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

By Lisa Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "The Cherry", image supplied.

"The Cherry", image supplied.

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

 Bull catching in "the Cherry", image supplied.

Bull catching in "the Cherry", image supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Lisa with her daughter Jess, mage supplied.

Lisa with her daughter Jess, mage supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a bit confronting.

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

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

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

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

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

 Lisa at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

Lisa at Lorella Springs, image supplied.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Jacyln with Nett on her Minnestota Farm, image supplied.

Jacyln with Nett on her Minnestota Farm, image supplied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Liz on her Missouri farm, image supplied.

Liz on her Missouri farm, image supplied.

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

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

Lauren, Amanda and Kerry on Liz's farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Register your interest 

Name
Name
*Feel free to use a pseudonym if desired

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

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

By Kira Middleton (Student Intern, University of Melbourne)

My experience exploring curation at Museums Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excerpts from my interview with Liza Dale-Hallett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with mother Muriel Dale (centre) & brother Chas Dale (right), at their leased farm, Mt Worth, near Warragul, 1978, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with mother Muriel Dale (centre) & brother Chas Dale (right), at their leased farm, Mt Worth, near Warragul, 1978, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

How much of your interest and your dedication to this project would you attribute to your personal history, specifically your mother?

My mother worked hard. We all did. Yet it was my father who was apparently the ‘farmer’. I didn’t really think about this at the time. But when I became involved in this field as a curator, that inequity, and blindness, became a very strong motivating force for me. Why shouldn’t women’s work be counted and properly acknowledged in our culture and history? So writing the tribute to my mother was one way to say thank you to her, and to finally call her a ‘farmer’.

 So would you say that your love of rural history, sort of combined with your love of the land?

Yes, I have a deep connection with land and farming. And when we were children we went on long road trips, often staying on farms. So I have been very lucky that throughout my life I have travelled to many parts of Australia. I’ve seen and tasted and experienced its diversity, its beauty and its challenges. Travelling within Australia, especially beyond the fence line, is one of my grand passions - it absolutely informs who I am, and my work as a curator.

 Liza Dale-Hallett crossing the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory, 2017, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Liza Dale-Hallett crossing the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory, 2017, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

In terms of my interests I suppose they come from so many different places…but I think once you start meeting all these amazing people, men and women, it’s just naturally inspiring. And then you realise that there’s all these gaps in our understanding and knowledge and our histories. And so much of our rural history has not been told, and the inequity of that, and especially the gendered inequity of having so much of our landscape peopled by men but not by the women, who are obviously there, but it’s just so much harder to find them.

 Liza Dale-Hallett meeting Kylie Camp of Floraville Station near Burketown in QLD, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Liza Dale-Hallett meeting Kylie Camp of Floraville Station near Burketown in QLD, Source: Supplied, Liza Dale-Hallett

Travelling to really remote parts of Australia, it's quite humbling to realise that I’m in a position where I can do something about helping to uncover and share these women's stories. I hope that through engaging with the community, we will make some sort of difference that is worthwhile and valuable, and that perhaps might even effect some change in the way people think about women on the land, about agriculture in our lives and the essential connections we all have with it.

So then it’s sort of like a double imperative; it’s not just about being inspired, it sort of comes back to why I’m here and the opportunity it presents. I’m here to document the history of agriculture in that broader sense - to see these amazing stories and to try to create an equal balance of women’s stories and history within the collection, and beyond.
 

Throughout the project so far, what have been the biggest roadblocks that you’ve come across and were you ever concerned for the project gaining traction, were you ever worried that people wouldn’t care or wouldn’t pay attention?

Oh look there’s always road blocks. I think it’s about timing. I think there’s a will to support and acknowledge rural communities in the broadest sense. And there’s a time now when people just think it’s ridiculous that we haven’t properly acknowledged women on farms.

There was a lot of energy in the 1980s and early 1990s to acknowledge and enable women, but then there was a sort of backlash…there was a sense in which someone had ticked the gender box and considered it had been done. Well it hasn’t been done, it’s an ongoing challenge, but I think it’s a good time now for society to reflect on equality.

We have not had anyone who doesn’t get excited by this project. Because it’s fresh, it’s innovative, it flips people’s ideas about farming, farm work and what it means to be a 'farmer'.

More importantly, it’s empowering, and it gives something back that’s desperately overdue, and hopefully it will yield some really positive outcomes for communities and for consumers. I’m so excited by the amazing farmers that we are continuing to meet through this project, and the stories we are capturing and celebrating.

 Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with farmer Sallie Jones (centre) from Gippsland Jersey and Invisible Farmer Project curator Catherine Forge (right) at the Warragul Farmers Markets, July 2017, Supplied: Robert Zugaro

Liza Dale-Hallett (left) with farmer Sallie Jones (centre) from Gippsland Jersey and Invisible Farmer Project curator Catherine Forge (right) at the Warragul Farmers Markets, July 2017, Supplied: Robert Zugaro

 Liza Dale-Hallett holding an item in the Invisible Farmer Collection,  Heather Mitchell’s hat  (currently on display at Melbourne Museum), Melbourne Museum, 2017, Source: Museums Victoria

Liza Dale-Hallett holding an item in the Invisible Farmer Collection, Heather Mitchell’s hat (currently on display at Melbourne Museum), Melbourne Museum, 2017, Source: Museums Victoria

What do you see the final outcomes of this project being, and what do you hope it will achieve?

I would love to see greater involvement of girls in agriculture, to find role models where they can follow and be inspired to be innovators, to buy land, to take up farming, to explore all the options that agriculture might offer them. I’m hoping it might stretch our minds and redefine our concepts of ‘farmer’ to include the diverse and innovative array of women working across the industries and sectors in food and fibre production.

I’m hoping that our heritage collections might be properly documented in a way that allows us to find those histories.

Finally, I'm hoping the Invisible Farmer Project will help us to reflect and be a bit more aware of some of the issues impacting our futures. We are all dependent on farmers. We should be supporting, celebrating and documenting their stories. Women contribute half of the world's food supply, and it's vital that we understand and recognise their significant contributions. Making farm women's stories more visible is not just about the past; it's essential to our future.

Want to know more?

Emma Steendam of She Sows Seeds on family farming, rural life & the perfect Christmas spuds!

By Emma Steendam

Emma Steendam is a farmer based in the potato-growing region of Thorpdale, Gippsland, and an award-winning blogger and photographer at www.shesowsseeds.com In this guest blog post Emma reflects on her thoughts and experiences with family farming and country living. She also shares a recipe for the perfect Christmas spuds! Photographs by Emma, with some family photographs by Colour of Life Photography and Lisa Hayman Photography. 

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Growing up on a potato and sheep property in the rolling Thorpdale hills of green Gippsland, I don’t think it occurred to me that I would ever live anywhere other than on a farm. My siblings and I spent our childhood running under irrigators, stomping on a wool press and waking to the thunk-thunk-thunk of spuds hitting the picker’s buckets at dawn. I just assumed that my own children would experience the same.

Then, as fate would have it…I married a farmer. Ten years after finishing university in ‘the big smoke’ (photography for me and ag science for him), we’ve had a variety of experiences and roles in agriculture – from producing embryo transfer Angus and Charolais calves in north east Victoria, to the heartstrings pulling us home to Thorpdale for a year of growing potatoes and prime lambs, myself working in my family’s produce trading, transport and farming business, throwing in some cropping experience in the southern Mallee and my husband milking cows growing up, to heading north to cut our teeth on some larger scale beef operations in outback Queensland, then bumping our way along outback tracks around Australia before landing on a 10,000 acre beef and sheep property in South Australia…it seems we really are jacks of all trades and masters of none!

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I followed my high school sweetheart to ‘go bush’ after uni, to a 1200 acre beef property, somehow falling into a job treading the boards of the Yea cattle sales with Elders, weighing and tagging calves in the Murrindindi fog and sleet with absolutely zero experience with cattle! That same farmer boy proposed atop that cattle property…then promptly took off in a cloud of dust in the ute to deal with a prolapsed heifer, leaving me with the kelpies, a diamond ring and a bottle of champagne. Welcome to life married to a farmer (I ended up helping him pull that calf in the dark by the lights of the motorbike, and we saved the heifer).

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We spent our honeymoon working on an outback station in central-west Queensland, mustering wayward mickey bulls, wrangling equally bull-headed twins in the schoolroom through Longreach School of Distance Education and chasing snakes out of our donga. A romantic baptism of fire into life as a woman in agriculture. Eventually we bumped our way around Australia (and to Papua New Guinea with some more beef experience and learning how to run a large-scale farm in a tropical third world country thrown in there), with no planned destination or end date, literally driving down dirt tracks wondering if this would be ‘home’. We followed our noses to Cape York and along the Savannah Way, into the Northern Territory and through the Kimberley, down the West coast, across the Nullabor and eventually found ourselves on the Limestone Coast of South Australia, pulling up stumps and working for a year as beef overseer near Padthaway.

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But we have serendipitously found ourselves back where I started: on my family’s farm in Thorpdale, raising our young family in a farming community…just as I imagined. Full circle. My husband, Matt, is from farming stock (his grandparents farmed in Kardella, South Gippsland), but his parents were not farmers. Our path through the agricultural landscape has not been the traditional ‘son returning to the family farm’ scenario. It has been varied and not without big questions and searching for the right fit, but I think it’s important to highlight that this path we have taken (at times unwittingly!) has opened doors for us through chances grabbed and leaps of faith taken.

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The sometimes unconventional path which has twisted and turned to land us back ‘home’ is a story which I wish someone had told me ten years ago could happen. A career path in agriculture, especially for women, needs to have flexibility and scope to grow and change with you across a lot of different scenarios. Adaptability has become my middle name as I have found my feet with unfamiliar beef cattle, summer fodder crops, living remotely and out of our ute for 18 months, to the more familiar work of dealing with Dad’s dispatch book and truck paperwork on a busy April Friday afternoon at the peak of spud season. All of it has been important work to shape the role I now see as my most important ever: mother to two possible future farmers. Growing good spuds and hard working girls in this rich soil of my childhood, I am excited to see where the agricultural landscape could take my girls – because I know every woman in ag’s story is completely different and unique. Mine is testament.

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My husband currently works off farm in agribusiness finance – a role which we had long contemplated being a possibility, so when the opportunity arose we took it. Working off farm is one thing, but living off farm and raising our children not in a direct farming environment was not on our agenda. And so, we live on my family’s sheep and potato farm in Thorpdale, our girls Eleanor and Harriet are the fourth generation to be growing up here. As well as raising our children as part of a family farming operation, being involved in a small rural community is also important to us, both having had the same upbringing ourselves we wanted the same for our girls. When I moved from Melbourne to Yea to be with Matt, I re-discovered my love for small country towns, for the community that envelops you, for sharing half a dozen eggs as a currency down the street and knowing the UHF channel of the bloke halfway to town who’s left the gate open to his steers.

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Over ten years being involved in lots of different farming communities, the one constant is generosity of spirit and genuine humility. Country people are kind, generous and hard working. If that’s all of the attributes my children obtain from their country farming childhoods then my work is done. We are not complicated people: I spend my days stomping about in the veggie patch and talking to my chickens with my toddlers in toe. My love of simple country living knows no bounds, from making jam with plums on the trees overhanging our road that I forage with my girls, to growing my rambling roses and pumpkins up the back of the veggie patch, very simple things are very important things to me.

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Life gets busy, but being grounded in our home on the farm soothes my soul. When we were homeless gypsies living out of our ute with no home and no job (and no money!), we knew only that farming was where our hearts were. No matter what, we would be on the land somewhere, somehow. When I stop to think about it, farming has been the one constant in my life, since the very beginning. It is so ingrained in me I don’t think it could ever be removed – farming gets under your skin, deep into your veins, scratch my surface and you’ll find chocolate Thorpdale soil I’m sure (and maybe some leftover jam that has bubbled over on my stove…)

My days are busy…but in a good, simple kind of way, doing the important work. Some days we feed shearers or go into town to the lamb sale, some days I pick up a spare part for a tractor, or try to pay wages and build lego with the other hand. We are no different to any other farming family across Australia, busy (so busy) with young children at my feet but jobs to be done regardless. And increasingly, a story to be shared. Social media and blogging has opened a huge array of doors for me through sharing our simple country life in our little farmhouse on a hill here in Thorpdale.

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The disconnect between city and country is being bridged by social media, whilst at the same time our world is seemingly getting smaller as we are more connected than ever. It is a strange paradox. Sharing our farming adventures and what exactly goes on with crutching our ewes or planting spuds come Spring or drafting lambs ready for sale, I see my role as a blogger and social media influencer as very much a part of being involved in farming. I have unwittingly become an agricultural advocate and voice for farming in Gippsland (apparently?!) without even intending to. But this is the path that I have created for myself in a modern farming scenario, which speaks volumes of the diverse way you can use skills in farming. You don’t need to be driving a tractor or milking a cow to make a difference or contribution – that has taken me some time to acknowledge. The agricultural industry has changed enormously in the past ten years to when I tentatively dipped my toe in…I could have never imagined that my blogging or humble Instagram account of what was happening on the farm could connect in the way it does now. Simple farming stuff is big important stuff. I truly believe that and is why I keep hitting publish, sharing and starting conversations about farming with my online community.

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Although I am busy with two young children these days, I like to keep a hand in the running of my family’s farming, produce trading and interstate trucking operation. My brother and his family also live on farm and together with my dad we run a multi-generational family farming business. There is a huge amount of pride involved in that. Although I now don’t share the surname on the front gate, there is definitely a sense that myself, or my sister-in-law, feeding the shearers and paying the wages and doing a truck drivers paperwork makes a difference…even if it is just to us, but I like to think it matters to our long time suppliers and customers also.

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Sometimes when I’m in the office I might answer the phone to be greeted by a grower who remembers when I was running around the truck yard as a toddler my girls’ age, or I’ll pass a cup of tea to a shearer in the sheds who has been throwing fleeces over that wool table since my grandfather was getting $50 for a lamb in the Thorpy saleyards. Things like that are what matters to me as a farmer, being involved in a family farming business, and I really try to instill this love of the land and of what we do here to my girls. It’s a way of life, and they probably don’t think much of it, which is half the point: it’s just an ingrained unspoken way we live. But it’s vital to both myself and Matt for them to see simple things like working together as a family unit to sow, grow, reap and harvest something of worth. To know the value of hard work, to understand boom years and drought years, of seasonality and the vulnerability that comes with farming. The good, the bad, the tough calls and the simple joys, and particularly being a woman farming – paddling hard below the surface or forging their own unique path to new opportunities. Or making delicious jam to go on the shearers’ scones, one of the most important jobs on the farm in my opinion: fueling farmers to feed the world.

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Christmas Spuds

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Being a third generation potato farmer, one of the most commonly asked questions fired at me is "how do you get the perfectly roasted potato?" (along with "do you eat potatoes every night?!"*) Well, I'm glad that you asked...because with Christmas less than a week away (nobody panic, are you panicking?!) it's time to brush up on getting those roast 'taters juuuuuust right. You want gorgeous crunch and lovely crisp edges, those scrumptious corners that truly make a good roast potato, with a fluffy pillow of potato goodness on the inside.

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Who doesn’t love a good spud?! Especially at Christmas with all the turkey and ham and pork crackling to boot. For some families Christmas has connotations and food memories of freshly shucked oysters or a whole snapper on the barbie, Nan’s trifle or Aunty Pat’s pavlova, hydrangeas and magnolias on the table, shortbread left out for Santa, and brandy cream to wash it all down. For us, it’s the new season potatoes arrival which heralds Christmas (…and lamb sales and chasing irrigators and gearing up for harvest…) There is nothing better than fresh spuds, dug straight out of the paddock and into my oven literally moments later. And Christmas is the time for the best potatoes in Australia, grown right here in Thorpy, to be making their way onto your Christmas lunch tables, to be shared with your family, from ours…

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Potatoes – I am surprisingly not sold on any particular variety for roasting, it really depends on what you like! My advice would be to experiment, you’ll soon discover your roast potato groove (and the array of potato varieties available whilst you experiment!) For this recipe I used Colibans, which are a more floury potato (not waxy). I like this to get that cloud of fluffy potato inside the cooked spud. But at this time of year any new season potato is going to really rock the socks off being roasted in this way. Sebago’s will be similar to the Coliban. Dutch Creams are also good. If you want to support Thorpdale potato farmers, buy brushed (the dirty spuds!) potatoes in Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, green grocers from January to June. Chances are a Thorpdale potato farmer grew them.  
Oil – I generally use a good extra virgin olive oil to cook my roast potatoes in. The alternatives would be butter or any sort of fat (duck or goose). Extra virgin olive oil gives a lighter flavour, but a butter or fat is pretty decadent and scrumptious for a special occasion like Christmas. 
Salt – a good quality sea salt gets liberally thrown about over my roast potatoes. My mum once told me to treat roast potatoes almost like you would pork crackling – when you think there’s enough salt, add a bit more. 
Herbs – rosemary is always my go-to with my roast spuds. But it often depends what I’m serving them with, if it’s roast lamb I generally use mint, or a lighter meal sometimes sage. Rosemary is classic, and readily available from my huge bush at the back door!

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Firstly, preheat your oven to 190-200 degrees Celsius. Cut your potatoes into halves or quarters, or keep whole, depending on the size of your potatoes to begin with. The key is to keep them all fairly uniform in size so that they will cook evenly. Here is an example of the size I tend to aim for (and yes I have a freckle on the inside of my pinky finger)!

Peeling them is a personal preference. For roast potatoes I don’t generally peel them, a lot of the goodness is in the skin. But with new season potatoes, freshly dug, these ones had pretty delicate skins anyway so I kept them on. A light scrub to get the dirt off and I broke some of the skin anyway. This could actually be beneficial in creating more edges for crispy goodness! Pop your potatoes into boiling salted water for 10-15 minutes. This par boiling is essential to getting great roast potatoes. This ‘pre-cooking’ of sorts releases the starch out of the potatoes, so when it comes time for the oven they can just concentrate on getting deliciously golden and crispy on the outside. Drain them in a colander – and now this is also a key element to getting them juuuuust right: give the colander a little shake around so that the edges of the potatoes rough up. This will create some texture and little edges to your spuds, those parts are key to getting crisp and perfectly roasted potatoes. 

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Put the potatoes onto a roasting tray, ensuring they are all one level, don’t pile them on top of one another. Bake in the 190-200 degree oven for 30 minutes. Pull them out and give them a little squash, just another little rough up, with the back of a spoon or a potato masher if you’re that way inclined (my mum always mashed her spuds with a fork, never a masher!) Throw some more oil or salt on the spuds if you think they need it, also some rosemary or garlic cloves. I like to add my herbs halfway through the cooking so as not to totally incinerate them! You will still get the flavour of the rosemary coming through. 

Back in the oven, still at 190-200, for another 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they’re crisping up nicely, this may depend on your own oven and the size of the potato as to when exactly you will need to get them out. Mine usually take another full 30 minutes (but my oven isn’t a Rolls Royce of ovens and leaks heat like a sieve!) 

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And…that’s it. You should have perfectly roasted potatoes. Crispy edges with those yummy crunchy bits. Cloud of softness on the inside.

It really is that easy. Not rocket science. Completely humble and simple…just like our beloved spuds. They are so versatile, yet the simplicity of a well roasted potato can rarely be beaten. Especially on Christmas Day, where there can be a lot of anxiety and fanfare around food, when really…it doesn’t have to be a grand affair or complicated or extravagant. It needs to be made with love and shared around a table of family celebrating just being together.

Happy Christmas, from our potato farming family to yours. May it be humble and simple, merry and bright.

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Want to know more?

Visit Emma's blog: www.shesowsseeds.com

Follow Emma on Instagram @shesowsseeds

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 equip 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