The Australian Farming Landscape – as diverse as it is wide

This is my latest blog for The Australian Farmer. The blog has been inspired by a number of people in agriculture I have spoken to and some thoughts from Irish Crime Writer Tana French

I have seen so little of Agriculture beyond my farmgate and the industries I have been involved in let alone just how much does urban Australia get to see

Emma Turner

“Sometimes the landscape is red sometimes its green No matter what it is its always beautiful” Emma Turner Stanhope Station via Ivanhoe 

Farming in a Complex Landscape

While reading about Australia’s role in international agriculture I came across this quote from Professor Andrew Campbell:

“If the world was your farm, Australia is not your best paddock,

in fact there aren’t many worse.”

 Professor Campbell is the CEO of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and, rather than being derogatory, the comment was actually a backhanded compliment to the success of Australian agriculture. Professor Campbell points out Australian farmers must contend with poor soils, one of the world’s most variable climates and precious little surface water on top of our usual droughts, fires and flooding rains. Yet despite the challenges, Australian agriculture continues to thrive, all of which makes me reflect on the complexity of our landscape. Like Irish novelist Tana French, I too wish I knew more about Australia.

“I wished I knew more about Australia.

I thought of red earth and sun that hit you like a shout,

twisted plants stubborn enough to pull life out of nothing,

spaces that could dizzy you, swallow you whole.”

Tana French

 Tana French’s perception of the Australian landscape is very different to my reality. My family farms dairy cattle on the rolling green hills of Jamberoo, south of Sydney, where the rich volcanic soils and reliable rainfall allows us to graze six cows to the hectare, and where I can see for miles across the Pacific Ocean. I know I am biased but it probably is one of Australia’s best “paddocks”.

Another paddock is the Fitzroy Basin in central Queensland, the biggest beef growing region in Australia with 2.6 million of the 25 million national herd running on its rich brigalow-belah landscape. The clay soils of the brigalow belt are incredibly fertile and grow a large bulk of good quality cattle feed, but the rivers of the region drain to the Great Barrier Reef, meaning extra challenges for agriculture.

“The rangeland grazing system of the Fitzroy means cattle are the

biggest contributor to sediment runoff into the reef, which means

the fragile soils have to be carefully managed to maintain ground cover,”

Bronwyn Roberts, Bar H Grazing


Rivers of another type support farmers and graziers in south-west NSW where water flow has been regulated by man. South of Menindee Lakes a pipeline running along the Darling Anabranch provides water for thousands of sheep. The hardy merino has adapted well to this harsh and often dry environment to produce some of Australia’s finest wool.

“The NSW rangelands are a beautifully complex ecosystem and

this makes for very diverse methods of farming.

We should embrace and encourage that diversity,

as that is a great strength in our community,”

Gus Whyte, Wyndham Station via Wentworth NSW

 When it comes to complex and challenging landscapes it’s hard to go past the wheat belt of Western Australia. Sandy soils with low organic matter, declining rainfall and one of Australia’s major environmental concerns in dryland salinity make this a hard place to earn a living. Yet Western Australia produces half of the country’s wheat crop and does so through innovation and research, such as revegetating with saltbush and producing drought tolerant crop varieties that allow more grain to be produced from less land.

“WA Wheatbelt farmers are innovative, but the challenge here is

not only to keep our farms productive, but also to keep our farmers

for they are our best land stewards.

Adaptive agriculture will be critical for the region’s farming future,”

Richard McLellan CEO Northern Agricultural Catchments Council

 We do indeed live and farm in a complex landscape, and by world standards it is a hard and unforgiving paddock, but Australian agriculture adapts. We innovate and research, we manage for environmental outcomes and we adopt best practices in animal welfare. We care for our communities and for the opportunity to provide the best food in the world to the people of the world. Despite the complexity and the challenges this makes me very proud to be farming this particular paddock.

If you, too, are proud of our Australian paddock I encourage you to become involved in the inaugural AgDay to be held on November 21. I specifically encourage you to get involved in the photo competition, which aims to put consumers in touch with the real faces of Australian agriculture. See the website for details.






Standing on rocky ground – a story of inspiration

When I was young and naive about trees and their habitats, I planted this lemon scented gum in my front garden. Not the smartest thing I ever did, not only are they not native to my little piece of paradise they grow very big, have a deep root system and this tree is sitting on a rock bed.

Thirty five years later its thriving as you can see. It has been the subject of many photo wow moments. Every day I celebrate both its beauty and its resilience.

Lemon Scented Gum (2)

This tree reminds me of this quote from leadership coach Zoe Routh

Real growth takes persistent effort, in spite of what feels like lack of progress. We need to keep testing the edges of our ability. Little experimentations, trial and error. Lots of error.

It takes courage to keep trying, because the risks are real: we can get hurt. We can fail. We come right up against our limitations, feeling them press down on us like suffocating barriers.

Mental health – making hope the cornerstone of life



I live in a very beautiful part of the world on a farm on the side of a mountain with rich volcanic soil and an average rainfall of 2000 mm.  Yes that’s almost 80 inches of rain per year. With Australia experiencing the driest and warmest winter in 15 years we haven’t had “real’ rain here for months. We are in the midst of a green drought as the highly moisture stressed ryegrass does its best to hang on and provide the cows with the  rich energy source that sustains them and the milk they produce.

AYOF  (4).jpg

My little piece of paradise hasn’t looked like this for quite a while 

Rural Australian life is very rewarding in many ways, however, farming has many challenges including the long term impacts of climate change and extreme weather events and can be a stressful occupation.

Mental health and maintaining optimism in the face of adversity is very close to my heart

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Helen Keller

I believe through  The Archibull Prize we are selling hope to young people. Putting them at the centre of the learning experience . Using farmers as examples of dealing with the daily challenges of providing quality food and fibre and Young Farming Champions  as leaders in creating the change we want to see.

Helping young people make ‘hope’ a cornerstone in their lives is the driving force behind The Cottage Mental Health program 

Archie at the Cottage

The Cottage helps about 40, 12 to 18-year-olds experiencing a mental health condition every year. Days are split between schooling and therapy, with counselling,  rehabilitation, creative arts sessions, education and individual clinical management on offer to help students achieve their recovery goals. Source 

 Well done to all the business who have come together to make The Cottage a true story
of hope
“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.” Robert Schuller

If you know some-one who is struggling with stress an excellent resource can be found here



Celebrating the Complexity of Agriculture

Casey Onus  (1).JPG

In days gone by, we perceived the farmer as somebody who wore many hats –  part veterinarian, part climate forecaster, part accountant and part soil biologist, amongst a long list of other jobs. But the reality of contemporary agriculture is so much more than this Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades stereotype.

Farming is a highly specialised scientific field. There is a vast integration of technology and advanced research into the science of agriculture, which enables high-quality, safe and sustainable food to be produced for our nation and beyond. Today’s farmer has an extensive network of experts who can supplement and enhance their farming business to ensure the safety and sustainability of their product and their land.

Quoting the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, the same can be said about farming. A successful farmer is not alone on their land. They have a web of professionals. In fact, there is a national and international web of professionals who support farmers.

More than 1.6 million people work in Australian agriculture. Farmers today understand and appreciate that 82 per cent of these people are not on farms, but are in careers that support the farm gate.

Here are just a few examples:

  • A Western Australian wheat grower can call upon research scientist Calum Watt to understand how future varieties of wheat will be more drought tolerant.
  • A Tasmanian dairy farmer can consult with agronomist Dwayne Schubert to discuss how precision agriculture can reduce fertiliser use.
  • In the Riverina, another agronomist Emma Ayliffe helps take the latest cutting edge cotton technology from trials to the paddock.
  • In Canberra, Laura Phelps works with the Australian government to develop policy to benefit agricultural exports, and in Brisbane Kirsty McCormack markets Australian beef to Asia.
  • Farmers in Cambodia who learn from PhD student Anika Molesworth can benefit from the agricultural knowledge developed here in this sunburnt land.

Agriculture is a complex web of professionals that are contributing to a greater whole and supporting the farmer on the land. Agriculture is full of exciting and dynamic careers and there is a role for everyone in the sector.

Let’s invite the best and the brightest into this web of professionals.


This blog is a reprint of a blog I wrote for The Australian Farmer found here

My next blog in this series will reflect on the complexity of the Australian farming landscape

What comes to mind when you think of the Australian agriculture landscape

Are you like author Tana French

I wished I knew more about Australia. I thought of red earth and sun that hit you like a shout, twisted plants stubborn enough to pull life out of nothing, spaces that could dizzy you, swallow you whole.

or like me and think of lush green hills and rolling valleys and black and white cows full of milk making their way to the dairy

Australia is a vast place this quote from Andrew Campbell Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is very sobering

“If the world was your farm, Australia is not your best paddock, in fact there aren’t many worse” – Andrew Campbell.


The Cow on the Hill

Cow on the Hill 2

Day after day, alone on the hill
The cow with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know her
They can see that she’s just a fool
And she never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in her head
See the world spinning around

Well on the way, head in a cloud
The lady of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears her
Or the sound she appears to make
And she never seems to notice

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in her head
See the world spinning around

And nobody seems to like her
They can tell what she wants to do
And she never shows her feelings

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in her head
See the world spinning around

She never listens to them
She knows that they’re the fools
They don’t like her

The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in her head
See the world spinning around

Ht Lee and apologies to The Beatles

Clover Hill

Another photo moment from the Cows on the Hill 

What image do we want the world to see?

Rebecca T (7).jpg


This is my recent blog for The Australian Farmer

What do I see when I think about agriculture? I see people who love what they do. I see vibrant young people who want to thrive in business and life. I see so much potential to work together across sectors, across industries and across communities; to pool resources, pool thinking, and pool skills for the benefit of all.

Yet a recent international exposé  by a New York Times photojournalist depicts outback Australia in photos of wild dogs hung up in trees, dead animals, fires and alcohol, and in text that talks of suicide, drug addiction, desperation and loneliness. In our national press in times of drought I see photos of parched paddocks and skeletal animals. In floods, I see the bloated carcasses of drowned stock. I am constantly being bombarded by stories that perpetuate the aging farmer myth. What do we achieve by selling doom and gloom? Despair is so disempowering.

There is no denying that agriculture can be a complex and challenging industry but are these the only images we want the world to see?

There is so much more to Australian agriculture and Australian farmers. Yes, it can be a tough gig but when you get it right it’s so rewarding. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone.  Agriculture is a career for people who love wide open spaces, the satisfaction of a day well-spent, a physical tiredness and an inner satisfaction. It’s a career for those who love the challenge, who love the complexity of science and technology, who want to work with animals and love watching things grow. It’s a career for people who love getting up every day to watch the fruits of their labour fulfilled; the milk in the vat, the wool bales on the truck, the grain in the silo. It’s a lifestyle for people who love the genuineness of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the comradery of rural communities.

If we want to attract the best and the brightest minds we must give them a reason to choose agriculture over everything else. It is these people who will be the changemakers that will deliver the vibrant, profitable and dynamic future of agriculture that it deserves to have.

And when we have attracted those people we need them to tell their stories.

We need to tell our stories in concrete, real-life terms – not in the abstract.  And these stories need to be personal; there is no need for one person to be an advocate for whole of agriculture.

Who will listen to our stories? Our audience is everyone. It is the lawyer who pulls on a woollen jumper for a weekend walk. It is the doctor who recommends eating a healthier diet. It is the young Mum who wraps her newborn in soft cotton swaddling. Name me one person who does not eat or wear natural fibres. We need to engage with our audience in honest ways, to create trust and a platform for open discussion.

We need stories like Emma’s. Emma recently visited a primary school in Sydney to tell the students about her family’s sheep station in western NSW. She wanted the students to feel as emotionally connected to her farm and wool as she is and she knew the key to doing this was to share from the heart. She started by making sure every single child in the room knew her name, and invited other Emma’s to be her assistants.

Emma told the students that their school would fit 125,000 times into her farm and if each student had to look after her sheep they would all have close to 100 sheep in their backyard.

She told them about a typical year in her life from the mating of the rams and the ewes, to lambing, to ear tagging to health checks and how the sheep were painted yellow when they were jetted for lice. She told them about shearing and passed around samples of wool so every student got to feel and play with it and appreciate its qualities. She told them about the planning that went into looking after a large number of sheep. She told them it took two days to ride around the farm to check that all the sheep had water. She told them the most important rule on their farm was “never skip a water run day”.

Emma told the world on Instagram that her visit to the school was the best experience of her life.

Like Emma’s family agriculture has some big challenges and farmers are at the coal face. We can choose to focus on sharing our problems. But why take that road when it’s so much more empowering to show everyone farmers are part of the solution? And let’s show that the farmers can’t do it alone.  Let’s create a roadmap for collaboration and co-creation for the bright future we all deserve. Let’s invest in all the bright young minds like Emma who see agriculture as their future. This is the image we want the world to see.



Suicide – time to create a atmosphere of openness, not judgement


I am reprinting this article “Surviving my mother suicide”  from the Medium Daily Digest. It truly moved me and resonated so deeply. Like Cas I too have far to much knowledge in this area. And for people who don’t, you have no right to judge.


After Chester Bennington’s suicide, I have come across a series of posts and discussions on the topic on Facebook, and elsewhere, with people calling the act selfish while paying special attention to the children who have now been left behind to deal with the trauma.


Everyone is so quick to jump on the topic as if they knew the Linkin Park singer and his family; as if they knew his kids and how they felt. Even in writing this, I have no idea what type of person he was, how ill he was, what he was like as a person, or a father, but as someone who is the child of a parent who committed suicide I feel I can and should shed light on the child’s perspective — an area that’s not often talked about.

As a child of a parent who committed suicide; I can tell you that suicide is not a selfish act. It is in fact quite the opposite in the mind of the person who is suffering. They believe that taking their own life is doing their family, friends and communities a big favor because they see themselves as an unbearable burden. They believe that once they are gone from the picture, everyone’s lives will be easier, happier and better. This belief leaves them with massive guilt resulting in self-deprecation, thinking about what others are or might be going through in handling their illness. And yes, people who have suicidal ideation are suffering from mental illness. They do not ask to be struck with depression, anxiety, fear or psychosis, any more than a person with cancer has “asked” to be struck with that disease. Nor, is this their fault. Mental illness can and does strike people across all walks of life; the wealthy, the poor, the successful and the average.

It’s no secret that it is extremely difficult to live with and be around someone who has severe mental health issues.This was especially true in the time before the internet when you couldn’t turn to Google to help you figure it all out. Until my mother’s death, it was near impossible to understand her moods and behaviors, even with the experts intervening and all the resources at my disposal. She just couldn’t seem to stop the vicious mental battle with herself that she was fighting alone inside her head, and all the external consequences that resulted from it.

Yet, one thing, and maybe the only thing, that was always clear to me is that she loved my brother and I an indescribable amount. She would do anything in the world if she thought it would give us a better life, including committing the most extreme act of taking her own. Again, I never knew Chester, but I’m sure if he was a good dad, he would have felt the same, and his children would know that now too.

I won’t lie and say that not having to constantly worry about my mother isn’t a relief. It was hard and scary at times, especially after three or four failed attempts at suicide and wondering if this time would be it. Living with constant worry about someone you love is hard, and that goes for anything, whether it’s mental illness, eating disorders, addiction or something else that impacts someone’s ability to “live a normal life.”

What was harder though, was witnessing my mom struggle with being unable to be the parent she so desperately wanted to be for my brother and I. My mother was driven to get better, taking advantage of the best resources and doctors out there. Her determination, however, wasn’t enough. The illness overtook her and she lost the battle with her illness. She fought the disease affecting her mind every single day in an attempt to be happy and find the joys in what would appear on the outside to be a very happy life.

I have trouble reading the comments surrounding the “great life,” many people assume Chester had because of his fame, wealth, friends, family and so on that basically “went to waste.” This idea that someone should be happy because of all they may have is valid, for the person who does not suffer from mental illness, perhaps. For them, it just takes a shift in perspective to realize all of the amazing aspects of their life. Unfortunately, that’s generally not the case for someone with mental illness. No matter how hard they try they just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, or can’t hold onto it long enough to change the way they view the world, and their place in it.

Also, there’s so much talk about what it will be like now for Chester’s kids not to have their father in their life, but no one looks at the impact of having him in their lives. My mother’s constant struggle impacted me from a very early age as I mimicked her moods and behaviors, learning from her what was right or wrong, good or bad. When things that are good in life are perceived as bad, that becomes what’s normal. Her rationale for why she felt the way she did made sense to me because I didn’t know any better. It took many years to understand, that her thinking wasn’t normal.

Understand, I don’t think that having my mother absent from my life was better for me at all, and I’m not saying that for Chester’s kids either. I just want everyone to have a better understanding of what it means to survive a parent as a result of suicide. It is sad that my mother missed my graduation, and that she won’t be there for my wedding or my first child. It sucks that she will miss all the other major milestones in my life and all the little ones in between. But, as my mother’s daughter, I know if she truly believed she could continue to live the life she was living, she would have and would still be here

Facts about Suicide

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, with around 3,000 people dying by suicide every year. That’s an average of eight people every day.1 For every suicide, there are tragic ripple effects for friends, families, colleagues and the broader community.

If someone you know seems to be struggling, reach out and connect with them. Showing that you care could make a huge difference in their life. If you are struggling yourself, you might feel better if you reach out for support, get treatment and start taking steps towards recovery. Source Beyond Blue