By Lucy Ziesemer
It may be hard to believe, but I’ve never given too much thought to the fact that I’m a woman in agriculture. With no sons in our family and being the eldest, I guess I assumed the role of Dad’s right-hand man/ gopher early on. I loved the outdoors, especially watching Dad work cattle and observing his way with stock. I have memories of sitting on the top rail in the backyards watching Dad and his stockmen yard up. Prior to the advent of cross breeding and knowledge of the ways it benefitted the Australian beef industry, a significant number of beef operations were Hereford based. By the time I was old enough to know the front end of a beast from the back, Mum and Dad had moved into Charolais cows for their Charbray operation. It was an artwork to six-year-old me. White cows flowing like foam from a wave funnelled together by an invisible fence conjured by some sort of magical force the men created placing their bodies and directing their eyes to just the right spot. It was mesmerising and I yearned to know the secret. I wanted to know where to point that magic yard stick that was an unspoken language between human and beast.
It never occurred to me that Dad’s ringers were always male. I would blunder into the yards with Mum delivering smoko and share an Iced Vo-Vo with the men, listening to them discussing things I didn’t understand. I still remember the day I realised ‘beast’ was a singular term for cattle and not the savage monster from my imagination. As I got older, I didn’t care that I had skinny arms and needed both of them to close the slide gate when the men shut it with a finger. The same is true today. Some may call it poor parenting, but I couldn’t disagree more. I was not mollycoddled as a kid. If I fell off my bike and skinned my knee, Dad would quite literally “rub it better” so hard that the friction burn distracted from the stinging graze. Cut up hands from fencing with barbed wire? Find a solution- get some gloves. If a pipe needed digging up, you marched into the mud with your shovel and dug like you had a job to do, not like a girl. I was never treated differently for being a female even if some days I would have loved someone say “you’re right darlin’, have a spell.” That’s why I never paid any attention to the fact that a woman working on the land was somewhat unusual. I knew I wanted to be there come Hell or high water, so I got on with it.
There will always be aspects of the job I’m less capable at. Take something as simple as straining a fence for example. I can get it pretty damn tight and totally stock proof, but I’ll guarantee if a bloke came along they’d get one more click on the chain every time. This doesn’t worry me in the slightest, it’s just a fact. But there’s a conflicting ideology applied to women in the workplace, whatever workplace that may be, that puzzles me. We’re seeing women in traditionally male dominated roles more and more and on the one hand we call out for equal representation because we’re good at what we do and it’s normal for women to perform these tasks, and on the other hand we expect to be cheered along the way for simply doing a job. Shouldn’t the goal be to get the job done and share a knock-off beer at the end of the day?
The rise of #womeninag excites me. I’m on board for celebrating women in agriculture, and before you shout HYPOCRITE, I will say I think the hashtag serves a greater purpose of celebrating agriculture itself. I think it’s great we’re showcasing women’s achievements on the land because it’s drawing attention to what we’re actually trying to promote- Aussie agriculture. We know we’re tough and fine-tuned to hard work, but we love what we do and the daily grind it entails for us. It is my hope that #womeninag inspires the next generation of producers to question where their food and fibre comes from, encourages them to embrace Australia’s vast landscape and the potential it holds, and fosters a love for agriculture through watching the men and women paving a path before them.