000 acre sheep station in western NSW, and has recently expanded her family with the birth of their first child.

Bessie Thomas with her child, 2017, image supplied.

Bessie Thomas with her child, 2017, image supplied.

“My daughter choked the other day and my husband didn't answer the UHF and our landline wouldn't dial out. I had to call the RFDS while administering first aid and later it really hit home how vulnerable I am out here by myself when something goes wrong.”

Bessie is also concerned about social isolation.

“This has only become a battle since having a child. I used to be able to work outside all day with my husband and whoever else is working here, or jump in the car and go and see a neighbour for a drink on the weekend, or take part in things like Young Farming Champions and socialise with other young people. Now I feel tethered to the house.”

With 200km to the nearest town social activities such as playgroup are non-existent. 

Art4Agriculture founder and director Lynne Strong, 2017, image supplied. 

Art4Agriculture founder and director Lynne Strong, 2017, image supplied. 

Another form of isolation is the professional one, experienced by Art4Agriculture founder and director Lynne Strong.

“I spent 25 years as a community pharmacist and one of the things I truly valued was working side by side with other professionals as committed as me to providing the community with the knowledge to lead healthy lifestyles. Every day was an opportunity to talk to people and hear their stories and provide advice where needed. In 2000, I came back to the farm. As a sixth generation farmer I was struck by how isolated I felt. I only lived 10 minutes from the nearest town of 20,000 people and the closest city was 45 minutes away yet I struggled to identify my tribe and feel like I was part of a collective.”
 

Climate Change

Young women like Anika Molesworth feel that global issues such as climate change have a significant impact on their lives and their futures. Home for Anika is an arid sheep station near Broken Hill, yet she spends much of her time in Cambodia and Laos researching a PhD, which is looking at optimising soil fertility in water constrained environments.

Anika Molesworth with horse, 2017, image supplied.

Anika Molesworth with horse, 2017, image supplied.

“Knowing the region, I hold dear, the far west of NSW, is going to become hotter and drier with more frequent and intense dust storms drives me to build resilience and sustainability into our farm model. I see climate change as a driver for farmers to equipment themselves with the best skills and knowledge to ensure a bright farming future.”

Anika’s actions speak louder than her words. In 2015 she and fellow YFC Joshua Gilbert were crowd-funded to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change held in Paris. Anika is also the founder of Climate Wise Agriculture and was the 2015 Australian Young Farmer of the Year.

 

Sexism

Even in these modern times sexism still can make the list of issues facing women working with the land. Bronwyn Roberts has a wealth of experience in the cattle industry. Working beside her father she helped transform 5,500 acres of cropping land into a beef operation by fencing, establishing watering points and building yards. She also worked for years as a grazing project manager officer with the Fitzroy Basin Association – so she knows her stuff and was surprised at the reaction she received when she took on a new role this year.

Bronwyn Roberts, image supplied.

Bronwyn Roberts, image supplied.

“Since starting as Business Development Manager for Bar H Grazing I've been asked by three different people if I'm the new secretary! It doesn't really matter but I bet a male my age wouldn't be asked if he was secretary for a medium scale agricultural business. It never really affected me as a project manager but it will be interesting to see if others treat me different because I'm a female manager with a fancy new title and not simply a male station manager like they're used to.”

Sexism can also be unintentional and rather a lack of consideration over something as simple as toilet requirements. Dr Jo Newton, a research geneticist working with the dairy industry, has seen it all ranging from clean, lockable toilets complete with a sanitary bin right outside a shearing shed, to having a half hour drive to the nearest facilities.

Dr Jo Newton with calves, 2017, image supplied.

Dr Jo Newton with calves, 2017, image supplied.

“I'm capable of squatting behind a tree (or finding a handy ute to offer cover when no trees are available), however I do find this an uncomfortable experience when not familiar with my host, especially when I am the only female present.”
 

Communication
 

Communication is an issue that many women have identified with in their daily lives. In particular internet availability, cost, and data amounts. There is probably nothing as frustrating as dealing with our city cousins who do not understand that we have run out of data for the month (“How can you run out of data,” they of the unlimited plans ask aghast) or have had to drive fifteen minutes to the top of a hill, crawl onto the roof of our vehicle and hold the phone at a 37 degree angle to get reception.

Reliable internet underpins many of the other issues facing everyone in agriculture. Sufficient internet speed and data would allow Bessie to open up her social world. It allows Lynne to find her tribe and Anika to connect with people all over the world, which is so important to her studies. It allows Bronwyn, who’s alter ego Farmer Bron is popular on social media, to communicate with those interested in agriculture. And it allows YFC Rebecca Thislethwaite, pictured below, to undertake her PhD on breeding wheat varieties, and collaborate with scientists around the world from the vast plains of the Narrabri in western New South Wales.

Rebecca Thislethwaite, image Kieran Shephard, 2015.

Rebecca Thislethwaite, image Kieran Shephard, 2015.

At Art4Agriculture we believe partnerships and collaboration are the solution to many of the big challenges in agriculture, an ethos women all over the world share. The challenge is how we connect these women. This was the driving force behind the Young Farming Champions program. What seemed like a straightforward concept at the outset has become a trigger for so much growth and contribution. It lights the fire, then those participants, once sparked, seem to carry their own torch.  We are proud of our YFCs – proud of the fact all of them continue to pursue careers in agriculture, proud they advocate on behalf of agriculture and proud of their involvement with the next generation having visited over 210 schools and taken their stories to over 140,000 students.

Likewise the Invisible Farmer Project shines a light on women in agriculture. It’s an opportunity for other women, policy makers and change makers to identify likeminded thinkers and bring them together. Just imagine what we could achieve if we all worked together across sectors, industries and communities to pool resources, pool thinking and pool skills for the benefit of all.

 

Want to find out more?

Art4Agriculture: http://www.art4agriculture.com.au/index.html

Youth Farming Champions Program: http://www.youngfarmingchampions.com/

The Archibull Prize: http://archibullprize.com.au/

To find out more about the young women of the Young Farming Champions Program mentioned in this blog post:

Rebecca Thistlewaite: https://www.agwomenglobal.com/blog/agwomen-rebecca-thistlethwaite

Bessie Thomas: https://www.agwomenglobal.com/blog/agwomen-bessie-thomas

Lynne Strong:  https://www.agwomenglobal.com/blog/agwomen-lynne-strong

Anika Molesworth: https://www.agwomenglobal.com/blog/agwomen-anika-molesworth

Bronwyn Roberts: http://leadingagriculture14.topmagazines.com.au/20/

Jo Newton: https://www.agwomenglobal.com/blog/agwomen-jo-newton

From the Farm to the Museum - Reflections on Farming, Rural Women's Networking and Volunteering for Museum Victoria's Invisible Farmer Project

By Alison Brinson and Ilse Matthews

Alison Brinson and Ilse Mathews are volunteer researchers at Museums Victoria who have been working with curators Liza Dale-Hallett and Catherine Forge on the Invisible Farmer Project. They have come to know Liza and Catherine over the years through their involvement in Women on Farms Gatherings, and through the connections that Museums Victoria has established with this community of rural women via the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection, and more recently, the Invisible Farmer Project. In this blog post Alison and Ilse reflect on their journeys as farmers and their experience of rural women's networking. They also share their journey of volunteering with the Invisible Farmer Project and researching Heather Mitchell's hat.

Ilse Matthews (left) and Allison Brinson (right) at Proteaflora Flowers, 2017, image supplied.

Ilse Matthews (left) and Allison Brinson (right) at Proteaflora Flowers, 2017, image supplied.

Flower Farming, Rural Women's Networking and Raising the Profile of Women on Farms
 

Alison and Ilse have known each other for over 30 years, initially through their respective business involvements in the cut-flower industry. What started out as a purely business relationship grew into a firm friendship as they both became involved in local activities and groups that supported women in agriculture in developing their skills and networks. 
 

About Alison's flower farm

Alison and her husband Gerald set up Peny Bryn Flowers in Silvan in 1984. The farm was a mature protea plantation when they bought the land and over the next 5 years they expanded their protea production, buying new plants from Proteaflora, which is where Alison first met Ilse. Peny Bryn Flowers produced flowers for the florist industry. In the early 1990s they added gerbera cut-flowers to their product range. Gradually, the protea production was phased out, in favour of gerberas. Gerberas are grown in hydroponically, in greenhouses, providing year-round production of high quality, colourful blooms to the florist industry. Today, Gerald and Alison’s son, Owen, manages the farm, giving Alison time away from the farm to volunteer at Museums Victoria and pursue other interests as a woman in horticulture. Alison reflects:

What I love about farming is producing a colourful product (flowers) that gives people joy.  I never tire of the sea of colour and the whoosh of warm air on my face that greets me every morning when I open the doors to the greenhouses full of gerberas in bloom.

 

Alison and Gerald Brinson of Peny Bryn Flowers, 2017, image courtesy Janette Scott (Yarra Ranges Council).

Alison and Gerald Brinson of Peny Bryn Flowers, 2017, image courtesy Janette Scott (Yarra Ranges Council).

About Ilse's flower farm

Proteaflora Nursery was established in 1974 by Peter and Rita Mathews and remains a family owned and managed business today, with Ilse and David Mathews at the helm. Proteaflora Nursery is a wholesale production nursery specialising in the Protea family of plants, including South African natives such as Protea, Leucospermum, Serruria and Leucadendron, as well as Australian natives like Banksia and Telopea. The Protea family of plants is an ancient botanical family going back to Gondwanaland, when the continents of Africa and Australia were joined together. Ilse enjoys working on the nursery, networking with other horticultural and women's groups and volunteering with Museums Victoria. Ilse reflects:

What I love about farming is that it connects me with nature and helps keep me grounded. Farming is vital for our daily life – the food and fibre we grow feeds and clothes us, and the plants and flowers we grow feed our soul and help to power our Earth’s “lungs”, with the air we breathe. I am proud to be a part of all of this.
Ilse and David Matthews of Proteaflora Nursery, 2016, image courtesy Tagen Baker.

Ilse and David Matthews of Proteaflora Nursery, 2016, image courtesy Tagen Baker.

WinHort Yarra Ranges

Women in Horticulture Yarra Ranges (WinHort YR) is one of the main horticultural groups that Alison and Ilse have been actively involved with locally:

We were both founding members of WinHort YR in 2002. WinHort brings together women involved in horticulture in an informal and supportive way around issues that affect them and their businesses. We organise farm visits, workshops and training on topics of interest as well as social events like our International Women’s Day dinner, featuring inspirational women sharing their story.
WinHort farm walk at Violi Strawberry Farm, 2013, image supplied.

WinHort farm walk at Violi Strawberry Farm, 2013, image supplied.

A major highlight of WinHort’s Calendar is a farm walk or visit, where members come together from a diverse range of industries such as nursery, berries, flowers, orchards, vegetables and wine. These visits are a chance to see at first-hand how the business is organised and operated:

While there quite a few differences amongst our farms and enterprises, we find that we all share the challenges of running a family business, finding good staff, coping with too much or not enough rain, having to work with various government agencies and their regulations, etc. It is always inspiring and fun, and a great chance for our husbands to get out and about and network too.

As well as being a way to organise events or training, WinHort has led to the development of strong women's networks. These such networks were invaluable in 2009-10 when WinHort YR organised two "Pamper Days" for women in the Yarra Ranges area who had been directly affected by the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires. The Pamper Days were a chance for these women to get away from the stresses of post-fire life, share their experience with others and to have some fun, laughter and a bit of pampering and TLC. The local council, businesses and community groups were incredibly supportive. 

WinHort Pamper Day organisers, 2009, Image: supplied.

WinHort Pamper Day organisers, 2009, Image: supplied.

The Pamper Days were also an inspiring way for women to come together and network on a large scale. One example of this was the support and involvement of one of the “Singed Sisters” from Canberra. This group formed in response to their experiences with the devastating fires in Canberra a few years earlier. They sent one of their members to the Yarra Valley to share her story and offered support symbolically with the gift of a quilt created by all of the Singed Sisters. 

Alison Brinson with the Singed Sisters and Solidarity and Friendship Quilt, 2011, image supplied.

Alison Brinson with the Singed Sisters and Solidarity and Friendship Quilt, 2011, image supplied.

For both Alison and Ilse, being members of WinHort has been an immensely valuable experience. Not only has it enhanced their farm skills and opened up wonderful networking opporunities, but it has also been a positive and affirming process. 'Alison and I were delighted and touched when WinHort's activities were recognised by our local council in 2015 on Australia Day', says Ilse. 'It's not often that you get publicly reognised for the things you do'. 

WinHort YR Australia Day award with Alison Brinson (left) and Ilse Matthews (right, holding award), 2015, image courtesy Yarra Ranges Council.

WinHort YR Australia Day award with Alison Brinson (left) and Ilse Matthews (right, holding award), 2015, image courtesy Yarra Ranges Council.

Women on Farms Gatherings

Alison and Ilse are regular attendees of Women on Farms Gatherings. Gatherings have been held every year somewhere in rural Victoria since 1990. They are a chance for rural women to get together in a low-key and low-cost way. They provide a forum where women feel free to discuss ideas, share and learn skills, express concern about issues impacting on rural life and enterprises, offer and seek support, create networks as well as to have fun at a workshop and relax on a weekend away from the farm. Museums Victoria has been actively collecting stories from these Gatherings via the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection, which you can read about here.

Alison Brinson on a tractor on a farm visit at the Hopetoun Women on Farms Gathering, 2016, Image: supplied.

Alison Brinson on a tractor on a farm visit at the Hopetoun Women on Farms Gathering, 2016, Image: supplied.

As well as going to Gatherings in other parts of the State, Alison and Ilse have also been involved with organising a Gathering in their own area. Gatherings have been held in the Yarra Valley/Dandenong Ranges based at Healesville in 2000 and in 2015. Alison was on the organising committees of both of these Gatherings and Ilse got the ball rolling in galvanising community support and establishing the Organising Committee for the 2015 Healesville/Yarra Valley Gathering:

It took 18 months of hard work to plan and organise the 2015 Gathering. We were all pushed to our limits along the way but learnt a lot and were heartened by the support we got from the community, our local council and businesses of the Yarra Ranges area.
Healesville Women on Farms Gathering organising committee, 2015, image supplied.

Healesville Women on Farms Gathering organising committee, 2015, image supplied.

Each Gathering Committee chooses a specific theme for their Gathering with a logo and an icon that reflect something about the theme or the local area. The 2015 Gathering’s Theme was “Making every woman count”, and the logo reflected the role of women from several generations involved in vineyards and horticulture generally:

Our icon was a humorous play on the word “count”, with the beads of an abacus used to spell out our theme and location – Yarra Ranges, 2015. We were proud to have the abacus and other significant items from our Gathering become a part of Yarra Ranges Museum’s Heritage collection.
Healesville Gathering logo, 2015.

Healesville Gathering logo, 2015.

Healesville Gathering icon, 2015.

Healesville Gathering icon, 2015.

The 2015 Healesville Gathering was based at The Memo (Memorial Hall) with the support of Yarra Ranges Council elected members and staff.  This wonderful facility was recently renovated and has an excellent auditorium for the more formal plenary sessions as well as informal reception functions. It also has a dedicated a Gallery space which enabled us to showcase all the items that form a part of Museums Victoria’s Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Collection. Due to limitations of suitable space, it has not always been possible to do this at every Gathering, so the Healesville Gathering was a great chance to showcase it in full.

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with Ilse Matthews (right) setting up Women on Farms Gathering Heritage exhibition items, 2015, image supplied.

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with Ilse Matthews (right) setting up Women on Farms Gathering Heritage exhibition items, 2015, image supplied.

 

Collecting and Researching Heather Mitchell's Hat

At the Hopetoun Women on Farms Gathering in 2016, Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett was presented with an Akubra hat by Deirdre Brocklebank. The hat had belonged to Deirdre’s mother, Heather Mitchell, a former resident of Hopetoun who is best known as the first (and only) woman President of the Victorian Farmers Federation and as the founding co-chair of Landcare Victoria, alongside Joan Kirner. Heather wore the hat as part of her “uniform” in the ten or so years that she was active in the agri-political arena in Victoria, and nationally, in the 1980s-1990s. The hat became the first physical item to be acquired by Museums Victoria as part of the Invisible Farmer Project. 

Heather Mitchell with Joan Kirner at the 10th Anniversary of Landcare, Winjallock, Victoria, 1996, Source: North Central News, St Arnaud.

Heather Mitchell with Joan Kirner at the 10th Anniversary of Landcare, Winjallock, Victoria, 1996, Source: North Central News, St Arnaud.

Liza Dale-Hallett (holding Heather Mitchell's hat, 2017, Source: Museums Victoria.

Liza Dale-Hallett (holding Heather Mitchell's hat, 2017, Source: Museums Victoria.

 

Documenting and researching Heather’s hat so that it could be formally acquired by the Museum was main first task that Allison and Ilse worked on together:

What we found most interesting about the hat is that it has 40 individual badges attached, representing a diverse range of organisations and issues. These badges were a wonderful way to discover the other areas of interest that Heather was involved with during her life. Discovering the story behind each badge helps us to really appreciate what an amazing person she was.

This photo, below, shows Ilse talking about Heather Mitchell’s hat to a delegation from Australian Women in Agriculture visiting Museums Victoria in 2016. Note the appropriate use of protective gloves – very important when handling items from the Museum’s collections. 

Ilse Matthews with Heather Mitchell's hat, Melbourne Museum, 2016, supplied.

Ilse Matthews with Heather Mitchell's hat, Melbourne Museum, 2016, supplied.

 'What I found most interesting about working at Museums Victoria on Heather Mitchell’s hat was how little was known about Heather Mitchell in the public arena, beyond her role as the first woman President of the VFF and as founding co-chair of LandCare Victoria with Joan Kirner', reflects Ilse. 'Her hat was the vehicle through which we were able find out so much more about her, and the many amazing things she did. She was, and is, an inspiration.' 

The main task for Alison and Ilse was to identify the badges on Heather Mitchell's hat and then to uncover any stories about these badges and how Heather had acquired them. In order to undertake their research, Ilse and Alison enlisted the help of Heather's immediate family, and Heather's daughter Deirdre Brocklebank: 

Deirdre made available to us copies of newspaper articles relating to Heather, including the many obituaries that were published shortly after her death. Deirdre has also written a personal memoir “Tell Tales. Memoirs of Hopetoun Victoria, 1950s-70”. As well personal anecdotes, the book also includes an extensive and impressive list of the contribution that both her parents made to their local community. These family history treasures gave us a lot of very useful information that made our research work so much easier. Without the help of her family, our research task would have been so much more difficult.
Heather Mitchell's family visiting Melbourne Museum, 2017, image supplied.

Heather Mitchell's family visiting Melbourne Museum, 2017, image supplied.

 

As well as speaking to Deirdre's family, Ilse and Alison investigated public records at various libraries, and used online Google and Trove searches. 'At times we felt a little bit like Sherlock Holmes in our efforts to find out the story behind each of the 40 badges on Heather’s hat', reflect Alison and Ilse, 'in the end we were chuffed to be successful in identifying 37 of the 40 badges!' Alison reflects:

My favourite part of working with this object was discovering the humanity, compassion and humour of the woman behind her public image represented by her hat. I felt very privileged to be able to help bring the story of Heather Mitchell’s enormous contribution to rural Australia to life. 

Once Alison and Ilse finalised their research they were able to write narratives about Heather, the hat and the badges so that they could become a part of Museums Victoria’s Invisible Farmer Project and their online collections. They wrote a narrative badges on Heather's hat, and what stories these badges tell, which you can read on Museums Victoria's online collections, here. They also wrote a narrative about the life and work of Heather Mitchell, which you can on Museums Victoria's online collections, here.

More recently, Heather’s story and hat formed part of a pop-up display in the Museum’s Discovery Centre and three of Heather’s children and a grandson came along to see it (image above). 'It was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet them all face to face and share stories about Heather', reflect Alison and Ilse, 'and to share stories of the vital role that their mother/grandmother had played in rural Victoria.'

Want to know more?

  • Come and see Heather Mitchell's hat on display at the Women of the Land pop-up exhibition running from 13 October -26 November at Melbourne Museum.
  • Read about Heather Mitchell's hat, here: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/15081
  • Follow the Invisible Farmer Project on Facebook, Instagram and
  • Watch this video, below, showing Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett working with Heather Mitchell's hat.

The story of Stackelroth Farms - an all-female team producing Australia's Halloween pumpkins!

Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project) with Belinda Williams and Michelle O'Regan (Co-owners, Stackelroth Farms)

Have you ever wondered where your Halloween pumpkin comes from? Well today, on Halloween, we have a wonderful story to share with you – it’s the story of Stackelroth Farms, an all-female pumpkin growing operation situated in Bowen, QLD, and managed by long-term partners Belinda Williams and Michelle O’Regan. Belinda and Michelle have been together as a couple for over 14 years and in that time the Halloween program has also grown greatly.

Belinda (left) and Michelle (right) at Stackelroth Farms, QLD, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

Belinda (left) and Michelle (right) at Stackelroth Farms, QLD, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

For Belinda, farming has been in her blood since birth – she is a third-generation farmer who remembers working the land with her parents from a young age. ‘I recall making tomato boxes each day before and after school for pocket money, planting and driving tractors’, says Belinda. ‘I was saving to buy a motorbike. My grandparents and mother taught me that if I wanted something I had to work for it.’

When she was just 23 years of age, Belinda’s step-father, Ian Stackelroth, tragically passed away in a farming accident. Belinda and her Mother, Pam Stackelroth, did not have time to stop. ‘Three days later we were back in the paddock harvesting capsicums, pumpkins and watermelon to keeping the farm running’, recalls Belinda. Belinda has inherited her strength and resilience from her mother Pam; they are both highly respected within the farming community, not only as they are women farmers, but also as business owners and managers.

Sunset at Stackelroth Farms, QLD, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

Sunset at Stackelroth Farms, QLD, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

Belinda supported Pam in her farming ventures until 2007, when she decided to start her own farming entity.  Prior to starting out on her own, the farming company had been trialling Halloween pumpkin varieties as they saw an opportunity to grow the business with the Halloween trend becoming stronger over the past 17 years in Australia. Belinda kept the Halloween program going: ‘it has taken years of research, development and trials to grow the program to the event that is now celebrated nationally’, says Belinda. Stackelroth Farms now produces over 500 tonnes of Halloween pumpkins in a joint venture with two other farmers situated in the Burdekin and in Western Australia. Belinda manages the National Halloween Program, in partnership with fruit and vegetable wholesalers MorCo.

Belinda with her dog, Stackelroth Farms, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

Belinda with her dog, Stackelroth Farms, image courtesy Shannon Kirk of De Lacy Kirk Photography.

Belinda’s partner, Michelle, was not born into farming; however as a child she had to overcome diversity and many great challenges, including growing up as a foster child. Her life expreinces have given her a strong work ethic and a unique insight into overcoming challenges. Michelle is a Sergeant of Police, and has been stationed in Bowen since 2001. She has been working alongside Belinda and Pam with the Halloween program and farming operations, in between her police work, since 2003. Michelle reflects:

Aside from undertaking the planting and prep work on the farm, I take annual leave each year to run the picking crews for our Halloween Harvest. This frees up Belinda to manage the shed and the general business inquiries with the support of Pam. Belinda and I also do direct supply of garden vegetables, locally and within our region, so at the end of a working day and on weekends we are often found in the paddock or back shed harvesting and packing produce for local supply chains. This makes for very long days during the 5-6 month vegetable harvest season but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Belinda (left) and Michelle (right), image supplied, ABC Rural, http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-05-12/invisible-farmer-pumpkin-growers-bowen/8521384

Belinda (left) and Michelle (right), image supplied, ABC Rural, http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-05-12/invisible-farmer-pumpkin-growers-bowen/8521384

Belinda and Michelle pride themselves in giving young people a start in the farming industry, whether it be through programs or employment during the season. ‘One main rule at Stackelroths is that if you work like an adult, you get paid accordingly’, says Belinda. ‘This has seen great reward and growth and development of some of the 50+ young people that have been employed on the farm over the past 10+ years.’

A few years ago Stackelroth Farms investigated the possibility of employing a school-based trainee from the local high school. A traineeship had not been offered for many years and it was identified that more young people were needed in the industry and there were many barriers to overcome. With this in mind, Michelle’s daughter Stevi-Leigh undertook this traineeship and as a result Stevi has completed her studies and gained full-time employment with Prospect Agriculture, a horticulture consultancy and research business. This has created a pathway for more local farming entities to consider offering traineeships to young people interested in the industry.

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh at work on the farm, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh at work on the farm, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh at the end of a day's work, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh at the end of a day's work, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Belinda providing some hands-on training on how to fix a water leak in a trickle tap, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Belinda providing some hands-on training on how to fix a water leak in a trickle tap, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Prospect Agriculture has also partnered with Stackelroth Farms and the local Police Citizens Youth Club (Michelle’s workplace) to deliver programs for unemployed and disadvantaged youth, which has seen great results for participants in recent years. It is these kinds of partnerships that Belinda and Michelle believe strengthen communities. 

Michelle explains: ‘I am very lucky that in my role, I am able to positively help community and young people. With this in mind, I have been able to connect families, children, young people to the importance of where their food comes from. Through Stackelroth Farms, I am thankful for the industry knowledge and support Belinda has given with helping develop and facilitate various programs from basic education of how food is grown to programs for children, families and unemployed youth.’

Michelle tending to pumpkins, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle tending to pumpkins, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle carving Halloween pumpkins, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle carving Halloween pumpkins, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

With the highlights, though, there have been some significant challenges. Tropical Cyclone Debbie hit the Whitsunday Region with great force in late March, this saw Stackelroth Farms lose 100% of their butternut crops. Belinda, Michelle, Stevi and a group of wonderful friends, young people and their parents all banded together to pull up over 30 acres of plastic and trickle tape (watering lines) by hand.  ‘This was soul destroying and back breaking work’, recalls Belinda, ‘but all the willing volunteers came armed with enthusiasm, fun and smiles which made the heart breaking work somewhat bearable.’ Over 40,000 seedlings were washed away and Belinda and Michelle decided not to replant, but to instead focus on recovery efforts on the farm and working on the Halloween program.

Aftermath of Cyclone Debbie at Stackelroth Farms, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook)

Aftermath of Cyclone Debbie at Stackelroth Farms, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook)

Recovery works at Stackelroth Farms following Cyclone Debbie, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Recovery works at Stackelroth Farms following Cyclone Debbie, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh working on the cyclone recoveyr efforts, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Michelle's daughter Stevi-Leigh working on the cyclone recoveyr efforts, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook).

Belinda is a farmer through and through; farming runs through her veins and there are no signs of her slowing down. Both Belinda and Michelle see it is very important to bridge the barriers between consumers and farming, which sees them open their farm to families and children some weekends, so that children can learn what goes into growing their food.

Belinda teaching children farm skills, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook)

Belinda teaching children farm skills, image supplied (Stackelroth Farms, Facebook)

Belinda and Michelle see many challenges not just for young females, but for all young people entering into the agricultural sector and the industry itself. With these challenges, though, comes great opportunities and rewards.  According to Belinda, ‘it is going to be very exciting to see where farming is headed in the next 10-20 years, especially in the areas of research, development and innovation.’

Both Belinda and Michelle do not see being female farmers, or running a female managed farm, as a barrier; 'we just get in do the job at hand to a good standard', they say. This has brought great respect within their community not only for their produce, but also with the support they provide for young people and community groups.

For now though it is business as usual on Stackelroth Farms, where the farming season for 2017 is finishing off. To see what Belinda, Michelle and their team get up to, you can follow their journeys via the Stackelroth Farms Facebook and Instagram pages. Happy Halloween!

Michell (left) and Belinda (right), image courtesy Lara Webster, ABC Rural, http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-10-10/halloween-pumpkins-bring-relief-for-north-queensland-growers/9032998

Michell (left) and Belinda (right), image courtesy Lara Webster, ABC Rural, http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-10-10/halloween-pumpkins-bring-relief-for-north-queensland-growers/9032998

Shining a Light on the Australian Women's Land Army (1942-1945)

By Heather Gartshore

Heather Gartshore is an academic with the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. She is currently writing her Masters thesis on the histories and stories of the Australian Women’s Land Army (1942-1945), with a specific focus on ‘giving voice and shining a light on those stories which remain untold.’

Women's Land Army members at Fowlers Farm in the Burdekin district, c. 1942-1945, Image courtesy OzatWar: http://www.ozatwar.com/ausarmy/wla.htm

Women's Land Army members at Fowlers Farm in the Burdekin district, c. 1942-1945, Image courtesy OzatWar: http://www.ozatwar.com/ausarmy/wla.htm

This is the story of the Australian Women’s Land Army (1942-1945). It is a story about a cohort of women who dedicated their time, resources and energy to supporting Australia through a wartime shortage in food, agriculture and physical labour. Except for some memoirs, biographies and brief mentions, this important story remains largely untold. Many groups have obscured histories, and these are mostly those groups who were not in the dominant positions of power in their period: aboriginal cultures, women, conquered peoples, minority sects or immigrants, and other such groups. Like these groups, the story of the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) is a story that needs to be further explored and revealed.

Promotional material, Australian Women's Land Army, c. 1942.

Promotional material, Australian Women's Land Army, c. 1942.

In seeking to tell the story of the Australian Women’s Land Army, my interest is not in championing women’s rights, but in shining a light on a significant contribution some hard-working Australians gave to buoy their country through tough times; a contribution which should be acknowledged, celebrated, and given a place in public awareness.

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) provided a critical service, which was recognised by farmers to politicians (and many in between) throughout the Second World War. Yet such recognition has waned considerably since the war. The AWLA has had to contend for acknowledgement, and it was not until 1981 that they were granted acceptance to march on Anzac Day. Furthermore, historical works about the contribution of women to wartime food production are considerably wanting compared to research about the widely acknowledged men’s services. Yet, the AWLA provided an essential contribution to food production across Australia during the war.

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Australia’s domestic war effort included everyday services from communication to mining and agriculture, as well as more active efforts involving the Australian Defence Forces, to which both men and women contributed. War brought major disruption to agriculture and food supplies in Europe and Britain as well as in Australia. The possibility of a post-war famine in Britain and Europe was a significant concern. In Australia, discussions about increasing supply for Europe and Britain were tempered with concerns about Australia’s concurrent drought. NSW’s Governor Wakehurst contended that Australia must step up and increase her supplies in all areas of agricultural production. NSW’s Premier Mair echoed Wakehurst, urging Australia to resourcefully meet the British Empire’s food crisis.

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

The AWLA was a centralised ‘land army’ with ranks and uniformed women dressed similarly to the way members of a defence army would be dressed. The Land Army actively recruited members and, even though the choice to serve was voluntary, all labour was paid. Once volunteering, the women were required to serve in full time roles for a minimum of one full year and be willing to go to any part of Australia where the Land Army required them. In launching their service, the AWLA and its auxiliary services faced several challenges relating to transport, medical needs, clothing and a range of other obstacles; but the most difficult obstacle involved biases against female labour. Yet, despite this bias, women’s organisations worked hard to persuade their opponents that they would deliver a valuable contribution to food production and to relieving the manpower shortage. The result of their efforts motivated numerous farmers to report that their female employees worked extremely competently, far more so than expected.

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Women of the Australian Women's Land Army at Work (c. 1941-1943), Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria

Documents provide clear evidence that both farmers and local politicians had enough confidence in the Women’s Land Army that they continued to employ these women and pay them out of their own profits. They publicly petitioned for military honours and medals to be given to AWLA members (and those of the AWLA auxiliaries), together with those soldiers who won combat medals. Regrettably, no such awards were granted until 2012; and, as mentioned above, it was not until 1981 that AWLA members were accepted to participate in Anzac Day events.

Acknowledgement in historical research is still scarce when compared with the acknowledgement bestowed upon male war efforts. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, a commemorative artwork celebrated the contribution of the AWLA, yet this fades in significance against other relevant contributions. Finally, in 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard invited women from the AWLA to attend a dinner at Parliament House in Canberra, where Ms. Gillard gave a speech, certificates and brooches to acknowledge and thank these women for all they gave for their country. In her speech, the Prime Minister said:

You went to take up the work of the men who had left for the front. Some of them were your fathers, brothers, or even sons. In doing so, you brought victory closer, just as if you had picked up a rifle yourself. Now I know a thing or two about working in a traditionally male domain. But the life I've been privileged to lead is only possible because women of courage like you were there first; in the tough years, the desperate years, when the nation faced its ultimate test. You helped Australia pass that test. And today - here in the nation's heart - we thank you. I know it's been a long time coming, these words of thanks …Ladies, each of you will return home with these certificates graciously signed by the Governor-General, and with booklets created by the Australian War Memorial and, above all, with a commemorative brooch to wear. I know you will wear those brooches with a great deal of pride. And I really hope, I genuinely hope they prompt younger Australians to ask you what they mean, because you'll be able to tell them. You'll be able to say ‘I answered the nation's call. I stood up to be counted when Australia needed help the most.' And a new generation will learn of the remarkable things you did and the remarkable women you are. So today, on behalf of all Australians, I thank you for your generosity and your service. The Australian Women's Land Army has achieved a lasting place of honour in the history of our nation. May it be celebrated - truly celebrated - for many years to come.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard presenting AWLA servicewoman Peggy Williams with a commemorative brooch, 2012, Photograph: Andrew Meares, Photography courtesy Fairfax media.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard presenting AWLA servicewoman Peggy Williams with a commemorative brooch, 2012, Photograph: Andrew Meares, Photography courtesy Fairfax media.

Despite this recent acknowledgement, more needs to be done to raise the place of the AWLA in Australia’s wartime history. It is high time that historians and the Australian public paid them more gratitude and joined with the people of 1943 declaring, “Hats off to the women!” Therefore, I am continuing my research at the University of New England, seeking to demonstrate just how vital these women’s work was to the national war effort. As mentioned earlier, while this is not about championing women’s rights as such, it is about filling a gap in Australia’s wartime history during which a women’s service provided a valuable and essential service that carried our nation in a time of shortage and conflict. They deserve a chapter in the pages of Australian history.

Mini documentary commemorating the 2012 AWLA Anzac Day march, ABC News.

 

Share your Australian Women's Land Army stories!

If you know of any family members or friends who participated in the Australian Women’s Land Army, or any of its auxiliary services, and you believe you may have further information which would contribute to the telling of these women’s efforts, please send Heather an email: hgartsho@myune.edu.au

You can also share your stories with the Invisible Farmer Project via our online story submission page.

To stay in touch with the Invisible Farmer Project, please follow our journeys on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Australia’s first woman organic farmer discovered in Switzerland: The story of Ileen Macpherson

By Dr John Paull, School of Land & Food, University of Tasmania, Hobart

John Paull is an academic with a research focus on organic agriculture. In this guest blog post John Paull charts his research into the genesis of the Australian organics movement, and his discovery of a wonderful story - the story of Ileen Macpherson, an Australian pioneer of organics.

A portrait of Ileen Macpherson by Ernesto Genoni (private collection), Image supplied by John Paull. 

A portrait of Ileen Macpherson by Ernesto Genoni (private collection), Image supplied by John Paull. 

On a hunch, I travelled from Oxford to the Swiss village of Dornach. Could it be that there were Australians who joined the world’s earliest organic agriculture research organisation back in the 1920s or 1930s? Then, I had never heard of Ileen Macpherson.

I discovered in the archives of the Goetheanum that twelve Australians had joined Rudolf Steiner’s Experimental Circle. This is the story of one of those pioneers of organic farming, Ileen Macpherson (1898-1984).

Ileen Macpherson was the daughter of a farming family. They farmed large pastoral properties in the south of New South Wales (NSW); Paika Station (250,000 acres) and later Goonambil Station, in the Murrumbidgee Valley.

These Macpherson holdings were about equidistant from the three major capital cities of Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Ileen was sent to Clyde School in Melbourne. It was a newish boarding school for girls, located in St Kilda, a beach-side suburb of Melbourne. It has been described by a past principal as “stylish”, “expensive” and with “an incredibly high standard”. A good part of its clientele were the girls of well-off pastoralist families.

Ileen Macpherson, hockey team, Clyde School Archives, Image supplied by John Paull. 

Ileen Macpherson, hockey team, Clyde School Archives, Image supplied by John Paull. 

Ileen Macpherson, school photo, 1913 (private collection),  Image supplied by John Paull. 

Ileen Macpherson, school photo, 1913 (private collection),  Image supplied by John Paull. 

Ileen flourished at Clyde. Her nickname was ‘Ikey'. She excelled in all the sports the school offered, including athletics, basketball, tennis and hockey as well as dancing. She represented Clyde in inter-school competitions. One account of her competitive spirit, exhibited at an inter-school sports competition, appeared in the school magazine: “Could anything surpass the grim determination writ upon every feature of Ikey Macpherson”. In her final years she was a prefect, and she won the prize for ‘best all-round sport’. The school record gives no inkling of how her life would unfold.

In Melbourne, in the early 1930s, the fate of Ileen and Ernesto Genoni collided. Ileen had followed her curiosity and found herself attending a university lecture on Anthroposophy by Ernesto. Ernesto was an Italian artist. A contemporary account states: “He was dark, with flashing eyes, hair swept back off his forehead and an exotic look.”

Ileen became infatuated with Ernesto and smitten with this new spiritual philosophy of Anthroposophy that he was teaching. Ernesto had spent a year studying with Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamics, at the Goetheanum, the headquarters of Anthroposophy at Dornach in Switzerland. Ileen and Ernesto soon became intertwined, and Ileen proposed that they work collaboratively to put to the test Rudolf Steiner’s agricultural ideas that he had espoused in 1924 at Koberwitz. Together they founded ‘Demeter Biological Farm’ in 1934 in Dandenong on the Princes Highway to do just that.

Ernesto had already joined Steiner’s Experimental Circle of Anthroposophic Farmers and Gardeners based in Switzerland. So he had a copy of Steiner’s “hints” for a new world agriculture eschewing synthetic fertilisers and chemicals. Ernesto’s copy of Steiner’s ‘The Agriculture Course’ was in German. And now Ileen joined the Experimental Circle and received from Switzerland her own copy of ‘The Agriculture Course’ in English. The applications of both Ileen and Ernesto to join the Experimental Circle are still held in the archives in Switzerland.

The Goetheanum in Switzerland where Ileen joined the Experimental Circle. Sadly illness prevented Ileen from travelling to the Goetheanum. Image supplied by John Paull.

The Goetheanum in Switzerland where Ileen joined the Experimental Circle. Sadly illness prevented Ileen from travelling to the Goetheanum. Image supplied by John Paull.

Demeter Farm in Dandenong was Australia’s first biodynamic farm and thereby also first organic farm (although the terms ‘biodynamic’ and ‘organic’ emerged later, in 1938 and 1940 respectively).

Together Ileen and Ernesto farmed their 40 acres. It was worked as a small dairy farm, and the manure built into the compost in the Bio-Dynamic way. They made their own preparations and sprays and produced very good vegetables which were sold in the wholesale market in the city and also from a truck on the side of the road. Ileen played an important role in all of the farm activities, from research to application of biodynamic techniques to gardening to milking cows.

Ileen and Ernesto lived together at Demeter Farm. They hosted visiting Anthroposophists including Dr Alfred Meebold who travelled from Europe. Ernesto continued to teach Anthroposophy in the Collins Street rooms of the Michael Group, which he had co-founded.

The couple planned trips to Europe. But Ileen never met Ernesto’s sister Rosa in Milan, and she never got to visit the Goetheanum in Switzerland. In 1939 she was not well enough to travel. She got only as far as New Zealand.

When Ernesto returned from Europe, just before the outbreak of WW2, he wrote: “At the farm I found things with Ileen not too good. The last month Ileen carried on the milking by herself, but her legs began to give way.” Ileen was always a determined woman and she was managing the milking but she was struggling to walk. She was carrying a burden of illness which was not yet recogonised or understood.

Ileen was eventually diagnosed with pernicious anaemia - “pernicious’ meaning deadly. Historically the prognosis for Ileen’s affliction was death, often in a matter of months. Doctors Whipple, Minot and Murphy had recently been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering a cure -injections of raw liver juice. It seems that Ileen spent several years in the Epworth Hospital undergoing this new treatment. She survived, but she had lost the use of her legs and she would never walk again.

Ileen Macpherson in later life (private collection), Image supplied by John Paull.

Ileen Macpherson in later life (private collection), Image supplied by John Paull.

Ileen spent the next forty years wheelchair bound. The farm fell to Ernesto as well as caring for Ileen. This eventually became too much and they sold Demeter Farm in 1954. Their adventures in biodynamic and organic farming with Demeter Farm had spanned twenty years.

Ileen never did make the pilgrimage to Anthroposophy headquarters in Dornach, but she retained her dedication to the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner throughout her life. And she treasured her collection of books by Steiner. Despite the medical catastrophe of the pernicious anaemia diagnosis, Ileen lived a long life. She passed away aged 85 years and had lived a longer life than any of her parents and her five siblings. Perhaps Ileen was sustained by that ‘grim determination’ she had practiced as a young athlete, by her long-standing faith in the spiritual teachings of Rudolf Steiner, by the good care of the Epworth medical team, by the loving care of Ernesto, and perhaps by half a century of consuming a biodynamic/organic diet.

“Constant hard work and many grievous trials were endured by the pioneers who undertook the first Bio-Dynamic venture in Victoria”. Ileen left her house and land to the Dandenong Council for a park. The Ileen Macpherson Park can be visited at 17-19 Namur St, Noble Park, Victoria..

The Ileen Macpherson Park in Noble Park, Image supplied by John Paull.

The Ileen Macpherson Park in Noble Park, Image supplied by John Paull.

 

The Invisible Farmer Project aims to make the invisible visible. Here we scratch off some of the invisibility that has settled on an Australian pioneer of organic agriculture. Beginning more than eight decades ago, Ileen Macpherson, with her Demeter Farm and her partner Ernesto Genoni, blazed a trail for the development of biodynamics and organics. 

Australia is now a world leader in organic farming. Australian organics has been growing at 16% annually for the past two decades. And Australia now accounts for a massive 45% of the world’s certified organic agriculture hectares. But, in the beginning were just a few pioneers - so nearly invisible now - who took the vision of an Austrian philosopher to heart and set out to make it real.

 

Acknowledgments:

Thank you to: the Archives of the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland; the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford; the Michael Group, Melbourne; Annita Sharpe; Margaret Garner; and Pam Martin.

 

Want to know more?

•  Check out: ”Ileen Macpherson: Life and tragedy of a pioneer of biodynamic farming at Demeter Farm and a benefactor of Anthroposophy in Australia”: http://orgprints.org/31230/1/JO415.pdf

•  Check out Ileen’s partner: “Ernesto Genoni: Australia's pioneer of biodynamic agriculture”: http://www.academia.edu/9144789/

•  A list of the twelve Australians who joined the Experimental Circle appears in: “A history of the organic agriculture movement in Australia”: http://www.academia.edu/9144875/

•  For Australia’s place in the world of organic agriculture, check out: “Atlas of Organics: Four maps of the world of organic agriculture”: http://www.academia.edu/25648267

•  About Dr John Paull’s research: http://utas.academia.edu/JohnPaull

 

PhD position with the Invisible Farmer Project

We are excited to advertise a PhD position with the Invisible Farmer Project, offering the candidate the opportunity to research and document the history of the Australian Rural Women's Movement. 

About

The Invisible Farmer Project, funded by the Australian Research Council through its Linkage Scheme, is the largest ever study of Australian women on the land. It will combine personal narratives and academic research to map the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture, the seafood industry and horticultural production. The project is based on a creative partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations, and aims to:

– Create new histories of rural Australia,
– Discover and reveal contemporary and historical stories about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in food and fibre production,
– Stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural and regional Australia and its future,
– Develop significant public collections that will enable far reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy.

A Strategic Australian Postgraduate Award (STRAPA), funded through the McCoy Project scheme (a collaboration between Museums Victoria and the University of Melbourne) is available to support a PhD in history, to document A history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement in the late 20th century.

The successful candidate will conduct research that draws upon archival material created during previous studies to document the history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement. They will also collect life history interviews to expand and develop existing collections. Using an innovative mix of oral history, digital technologies and material culture the candidate will contribute to the larger ARC funded project as it reframes the narrative of Australian history to highlight the role of women in food and fibre production.

Requirements and application process

Candidates are required to meet the University of Melbourne entry requirements for a PhD in History – that is, an honours degree (H2A and above) in the discipline of History. Undergraduates currently completing their honours year are encouraged to apply.

Candidates interested in applying for this scholarship should forward their CVs, along with a 1-2 page document outlining formal qualifications, work experience and any other features that support the applicant’s suitability for candidature, to Dr Nikki Henningham via email at n.henningham@unimelb.edu.auApplications close Friday 18 August, 2017.

"Life on a Station": my experiences of being an 18-year-old Jillaroo in the Pilbara (Western Australia)

By Emma Moss

My name is Emma Moss, I am 18 years old and I live and work at Pardoo Station in the Pilbara, Western Australia. I was born in Toowoomba, Queensland and have always lived on a small farm where we run sheep and horses.  My main passions in life are agriculture and photography.  Living on a station for me is a perfect combination where I can combine my love for the land and animals, and my love for my photography. Next year I am going to University of Queensland in Gatton to study a dual degree in Sustainable Farming and Agribusiness with the long term goal to stay in agriculture.

Emma Moss pictured during a golden sunset in the Kimberley, Photograph: supplied.

Emma Moss pictured during a golden sunset in the Kimberley, Photograph: supplied.

My Mum has been a big influence on my own journey into becoming a jillaroo. Mum was lucky enough to spend her teen years living and working on big properties in NSW. After starting University in the early 1980’s and not loving what she was doing, she opted to take some time off and work on the station they were living on at the time, Haddon Rig Merino stud, Western NSW.  She then went to Orange Ag College and continued to work at Haddon Rig during the holidays. Following college, she landed a job as Farm Secretary on Pooginook Merino Stud in the Riverina. This job allowed Mum to work both in the office and out in the paddock. The merino industry at the time was still very male dominated, and there were very few girls working in the industry.

Hearing my Mum’s stories and visiting Haddon Rig when I was about 13 certainly first sparked my interest to work on a station. It is due to this, along with my mates wanting to do the same thing, that I put ‘going up north’ on the to-do list. After school, I got a job at Nerrima Station in the Kimberley, Western Australia for the 2016 season. With my urge to work super hard in horrible heat and dust not fulfilled, I got a job at Pardoo station in the Pilbara for the 2017 season.

"Horses" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Horses" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"3 curious calves" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"3 curious calves" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

Even the drive up (a short 55 or so hours from home) started my addiction to the landscape, open-ness and isolation of station life. There were so many “I wish I had a camera, this would be a great photo” moments. Finally, in April 2016 I bought a second-hand camera from our station cook, Dan Macintosh. It was the first ‘proper’ camera that I had owned. Since then I have carried my camera everywhere.

Emma's colleague Lauren Balfour from Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's colleague Lauren Balfour from Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Having my camera is a brilliant way for me to capture all the things I love about being a jillaroo and working in a wonderful part of our country. At first I didn’t even consider what other people would think of the photos. I thought I would just take photos and have them on my computer to look back on as a memory. The more photos I take and the more I learn, the more my photos start to resemble the beauty I see through my eyes. Taking photos now is a way for me to share the beauty of the place where I live and work and the incredible people I am surrounded by.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

By carrying my camera with me I am able to create some realisation of the work that goes on behind the scenes of that steak you buy at the butchers. Some people might not know where their meat comes from, and I’m passionate about raising awareness of the work that jackaroos and jillaroos do behind the scenes. My Instagram page ‘Life On A Station’ and my personal Facebook page are my main outlets. Life On A Station has over 4500 followers (and growing each day) which is an exciting thing for me that so many people are able to see my photos.

Zarrah Blackwell, Rachel O'Conner and Grace Harrison, all of whom have worked at Liveringa Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Zarrah Blackwell, Rachel O'Conner and Grace Harrison, all of whom have worked at Liveringa Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Isla Bell, who worked with Emma on Nerrima Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Isla Bell, who worked with Emma on Nerrima Station, Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

From what I have heard about what things were like 20 years ago, women’s roles in agriculture – and particularly station life – have changed a lot. Long gone are the days where women were encouraged to stay in the office and kitchen. Men and women now work side by side throughout the day and enjoy a well-earned beer at the end of the day together. Whilst men are generally stronger than women and often find lifting jobs easier, us girls find other ways to get the job done. Our head Stockwoman at Nerrima used to like to send a boy and a girl out together to get the work done. She liked to say that the girls used their brains and their natural nurturing ability and the boys used their skills and muscle. She thought it was the perfect combination. I tend to agree that men and women working together balance everything out more. The social structure changes with a mix as opposed to just having one sex in the camp.

Jacob Dunn, Kit Le Lievre and Emma Moss, working together at Pardoo Station, "these guys taught me so much", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Jacob Dunn, Kit Le Lievre and Emma Moss, working together at Pardoo Station, "these guys taught me so much", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma Moss with Kit Le Lievre at Nerrima Station, "we were both on the lead of some bush cows", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma Moss with Kit Le Lievre at Nerrima Station, "we were both on the lead of some bush cows", Photograph: Emma Moss, supplied.

My main roles in the stock camp are fencing, mustering, yard work, fencing, shoeing horses, bore runs, fencing and checking fences – yes fencing happens a lot! There are probably two things that I love the most about this lifestyle, the first being mustering and walking cattle out. Once the cattle are walking out and all is not too hectic, I find it hard to believe I get paid to ride a horse in amazing landscapes, following a mob of cattle with great people surrounding me – (maybe I shouldn’t tell my boss that though)! The second thing I love is there isn’t a day where I don’t get to challenge myself. I know it sounds corny but at the end of the day the only person who is ever going to back you up is yourself. So, learning to back myself all the time, accepting I will make mistakes and viewing everything as a learning experience is a pretty cool perk of the job.

"Boots and spurs" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Boots and spurs" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

To say what an average day entails is quite difficult as plans change constantly and it depends what time of the year it is. Here, everything depends on the rain. We muster after the rain is finished in about April. We plan when we put the bulls in the paddocks so the cows calf when there is enough green feed for all to stay healthy.  Most station hands go home before the ‘wet’ starts again. Our days generally start when the sun comes up or maybe earlier and finish when the sun goes down.

"Pilbara Storm Clouds" by Emma Moss, photograph: supplied.

"Pilbara Storm Clouds" by Emma Moss, photograph: supplied.

On a station, you learn to be a handyman/handywoman – fencing, welding, mustering, painting, repairing broken things, DIY mechanic jobs, building, bore running and small plumbing jobs are all skills I have learnt over the past 2 years. No day is ever super easy, some days are plain hard, but there are plenty of the ‘this is why I’m here’ days to make it all worth the terrible tan lines, cracked lips, horrible nails and near constant dust moustache!

"Beers and dirty nails" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

"Beers and dirty nails" by Emma Moss, Photograph: supplied.

I’m happy to be able to contribute my story to the Invisible Farmer Project. A lot of women in agriculture were probably not as visible as men in the past and more specifically not in the public sphere. But I have grown up in an environment where women work just as hard as men, our job positions are based on our skills rather than our sex and I think that we make a brilliant team. I hope that my photos help shine a light on not only the beauty of Australia, but the work that women and men do up here on stations. Jillaroos like me work hard, are passionate about our job and industry and care deeply about our impact on the environment, animals and what happens ‘behind the scenes’.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

Emma's cattle manager Abbie Dunn who Emma describes as "one of the toughest and most caring women around", Photograph, Emma Moss, supplied.

My future plans are to go to university and get a degree in agriculture and continue taking photos of the industry I love. I hope that more people can become educated about where their food comes from and the work that is put in behind it. I would love to know more people make an educated and discerning decision about the food they buy and consequently the people they are supporting in doing so.  I believe agriculture is going to continue to be a hugely significant contributor to Australia’s economy and in securing food in an ever growing world population.  It is knowing I am part of something so dynamic and progressive that makes me so excited to bounce off bed every morning and make my small contribution to help make the world a better and more sustainable place.  

Emma Moss photographed with her sister Amelia Moss and cousin Olivia D'Arcy, Photograph: supplied.

Emma Moss photographed with her sister Amelia Moss and cousin Olivia D'Arcy, Photograph: supplied.

Want to know more?

 

Network gives rural women a sea of opportunities

Guest post by the Victorian Rural Women's Network

RWN boat.png
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.
— Ryunosuke Satoro

Launching tomorrow on 1 July 2017 the Victorian Rural Women’s Network will connect Victorian rural and regional women through information, shared experiences, opportunities and a platform to be heard.

Victorian Government and our first female Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford re-instated the network in response to many women discussing its need, especially during the recent drought and dairy industry challenges.
 

About the Victorian Rural Women’s Network
 

Back in the mid-1980s the original Rural Women’s Network was born out of a desire by Victorian politicians Joan Kirner and Caroline Hogg to encourage more rural women into public life. The inaugural Rural Women's Network was established in Victoria in 1986 under the auspices of the Office of Rural Affairs in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and it soon became a wide-reaching network that held an important place in the lives of many rural, regional and remote women (and indeed city women). The aim was to link rural women's groups and individuals into a loose network supported by government infrastructure, to enable the sharing of ideas, issues, information and support, and to encourage women to develop a more active voice in government decision-making.

Inaugural Rural Women's Network Network Newsletter, 1987

Inaugural Rural Women's Network Network Newsletter, 1987

In 1987 the first Network Newsletter rolled off the press with the aim of:

  • linking women’s groups and individuals into a network which shared resources and skills
  • enabling a more active and influential role for rural women in government decisions affecting the lives of them, their families and communities.

The editors and their many contributors achieved these goals and over the years discussions turned to leadership, health, voices, isolation, work, learning, networking, taking a local and global focus, safety, community, business, drought, celebration, the mix of young and old in rural communities and water.

Past copies of the Rural Women's Network Newsletter

Past copies of the Rural Women's Network Newsletter

Today these topics still resonate. Like the seasons, issues for women seem to run in cycles and change just as much as they stay the same. Indeed, at events and forums this year rural women have articulated their biggest challenges as isolation, confidence, opportunities, connectivity, having a voice, access and resilience.

Victoria’s Gender Equity Strategy highlights the amazing leadership shown by rural women, especially in the community, but it also notes that rural and regional women have to deal with poor telecommunications and are at risk of poorer health outcomes compared to their urban counterparts.

And while we had both a female Victorian Premier in Joan Kirner and Victorian Farmers Federation President in Heather Mitchell back in the 1980s, there have been no other women in these specific roles since. We do, thankfully, have our first female Minister for Agriculture in Jaala Pulford.

The Hon. Joan Kirner featured in RWN Network Newsletter

The Hon. Joan Kirner featured in RWN Network Newsletter

The Hon. Jaala Pulford at the 2017 Women in Agriculture Forum

The Hon. Jaala Pulford at the 2017 Women in Agriculture Forum


Women, who make up about half the population, do not generally take up half the seats in government, on most councils or in the board rooms. In a recent listing of the most influential Australians of the past decade, only 20 per cent were women. These are good reasons to get the Network back up and running in a race towards real and true gender equality.
 

Get Involved Now!
 

Anyone can be a Rural Women’s Network member and we encourage all Victorian women (and men), especially those in rural and regional areas, to sign up now at :

http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/food-and-fibre-industries/rural-womens-network

Through joining the Rural Women’s Network participants will have the chance to connect, to learn, to meet like-minded and inspirational women and to share their own thoughts and ideas.

Women gathered at the Women in Agricutlure forum held at Parliament House, Melbourne, 2017

Women gathered at the Women in Agricutlure forum held at Parliament House, Melbourne, 2017

The popular Network Newsletter, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is also back, although in a 21st century online format. There will be the usual personal stories and themes three times a year and then, in between, participants can visit the Rural Women’s Network digital platform and social media sites, receive regular e-updates on events and opportunities and share their own experiences. So we encourage all women living and working, or originally hailing from, rural and regional Victoria to sign up the Victorian Rural Women’s Network.

Harrow Women on Farms Gathering Committee Members Fiona Cameron and Annette Jones, Harrow, 2017

Harrow Women on Farms Gathering Committee Members Fiona Cameron and Annette Jones, Harrow, 2017

In the words of women at the recent Women in Agriculture Forum at Parliament House, this Network offers so much for its participants including:
 

“To be able to connect with each other and use each other’s experiences and knowledge to work together to provide our points of view and inform debate.”

“Connectivity, peer learning, networking, leadership development for the skill confidence to take on board opportunities.”

“Diverse views, enrichment of communities. More productive businesses and partnerships.”

“(These opportunities are) endless if we are brave.”
 

This is only the start of the list and there will be a sea of opportunity in coming months and years as rural and regional women join together to turn these individual drops into an ocean of ideas, actions, influences and achievements across the Victorian landscape.
 

Find out more!

 

Women on the Land: Entrepreneurs and Business Innovators

 By Kerry Anderson, author of "Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business"
 

Some of our rural towns are dying while others are thriving. The question is: What can we do about it?

Having grown up in rural Victoria as part of a small business family, the importance of supporting local businesses and encouraging new enterprises has always been clear to me.  Sadly it is not always so clear to others, hence my passion to promote entrepreneurship and small business. We shouldn’t wait for governments to act, it is up to all of us.

In the process of writing my book, Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business, I had the privilege of interviewing a variety of business people across rural Australia, many of which were enterprising women on the land. I am pleased to report that more and more rural and farm women are becoming successful in their own right and helping to strengthen our rural towns. Their stories are truly inspiring.

Sarah Sammon of Simply Rose Petals, Swan Hill, image: supplied.

Sarah Sammon of Simply Rose Petals, Swan Hill, image: supplied.

Sarah Sammon (pictured above) returned to her home town of Swan Hill with a science degree but no clear career path. Spurred on by her inability to get a job in her hometown, Sarah put her science degree and entrepreneurial spirit to good use researching alternatives to a struggling cut flower industry. Combining forces with her mother they reinvented a declining property with 1,000 rose bushes for the cut flower industry into a new and incredibly successful business, Simply Rose Petals.

‘At this time traditional confetti started being frowned upon at wedding venues because it caused staining and was not biodegradable,’ explains Sarah. ‘We saw an opportunity and went for it.’

Simply Rose Petals has grown rapidly from a small idea into a booming business. Specialised technology allows their rose petals to be freeze-dried, packaged and shipped to 15 countries around the world. Such has been the demand, that they have expanded their number of rose plants from 1,000 to 6,000. The product has also been featured on popular Australian television shows such as The Bachelor, X Factor, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelorette and Big Brother!

With an insatiable curiosity and boundless enthusiasm driving her to continuously improve the business, it is no surprise that Sarah has been recognised as a finalist through the Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards and, in 2015, received the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award for female Australian entrepreneur under 40. To read more about Sarah's journey, please click here.

Naomi Ingleton of King Valley Dairy, Moyhu, image: supplied.

Naomi Ingleton of King Valley Dairy, Moyhu, image: supplied.

Similarly, Naomi Ingleton (pictured above) saw an opportunity and brought an old butter factory in Myrtleford back to life as a new business capitalising on the surrounding dairy farms.

'I kept driving past this beautiful old empty building in Myrtleford,' recalls Naomi, 'and thinking this is crazy, someone should do something with that!'

Prior to purchasing the old butter factory Naomi had worked as a chef overseas, and then back in Australia she had helped to set up a Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden in Wangaratta. 'Gardening and horticulture are a passion of mine', she says, 'so I went and studied horticulture and then did a Diploma of Agriculture at Dookie so I could learn a bit about farm management.' 

Naomi's mutual passions for gardening, farming and cooking have all informed her role at King Valley Dairy. The business began as a cafe serving food to customers, and then evolved into a commercial butter factory, The Old Butter Factory Myrtleford, in 2010. Like many Australian chefs  dissatisfied with the quality of commercial butter produced in Australia, Naomi had previously been purchasing butter from France, or making it herself. 'Here I was in an old butter factory, surrounded by dairy farms, and making a batch of butter for my customers', she recalls, 'it was a light bulb moment' to turn the butter-making into a business opportunity. 

'I'd never seen naturally cultured butter made on a commercial scale before and no-one was doing it here in Australia', says Naomi, 'so I had to do a lot of research on Google.' With the help of a Churchill Fellowship Naomi also travelled to France to learn butter-making techniques, and upon returning home her butter, cheese and dairy products began to bring in awards from the likes of the Royal Melbourne Show, International Cheese Awards and Delicious Magazine. 

With success came challenges, including the difficulties in meeting market demand and managing the business through a period massive growth. 'We believed the business could be big and amazing', reflects Naomi, 'but we needed to move the factory to a much bigger space.' In 2016 the company moved to Moyhu in the King Valley and was re-branded to King Valley Dairy. Production has increased from 2,000 to 16,000 litres per week and Naomi is now Managing Director and CEO of the company. When asked what advice she has for other rural women in business, Naomi responded, 'be confident you can do it' adding that 'often women have way too much self-doubt.'

“I have spent my life wondering if I will find something that I’m really good at', she reflects, 'and I’ve finally found my thing.' To read more about Naomi's journey, please click here. 

Rebecca Comiskey, Alpha, Queensland, image: supplied.

Rebecca Comiskey, Alpha, Queensland, image: supplied.

Rebecca Comiskey (pictured above) is a teacher by training but alongside her husband David she has thrown herself full time into a 20 year plan to rejuvenate their 8, 500 hectare cattle station in Melton, near Alpha, in central Queensland.

Entering the organic market, adopting a rotational grazing system, and maximising their herd management forms a three pronged approach to the couple's 20 year plan. Closely monitoring and benchmarking their progress against previous years’ performances, all three goals have been fast tracked beyond their initial expectations.

The first big decision was to go organic and the reason was quite simple according to Rebecca.  “We decided to go with grass fed organic cattle because that is what we like to eat ourselves.” Rebecca is learning her craft in infinite detail by monitoring everything from organic soil carbon to genetics and genomics. In doing so she is taking the business to a new level that David could not achieve on his own.

Part of Rebecca's work involves future-planning, reporting and safe-guarding against inevitable drought. 'The rotational grazing system is far more climate effective,” says Rebecca. “For every one percent increase in Organic Soil Carbon, achieved through good grazing land management, another 72,000 litres of water can be absorbed into the soils per hectare, making our property more resilient for the droughts that will always be a part of our business.'

'We like to think that we are custodians of the land', says Rebecca', 'it is our aim to leave our soils in better shape than how we found them.' To read more about Rebecca's story, please click here.

Kerry Anderson holding her book, 'Entrepreneurship: It's Everybody's Business', image: supplied.

Kerry Anderson holding her book, 'Entrepreneurship: It's Everybody's Business', image: supplied.

Every one of these stories is helping to break the glass ceiling for women in rural Australia. These women are far from invisible as they create new businesses and new ways of doing business, but there is always room for more.

As the next generation of young women mature and enter the workforce, I am heartened that they will have the benefit of many great role models that are contributing to the future of rural Australia. My concern is for those who don’t have access to role models as research shows that we are over thirty percent more likely to go into business if we know someone in business.

Yes, we can do something positive by personally encouraging innovation and being a customer of a rural businesses. And, we can share the stories of those who are already successful.

Want to know more?

  • Visit Kerry Anderson's website and read her book: http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/book/
  • Visit King Valley Dairy's website: https://kingvalleydairy.com.au/about/
  • Visit Simply Rose Petals' website: http://www.simplyrosepetals.com.au/
  • Read a case study on Rebecca and Dave's cattle station: http://www.rcsaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/File-Upload-The-RCS-Story_Stories-from-Clients_Case-Studies_Comiskey-Case-Study.pdf 

Ash Robertson's experience of working with the Invisible Farmer Project at Museums Victoria

Ash Robertson standing at the front entrance to Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Ash Robertson standing at the front entrance to Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Ash's Story:

Let me start off by saying that I, Ash Robertson, am not a farmer; and I was never really provided an opportunity to engage with farmers or the farming lifestyle. While I certainly wasn’t ignorant to the plights of the farming industry, I never had an opportunity to actually confront these issues in any productive or beneficial way. I grew up in the southern states of America, and came to Australia in 2012, so my knowledge of Australian farming practices was minimal. However, that all changed in January 2017 when I was offered a chance to join the Invisible Farmer Project as a curatorial volunteer at Museums Victoria in Melbourne.

Ash Robertson holding Heather Mitchell's hat at Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Ash Robertson holding Heather Mitchell's hat at Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Working alongside Liza Dale-Hallett (Senior Curator Sustainable Futures) and Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project), I quickly became immersed in the world of women on farms. My work at Museums Victoria was varied and required that I peruse photographic collections of stunning farmland, read dozens of community-submitted tributes on Australian women farmers, and listen to hours of candid oral histories. While this project has certainly allowed me to gain experience in museum practice and social media strategies, the most significant and rewarding outcome over the past three months has simply been being a part of such a historic project by helping to shine a light on the stories of Australian women farmers. Working with the stories of Australian women on the land has provided me with some much needed perspective with regard to the farming industry and women’s roles within that space. I’ve come to learn that women are a vital force in Australian agriculture, and that their stories need to be recognised, celebrated, and shared in the public sphere.

Tribute to Emma Robinson by Tom Edwards, "Drawing inspiration from women on family farms", ABC Open Tribute, 3 May 2017: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/194671

Tribute to Emma Robinson by Tom Edwards, "Drawing inspiration from women on family farms", ABC Open Tribute, 3 May 2017: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/194671

Shining a light on women's farming stories:

From poultry and dairy farming to horticulture and viticulture – I’ve encountered a wide range of stories. Throughout my time with The Invisible Farmer Project, I have been fortunate enough to share in the mission and journey of these incredible women by listening to and engaging with their personal experiences of triumph and tragedy. This project serves as a portal through which members of the public can begin to gain an insight into the life of women on the land; and there are many ways in which women’s farming stories are being brought into the spotlight:

  • ABC Open Tributes: To date, there have been over 70 stories shared with The Invisible Farmer Project through ABC Open. These submissions pay tribute to mothers, daughters, friends, and neighbours who are currently or have previously contributed to the agricultural industry. The campaign ends 15 May 2017, so be sure to get involved!

  • Oral History Interviews: Since the beginning of the project, several oral history interviews have been collected from women farmers across Victoria, with each story providing a rich, personal narrative of women’s experiences in farming. These interviews will continue throughout the project with an aim to gather and share stories across Australia.

  • Media Campaign: Invisible Farmer has been successfully launched and shared on a number of media platforms. The project has a strong social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The curators have both been interviewed on a several radio shows and have attended conferences and talks, such as the 2017 Women on Farms Gathering in Harrow. 

Image: Rosemary Waugh Allcock on her property in Taloumbi, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Portrait of a Lady", Taloumbi, NSW, submitted by Debrah Novak (tribute author and photographer), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/108722

Image: Rosemary Waugh Allcock on her property in Taloumbi, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Portrait of a Lady", Taloumbi, NSW, submitted by Debrah Novak (tribute author and photographer), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/108722

Women's roles and contemporary issues:

During a site visit through Melbourne Museum’s collections, I was introduced to one of the objects relating to farm women. The object is a hat that was worn by Heather Mitchell, a prevalent figure in the agriculture industry who helped to establish the Landcare Movement in the 1980s-1990s during the Rural Women's Movement. Displaying badges from a number of areas of interest – such as agriculture and community organisations, education, and government – the hat represents the vast number of roles and responsibilities that Heather undertook during her life. More than just an example of what this collection has to offer, Heather’s hat is symbolic of the nature of farm women’s work, which often requires them to “wear many hats.”

The roles of women in agriculture aren’t at all invariable but are rather multifaceted, requiring a wide-range of capacities to fulfil the demands of the industry. Women are working from places as diverse as cattle stations to wild caught seafood operations; they are taking on the demands of their own enterprises, running financial accounts, contributing to their families and communities and often balancing multiple and diverse roles. 

By sharing their stories through The Invisible Farmer Project, women farmers have been able to bolster their visibility within the wider community, advocate for positive change in their respective industries, and vocalise their personal hardships. While these accounts certainly highlight individual experiences, there is a sense of collective consciousness that emerges through shared themes, such as recognising the importance of innovation in sustainable farming practices, acknowledging industry hardships, and engaging the community to promote consumer-producer relationships.

Amelia Bright of Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amelia Bright of Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sustainability

From poultry farmer Amy Paul’s advocacy for organics and indigenous farming methods, to pig farmer Amelia Bright’s push for off-grid living and animal welfare, to Tagen Baker’s emphasis on the importance of ecological irrigation practices, sustainable farming methods have surfaced as a truly significant focal point for contemporary farmers. Serving as an indicator to the influence and authority behind this movement is Amelia Bright’s business, Amber Creek Farm:

Being an environmentally positive entity is our highest priority.  Therefore running our business and farm using environmental farming principles that increases habitat, sequesters carbon, enhances waterways and water quality is paramount.  Consequently, if we are unable to achieve these objectives then we don’t see it as a successful operation.
Di Bowles, "#dairylove is what it's about", ABC Open Tribute, 2 May 2017,  https://open.abc.net.au/explore/193905

Di Bowles, "#dairylove is what it's about", ABC Open Tribute, 2 May 2017,  https://open.abc.net.au/explore/193905

Industry hardships

There are a number of environmental, economic, and social influences that can bring hardships upon the agricultural industry. We’ve heard from horticulturalist Rien Silverstein how climate change has taken its toll on her orchards in Orrvale and Tatura. We’ve learned of the wide-spread impact of the dairy crisis from dairy farmer Di Bowles in her ABC Open tribute. The ripple-effect following such crises often leads to issues in emotional wellness and mental health. Speaking to this issue, Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey shared the story of her father’s tragic passing during the dairy crisis in 2016, highlighting the importance of mental health awareness and suicide prevention through a business model of kindness and fairness in the dairy industry:

Bypassing the large milk processors allows Gippsland Jersey to ensure a fair price is paid to farmers, and gives consumers are clear choice when buying their milk. And by returning a portion of profits to the Gippsland farming community, Gippsland Jersey helps support the mental and emotional wellbeing of dairy farmers who may be struggling.

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Source: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Source: Catherine Forge

Linking producer with consumer

More than simply a business of supply and demand, farmers are becoming more and more conscious of the importance of connectivity through developing and maintaining links to their local communities and consumers. Through these vital connections, farmers are able to steward to their community relationships and equip members of the community with a better understanding of the industry.

The importance of buying and selling local produce was emphasised in the ABC Open tribute to Pat McPhie, who campaigned for local cheeses to be sold at large supermarket chains. Lisa Sartori of Dirty Three Wines stressed the significance of nurturing relationships with the wider community through hosting a series of Melbourne-based wine tastings, allowing them to share their farming stories and truly connect to their consumer base.

Women are also staying connected to their local communities through their involvement with food movements happening across rural Australia, such as the slow food campaign and connecting with chefs and restaurants on a more personal level. For example, Sallie Jones advocates for getting involved with your local farmers’ market as it is the most convenient way to get to know your local farmers and vice versa. Reflecting on her early experience with the movement, Sallie states:

I was involved in the farmers markets when they first started up in Melbourne; they were a very big place of connection. When I was at university I would sell my Dad’s ice-cream on the weekends, just to have that relationship with customers. People generally do want to support farmers because it’s all about connection, right? People care when they’ve got a connection, and they will share that connection with other people.

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Why this matters:

Women contribute to nearly half of the real income on Australian farms, yet their public profile pales in comparison to their male counterparts, with approximately 80-90% of Google images for “Australian farmer” reflecting a male focus. Moreover, many of contemporary women farmers still find it difficult to identify themselves as a farmer. The Invisible Farmer Project wants to redefine what it means to be a farmer by turning the conventional understanding of the term on its head. We want people to recognise that being a farmer encapsulates a wide variety of experiences, duties, and roles – working both on and off-farm, indoors and outdoors. As Liza Dale-Hallett has said, “Without farmers we’d be starving, naked, and homeless!" We want nothing more than for women on farms around the world to show pride in their work and contributions by declaring, “I am a farmer.”

Want to know more?

Read more about the Invisible Farmer Project on Museum Victoria's Collections Online

"Fairness and Kindness in the Dairy Industry": Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, West Gippsland

By Ash Robertson (Museums Victoria) with Catherine Forge (Invisible Farmer Project, Museums Victoria)

Industry: Dairy farming
Name of Enterprise: Gippsland Jersey
Location: Jindivick, West Gippsland, Victoria

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie's Story

Sallie Jones, a 36-year-old dairy farmer from West Gippsland, is one of the proud owners and operators of Gippsland Jersey: an independent, farmer-owned milk label. Established alongside her business partner, Steve Ronalds, the Gippsland Jersey project grew from a profound desire to honour the work and life of her dairy-farming father, Michael Bowen, who ended his life tragically in 2016 during the dairy crisis. The prevailing spirit and message behind Sallie’s journey with Gippsland Jersey speaks to the importance of community connections, advocating for fairness and kindness within the dairy industry, and raising awareness around mental health and suicide prevention.

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey going through photo albums of her childhood, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey going through photo albums of her childhood, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Having grown up on a value-adding dairy farm in Lakes Entrance, Sallie describes her involvement in the dairy industry as more of a natural progression, or birthright, than a choice. Thinking back on her early years, she remembers an idyllic childhood filled with countless memories. According to Sallie, farms are ‘emotional pieces of land that run down generations.’ It’s through these childhood memories that Sallie is able to maintain such a deep-seated connection to the landscape, her work, and the community: 

It’s the landscape that triggers all the memories. My grandfather flew over in the war and saw that piece of land. He packed up his wife and drove from Adelaide over to Lakes Entrance, cleared the land and made it into a dairy farm – real pioneering stuff! I had a lot of responsibilities growing up on the farm.
For me, the memories are a mixture of having incredible freedom, having a really good work ethic, and being across a lot of things. When I go home to Lakes, as soon as I hit the dirt road and the wheels slap over the cattle grid, I know that I’m home. It’s always going to be home. Once you’ve grown up with that, it’s hard to get it out of your blood; you’re very connected to the land once you’ve lived a childhood on it.

While these experiences certainly helped to prepare Sallie for a life in the industry, she says that it was her father who really gave her the confidence and understanding needed to push the boundaries with Gippsland Jersey.

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey holding a photo from her childhood depicting her father Michael Bowen, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey holding a photo from her childhood depicting her father Michael Bowen, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

The mission of Gippsland Jersey:

For Sallie and Steven, the central premise behind Gippsland Jersey was to pay tribute to Sallie’s father through a business model based on fairness and kindness. In their minds, there were two main considerations to be made: 1) using clean and sustainable farming methods; and 2) providing support for other dairy farmers. Steve saw to the initial provision of milk from his herd of fourth-generation Jersey cows, and their impeccable genetics guaranteed beautiful milk. The next task was to find someone to process their product:

We simply Googled processes. It’s funny because all of these names came up that Dad used to talk about. It kind of gave me respect when I walked into these meetings and said that I’m the daughter of Michael Bowen, which is amazing… Obviously we didn’t have a plan and we didn't know how it was going to pan out – but the power of social media. We simply launched Instagram and Facebook and told our story photo by photo. It was a steep learning curve, but now we’re eight weeks into the brand. It’s been a whirlwind.
Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with a Jersey cow, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with a Jersey cow, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

With the product and branding well underway, Sallie then focused her sights on what could be done to give back to the dairy farming community in order to support those undergoing industry hardships. For her, it all comes back to raising awareness around mental health issues:

What I’m trying to do in terms of Gippsland Jersey is talk about mental health and the importance of being open and having conversations. Medium sized farmers and small farmers are working on their own, so they’re not connected and they don’t have as many friendships or relationships. So when they do finish up farming, they don’t know what to do with themselves, which can often lead to mental health concerns – it certainly happened to my Dad. There’s a stigma around mental health, so just being able to smash that open and say, “Let’s have a conversation about suicide and the ripple effect through those communities and families.” It’s absolutely devastating and I feel that raising awareness around these issues is my purpose in life.
Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Gippsland Jersey is a force for positive change. By returning a portion their profits to the farming community, bringing other dairy farmers into their brand (paying a fair price for their milk), and advocating for mental health organisations like The Ripple Effect, Gippsland Jersey is able to help support the emotional wellbeing of their fellow dairy farming families:

It’s not about money, it’s about looking after our dairy industry. We can’t solve the dairy crisis but we can do our bit to inspire other people to think outside the square. Farmers have the power. Farmers have all the power. So for me, I feel like I’m just starting the journey of hopefully inspiring other farmers to stay in the game.


The importance of connectivity:

While the mission of Gippsland Jersey emphasises connections within the dairy farming community, Sallie also recognises the importance of connectivity between the producer and the consumer, and the farmer and the wider community. She first became involved in the networking scene earlier in life as a PR consultant. Having successfully completed a public relations course, Sallie was offered a position with a consumer-based consultancy firm where she engaged with journalists and mainstream media, and even advocated for the benefits of raw milk. Armed with a new vision for the branding trade, Sallie was inspired to launch her own PR and marketing consultancy.

Gippsland Jersey signage with social media links, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Gippsland Jersey signage with social media links, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

By drawing upon a specialised skill-set, Sallie has been able to bolster the visibility of the Gippsland Jersey campaign, connect the consumer to the producer, and engage with the wider community:

I read a quote saying, ‘Your wealth is only as big as your connections, or your network.’ So over the last 15 years I’ve taken a genuine interest in people and I love connecting with people. I really feel as though people want to support farmers, but they don’t understand how they can do that – so, through farmers’ markets and the work that you do, to host conversations and give them experiences.
For me it’s more about being able to tell those farming stories and being able to connect the consumer with the farmer. I was brought up with an understanding and a work ethic, and I understand the mentality of farmers. But then I also understand the consumers and what they would want to see and what they would want to hear. So, I guess I sit somewhere in the middle these days in terms of being a farmer. I’m a value-adding, marketing, storytelling farmer! 
Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with her children, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with her children, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have also materialised as essential tools for the Gippsland Jersey project. Social media is a game changer that has allowed farmers to share their stories with the wider community, and has given consumers an opportunity to get to know them:

To have a positive story emerging is exciting not just for the dairy farmers but also for the consumers. The consumers want to back something that’s good. So, for example, we had a crowdfunding run, and we raised over $32,000 from people donating their money for a milk truck. We called it The Milkshake Truck. For Gippsland Jersey, we need to grow our brand and grow the brand awareness, and we can only do that by getting ourselves out there. It’s not just about The Milkshake, it’s about the connections and about them seeing real farmers doing stuff that’s cool and inspiring younger farmers.
Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with her son, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey with her son, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, social media offers a plethora of marketing and networking opportunities. In the case of Gippsland Jersey, Sallie and Steve have often welcomed cross-promotional collaborations in their branding strategies by sharing other people’s stories; and as an advocate for social media, Sallie encourages farmers to take full advantage of these collaborative opportunities – ‘Don’t do it solo. Find people that can help you on your journey.’

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Women’s voices:

What Sallie has been able to achieve with Gippsland Jersey is no small feat. Weathering through hardship and tragedy, she has taken up the mantel for positive change in ensuring fairness and kindness in the dairy industry. Reflecting on where she is today, Sallie takes a moment to share her personal experience as a woman in the industry:

When I was young, the men’s voices were always the loudest; but it was the women – my nana and my mum – that had the most impact in terms of really being able to get stuff done behind the scenes. My attitude has matured over the years and I think there is definitely a spot for women’s voices to be heard really loudly now, whereas I don’t think it was when I was growing up. You know, Mum didn’t necessarily have the confidence to ever take the front role; she always let Dad do that. So, I’ve had to push that boundary for myself to say that it’s okay for me to have a voice.
I guess I’ve been surrounded by some pretty powerful women that have shown me how to do that. It’s not necessarily something that’s been in my family – I’ve had to go out and learn how to assert myself with my own female voice, and develop my own style on how that happens. Especially in the dairy industry; it’s quite a male-dominated field, so there’s not many women doing things. I know I’ve got a strong self-identity and I know who I am; well I’m still learning who I am, but I guess I feel like I know my purpose. I’ve got the freedom, I’ve got my feet grounded, and I’m okay – I’m not shaky in that.
Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sallie Jones of Gippsland Jersey, Jindivick, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

By openly sharing her journey with the world, Sallie is recognised as a role model for the younger generation of women farmers. Holding to a deep sense of responsibility to her community, Sallie has expressed her hopes of being a living resource for these young women by offering them advice and helping them to find their own voice:

For me, I hope to be able to mentor younger women and give them confidence. I know that they’re looking to me and seeing how the story rolls out, and hopefully it will inspire them to do something that’s outside of the box. Farming isn’t what it used to be. So, by offering that insight and showing what can be done, I’m very happy for my life to be an open book and let them see how that plays out. So I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow – I’m just on this crazy journey and it’s very exciting. 
 

Want to know more?

*If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health concerns, please seek help via organisations such as Beyond Blue, the Ripple Effect or Lifeline.

*This blog post is based on an interview between Catherine Forge (Museums Victoria) and Sallie Jones (Gippsland Jersey), December 2016. For further information on this interview, please get in touch with us.

 

Make History - Get Involved with the Invisible Farmer Project

By Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project, Museums Victoria) and Liza Dale-Hallett (Project Lead, Invisible Farmer Project, Museums Victoria)

Do a Google image search for “Australian farmer”. You will find that 80-90% of the results depict men, despite the fact that women contribute at least 49% of real farm income in Australia. Women have always been active contributors on Australian farms and agricultural enterprises, yet their stories have sadly not been adequately represented in the public sphere (read more about this here). 

Image: courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "The forgotten females of Australian farming", submitted by Brigid Price, available here: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/186008

Image: courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "The forgotten females of Australian farming", submitted by Brigid Price, available here: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/186008


We all know that women are not invisible though. On the contrary, women are vital and central forces on their farms, in their communities and across a wide spectrum of farm enterprises in Australia. From remote outback cattle stations to peri-urban market gardens, women are leading change and contributing greatly to their industries, families, economies and communities.

The Invisible Farmer Project aims to bring the stories of Australian farm women into the spotlight. In doing so we hope to re-shape the public face of Australian agriculture so that future Google searches will reflect the Australian reality - that women in Australia contribute hugely to Australia's farm economy, and that their unique and diverse stories deserve to be heard.

Image: Rhonda Patton on her goat farm, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute,  "Rhonda Patton, Developing a Smaller Dairy Goat", Drouin South, Gippsland, submitted by Ilana Leeds, available here: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/188029

Image: Rhonda Patton on her goat farm, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute,  "Rhonda Patton, Developing a Smaller Dairy Goat", Drouin South, Gippsland, submitted by Ilana Leeds, available here: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/188029


How You Can Help – The ABC Open Tributes

Have you seen the tributes being posted on ABC Open to women on the land? These tributes are a key part of the Invisible Farmer project. They invite you to share a photograph, along with a short tribute, to a fantastic woman that you know. This woman will have contributed to agriculture, farming or food and fibre production in some way. She might already be well-known in her community, or she might be a quiet achiever. She might be your friend, neighbour, colleague, mother, grandmother, daughter, aunty or cousin, and she will no doubt have an amazing story that deserves to be told. 

Image: Nikki Mann picking berries, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Out of Africa and into new beginnings" by Nikki Mann (tribute author), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/187492

Image: Nikki Mann picking berries, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Out of Africa and into new beginnings" by Nikki Mann (tribute author), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/187492

We know there are thousands upon thousands of women on the land and on farm enterprises in Australia - yet to date we have only received a small number of tributes. In some industry groups, such as the seafood industry, we still haven't received a single tribute. The Invisible Farmer project is seeking your help to build a treasure trove of tributes – we want you to swamp the ABC with thousands of tributes to represent the diversity of women across Australia and the many ways they work our lands and waters.

Image: Rosemary Waugh Allcock on her property in Taloumbi, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Portrait of a Lady", Taloumbi, NSW, submitted by Debrah Novak (tribute author and photographer), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/108722

Image: Rosemary Waugh Allcock on her property in Taloumbi, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Portrait of a Lady", Taloumbi, NSW, submitted by Debrah Novak (tribute author and photographer), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/108722

What Will Happen With the Tributes?

The ABC will ‘harvest’ these tributes for TV, radio and online programs. This is a special and unique opportunity to:

  • Showcase the diversity of Australian agriculture, food production and land use
  • Give women a voice and build their confidence to stand up, be seen and heard
  • Encourage girls and women to see a future for themselves in agriculture
  • Link producers and consumers by creating a better understanding of where our food and fibre comes from
  • Give women the public recognition and respect that they deserve
  • Provide you with the opportunity to pay tribute to someone that you believe deserves to have their conributions recognised
Image: Anna Lashbrook photographed by Jacqueline Cooper, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Scratch, Scratch, Peck", submitted by B Lashbrook (tribute author), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/185422

Image: Anna Lashbrook photographed by Jacqueline Cooper, courtesy of Invisible Farmer ABC Open Tribute, "Scratch, Scratch, Peck", submitted by B Lashbrook (tribute author), available: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/185422

Get Involved Now!

Join the Invisible Farmer project and make history! Write a tribute today, ask your family and friends to write one too. In doing so you will help to ensure that women’s stories and contributions become more seen and heard in the public domain, leading to a more inclusive and sustainable future for us all!

Posting a tribute is easy. Just a few words and a photo. Here's some ideas to get those tributes flowing:

  • Create a story circle - invite friends & family to eat, drink, talk and post tributes in a group
  • Start a trail of tributes - post a tribute and then ask that woman to do the same (via email) - see how long your trail of tributes can be!
  • Post a tribute for Mother's Day - write about your mother, your grandmother, your great grandmother or an important mother-figure in your life
  • Men, here's your chance to honour the fabulous women in your lives - sisters, mothers, wives, partners, colleagues, daughters, aunts, friends and other awesome women
  • Get your children or students involved in the history-making process by asking them to write a tribute for their mother, aunt, grandmother or an important female in their lives

The deadline for tributes is Mother’s Day, 14 May. If you want your tribute to appear in time for Mother’s Day it must be submitted by 8 May 2017.

Amy Paul of Ruby Hills Organics, Walkerville, South Gippsland

By Ash Robertson (Museums Victoria) and Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project)

Industry: Organic poultry farming
Name of enterprise: Ruby Hills Organics
Location: Walkerville, South Gippsland, Victoria

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy’s Story:

On a beautiful 85-acre piece of organic farmland in Walkerville, South Gippsland, Amy Paul and her husband Nicholas Paul work in partnership to channel a burgeoning passion for organic farming and environmental sustainability into their family business, Ruby Hills Organics. Together they care for nearly 4000 contented laying hens that are free to roam the land and ‘graze and laze’ as they please.                                 

Organics:

Previously based in Queensland’s beef production and genetics industry, Amy describes the journey to organics as a natural progression in both her professional career and personal life. For Amy and her husband Nic, their passion for clean and accessible food was ignited by a transition to parenthood, leading to an ever-growing mindfulness of wellness and nutrition, and a desire to ‘be part of the wheel of change’:

When we had children, my husband and I realised the importance of what we were putting in our bodies. We just developed an awareness of our health and illness, prevention of illness, and really came to the conclusion that it was stemming from the food that we were producing. In Queensland we were producing beef, but we weren’t directly involved with the food that was going down the chain, and we were living in a place that had a lot of cotton crops and a lot of sprays going over our house. We just knew that we had to get out of there. Now we’re farming to produce food that we would feel proud to feed our family and feed the world.
Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

As an advocate for the organics movement, Amy recognises the benefits of clean, unmodified food production and serves as a voice of encouragement for those farmers who may be considering the transition. While organics can often be perceived as synonymous with difficult farming practices, Amy believes that conventional farmers may find the transition easier and far more worthwhile than expected. She readily admits that ‘organics is a whole different ballgame,’ but understands that the benefits are too abundant to be ignored. Sharing her feelings on achieving and maintaining certification, and how organics resonates with her, Amy states:

It’s about care for the animals, the welfare for the animals, and what we’re doing for the future. With organics, we follow a standard and that standard is written for us. We follow a certain way of farming that is great for the animals, great for the environment, and great for nutrition. It’s a highly regulated system and we get audited annually, and we fill out all sorts of forms and paperwork in order to have that certification. It does mean a lot to us because it’s actually food that we eat ourselves and that we want to give our children – we’re producing clean and healthy food that is doing good by the world, both in an environmental way and by our health.

 

Sustainability and Indigenous land use:

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

As well as running her farm and raising her four children, Amy has devoted considerable time and energy to raising awareness around issues of sustainable land use and alternative farming methods. As a local activist, Amy has been long involved in campaigning against coal-seam gas in Gippsland, and was thrilled to celebrate Victoria’s recent ban on coal-seam fracking. Moreover, Amy is also invested in raising awareness of Indigenous Australian farming methods. Feeling a deep connection to Indigenous communities through her Native American ancestry (Amy grew up in the United States and her grandfather was half Native American), Amy believes that it’s of vital importance that farmers take more interest in the lessons that they could learn from Indigenous history, culture and land use:

I feel connected to the Indigenous story. Now that we’ve put our roots down on this farm, I want to know more about its history, and I want to know what’s happened here on this land. I want to know what we can do to nurture the relationships with our Aboriginal community – locally, but also on a National scale. It’s vital to our success in the future for our children to be able to learn what’s happened on this land prior to them being here, and what’s good for it, and how they can embrace the community. It has been tragically and intentionally forgotten. I would like to see them inherit something that’s connected to the people that have been on this land for a long, long time before us. We really need to look in agriculture to what the Indigenous people have been doing on this land, and learn from that.
Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

For Amy, her family’s connection to the local landscape is motivated by a desire to have minimal impact on the land. ‘I’m really passionate about farmers looking after the land’, states Amy. To this end the family farm not only runs to organic principles, but Amy and her husband Nic have also built their own off-grid home using recycled and salvaged building materials, and they are increasingly growing a large bulk of their fruit and vegetables on-site so that the family can remain as self-sufficient as possible.

 

Importance of community and the role of women:

Throughout her journey, Amy has maintained a deep sense of appreciation for community and the value it holds. When they moved from Queensland to Victoria, Amy and Nic were welcomed by the local South Gippsland community, and Amy believes that this was an incredibly important step in enabling their farm to be successful: ‘When we got down here the community was beautiful, they welcomed us’, she recalls, ‘without the local community it wouldn’t be the same journey for us.’

Speaking to her personal experience, Amy pays special tribute to the women of her community, recognising the vital role that they have played in both her personal life and the success of their company through an endless provision of support:

I have a tribe of amazing women that I surround myself with and they’re the people that buoy me at the right times. When you have a family and you’re on the farm, it’s a multifaceted business that women have to juggle. You have to put on so many hats; it’s incredible. That tribe of women are crucial to running any kind of business, and there's a beautiful rise up of women that are supporting each other. In this particular community, there are a lot of women that reached out to us and wanted to get to know us better, and the feeling was mutual.

When asked if gender issues have ever limited her work potential – or led to difficulties or challenges when balancing so many hats– Amy responds: ‘yes, there’s gender issues that happen, and they have happened to me as well… but you’re a product of what you let sink in, and I know that I’m perfectly capable.’ For Amy, gender is not a limitation; she views her family business as a team effort that involves different but complimentary, and equal, roles:

There’s a lot that happens on a farm behind the scenes that women are responsible for, and I think that just managing the family is great. I’m Mum first because I’ve got four small children and they take up a fair bit of energy, but it’s a group effort really – the six of us on this farm. For me, I do the marketing, the social media and the books. I also mark lambs and deliver our produce. I also keep the social strings happening, and the community strings.
Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul with chickens, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Connecting the social strings between producer and consumer

Since relocating to Victoria in pursuit of the organic dream, Amy and her husband have successfully amassed a community of loyal followers who have not only become invested in their organic products but also their organic farming story:

We get these beautiful messages and they mean so much to us, from people that buy our produce or come to the farm. Just knowing that we’re helping people to find that nutritional need for them is really lovely. And I think that people like to connect to the farmer, to the farm, and to know what’s happening.  So we occasionally send out little messages in our egg cartons and that sort of thing, just to keep connected to everybody on a more personal-sized scale.
Amy Paul holding eggs, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul holding eggs, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Ruby Hills Organics supply their eggs locally through small stores and grocers, and they also deliver a bulk of their eggs through to Melbourne markets and niche organic stockists. Amy enjoys being able to stay connected with her Melbourne customers, and believes that the connection between farmer/consumer and city/country is of vital importance. Her message to the general public is to stay informed about where your food comes from, and to support your farmers: ‘I think it’s about supporting what’s happening locally in your area and supporting your individual shops that are selling beautiful from-the-farmer food.’ This support can be face-to-face, in-person support, but it can also happen across digital platforms and social media. For Amy, Instagram and Facebook have provided great vehicles for spreading stories relating to her family’s business, and for connecting with her city-based consumers.

When reflecting on her own journey as a farmer and egg producer, Amy Paul points to a small egg and then holds it in her hand as she reflects on her family’s journey. ‘It all comes back down to that beautiful egg’, she comments:

That egg enables me to be in a beautiful place in the world, raising my family. [That] egg enables us to incorporate our children into the land. It enables us to be a part of our community. It enables us to be stewards of the land, to look after our wildlife and our chooks. It’s a tiny little egg, but it actually has a great big picture surrounding it.
Amy Paul holding eggs, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amy Paul holding eggs, Walkerville, South Gippsland, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Want to know more?

Follow Ruby Hills Organics on Facebook and Instagram

Read about the Invisible Farmer Project on Museum Victoria's Collections Online

Uncovering Photographic Images of Women Farmers at Museums Victoria

By Ryna Ordynat (Masters Student, Deakin University)

Ryna Ordynat working on her internship at Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photograph: Liza Dale-Hallett

Ryna Ordynat working on her internship at Melbourne Museum, Carlton Gardens, 2017, Photograph: Liza Dale-Hallett

Between September 2016 and February 2017, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in the Invisible Farmer Project headed by Liza Dale-Hallett (Senior Curator of Sustainable Futures) at Museums Victoria. I was keen to do an internship as part of the Master of Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Deakin University, and especially one with the prospect of working with women's histories and collection management. I began applying to various museums and heritage organisations around Melbourne, one of which was of course the Museums Victoria, and was thrilled to hear back from them, offering me the chance to be part of a project that focused on telling the rarely heard stories of Australian women farmers.

Soon after starting at Melbourne Museum I learnt that photographic imagery of Australian women farmers was scarce in the public domain. I also learnt that even though the agricultural collection of Museums Victoria is extensive – especially in regards to photography related to agriculture – women still appeared rarely, or were difficult to locate. I was therefore excited to learn that the work I was about to do would make an attempt to bring the photographs of women farmers in Australia to greater prominence. The internship carried with it the opportunity to work with and research the museum’s image collections, and to track down photographs depicting Australian farm women.

[Photograph 1]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; 'farm animals', 'fences', 'sheep'. Image attribrution: Two Women Feeding Lambs, Bahgallah, Victoria, 1939, Source: Museums Victoria, MM2742, Photographer: J. Richardson.

[Photograph 1]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; 'farm animals', 'fences', 'sheep'. Image attribrution: Two Women Feeding Lambs, Bahgallah, Victoria, 1939, Source: Museums Victoria, MM2742, Photographer: J. Richardson.

The Invisible Farmer Project at Melbourne Museum

At Museums Victoria the Invisible Farmer Project draws on the ‘Sustainable Futures’ collection, comprising over 86,000 sustainability and agriculture-related objects, documents and images. There are thousands of photographs in the online collections catalogue that capture rural life in Australia from the mid-19th century. The issue that my internship addressed was the obscurity of the many photographs like these which depicted women on farms. Why was it so difficult to locate images of farm women in the catalogues? Why were women largely invisible in the collections? I came to understand that the reason was often due to inaccurate or incomplete metadata and tags associated with the photograph, making it difficult or even impossible to locate such images.

What is metadata?

What is metadata? Simply put, it is a term that refers to the way we describe and classify the objects in the collection, so that users are able to search and find the images under these descriptive categories, keyword searches or ‘tags’. For example, if you give a museum curator an image of a cow in a rural landscape, the types of ‘tags’ or keywords they might use to describe the image would be ‘cow’, ‘rural’, ‘farm’, ‘farming’, ‘agriculture.’ The problem that arises with metadata, however, is the fact that images have sometimes been incorrectly or inadequately tagged, or perhaps they haven’t been tagged at all. This is especially common when dealing with images that have been catalogued using different catalogue systems (before the advent of the Digital Age) that weren’t given a category or ‘tag’ at all, or that were labelled inconsistently. For example, the image of a cow in a rural landscape could have depicted a woman standing beside the cow, but the person that catalogued the image might have failed to make note of this.

[Photograph 2]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; none. Image attribution: Two women and a man working in a cherry orchard, Blackburn, 1938, Source: Museums Victoria courtesy of Ann M. Kriegler, MM110823, Photographer: Unknown

[Photograph 2]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; none. Image attribution: Two women and a man working in a cherry orchard, Blackburn, 1938, Source: Museums Victoria courtesy of Ann M. Kriegler, MM110823, Photographer: Unknown

Discovering and re-tagging images of Australian farm women

In order to work through the metadata inconsistencies of the online collections, I first had to plan an effective methodology. I began by doing a thorough search of the collection, to better understand the scope of what was available. I noted that most images that appeared in such searches as ‘rural women’ and ‘women farmers’ did not adequately represent the scope of what the collection actually held and my search yielded very few results. I would need to dig deeper and with this in mind I decided to extend the search to make a list of general tagging terms such as ‘agriculture’, ‘farms’, ‘agricultural equipment’, ‘agricultural workers’, ‘rural life’, etc. Additionally, I created a list of more specific tags describing actual tasks, actions or features that may appear in photographs I was looking for, such as ‘milking’, ‘poultry’, ‘harvesting’, ‘farm animals’, ‘cereal crops’ and ‘agricultural produce’. Using these terms revealed many interesting photographs featuring women performing all sorts of tasks on farms in the late 19th and early to mid-20th century. These women's lives, stories and lived experiences would have been indiscoverable, and rendered invisible, without the correct tags and subject headings to search and locate them.

Photograph 1 is a typical example of the problems encountered, where the tags included failed to account for the people and the setting, including the female farm workers. Photograph 3 describes the tractor that appears in the photograph, but fails to mention that it is driven by a woman. Finally, for an extreme example, consider Photograph 2, which had no keywords associated with it whatsoever. In order to address this problem I updated the museum records to include the following keywords: ‘farms’, ‘fruit’, ‘orchards’, ‘agricultural produce’, ‘agricultural workers’, ‘women on farms’, ‘women in agriculture’, ‘women farmers’ and ‘women’s work’.

[Photograph 3]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; agricultural equipment, tractors. Image attribution: A women sitting on a tractor, Yarraby, Victoria, 1930, Source: Museums Victoria, MM5538, Photographer: Unknown

[Photograph 3]: Original keywords used to catalogue the photo; agricultural equipment, tractors. Image attribution: A women sitting on a tractor, Yarraby, Victoria, 1930, Source: Museums Victoria, MM5538, Photographer: Unknown

After I made a list of all photographs I had managed to locate through this method, I developed several new tags and descriptions (such as ‘rural women’, ‘women on farms’, ‘women farmers’, women’s work’, ‘women farmers’, etc.) that would allow me to adjust the metadata to make these photographs more acccessible and visible in the collection. Using the museum’s database software, ‘EMu’, I went through the original catalogue records and edited them to include the appropriate additional tags so that subsequent searches for 'female farmer' would yield much better results.

What I learnt during my internship

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of a project of such importance, and I can safely say that during my time with Museums Victoria I have learned a great deal about the museum industry and the people that form it, about museum collections and how they are managed, and about the important role that curators play in the development, the research, and the significance of the collection. I also came to understand the importance of the relationship that Museums have with the communities that they represent in their collections, and the need to continuously promote, encourage and maintain such relevant connections with people's lives and stories.

Most significantly, I have gained a fascinating insight into the lives of Australian rural women, both past and present. Women appear to always be in the thick of things, getting their hands dirty and busy while managing to keep an eye on their children, riding tractors and getting involved in family and community work. My internship work illustrated to me most vividly how many hidden stories still remain to be seen and told in the collection. It also opened my mind to the fact that this problem of women's invisibility in photographic collections is not unique to Museums Victoria, and would no doubt be experienced across the wider network of museums in Australia and worldwide. It is of utmost importance that museums, collecting bodies and historians start to reflect on this important issue and take remedial steps to properly document the history of Australian farm women.

Want to know more?

Explore Museum Victoria's Collections yourself, here: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/ 

Lisa Sartori of Dirty Three Wines, South Gippsland

By Ash Robertson (Museums Victoria) and Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project)

Industry: Wine – Pinot Noir and Riesling
Name of enterprise: Dirty Three Wines
Location: Leongatha South, South Gippsland, Victoria

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa’s Story:

“Our wine tells a story of love and abundance”, states Lisa Sartori, a 49-year-old viticulture farmer from South Gippsland, Victoria. Lisa – in partnership with her husband Marcus – is a proud owner and operator of Dirty Three Wines, an 8-acre vineyard in South Gippsland that specialises in Pinot Noir and Riesling.

Lisa was not born into the wine industry; she previously held a career as an investment banker before entering into viticulture alongside her husband Marcus. Her passion for wine, however, began much earlier on, during childhood, and is deeply linked to her Italian heritage and the memories that wine evokes for her:

My grandparents used to buy a barrel of wine each year; it was a rough red from South Australia. It came across on the train, and they would bottle it into beer bottles that would be their annual supply of wine. So from an early age we were part of the celebration of the barrel coming, where there was food on the table and the wine was bottled. Either someone would come and go home with a bottle of wine, or they would come for a meal and sit and enjoy the wine on the day. So, where I haven’t come from a wine industry family, I think that it was instilled from a very age that it’s lovely to share food and wine with family and friends.

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

With an incredible sense of appreciation and respect for the process of wine production, Lisa continues to instill this connection to family and friends through a shared experience of food and wine. Lisa and Marcus have twin daughters Ava and Ruby (aged 13), and Lisa believes that the sharing of wine and food is a gift that can be passed down the generations:

For our children and the generations to come, it’s about enjoying family, friends, and food and the festive side of drinking wine. It’s what we embrace with our girls. I’m sure one day they’ll want to be in amongst their friends and experience what we all have. For us it’s about teaching our children’s generation and beyond that the celebration of food and wine is an amazing story.

Adding to this sense of connectedness, Lisa also explains how wine-making has provided her with an opportunity to truly connect to the environment and awaken her passions for the landscape that the vineyard inhabits. The name “Dirty Three” is a unique moniker in that it represents the three distinct varieties of soil from which the vines are grown, and Lisa is inspired by her connection to the land she works on and the abundance that it provides:

It’s an amazing energy that the earth gives us. We’re very lucky to have our feet in the ground every day…I’ve always had a connection with the land as such; however, being able to be on the land every day, experiencing the seasons every day, has become my passion… The connection for me is just being in such a beautiful space. It’s abundant and beautiful and it provides us with very happy vines that talk to us, that embrace us with their beautiful lush leaves and their amazing fruit.  It’s great to see the vines wake up; it’s great to see them grow.

Lisa Sartori and her husband Marcus Satchell on their vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori and her husband Marcus Satchell on their vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa’s role at Dirty Three Wines is varied and involves a mix of office work and client communications alongside hands-on outdoor activities that are dictated by the seasons. In summer Lisa drives a tractor to keep the grass mowed and she also ensures that the vines are growing up through the trellis correctly (shoot-positioning).  She then picks the grapes and goes through a process of testing and tasting to develop the wine and bring out the flavours. In winter she prunes. ‘We’re governed by our weather and our seasons’, states Lisa, ‘so the day-to-day is literally what is needed on that particular day.’

Being based in South Gippsland, Dirty Three Wines is a cool-climate wine producer. Cool-climate wines are prized for their lower sugar levels, higher acidity and their herbaceous, spicy and floral flavours. One of the concerns facing Lisa and Marcus is their reliance on the weather to produce the cool-climate characteristics that their wines are known for:

Weather is a challenge for us every year. Last year wind was a massive factor for us. We lost a lot of our crop to the flowering season and the November winds… I’m not a scientist so I don’t know the words around climate change, but it does feel as though we are getting warmer, so that will be a challenge for us. Yes, climate change is going to be a massive challenge for us, however I’m not sure how this will play out in the coming years.

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori on her vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

For Lisa and Marcus, one of the ways that they are meeting challenges is to stay connected with their industry and their local community. ‘Connections to me are everything’, states Lisa, ‘we’re really lucky to have like-minded people that are interested in what the land can produce.’

Like the vines she so carefully and devotedly cultivates, Lisa views her relationships within the wider community as a living social network, which requires constant care and nurturing to allow it to flourish and thrive:

It’s about connections. The vines are connecting and growing, and so are we. I see it as they do what we do, and we do what they do. I enjoy people and so our connections to our beautiful community of people is always growing. South Gippsland is an amazing food bowl, and connecting with our community is everything… For me it’s more about being able to tell those farming stories and to be able to connect the consumer with the farmer.

As a testament to their dedication to community outreach, Lisa and her husband often travel to Melbourne to offer wine tastings and seize opportunities to interact with their consumers and suppliers. In order to encourage more informed and understanding relationships that bridge the gap between producer and consumer, Lisa chooses to engage with the wider community through sharing their farming stories. These stories speak to a duty of environmental care and stewardship, community support, and a family business that overflows with love and abundance.

Lisa Sartori and her husband Marcus Satchell on their vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Lisa Sartori and her husband Marcus Satchell on their vineyard, Dirty Three Wines, Leongatha South, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Want to know more?

Visit Dirty Three Wine's website, here: http://dirtythreewines.com.au/the-people/ 

Follow Dirty Three Wines on Facebook and Instagram

Read about the Invisible Farmer Project on Museum Victoria's Collections Online

Molly Clark and the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame

By Dianna Newham (Curator, National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame)

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame in Alice Springs was founded by a woman on the land, Molly Clark, and this is her story...

Molly Clark seated at the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at the Old Alice Springs Gaol in 2010, Photographer: Unknown, Source: Supplied: Dianna Newham

Molly Clark seated at the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at the Old Alice Springs Gaol in 2010, Photographer: Unknown, Source: Supplied: Dianna Newham

In 1955 Molly Clark arrived at the 3,410 square kilometre station at Andado, around 330 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs with her husband Mac and three small sons. Previously, the young family had been working on grazing properties between Broken Hill, Birdsville and Tennant Creek.  At Andado, they lived in the original 1920’s homestead for a few years, building a new one a few kilometres west. The old homestead was left to fall down, but in 1969 Molly decided to resurrect it and turn it into a homestay operation as an alternative income during drought years. The project took almost 20 years to fulfil during which time she physically worked on getting the building and surrounding area habitable. 

The 1970s witnessed a catalogue of personal crises: one son had a life-threatening accident; Molly's husband suffered a fatal heart attack after crash landing his light aircraft; and her eldest son was killed by a freight train whilst driving his prime mover across a railway line at night. By the end of the decade, Molly had also lost her livelihood, when the Northern Territory government were forced to destroy all her cattle following a brucellosis scare. Molly continued to work on her tourist venture – one of the first of its kind – at Old Andado, which was now her home. From the mid-1990s, she welcomed guests into her 1922 corrugated iron and timber home, set amongst alternate landscapes of flat gibber and giant sand dunes.

In 1993, Molly and supporters in Alice Springs established the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. In the late 1980’s, Molly had visited the now famous Stockman’s Hall of Fame and, in response, felt the need to establish a museum dedicated to commemorating the contribution and achievements of Australian women.  As Molly later said:

I was sick of seeing women forgotten while the men got all the praise.  I was backing my husband and I knew hundreds of other women who’d backed theirs all the way through but you never heard what Mrs So-and-so did, it was only what Mr So-and-so did.  Well, Mr So-and-so could not have done it without the backing of his wife…My dream is just to see that women were recognised.

Molly’s story is not unusual for the women of Central Australia, and many more of these stories are told in our exhibition, Women at the Heart. The work of local Arrernte and other Aboriginal women, and the friendships between these women and the newcomers is also recognised. Central Australia’s pioneering women, black and white, often transcended narrow, nationally endorsed stereotypes about women’s work. As many an early male commentator noted, the outback could not have been settled without them. In 1929, for example, John William Bleakley, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Queensland, declared:

The lubra … one of the greatest pioneers of the Territories, for without her it would have been impossible for the white man to have carried on ...”

Display panel from the exhibition, Women at the Heart, National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.

Display panel from the exhibition, Women at the Heart, National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.

We also recognise Australian women on the land in our exhibition What’s Work Worth? The first objects displayed in this exhibition are a handful of wangurnu seeds (collected by Pulpuru Davies, Gibson Desert, Western Australia in mid-2000) lying on a grinding stone.  Aboriginal women throughout Central Australia and the Western Desert worked laboriously at the time-consuming task of finding, grinding and baking seed, and we open our exhibition by acknowledging this work.  It has, in fact, been argued that industrialised flour was integral to the colonisation of Central Australia.

"Flour" cluster, What's Work Worth? National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame

"Flour" cluster, What's Work Worth? National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame

We also reference the story of wool in Central Australia, in a cluster of objects which show shears, a washboard and an acetylene lamp.  Tom Roberts’ iconic Australian paintings and stories about the important role shearers’ strikes played in the establishment of the Australian Labor Party have masculinised our perceptions of shearing. Local history, however, tells another story. Outback women who spent years working on Centralia’s family owned pastoral properties, often did the shearing as well.   

"Wool" cluster, What's Work Worth? National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame

"Wool" cluster, What's Work Worth? National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame

Sheep shears also remind us of the cross-cultural dimensions of a sheep, rather than cattle-based, pastoral industry. Margaret Bain, who described herself as Centralia’s last missionary, was convinced that sheep were much more encouraging of a family centred Aboriginal nomadism than cattle. Sheep, unlike cattle, required close supervision. Local pastoralists, including the missionaries at Ernabella for whom Margaret worked, often employed Aboriginal women as shepherds. Shepherding enabled these Aboriginal women to travel through country with their children, hunting and gathering as they always had. It also enabled them to trade their work for highly prized European goods. 

The washboard was donated by Jean Weir (nee Chalmers) and was used on MacDonald Downs station in Central Australia.  Like many outback women, Jean Chalmers played an integral role in helping her family drive their 400 sheep, 13 horses and a few goats from the New South Wales-Queensland border to take up a pastoral lease in Central Australia in 1925. The washboard became obsolete when Jean acquired a pump up and down washing machine.

These are just some of the stories of Australian women on the land referenced in our museum.  The term “farmer” is not common usage in the Northern Territory and part of our role in the Invisible Farmer project is to bring in stories and perspectives from Central Australia, to show the truly national contribution of women on the land.

We are proud to be a partner in the Invisible Farmer project and look forward to working alongside Arrernte and other Aboriginal women to highlight Indigenous women’s current and future contribution to land management.  We will also develop new content relating to women on the land to add to our existing exhibitions and highlight the work of these women in our monthly oral history program, Stories from the Heart.  In closing we would like to pay homage to Molly Clark for establishing our museum, and enabling us to capture and celebrate the diversity of women's stories.

Want to know more?

Visit the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame website:
www.pioneerwomen.com.au

Follow the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/NPWHF/

Farm to Farm: PhD student from Idaho, USA, Meets Women Farmers in Victoria, Australia

By Tagen Baker

As a visiting research associate for Museum Victoria, and a PhD student in Utah State University’s Department of Environment and Society, I had the opportunity to explore the diverse landscape of Victoria and interview and photograph women farmers—to learn from them about their histories, responses to climate change, and how they adapted their agricultural practices to sustain themselves and their families. I wanted to know how their experiences have been similar or different to women in my home state of Idaho, USA.  How have women been key agents of change embedded in their environments? How do women farmers provide unique perspectives and contributions to the futures of agriculture and to their communities?

Tagen Baker (PhD student from Idaho, USA) with Elizabeth Mace, Field Officer for G.V. Crop Protection, Goulburn Valley, 2016.

Tagen Baker (PhD student from Idaho, USA) with Elizabeth Mace, Field Officer for G.V. Crop Protection, Goulburn Valley, 2016.

As part of my research process, I asked women if I could photograph them with an item of value. This item opened up a unique opportunity to communicate and learn about the farmer’s lives. The item chosen was not only symbolic as a physical item of value, tangible and necessary, but a portal into a storytelling journey, a symbol of their rich and unique life experiences.

I interviewed, Brialey Brightwell, a berry farmer from Hoddles Creek who explained her item of value was her chainsaw:

 I find it quite important because I love getting wood for the fire, but I always had to be dependent on having a man with me who was going to cut the wood. When my husband bought me my chain saw, it meant I could go get wood without having to ask someone to come and help me. I like being independent.

While interviewing Brialey about her item of value, I learned that having wood burning fires in the home were part her family background and culture. She uses the firewood to heat her home, hot water for showers, and for cooking on the stove. Cutting wood from fallen trees on her property was also part of her daily work to maintain the farm.

Brialey Brightwell holding a chainsaw on her farm property, Nerrigundah Berries, Hoddles Creek, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker.

Brialey Brightwell holding a chainsaw on her farm property, Nerrigundah Berries, Hoddles Creek, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker.

In the agricultural sector in Victoria, there are many layers of knowledge and forward thinking required to sustain each farm. No farm has the exact same ecology. Similar to Idaho, there is great diversity in the types of crops that are grown and a long history of seasons of drought. All farms require water to survive. Climate change is a constant concern and requires the ability to manage timing and usage of water for the specific needs of each property and crop. In an interview with Elizabeth Mace, a Field Officer for G.V. Crop Protection, she discussed the change of irrigation practices over the last 20 years. At the beginning of her career, 70 percent of pear trees in the Goulburn Valley were flood irrigated. Since that time, many initiatives have been in place to help save water, such as micro sprinklers. She said, “It has made a big difference… you have to have diversity, to understand that water is precious and have to really time [irrigation] at the right time, not just flood irrigating every two weeks.”

Elizabeth Mace, Field Officer for G.V. Crop Protection, Goulburn Valley, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker 

Elizabeth Mace, Field Officer for G.V. Crop Protection, Goulburn Valley, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker 

Like farmers in Idaho, growers in Victoria have shifted irrigation practices to help conserve water as well as provide a more efficient options to support dynamic growing systems. As noted by Rien Silverstein, a horticultural farmer who chose two aerial photographs of their orchards in Tatura and Orville as her item of value:

 The photographs are very symbolic of the changes in the industry, and to come to terms with climate change affecting the micro-systems that are in the farm. In the photographs, you can actually see those changes to the farm, the first image looks like a patchwork of what you can actually do and the other one looks more like a very fine embroidery, because each tree is planted very close together now . . .  there is lot more science into growing fruit trees now.

The imagery showcased the changes in the technology, but also how women farmers are embedded in their environments, testing different types of technology and methods that best suit the agricultural processes of their farms.

Rien Silverstein sitting in front of aerial photographs of her pear and apple orchards in Tatura and Orrvale, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Rien Silverstein sitting in front of aerial photographs of her pear and apple orchards in Tatura and Orrvale, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Rien Silverstein standing in front of her orchard in Orvalle, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Rien Silverstein standing in front of her orchard in Orvalle, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Throughout my time in Victoria, a strong theme that emerged during the interview process was the support women offer to one another and the importance of neighbours and community. The nearest neighbour could be a fair distance away. However, friends and neighbours provide assistance and emotional support during times of crisis. Sarah Parker, a dairy farmer in the Shepparton area and current President of the Australian Women in Agriculture Inc, shared an experience she had when she first moved onto her farm in 2007, during one of the worst years of drought on record in the Goulburn Valley. Without the feed to support their dairy, they had to bring in hay:

We had fifteen loads, that’s fifteen trucks of hay delivered in one day and a rain storm hit. The hay was sitting upwards, not on its side. We had all this hay sitting on the front yard, along the road, and on the front paddock. The next thing we knew, we had four different neighbours arrive with tractors. We had only been their two or three months and they came and tipped the hay over.

Sarah noted there is a relationship of trust within the women’s agricultural community when it comes relying on friends and neighbours for help and insight. She and her friend and fellow dairy farmer Gemma Monk both expressed the importance of communication and having a stable network of support, in order to conduct business, manage upcoming weather to determine management aspects of the farm such as paddock rotation, and for emotional support. When asked to choose an object that signified their role on the farm, both Gemma and chose their phones, demonstrating the importance of connectivity and communication on the farm.

Sarah Parker of Glencliffe Agribusiness in Shepparton, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Sarah Parker of Glencliffe Agribusiness in Shepparton, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Tagen Baker

Sarah Parker and Gemma Monk holding their phones, Shepparton, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Sarah Parker and Gemma Monk holding their phones, Shepparton, 2016, Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

After completing my field trip to Victoria, it became evident the network of communication among women farmers is one of the most vital aspects for the successes of farms in Victoria. Information sharing is paramount to every aspect of managing a farm, and looking forward to sustainable futures. I am excited to be a contributor the The Invisible Farmer project, because it will be a nexus of information sharing, providing in-depth histories and stories, as well as strategies for securing a sustainable future for agriculture. The project will add another dimension of information sharing, as farmers all over the world will be able to access the stories and knowledgebase unique to Victoria and the women who live there. Although the stories will be distinctive to these women and their lives, threads of commonality will be evident across geographical and cultural boundaries.

Want to know more?

To find out more about the Project and visit Melbourne Museum's Collections:
http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/14480

To view Tagen's photography work, visit her Instagram page:
https://www.instagram.com/tagenjenphotography/

Amelia Bright of Amber Creek Farm, South Gippsland

By Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project)

Amelia Bright with her daughter Hazel at Amber Creek Farm in Fish Creek. Photograph: Catherine Forge, Source: Museum Victoria, 2016.

Amelia Bright with her daughter Hazel at Amber Creek Farm in Fish Creek. Photograph: Catherine Forge, Source: Museum Victoria, 2016.

Industry: Pork - pasture raised Wessex Saddleback
Name of enterprise: Amber Creek Farm and Sawmill
Location: Fish Creek, South Gippsland, Victoria

Amelia's story:

Reflecting on why she became a farmer, 28-year-old Amelia Bright recalls that “I fell into farming by accident.” Amelia was living and working as a prosthetist in inner Melbourne before she decided to take the plunge at farming pigs with her husband Dan Bright in Fish Creek, South Gippsland. Both Amelia and Dan had grown up in South Gippsland, but Amelia didn’t meet Dan until much later in life and never imagined that she would one day return to her home region to join him in establishing a 165-acre pig farm specialising in high quality pasture raised pork!

Amelia and Dan started their farm on a block of land that Dan had purchased prior to meeting Amelia. This block of land had once been part of a dairy farm situated next door to where Dan had grown up, and as a child Dan had helped to clear away tea tree with his grandfather, and had watched the landscape be logged and cleared. For both Amelia and Dan, a strong motivating factor leading them into pig farming was a shared sense of connection to their home region of South Gippsland, along with a deep concern for the local environment:

We care about the environment we live in. It’s our responsibility to keep our waterways in the best possible condition and care for the soil and to fix any erosion that was here prior to us coming. It’s our responsibility, and it is part of the reason we farm.

Amelia and Dan have worked hard in the past seven years to revegetate their property with native plants and trees, strive towards a neutral pH soil balance, create compost locally from pig and cow manure and to follow zero waste and organic farming principles. Their hard work has paid off and the farm is now entirely off-grid and self-sustaining. In tandem with the pig farm Amelia and Dan also operate a sawmill that uses locally sourced salvaged timber and supplies the farm’s compost, firewood, animal bedding, shelters and pig ‘home pads’. Amelia is driven by the belief that ‘everyone who owns their own small patch of land needs to take responsibility for the path that the planet is heading.’

Amelia Bright feeding pigs on her property at Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museum Victoria, Photograph: Catherine Forge.

Amelia Bright feeding pigs on her property at Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museum Victoria, Photograph: Catherine Forge.

Animal welfare is also a high priority at Amber Creek Farm. According to Amelia: ‘we care how the animals are raised and what we’re eating… the pigs are sentient beings, they deserve to have a high quality life and to not be stressed for their whole lives’. The pigs at Amber Creek Farm live outdoors for the entirety of their lives and have unrestricted access to shelter, fresh water and wallows at all times. Unlike other commercial pig breeds, they do not have their tails docked or their noses ringed to prevent foraging, and are instead free to roam in the soil and graze on a diet that is rich in nutrients and free of chemicals, hormones, drugs or GMOs.

This kind of open range farming isn’t without its’ difficulties and learning curves, but Amelia believes that it results in happier pigs and a higher quality, better tasting meat. It also allows Amelia to be involved, hands-on, with every stage of the process. She feeds the pigs, transports them to the abattoirs and then helps the butcher cut and pack the meat before selling the pork direct to customers: ‘I’ve got complete control over what happens to that animal’s life from the time its’ born to the time I sell it.’

Selling high-quality pork to her customers gives Amelia great joy, but when asked about how she feels about the Australian pork industry, Amelia responded that there were some major problems within the industry. For Amelia, the most pressing concern is the confusion surrounding the industry’s current labelling standards and the associated difficulties that consumers face when trying to choose which pork to purchase:

Confusion between free range, bred free range, pasture raised, barn raised, sow stall, sow stall free… it’s all quite abstract and relatively easy to manipulate those terms. You can still be called “free range” but technically live in a shed. So a lot of the problem is around language and the consumers will need to drive what happens within that industry space.

Amelia’s advice to consumers is to get informed, to research the food that they consume and to ask questions of their food suppliers. ‘Ask questions to your butcher’, she suggests, ‘do your own quick research and make your own informed choices.’

Pigs foraging for food at Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photograph: Catherine Forge

Pigs foraging for food at Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photograph: Catherine Forge

Another way to stay connected to the food that you eat, argues Amelia, is to try to purchase locally grown produce where possible. Amber Creek Farm operates as an entirely local business servicing the South Gippsland region and providing pork directly to consumers via local farmer’s markets and through a small number of local produce outlets, with the occasional trip to Melbourne to hand-deliver orders in the inner-north. Most recently Amber Creek Farm has joined a local co-operative, Prom Coast Food Co-Op, that provides another mechanism for selling their meat locally.  ‘Know your farmer, know where your food comes from’ is Amber Creek Farm’s website motto, and Amelia believes strongly in the importance of staying connected to her customers and her local community. In fact, being connected to her local community is one of the major factors driving Amelia to farm:

We couldn’t run our business without the support of our local community. Our products are mostly sold within a 30-50km radius or less, and we’re able to do that because of the support of the community. By having a farm and being a farmer I get to be connected to our property and to our land and to our community. The connectedness I think overall is really important.
Amelia Bright holding her daughter Hazel, Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amelia Bright holding her daughter Hazel, Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amelia and Dan were married on their property in 2014 and have since had a young daughter Hazel. For Amelia, her daughter has grounded her to the farm in a way she never anticipated:

My daughter really embodies my whole farming journey, cementing my place here on the farm. Hazel was born at almost 43 weeks, so I was feeding pigs up until about 40 weeks with her, and from day dot… Hazel is part of our journey and part of caring for the land. She’s part of us, and she’s part of the farm.

Hazel and Amelia are joined at the hip most days, with Hazel travelling around the farm in a sling on Amelia’s back. ‘Most of the time she just pops on my back and away we go’, states Amelia, ‘I get to spend a lot of my day with Hazel whilst working, whereas not everyone can take their children to work with them.’ Hazel might still be a young toddler, but this doesn’t stop her from being incredibly active on the farm. She digs, she helps paint logs at the saw mill to stop them splitting, she empties the pig troughs and she travels to the farmers markets and butchers with Amelia. Amelia believes that this rural upbringing provides her daughter with a rich and diverse learning environment, and an innate understanding of where her food comes from:

It’s a brilliant education for her to see how food is produced and how animals and ecosystems interact with each other and the consequences of doing it properly, or having errors along the way. It’s a great way for her to learn, by having a visceral connection to the land and playing in creeks and bush and exploring.
Amelia Bright sitting with her daughter Hazel in a tractor, Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amelia Bright sitting with her daughter Hazel in a tractor, Amber Creek Farm, Fish Creek, 2016. Source: Museums Victoria, Photographer: Catherine Forge

Amelia also believes it’s important for her daughter to watch her mother work on the farm, and to learn that her opportunities are not limited by traditional gender norms or stereotypes:

We’d really like her to grow up really capable and to see that both Mum and Dad can wield a hammer, and so can she, which she likes doing. She has complete choice over what direction her life is going to go in, and as long as she’s capable and can build those skills now, she continues to have choice.

As a 28-year-old female farmer Amelia Bright looks to the future with cautious optimism, and holds hopes for a future where women like her daughter will have equal opportunities. However, when asked about the role that farming women play in current society she laments that some women’s roles continue to remain invisible in the public eye, perhaps due to the fact that they have contributed to the farm via an off-farm income, and perhaps because women are, quite simply, just too busy!

I think between helping on the farm, working on the farm or off the farm and doing the lion’s share of the domestic duties, there’s not a whole lot of time for self-amelioration of ‘wow, look what women are doing’! We’re too busy. We just get on with it.

Amelia reflects that farming can be difficult, overwhelming, time-consuming and financially challenging at times, however despite these factors she wouldn’t change a thing. When asked what she will be doing in ten years’ time, Amelia’s response comes quickly and with no hesitations: ‘We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here.’

*All quotes and material taken from an interview between Catherine Forge and Amelia Bright, Fish Creek, 2016, Source and Copyright: Museums Victoria, Registration HT 49676.

Additional Images: