International Day of Rural Women 2017

The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This was established to recognise “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

As Sunday October 15th was International Rural Woman’s Day I thought I would have a chat to a few outstanding rural women in our area. Springing five questions on these rural women on a Sunday afternoon was a fantastic way to clearly illustrate exactly their lives in perspective. Some of my interviewees have wanted to remain anonymous, these ladies too are hardworking rural woman and I appreciate the time they could spare to share a little window in their lives as well.  

What is your role on the land?

Stacey – I own and operate a cattle property on the Star River, north of Charters Towers. My role is that of any other grazier in this industry – I aim to produce a product I’m proud of that meets consumers needs while managing the land in a sustainable manner. Some days I get it right, but I’m the first to admit that there’s times when I’ve dropped a ball or two in the juggle of grass, cashflow, debt, markets and livestock. There’s always something to learn from those dropped balls and I hope the longer I’m in the industry the more air time my balls have! My role on a daily basis is running the property and being mum to three gorgeous children.

Robyn – Well first I think I’m a mother and wife, then a general all-rounder cow chaser, lick feeder, book keeper etc etc.

Sally – For almost two decades, I have had a strong involvement in the cattle work, cooking, child rearing and bookwork aspects of the business, but over the last five or six years, managing the office work and the finances has taken up more and more time and become my primary role.

Lynda – In addition to being the primary carer of our children, as a partner of a beef grazing business, my main role is to help manage the operation. What this means in practice on the property is often varied and endless. In any one day I can be involved in strategic planning or cattle work, but I’m also often the Finance Manager, receptionist, Home Tutor, Station Cook, Recruitment Manager,  Work Health and Safety Officer, funding co-ordinator, cleaner, procurement officer, Book keeper, gardener,  IT guy (or internet wrestler)…the list goes on.

Not to forget my three anonymous ladies:

1– Grazier/wife: general dogsbody, shit kicker, bookkeeper and all things administration as well as cook, cleaner and gardener.

2– Farm hand, chief packer, mother, taxi driver etc etc

3– I am currently have a job in town, but very much involved in the grazing industry with this job. I am also a Social Marketer for an online company, I sorta fell into this role when we were still up north as a way of meeting new people, accessing personal and professional development while on a cattle station and creating another income stream, the role has evolved as I have.

What are some of the challenges you face as a rural woman?

Stacey – Balance, without a doubt the biggest challenge I face is balance. Each of us in our own right can be great mothers, wives, graziers, friends, community leaders, home tutors, daughters…… the list goes on. Finding balance and time to give to each of these roles is a challenge. Sometimes we are forced to prioritise. We might have to choose one role over another for a specific time and it’s hard not to feel guilty about it. Some days we can get the balance right and it’s empowering. Other days, and there’s plenty of them, the balance is out of whack! The main thing is that we acknowledge those days. One day my scales will balance, until then I’m happy to ride the waves of running a business, raising three beautiful little humans, finding time to socialise with my friends and family and goodness forbid I mention having some time for me!

Robyn – I think my biggest challenge is going to be sending my children to boarding school.

Sally – Two of my biggest challenges in this life style have been firstly, losing access to cultural and sporting involvement – as in not being able to be part of community events, like foreign film festivals, pottery or photography classes, or being part of team or competitive sports due to the distances and costs involved and also, learning to accept that our lives are now governed by global forces such as weather and international markets, over which we can have very little influence, regardless of how hard we work. The other great challenge is the transition from being absorbed by your children’s child hood and education to the personal restructure required when they are suddenly grown and gone – and you have to reinvent yourself to have a whole new focus.

Lynda – One of the biggest challenges I face as a rural woman is the sheer enormity of roles and responsibilities. This comes with running a medium sized business in an isolated environment. Being a good mother and wife is one thing, but when you fold in the myriad of other responsibilities life can get overwhelming at times. For me, due to isolation I’m responsible for educating our children at home. Even with the help of a distance education program and governesses from time to time, I know that the ultimate responsibility for my children learning, rests with me at the point of delivery. When learning difficulties are involved the burden is even greater and therefore as an untrained home tutor I invest heavily in educating myself and finding teaching professionals to support me.  This is an all-encompassing, expensive and time consuming exercise. It’s also often hard to separate work, from home life on a cattle property, when your business is right under your feet all the time. That’s why creating a sanctuary at the homestead and setting up boundaries has been really important for me. This includes keeping the house yard green no matter what the severity of drought, and trying get away for short breaks every now and then.

Not to forget my three anonymous ladies:

1– Access to medical attention requires long distances for specialist care. Supplies food etc aren’t often as high quality as coastal counterparts, or you have to wait for things to arrive in the mail or in local stores. Going on a holiday often requires a holiday to recover from the trip to and from.

2– Feeling that you never seem to complete a job.

3– Many of the challenges associated with living on a cattle station have evaporated since recently moving to town. One thing I had taken cheaply with the move to a regional town was being able to access semi-reasonable fares to fly home and visit my parents in southern Victoria. Even though there are local fares available to get to Brisbane, there are not many. This situation is stifling not only tourism and business in town it also puts additional pressure on families who may need to travel for medical or educational reasons and can be a barrier for families to visit each other.

What is the greatest success you’ve experienced?

Stacey – My greatest success is my three children. Yep, I know what you’re thinking – sounds corny and predictable, of course she’s going to say her kids! But without a doubt watching them every day grow into the wonderful little people they are makes my heart burst with pride. I’m proud that together with my late husband we’ve raised responsible, compassionate and strong children that will be the next generation of the rural industry. Look out then!

Robyn – One of my greatest successes other than having 3 beautiful children, would be helping to running a successful cattle partnership.

Sally – Before moving back to the land, I was involved in implementing the concept of training in the cattle industry, and the recognition of the broad skills base that already existed amongst owners and staff. I believed the skills possessed by people on the land had been very undervalued and deserved formal acknowledgement. People were spending decades honing a vast array of skills and had not a single qualification to show for it.

Lynda – My concept of success has evolved over the last decade as I’ve realised just how careful we all need to be about defining “success” for ourselves. In the early days, for our rural business, success was just about staying in business. Then it was about achieving a certain level of profitability. Now days however, my goals for success are more about creating a legacy. Being a rural woman has given me enormous perspective and appreciation. In a world full of consumerism, meaningless activity and instant gratification,  I am privileged  to be able to live and raise my children with an awareness that agriculture has the potential to impact our environment and possibly human health for generations to come. I have to say that apart from having the great fortune to marry an inspirational life partner and have three healthy and amazing children, one of the success stories of our business has been navigating the recent 1 in 100 year drought event and crippling live export ban. Being able to remain profitable during this time, without sacrificing environmental health of our property was an achievement and I learnt so much during this process.

Not to forget my three anonymous ladies:

1– Oh tricky… raising kids you realise are suddenly half handy and responsible and have a great appreciation of where we live and what we do.

2– Having my kids.

3– Coming out of voluntary bankruptcy with my marriage and health still intact.

If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a year it’s been for you in this role, what awesome thing have you achieved?

Stacey – I don’t have any expectations of what I will achieve in the next year. I hope the season is kind to us, the market stays strong and I can make profitable and sustainable decisions for my business and land. I hope my children continue to be happy and healthy and that they grow in confidence and ability in whatever they choose to do. I love being a grazier and my home is special to me. I’m excited about where the next few years will take the children and I in the industry, but to be truthful I’m really proud of how far we’ve come already. On a lighter note, there’s plenty of fencing, cattle yard repairs and weeds that need spraying so they should probably be on my list to achieve in the next 12 months – keeping it simple!

 —– Just saying I am really proud too Stacey, are you a remarkable woman! —–

Robyn – Another great and successful year doing what I love and loving what I do.

Sally – As a mother, I have seen my 3 girls grow up, finish school and be able to face the world with some degree of confidence. As a business, we have managed to survive and continue to grow throughout some very hard years of drought and market weakness and for myself I have been able to include the use of pain relief for calves during branding in our mustering regime. This has given me a greater degree of personal satisfaction about what we do as a company.

Lynda– That’s easy – I’ve achieved my top five.

  1. eldest child is flourishing at boarding school;
  2. competed my Australian Rural Leadership Program;
  3. fit healthy family – ½ marathon on the Great Ocean Road.
  4. > 15% ROA
  5. a pool!

Not to forget my three anonymous ladies:

1– Geez? Achievement a year from now?!! I’m flat out looking 6 months ahead. At the moment I’m just small picture. Getting around new house /garden/ and juggling other roles + volunteer obligations + kids with attention to each.

2– Paying all the bills and starting something new.

3– Competed in my first two-handed cutting event. There will be a whole lot of behind the scene moves going on professionally and personally for this to come off!

Do you feel supported as a rural woman in Queensland?

Stacey – Yes, I feel supported as a rural woman in North Queensland, actually I feel lucky to be one. I’m truly blessed to love where I live. I would not want to raise my children anywhere else. I am surrounded by the best support crew a lady could wish for, and believe me, it’s been tried and tested the last 12 months. I think rural women have many opportunities to socialise and converse about their feelings and health, to be truthful I think we have more opportunities than men in our industry. I worry that rural men feel they have to be strong and not break down during stressful times. I’m not sure if there’s a “Rural Men’s Day”, but if there’s not there should be. Together us men and women make some formidable teams and it’s important that we support each other.

Many Thanks

—- Stacey Kirkwood, Kirkland Downs – Charters Towers Region—-

Robyn – Yes I think there is a great deal of support for rural women. And you know there is always someone you can talk to ask for advice.

Many Thanks

—-Robyn Cowan, Oakleigh Station, Etheridge Region—-


Sally – I have never thought too much about whether I am supported by the community except perhaps in terms of the education of our children, an area where we are fortunate to be represented in by the ICPA, but the community have been incredibly caring in many ways throughout the recent years of drought which has certainly helped me to stay in touch with the reason we do what we do. Mostly I feel I am not contributing enough to my community, which I feel proud to be a part of,  as much as I would like – with a lack of confidence as well as distance from town being my two main limiting factors. 

Many Thanks 

—-Sally Turley, Turley Cattle Co. Charters Towers Region—-

Lynda – Isolated rural women in North Queensland do need more opportunities to connect, to be heard and have greater industry involvement. There is some support out there, but the concepts of rural, regional and remote are often too loosely interpreted. It means that often someone living on acreage outside of a regional centre is considered synonymous with someone living on a remote cattle property. I live 2 hours from the nearest town, with no mobile coverage, dirt roads that are impassable when it rains, with expensive satellite internet the only available option. The challenges are incomparable. I would like to see isolated rural women have a greater voice, a greater opportunity to be involved in industry representation, attend conferences and be part of networks despite locality.  

Many Thanks 

—-Lynda O’Brien, The Brook, Charters Towers Region—-

Not to forget my three anonymous ladies:

1– Yes I think so, from my peers, support and recognition is great, and networks using social media and other organisations are increasing and fantastic. In the wider community, perhaps the challenges and distances are not recognised. Not whingeing but sometimes dealing with dentists and doctors particularly, they don’t realise that you can’t just pop in for an appointment.

Many Thanks

—-Flinders Region—-

2– Yes and no. I think women try and sometimes talk the talk but few want to share and walk the walk. Women at times can be their worst critics too.

Many Thanks

—-Tableland Region—-

3– Yes, I am blessed to have a wonderful group of friends scattered all over the place to help keep me smiling and striving.

Many Thanks

—-Longreach Region—-

Map Image Source

How can I possibly rap up from that! There are many amazing rural women in Queensland doing a fantastic job with all the hats we seem to juggle.  Are your experiences as a rural woman the same or vastly different? Why not jump onto Facebook and keep this discussion going. Over the next few weeks I will break this discussion up to keep the conversation going.

Cheers Heather 

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