It's finally here. Two years in the writing, months in the design studio, weeks at sea on the journey from a Hong Kong printer. A Place in the Stockyard, the book I authored for Tasmanian Women in Agriculture, arrives on my desk today!
I met the farming women I was to work with on this over scones one evening. They were an impressive lot, and stand-out advocates for rural living. One of them, Joan, was in her seventies but could undoubtedly have thrown her leg over a horse and beaten me to the post anytime.
'Don't look at my hands!' she exclaimed. 'I've been feeding calves.' I looked at her hands. They were beautiful. Worn through years of hard work into gentle scoop shapes, muscled and strong, clean and pink and glowing with energy.
Joan was one of the founders of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture twenty years ago, and came to be quite the inspiration for me. When she helped start the organisation she was 'flat out, and just really tired,' she told me, like a lot of farming women at that time. What she started didn't just change things for farming women, it went on to change the culture of farming in Tasmania. Those who passed through the door over the years became stronger. They took succour from meeting other women in the same position with the same challenges as them. They did courses and educated themselves. Some of them took pivotal roles on industry boards or became high profile spokespersons. They started farm safety campaigns, found funding, lobbied government.
Most importantly, they got off their farms and met with each other regularly, in regional groups where they mostly knew each other already, or soon got to know each other. You know how you bump into someone you know and say 'Gosh we haven't seen each other for ages!' These women made sure that never happened. They recognised how vitally important respite from the farm was, when you're the pivotal person holding everything together. And their husbands and partners recognised it too, and some of them liked to come along.
What they were doing, says Caro Brown, Senior Project Officer in Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and long time Tasmanian Woman in Agriculture, was maximising their social capital. Getting together to enjoy a speaker and a cup of tea, catching up, talking and learning and helping each other out with knowledge and pointers, and making decisions on issues they would take forward to government or community. Changing things, as well as their lives, for the better.
Ultimately they made farming women and their contribution in Tasmania visible and acknowledged, which is was not previously. They had the law changed, winning an exemption on stamp duty when farms were passed from one family member to another, something which had crippled many a farming family. They launched initiatives supporting farmers during drought. They campaigned for better contract deals with big corporates on commodity prices.
The name Tasmanian Women in Agriculture piques the interest of many you mention it to. It sounds intriguing even if the listener hasn't heard of them before. To those in the know, such as the successive government bodies and individuals who have encountered it, the group is a formidable lobbying and activist group, widely acknowledged to play an important role in connecting those out in the Paddock with those in Parliament and in the Boardroom. Game changing stuff.
This is reflected all over Australia. There's a group in every state, and a national body too, Australian Women in Agriculture. But Tasmania is smaller. Members are closer here in every sense, and closer to their two city centres of learning and commerce. It has made for a greater sense of thriving and potential over the years. Tasmanian Women in Agriculture now numbers over one thousand members with new generations of farming women and new styles of farming and sub-sectors, gourmet produce growers and agri-tourism operators, joining the conversation.
All very inspiring. For me, i count myself lucky to have met these women and learned so much from them. But when I want real inspiration, I still look to Joan Field, with her calf-rearing hands. Joan was around the age I am now when she became a founder member. When I look at everything she helped achieve in the subsequent twenty years, that's a massive source of inspiration.
A Place in the Stockyard - celebrating Tasmanian Women in Agrilcuture is available through select Tasmanian bookshops and on order through the website, priced at $40.
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