By Lucy Moore
We are the best at what we do. We supply some of the cleanest, greenest, most ethically sourced proteins on the planet to sustain the human race. We have been doing this for generations in my family, and since time immortal across the globe. Yet there is one aspect of our production line that has not evolved with us and it is crucial for our future:
We wonder why there is a disconnect between consumers and producers. I know why- our image has been hijacked and misconstrued over a long time period resulting in it being largely unrelatable for many. And, we haven’t done a whole lot to prevent this either.
I’ll set the scene with a hypothetical headline.
GRASSHOPPERS LAST STRAW FOR DESPERATE GRAZIERS
As is often the case, headlines like these describe a situation unfolding at a point in time. Nine times out of ten they are situations resulting from laws imposed by Mother Nature or members of parliament. Droughts, floods, arctic freezes, searingly hot summer days, mice plagues, grasshopper descents, or iron fists placing chains around family farms from the comfort of their office suites. The result is always the same regardless of the cause- distress, concern and a newspaper headline.
Issues facing farming families deserve the spotlight. The general public needs to understand the commitment it takes to produce food and fibre, and we farmers need to know we’re not alone when the tough times set in. But we can’t let our battles become the face of our business. Can you think of another industry or business model that highlights its sore points when it tries to sell itself? I can’t.
Let’s give these people the whole story so they feel as connected and in-tune as we so badly want them to be.
If I were running a motorbike manufacturing company, I would not be detailing the trials of importing parts or staff retention dramas. No doubt these issues would factor in to discussions around pricing, but I would wave my successes around on a flag to sell my industry.
We don’t do this enough in agriculture.
Like the motorbike scenario, our production issues impact on prices and therefore must be explained for the common good. But beyond that.. we are largely missing.
Without making too many assumptions, I believe a large proportion of farmers and graziers would own a Toyota Landcruiser ute and/or a Toyota 4WD wagon or the equivalent of another variety. Wouldn’t that be perplexing to Sydneysiders and their neighbours… if the drought and grasshoppers had been so disastrous, how can those farmers afford to drive high end vehicles?
Now I’m not saying we should trade down our cars to “fit the mould.” I’m saying we need to adjust our image so comments like “oh yeah, poor old sheep cockie driving around in his brand new 200 series cruiser” don’t even come to mind.
How do we do this? We shout about our successes! We tell people when we pull off ripper wheat harvests and sell steers at the top of the market. We balance the news to right the oxymoron that is the poor grazier on Christmas holidays at Surfers Paradise. It comes down to being honest and it’s for the best. Reporting our challenges encourages support and understanding, reporting our wins raises excitement and appreciation for a job well done.
We want and need young people to join our industry. We want school leavers to pursue careers in agriculture. We want our consumers to be on our page. Let’s give these people the whole story so they feel as connected and in-tune as we so badly want them to be.
I’ll start! Here’s me grinning from ear to ear because this is the first time in four years we will be able to feed an oats crop to our weaners!
By Lucy Moore
This post is something of a call to arms. A lighting of the torch. Do you want to be part of something bigger? Don’t we all?
A few months back I wrote a piece on shameless self promotion for agricultural industries. The post floated some ideas I’d had in the dead of night, or as the last afternoon light settled over that golden glow of raised dust in a yard full of fresh weaners. One of my lofty brainstormed “aha” moments was creating a mini cinema scenario in Coles, where we featured farmers and graziers supplying their produce to the conglomerate.
I pictured a young potato growing family simultaneously boxing their produce, loading trucks and telling shoppers how much they loved their work. I saw kids playing in the dirt in the stockyards while their parents drafted steers for the feedlot, explaining their roles in the supply chain. Even grain growers harvesting golden fields of delight promising porridge for breakfast and flour for scones at smoko*.
They are hidden away, in far off places, doing perhaps the most important job for our nation.
It truly warms my heart when I imagine these people telling their stories. They are hidden away, in far off places, doing perhaps the most important job for our nation. They deserve a platform and a sounding board and I believe we can give them one.
Then came a shining light. Fellow optimist and passionate aggy Meg Kennett fearlessly raised her hand in a bid to back my idea and make it reality. We’ve teamed up and we’re giving this thing a crack. We’re in the wee little baby stages.. like the newborn calf who doesn’t know what its legs are for but it knows where it wants to be.
So now we’re taking suggestions. Do you supply produce to Coles? Or any supermarket companies? Do you know of someone who could help us bring this idea to life? They say don’t bite off more than you can chew but heck, we’ve got a taste for it now.
We’re looking for business savvy folks to help guide the project. Film and TV specialists to welcome on board. And the big ticket item.. funding. Can you suggest sponsorship possibilities? Know of someone with deep pockets weighing them down?
Please, don’t sit back. We welcome any and all ideas. We say we’re on the front foot in agriculture but we’re preaching to the converted. Let’s spread our voice up and down the coastline and introduce ourselves to our customers. I reckon they’d be chuffed to meet us.
*Smoko is a rest from work, traditionally for a 'smoke' or tea break
By Lucy Ziesemer
When you think of a farmer, what do you see?
If you were to picture an agriculturist, what kind of attributes would that person have?
What would their life be like? You’d be forgiven for suggesting a straw hat, checked flannelette shirt, clunky old hilux with paint peeling off the steel tray and a couple of collie dogs perched in the back. Throw a piece of straw into the farmer’s mouth and you’ve got yourself a dead ringer caricature the likes of what you’d find on Google Images if you typed ‘farmer’ into the search engine.
I recently read a wonderful article on Farm Online detailing why this very imagery is so damaging for modern day agriculture. My example is a very well-meaning tv ad seen circulating during prime time viewing ever since the drought in Queensland and New South Wales started reaching the ears of inner city dwellers. Like I said, the ad is good and pure in its intentions, but it claws at my backbone every time I hear it played as I dish up dinner. The vocabulary the ad uses paints rural life as an utter nightmare. Language such as ‘harsh, deadly, despair and depression’ is used to describe the lives of people living on the land. Don’t get me wrong, there are times during drought and other natural disasters that it DOES feel hopeless, but those moments are far outweighed and outlived by the good times.. good times that are good enough to render the hard times a distant memory. I’ve often watched and listened to this ad in utter frustration followed by guilt at not being more appreciative of the compassion the ad was ultimately aiming to encourage.
However, after reading Farm Online’s piece I felt justified in airing my grievances.
There is an archaic hypothetical mascot of the rough and ready Aussie farmer living in the imaginations of people across the globe. The farmer who milks the cow, feeds the poddies, ploughs the field and breaks in a brumby all before smoko. The farmer who’s still bronco branding calves in 2021, flogging himself through 40 degree heat, dust and flies and only just putting food on the table at the end of it all. Or like the ad itself, the farmer staring at failed crops and starving cattle, backed by sorrowful music and dark lighting- you can imagine the impact of scenes like these. I don’t have an issue with going to a farmer themed party dressed like Old MacDonald.. what I do battle with is the portrayal of country life in a way that would make any ordinary citizen wonder why the hell anyone would put themselves through it.
So I’d like to set the story straight. Being involved in agriculture is hard in all its forms- physical, mental, financial, emotional. But it is so much more than that. Agriculture is a limitless realm of opportunity and possibility. You could grow the grain or breed the cattle, or you could work as an agronomist or animal nutritionist helping farmers and graziers get better results. You could work in marketing and analytics for a grass roots beef company, or on the front line in the world of live export. You could be behind the microscope developing a new super performing breed of cotton, or discovering inoculants to protect cattle against poisonous plants such as Pimelea, Gidgee and Heart-leaf. I could easily go on because agriculture is simply so vast a profession. You could live in Brisbane and be involved in agriculture wearing a suit and tie.
Old MacDonald depictions of farming should be left in story books where they originated. Those days are long gone. Ag is booming and it can take you places you wouldn’t think possible. If you want rapid career progression, take a job in the ag sector. We also have fun forums, conferences and field days like Beef Week, where they hand out lunch time beers at every second trade stall!
Jokes aside, there has never been a better time to get involved in ag. Challenge your imagination to reinvent itself when it comes to farming in 2021- we’ve come a long way and the good news is we’re only just getting started.
By Lucy Ziesemer
It’s the key to a good business model- know what you’re offering to within an inch of its life and to the point where you have psychic abilities over what comes next. It’s part of what I love about breeding beef cattle. The attention we pay to what’s going on in our paddocks has crucial repercussions for our success as cattlemen and women. I may not be the best at remembering people’s names and certainly not at remembering birthdays, but I can recall facts and histories about cattle in our herd as easily as my own name. I can tell you which cows are leaders in the mob and which are followers. I can tell you which cows calved early, which cows did it tough through the winter, which cows are helicopter mums and which are grateful when weaning comes around.
In our business, we have our female herd at a point where we can predict, quite accurately, what traits progeny will display when certain bulls are introduced. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pregnancy scan our females using internal ultrasound technology. Some of the ladies have been kind enough to show me their unborn babies as a real, living fetus of the four legged variety. It’s pretty cool, I must say. Nerve wracking also when some of the favourites come in for their diagnosis, as we’re very strict on fertility. However I’d be lying if I said we’d never been lenient with our big bovine pets before.
Aussie farmers know their product like the proverbial back of their hand. One, because it pays to, and two, because they love to. It’s a real passion of mine to keep track of our cattle like I would my own family, because to be frank they feel like family too. I’m not sure how they couldn’t when so much time and commitment in all forms has gone into their well-being. Farming is a profession and a lifestyle in the one package. You can’t embrace one without the other, which is why there are so many old farming families on the land. It’s a deeply ingrained trait passed on from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters and it’s what keeps those same families going when the chips are down.
So just like I know the cow pictured was six months in calf I know my future family will inherit that same passion for the land and primary production, because even if we’re not directly involved in agriculture we’re all its beneficiaries.. and what’s not to love about that?
By Lucy Ziesemer
When you’re born into something, do you remember ever undertaking the process of learning the ropes? Or did you just grow legs, bounce up on the bike and take the lead? I have been handling cattle since I could hold a yard stick. I’m sure I bore the brunt of a few four-legged skeptical sideways glances at my very obvious insignificance as a five-year-old stock person. Granted, I was probably more effective then than I am now, with the childhood gift of fearless, guns blazing gusto.
I’ve said it before, but as a small child I yearned for knowledge about the world I was nothing but a mere blip in. All children do. Show them a spaceship and they ask- how? Tell them rain makes corn and corn makes whiskey and they ask- why? Show them cattle grazing in a paddock or sheep in for shearing and I bet they’d ask who, what, when, where, why and how- all deeply important questions we agriculturalists love to dive into.
My question is, why isn’t agriculture a compulsory subject in the Australian curriculum? Agriculture is a wholesome sensory experience- it is tactile, visual 👀 , auditory 👂🏼 , olfactory 👃 and gustatory 🍽. It involves mathematics and communication, and general common sense. The latter, I believe, could be a subject of its own!
Agriculture is an untapped realm for higher learning with so many teachable moments waiting to be explored. Maybe its graduating students would not go on to pursue a career in ag, but maybe they would. At the very least, they would leave with a much more rounded, balanced understanding of the world beyond the school gates. Let’s not ponder why today’s youth are out of tune with primary production. Instead, give them opportunities to foster grass roots connections with the bush and watch as East meets West like never before.
By Lucy Ziesemer
I was recently in Port Macquarie to see two wonderful friends get married. If you walk along the headland, there’s a dramatic view of the surf smashing against the rocks and of surfers far braver than I bobbing about in the waves offshore. As I meandered my way along the footpath I wondered, rather absentmindedly, what those surfers were thinking about. It was a Saturday morning, so I assumed the first thing on their agenda post surf was brunch. I guessed the more motivated of the fray would have risen at dawn to catch the sunrise over the ocean before they dipped a toe in- mainly because I would do the same myself. Maybe they’d finish their avo, eggs and halloumi on sour dough add bacon (my order) and take their dog for a walk, sit in the park with a good book, head home for an afternoon nap, then rally for casual drinks with friends that night. In another life, this would be my ideal Saturday.
I jolted myself back to reality and pondered the difference between coastal living and bush living. How people east of the Great Divide live compared to those on its western boundary. Truth be told, us graziers often scratch our heads and wonder why even though it’s a mere 200km distance between regions, we feel worlds apart. We wonder why the work we do receives so little celebration. Why is a new lane on the Bruce Highway of upmost importance and applauded as such, but the continuous supply of premium food and fibre as commonplace and mundane as making your bed in the morning?
We are few in numbers out here. Our areas are vast and you really can’t see your neighbours- it’s true! Some drive hundreds of kilometres to fetch groceries, some are delivered to properties by plane. We are isolated and we love it. There’s just so much space. Sometimes the night sky honestly takes your breath away and looking up at it is a good reminder that you’re not as big as you think you are. We’ve got some of the most unique, historic old pubs with beer colder than Caxton Street’s, mark my words. Bakeries with fresh cream donuts and more cinnamon than you can poke a stick at. People say hello first. They ask “how ya goin?” and stick around to hear your reply. I could go on for days with examples of what’s to love about living rurally and what is, in my opinion anyway, what sets us apart.
So why don’t more people know about it? Or, why don’t more people care? It’s because they don’t need to! Tell me why, if you were an urban dweller working your nine to five, gym before work, pick up some milk and bread on your way home, why would you give a hoot about what’s going on out in the sticks? You wouldn’t even give a moment’s thought to the yahoo cowboys kicking around in the dust chasing cows, or something.
The reason our urban cousins don’t pay us much attention is because we are completely unrelatable to them. From our point of view, we are, because we can relate to ourselves and each other and also to our city pals- we recognise a runway quality road when we drive down one because you sure won’t find one in the west! But if you don’t live and work out here you wouldn’t know the first thing about our lifestyle and the ways of being we inherited from our forefathers in order to make a life worth living.
When I was young, my city cousins would visit on school holidays and relish the experiences we gave them, so far from the reality of their day-to-day. Things like making face paint from a mixture of crushed rocks and spit were outlandish to them. Driving old paddock-basher Toyotas requiring exceptional timing to bounce down from the pillows on the seat (you didn’t have pump up driver’s seats to enable vision over the steering wheel in those days) to get both feet and full weight on the brake pedal in order to stop was madness to them, but they revelled in it. They were the days when real life was mythical and imagination was concrete. And then we grew up.
Our reality now as agriculturalists is working hard, reaching goals, striving for progress. Not different in essence, but different in a practical sense. In 2016, just 2.2 per cent of Australia’s working population were employed in the agriculture sector. Most people don’t care to relate because agriculture isn’t exciting enough, it doesn’t provoke the imagination and conjur dreams of endless possibility to outsiders. It does for us though, and that’s what we need to promote.
I’m talking a mini movie theatre in the fresh food section in Coles featuring real, gritty, organic people telling how they came to be supplying broccoli to lawyers, doctors and council workers. Or showing a young family working together in the shearing shed readying the bones of a luxurious winter sweater.
We could have segments on the big screen at NRL and AFL games reminding the crowd their steak burger was ethically and sustainably produced 1000km west of where they’re sitting, but they’d never know unless they knew because how jolly FRESH does it taste?!
CELEBRATE!! Celebrate agriculture. Be proud of what you grow so that consumers can be proud to enjoy it. We need to tell our own story and be our own voice. There will be arguments that these things cost money (true) but we are an industry worth investing in. Understanding and support stem from relatability and common agendas. To be relatable we need to be present and while distance creates limitations, the World Wide Web wasn’t christened that randomly. Let’s put ourselves in the city in our rawest, most real state of being and give the people something to envy.
By Grayson Webster
Coming into the New Year, resonating on the last, there has not been a person I have spoken to that did not struggle in 2020. All had encountered some sort of emotional or mental turbulence through a very unprecedented and traumatic year. Particularly dear friends and loved ones in the agricultural sector.
It flagged with me the somewhat nonchalant approach we have within agriculture to managing our overall wellbeing and proactively taking steps to ensure we are personally operating optimally. There seems to be somewhat of an undercurrent to our culture of suppressing the impact events have on us and just “pushing through”.
“Fill Your Own Cup First” is not a sentiment that ever overly resonated with me until recently. Anyone who has grown up on the land or is from a farming background knows there is too much to be accomplished in the day. Too many other living, breathing entities that rely on us for survival, to be worried about any other “cup filling” exercises unless it is of the caffeinated kind of a morning or a particular glass one of an evening…
The agricultural industry places a heavy emphasis on technical and hard skills. One's ability to operate machinery, analyse data to increase efficiency, manage a budget, load a boat with thousands of heads of cattle, manage projects or succession that involve living, breathing animals is what often defines one’s ability to be successful.
Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of hard skills yet failed to encourage or cultivate cultures that develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. As the next generation of leaders in our industry we are coached on how to jump through scholastic hoops and are constantly looking at how we can be better, do more and evolve our skills to effectively tackle the challenges that lay within agriculture and its development into the next century.
There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
Yet our soft skill set will be the fundamental matrix to leading a truly fulfilling and happy life. By far the most important decisions we will make in this life are about who we marry, who we befriend, what to love, what to despise, and how to control our impulses. On these matters of the mind and the heart, we are often almost entirely on our own. There is no KPI or industry regulation to follow to alleviate the pressure created within our own mind and bodies.
As an industry, we are good at talking about material incentives, animal welfare and delivering outcomes but abysmal at talking about emotions, intuitions, and overall human wellbeing. We are exceptional at teaching technical skills but when it comes to the most important things like growing one’s character, or managing mental health, we have almost nothing to say.
Don’t get me wrong, hard skills are essential, but they are only one aspect.. Soft skills are what ultimately amplify one’s hard skill set and help us, and others grow as individuals. They are often innate, but in my experience, they need to be built and enhanced consistently through continual learning. Just like learning the intricate management of cattle onboard live export vessels or mechanically maintaining your prime equipment during harvest, these soft skills need to be understood, focused on and continually developed the same way we maintain hard skills. Managing our perspective and practicing patience, is as equally important as learning to pull a pressure pump apart or ploughing your best paddock for the ultimate crop to grow for example.
If we do not start to implement and support cultures where vulnerability is championed, struggles are open and addressed as teams and knowing where to get support is as easy as logging onto Facebook - we will inevitably fail ourselves.
If we partnered the level of investment that we see in our stock handling training as that of our emotional intelligence and leadership development, we would be looking at an agricultural workforce that had more power than the NASA Building…
We would also be looking at the highest risk age bracket of individuals with lower depression, lower anxiety, and the gaps of those that slip through the middle would slowly begin to sew itself shut.
“The conversations around mental health aren’t nearly as dangerous as what we create through our silence” – Oli Le Lievre, Humans of Agriculture Founder
*If you or someone you know needs help or advice on how best to deal with mental health then you can reach out to beyond blue, lifeline or call our friends at the TIACS hotline on 0488 846 988.
Caitlin McConnel was born into a sixth generation farming family that will be celebrating its 180th anniversary in 2021. Founded in 1841, Cressbrook Station in Toogoolawah is a remarkable property that has a deep connection to Australian history and was settled before Queensland was even registered as a State, by her great, great, great grandfather. Now, it is recognised as Queensland’s oldest residence and oldest identified family business, as well as one of the third oldest identified family businesses in Australia.
When you are born into an intergenerational farming family of this stature, you’re born into a high-pressure environment that naturally carries some difficult circumstances. In this episode, Caitlin unpacks the impact that the concessions of the business had on her parents as they navigated through issues like family succession planning, the deregulation of the dairy industry, the millennium Australian drought and ongoing challenge of carrying the weight of responsibility to uphold their family legacy. As a by-product from living and breathing through the stresses that her parents were experiencing, Caitlin had a jarring relationship with the farm from an early age. She had to steer through cloudy territory where she felt both an unrivalled connection and passion for the land, but also a distaste for farming life and the burdens it can bring.
After years of overcoming various adversities, getting life experience, working hard and seeking professional support, Caitlin found her feet again in the agriculture industry and returned to back to her roots on the family farm. Caitlin’s story is an inspiring piece that teaches us the important age-old lesson of listening to our inner voice and speaking up if we don’t feel right.
About Caitlin McConnel
Caitlin is a young woman that has a big smile and contagious warmth. However in her own life, she has faced three bouts of clinical depression and some incredibly low periods. Her mental health struggles occurred from as early as her high school days right up to more recently in her corporate career as a litigator at Australian law firm, Clayton Utz. Outside of her job, Caitlin is a high-achieving agriculturist who has a lot on her plate. She’s the Chair of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) Future Directions Committee, a Director of the RNA Foundation and a Non-Executive Director of the Future Farmers Network. The combination of her busy life, unique childhood, family situation and pressure for success had an enormous impact on Caitlin’s emotional wellbeing and ultimately led to her mental health suffering.
Intergenerational Mental Health
Caitlin’s story is highly compelling because most would assume that being raised in a long-standing family business would provide a solid foundation for a carefree, happy upbringing. However beyond the rich history of the commemorated property were a family who were constantly running an uphill battle and working strenuously hard to manage their business that was regularly in a state of unpredictability. This experience had a deterrent effect on Caitlin’s feelings toward the farm which led her to take time away and explore new areas.
“When I was young I actually had no interest in going home because I could see the difficulties that Mum and Dad were having, the stresses on the relationship and conversely the effect it was having on me as a child and a teenager,” said Caitlin.
Times were undeniably tough for the McConnel family. Caitlin candidly opens up about some of her darkest moments, such as days where she truly believed that her presence was not good enough. Caitlin shared “because of the issues associated with our family’s succession planning over generations, there were actually times when I thought that Mum and Dad would be better off without me around.”
It’s hard to hear, but it just goes to show what level of impact people can experience from the calamities of life on the land. Caitlin highlights how anyone within the agriculture industry tends to be working at such high-pressured levels consistently which can predispose them to the very traits that link to mental illness. This is why it is all the more important to start the conversation, share our stories and check in with our mates.
Caitlin recalls a moment during one of her second rounds of clinical depression where her Dad stepped up to make sure that she was okay. “It was a very powerful moment to actually have Dad, who I'd seen struggling forever to not comprehend really what was going on in his life, to then ask me if I'm okay and actually to tell me that he did want me around. That was pretty powerful,” said Caitlin.
As a high achiever, it was difficult for Caitlin to summon the strength to speak up, however she eventually realised “if I don’t speak, no one else will.”
“I really used that year to also get to know my local community again"
Sense of belonging
Caitlin’s turning point was when she had finished university and decided to go home and spend time on the farm again. As a young adult, Caitlin learnt a lot more about her history and instantly felt re-connected to the property. When talking about the moment her sense of belonging was reignited, Caitlin said she realised the farm was an intrinsic part of her own identity. “You realize that it is as much of a part of you, as you are of it. I realized that it was indeed an integral part of who I am and what I do and why I do it.”
“I really used that year to also get to know my local community again. I took that opportunity to reacquaint myself with the community and people now, who I have a great relationship with and I adore, and they do exceptional things in the area. It was really that year that made me realize that I had to be involved in agriculture and my home and by extension, our community, going forward.”
A common theme for people who grow up in small communities is that innate sense of connection to their land and community. It’s hard to find anything that beats the tight-knit, spirit that exists between families, and also the sense of belonging that always keeps you coming back. It is that sense of community that Caitlin is also grateful to experience at Clayton Utz.
As a result of being involved in two highly different careers, Caitlin has a profound appreciation for the true simplicities of what farm life can bring. “In the corporate world you do tend to get lost in your computer screen. You can get lost from reality. I think going home and building a fence or working in the yard, or just digging in the dirt in the garden brings me back to nature, and brings me back really to what is necessary in life. It makes you think about what you actually need in life, to survive. All I need is a patch of dirt, my beautiful family and my friends around me.”
To listen to the podcast, head to the Humans of Agriculture channel on Apple or Spotify and select Episode 37 “HoA: ‘A career in Law & Farming’ with Caitlin McConnel”.
By Lucy Ziesemer
I’m writing this on Sunday night feeling oddly optimistic.
I know all the ‘be your best self’ gurus would advocate we use the weekend to fill our hypothetical cups instead of draining the more hold-in-your-hand variety, but I’m a realist and know most of you aren’t opposed to the celebratory clink of champagne glasses and beer bottle necks. In my experience and much to my continued dismay (insert eye roll here), Sunday nights are usually wrought with the ick, where the thought of Monday morning sans friends, fun and folklore far from blows your hair back. No matter how much you love your day job, the weekend exists for a reason. Now I’m no TED talk fiend, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised it’s possible and actually quite an organic process to fill both one’s life cup and their beverage cup simultaneously. It’s all down to the people you share “here’s cheers” with, and with my marriage to a Western Man only a couple of months away, I’m now unwrapping deeper layers of what it is to be a woman on the land thanks to snippets of insight shared over beverages of all kinds (Bushells tea, Pimms, a good old fashioned red- you name it) by women who really know the drill.
I’ve always been quite independent and sure of my abilities and direction. Living in the bush, you learn to handle certain things yourself rather than wait days, weeks, maybe even months for perpetually “flat out” professionals to sort it for you. I specify ‘certain things’ because I would rather dig a 4 foot deep long drop in the paddock than go to the toilet with a frog in the bowl. It’s called being resourceful. But as I discovered this weekend, independence is only sustainable with a support network of likeminded individuals lingering in far flung fringes out of sight but certainly not out of mind.
On Saturday, I was introduced to a group of women, some who travelled 700 odd kilometres, to celebrate and welcome me to the “wild western women’s club.” Without exaggeration, I was starstruck. These ladies offered me pearls of wisdom money couldn’t buy about what it takes to stay married to a Western Man. More than “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach...” who knew?!
(N.b- I’ve learned that ‘Western Man’ is actually a proper noun and widely used by long married women residing in rural and remote areas of Queensland, hence the capitalisation.)
While the effort the ladies went to to be there did not escape me, it was clear they truly wouldn’t have been anywhere else. And the big resounding lightbulb moment from all of this, was that women on the land are a force to be reckoned with. In my young life I’ve experienced one significant drought. In theirs they’d endured dozens. They’d surmounted isolation, hardship, and no doubt numerous uphill battles and revelled in joyous victories, small wins and happy days in equal measure. Garth Brooks (up there with Shania Twain in my books) sings a song he dubbed “The River.” It describes life for the ebb and flow that it is, be it rapids roaring and dragging with an invisible undercurrent daring you to lose your balance, or a gentle ripple where a leaf could fall and float undisturbed, peaceful. The western women reminded me that we are unique, multipurpose vessels of strength, hope, humour, love, determination, passion and power. They reinforced the importance of connection in order to combat the oxymoronic feeling of being smothered by so much space. They encouraged things I already knew, like not losing sight of what’s important and using nature as a source of energy- a practice I try to employ daily.
Western Women, and yes they can be a proper noun too, are a breed of their own. Not better than Eastern Women, but maybe different in minuscule ways the naked eye or otherwise concerned wouldn’t recognise. The best metaphor I can conjure is that Western Women are chameleons, equally comfortable serving party pies at tuck shop, on their annual salt and sand craving pilgrimage to the coast, or branding calves and changing the oil in crusty rust bucket Toyotas at home.
I feel honoured to be inducted into the club- it’s a cool one. Honoured and grateful, to the strong woman who raised me, the strong women who’ve featured in my life thus far, and the strong women I now call friends into the future. How lucky we are to live where we live and do what we do- a distant, out of touch dream for so many.
~ So here I am, happy on a Monday morning!
Raised in Hughensville in regional Northern QLD, Sam Fryer is a bloke that had a supportive upbringing, received a good education and is now involved in the operations of his family-owned property. With a wife and two children of his own, Sam’s life seems to look and sound pretty good on paper. As we have discovered, it’s important to dig a little deeper. Beneath the unassuming happy-go-lucky life of Sam, is the story of a man who has faced more life challenges than he can count on one hand.
In this episode, Sam opens up and shares some incredibly heart-wrenching tales that he went through from his childhood, right up to the present day as a devoted dad. Through facing testing hardships like growing up with a sister who had special needs, managing mental health demons, seeing the loss of a close mate, suffering serious injuries and navigating the challenges of family succession planning, Sam has been on a tough and turbulent journey.
One of the reasons that makes Sam’s story so great is how he has chosen to use his life experiences as a catalyst to be more positive and appreciative. Despite all that he has been through, Sam has a profound optimism and zest for life that is simply infectious.
Sam came onto our radar during Movember last year when he was looking for an agriculture related team to support. After a chat, we were immediately blown away by his story and knew it had to be shared with the Humans of Agriculture audience. Sam is a true storyteller who will steal your undivided attention and leave you feeling grateful for the simplest things in life, like your arms and legs.
Following on from last week, if you need someone to talk to or you're worried about a friend or family member you can reach out to the TIACS support line and either text or call them on 0488 846 988.
Disabilities in the bush
An area that is rarely mentioned or given the attention it deserves is disabilities in the bush. Being in a remote location can make things more difficult in terms of barriers like healthcare accessibility and support. Sam's family faced these circumstances head on with his younger sister Alex being born with cerebral palsy. For the Fryer family, that meant regularly taking the 4-hour trip to Townsville for appointments with specialists while still trying to manage the family farm, bring in an income and raise three kids.
For their family and the community, it was a normal and accepted part of their lives as they never knew any different. Sam reflects that the support of neighbours and locals really helped their family manage the challenges. “Where we lived, we had some amazing people just down the road that would come up and help Mum on the place when Dad was away. Without the community around us I don’t know how they would have done it.”
The role of the local community in supporting families just like the Fryers is critical, whether that is checking in, helping with school drop offs or checking water. Sam credits these years as fundamentally shaping him and is passionate about giving back to those around him.
"It's a massive part of who I am and who my parents are. We are involved in a lot in the community and with events, it's one way for us to say thankful for those years when I was younger" he said.
Another topic woven throughout the discussion is around mental health and specifically the role and exposure people working in agriculture and Rural Australia have to it. For an industry where workers can often be isolated and spend time alone, it has become increasingly important for mates to watch out for each other and ask if they’re okay. With Sam connecting with HoA for Movember – it was clear that advocating for mental health was an important issue close to his heart.
Sam reflects that even from a young age, he felt the heavy weight of his life challenges taking a toll on him. “I needed to see someone and needed to talk to someone,” Sam recalls, after his move to boarding school as a young adolescent. “I came from a school of five to a school of 1,500 and I had just lost my best mate. I just wish I had of had someone to talk to during that time.”
Through his very own up and down roller coaster, Sam shares the insight and wisdom he learnt on how to overcome his struggles and help his mates beat theirs too. He is a beacon of knowledge, who really positions you to stop and realise that we all have a part to play in helping those around us and starting conversations.
“It can’t just be a couple times a year that we decide to call our mate and see if they’re okay, it’s all during the year. If you know something’s wrong with your mates you should be able to give them a buzz.”
After seeking professional support and having a network of loved ones, Sam shared that he has reached a really strong point in his life. This is significantly noticeable through the way he speaks and shares his ideas. After a tumultuous set of circumstances, it remains his priority to focus on the positives and be grateful for the little things.
In the podcast, you’ll hear Sam touch on his idea that he actually feels lucky. It’s a powerful moment that highlights how we can give ourselves so much strength through the way we process the bad times. Sam said, “I’m very lucky, I suppose I probably keep saying that but mate I’ve got two legs and I can walk around, and you know I’ve got both my arms still which is pretty lucky on another level. The experience I’ve had has made me the person I am today. I am thankful for that. it changes my view on the world and makes me appreciate everything a bit more because I’m still here.”
To listen to the podcast, head to the Humans of Agriculture channel on Apple or Spotify and select Episode 36 “HoA ‘I’m lucky’ with Sam Fryer”.