Catherine Marriott’s spirit is strong. Her courage extraordinary. We #standwithMaz

The Marriott Girls.jpg

The Marriotts – a family of legends – courage personified 

As Australians across the country rally to #standwithMaz by tuning into ABCLandline today to watch Catherine Marriott on the Pardoo Station segment  I am reflecting on the  positives of Catherine’s bravery in taking a stance against inappropriate behaviour towards women by people in powerful positions.  It has highlighted the courage of women in the agriculture sector and unified the sector with a collaborative call to action from both men and women, organisations, business and the community.

I remain stunned anyone would question the timing of the complaint. As I said in a previous post I have no idea what I would do. In the first instance I would want to be 100% confident of my family support, support of friends and knowing my networks have my back. Catherine Marriott has all of those in spades.

Then I would think about self care. Like many others, I too have been bullied on Twitter. I have seen how tough it can be at a political level. I remember vividly walking into a national meeting in Melbourne of a NSW industry  group I was representing. The first thing that happened was been taken into a corner by one of the other women in the room who said I hope you wore your armour, women on committees in our industry in Victoria are only seen to be here to serve the tea and scones. She was right it was very unpleasant. I didn’t last long.

Quoting National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson from this article Barnaby Joyce leak shocks rural women amid sexual harassment investigation it should be obvious to everyone why I believe people don’t just automatically walk into police stations

“I think some of it is not understanding what is acceptable and feeling maybe a little bit guilty about calling some of it out. But I also think there is a bit of fear around what the repercussions are going to be.”

“Am I going to be trolled if it’s on social media? Am I going to be outed in the workplace? Am I going to lose my job, am I going to be able to progress on the career path that I’m on?”

Catherine Marriott’s recent media statement reiterates this

“This complaint was made not only to address the incident against me — it was about speaking up against inappropriate behaviour by people in powerful positions,” she said.

“Suggestions to the contrary are hurtful, incorrect and the very reason why I hesitated to come forward at the time of the incident.

“Speculation on this issue by people who are unaware of the facts is impacting my right to a fair and due process. The additional stress of having to go through this publicly and with people’s judgement is the exact reason people don’t come forward.”

Self care has to be the number one priority.  Catherine’s bravery has provided an opportunity for our rural champions to come out in force saying to other courageous women we are here for you, we will support you and we will lobby to ensure that courageous women (and men) get the pastoral care they deserve as well as fair and due process  

Catherine Marriott’s spirit is strong. Her courage extraordinary. We #standwithMaz #solidarity4Catherine #strongertogether #strongwomen




Catherine Marriott – a woman who stood up when she knew it would do the most good

I first met Catherine Marriott in early 2012. She reached out because she saw we shared a vision we both wanted to turn into a reality. We wanted to help empower rural and regional Australians in the agriculture sector to share their story and provide them with the tools and knowledge to do that.

I have never met anybody like her. She thinks deeply about every decision she makes. She surrounds herself with an ever-growing network of agriculture’s best and bright minds. First and foremost she cares deeply about people, she consults, she listens, and she always goes with the decisions she believes are best for women, agriculture and rural and regional Australia. And that means she does what’s best for everyone in this country

She joined me at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2012 where she helped me run two events that connect young people in rural Australia with young people in our cities

We shared a room – she declared she didn’t sleep a wink – I snore louder than her mother.

She is a professional photographer, she took our photographs. We couldn’t afford to pay her, yet she insisted on paying for half that room where didn’t sleep a wink.

Catherine Marriott.jpg

Catherine Marriott congratulates Jordan Kerr at the Cream of the Crop Awards in 2012. Note MC Stephanie Coombes

I can understand if it happened a while ago (which is what’s been reported) why Catherine made the decision now.  I can only envision how much heart and soul went into her decision to make an official complaint. She has phenomenal support from her amazing family . She would have thought about the impact on the Rural Women’s Award, the town of Broome, her workplace everyone and everything she has ever touched.

Let’s not forget the self-care. These things don’t go away. Catherine is a woman with an incredible legacy. She has achieved so much in such a short time and I am confident will achieve so much more. The last thing agriculture and anything she has made a reality needs, is for her be known first for being ‘that woman who finally made Barnaby realise it was time to do the right thing”

Men and women everywhere are standing side by side to support this brave, brave woman with the hashtags #standwithMaz #solidarity4Catherine #strongwomen

Join us and help people everywhere have the courage to stand up when it matters and when it will do the most good.




Keeping Your Eye on the Prize

This is a story about Catherine Marriott – The Voice of Rural Australia and why I admire her so much and why she is a great role model for me.


Catherine is passionate about building the capacity of people of agriculture and that is a  passion we share so I have been watching her journey to success with great interest and lots of cheering in the background.

I first met Catherine when she phoned me suggesting we have a face to face meeting just after she won the 2012 West Australian RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year. This happened pretty quickly, firstly in Canberra, then Catherine visiting Clover Hill, then joining the Art4Agriculture team at the 2012 Cream of the Crop Awards and then a number of the Art4Ag team travelling to Broome for Catherine’s first Influential Women’s Workshop.

It was clear from day 1 that Catherine had a big picture vision and she was determined to meet as many people as she could to help her build a roadmap framework to success. I also had the pleasure of meeting her gorgeous and very wise mother and sister and being confident that Catherine had a great family support network who would be providing that all important emotional support when the energy vampires came calling and dare I say it that agriculture seems to have its fair share of them.

I tend to admire people who have mastered qualities I am yet to and the one that stands out for me with Catherine is I believe she has mastered the ability to FOCUS. She is keeping her eye on the prize and I am confident she has it well within her reach.

I on the other hand get reminded all too often I seem to be on a mission to prove who ever said that you cant successfully multitask is wrong.

Please don’t join me in this quest. Trust me they are NOT wrong. Take yesterday as a shining example. These days I tend to take the train whenever I can. It gives me a chance to reduce my footprint and take in the world around me.  Whilst the train service from Kiama to Sydney CBD is extraordinarily time and cost effective it can be nightmare for commuters especially in peak periods. We are lucky in our region to have a very dedicated MP who is more interested in getting outcomes for his constituents than climbing the political ladder so I shot him an email a few months ago raising with him some of the train travel issues I had seen. I have now seen how frustrating it can be for an MP trying to make change and I don’t envy his job.

Back to yesterday I got to Central 30 mins early to catch the train home and as always the train was full with the resultant unpleasantness that goes with people being crammed together with suitcases and walking sticks and grumpy old men who think its just fine to reef a young traveller in the stomach with his elbow just because he felt he was standing too close.

So I decided to take action and started tweeting. Within 5 mins my MP was texting me to contact him when I got home. The end result is together we (with whoever we can muster) have hatched a plan to start a revolution to change the NSW train system to ensure it provides safe and comfortable travel for all.

Now is this part of my carefully mapped out strategic plan to achieve my big picture vision for building capacity in the agriculture sector?. Hell No. Did that stop me saying yes to Gareth. Hell No.

I used to beat myself up about this and now I just laugh as my dear friends keep reinforcing we can all only be the best version of ourselves we can be . Equally this is why it is so critical that people like me surround themselves with people who complement their skills.  This came home to roost recently when the Art4Agriculture team needed to brief a new program and event manager (so sad Kirsty you are leaving us). To help make this process as smooth as possible and look after our wonderful new event and program manager (welcome Alex) the committee have created the tongue in cheek  the “How to Survive Working with Lynne Strong” manual.

Agriculture DOES needs a whole cohort of wonderful young people like Catherine to be the change that agriculture must have. Watching Catherine ‘along her journey to become an expert corporate speaker, covering leadership, mentoring, adversity, empowerment, communication and change management’ I am constantly reminded just how critical it is for my generation to invest in these emerging leaders and ensure they have ready access to a directory of lifestyle and business coaching professionals who can help them regain perspective, and maintain stamina and mental health.  Now that’s a prize worth joining together to fight for wouldn’t you? So the question becomes – How can we best work together to make this happen?

Want to read more about the inspiring work that Catherine is doing not only in this country visit Empowering Women in Agriculture here

PERTH, Australia 24 August 2014:  Influential Women has started the second part of the Agricultural Exchange Project between East Java and Western Australia. The indonesian women will visit our Australian farms to share knowledge and cultures.  (Photo by Sabine Albers)

My thought for the day

Be with people who value you.
“Your social group is like a mirror, reflecting your value back to you.”

You have enemies? Celebrate

Jas Hannah and Steph

I recently had a conversation with the dynamo that is Catherine Marriott and the topic of driving change in agriculture came up and that led to a discussion about how lonely it can be when at times the words of your detractors drown out those of your supporters  

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. Winston Churchill

In creating the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions program one of the key things that drove me was the overwhelming desire for them not to follow in my footsteps to loneliness and isolation and find that driving change initially too often galvanises those who desperately don’t want change.

Whilst these people don’t represent the majority their fear of change can be so draining and so vocal you often allow them to question your judgment and cloud your vision for the future.

Believe me you can never overestimate the power of surrounding yourself with positive people you can learn from.  

Catherine has a great passion to drive change and harness the energy of rural women and I feel the same about young people in agriculture .     

To empower and provide rural women with the skills sets to be the change that must happen in agriculture Catherine has set up Influential  Women

In Catherine words

Influential Women is a movement that creates conversations that connect urban and rural Australia by building confidence, capacity and skills in rural and regional women. Currently, rural Australia has a huge opportunity to connect with our customers, as people are becoming more interested in how their food is produced. We need to take advantage of this interest by being engaging, fun, informative and innovative in our communication and this communication needs to be two way. As farmers, we have so much to share and are so passionate about what we do, but we haven’t historically been very good at communicating this.

The concept behind the Influential Women’s came from watching the live trade ban unfold. I started to reflect on the agricultural conversations that had been happening across the board and realised that we are under increasing consumer scrutiny. It doesn’t matter if you are in the chicken industry where there are questions about the cages are cages, the pig industry with sow stalls, the grains industry with GM or the beef industry with hormones and live export, we are all facing consumer pressure. The time has come for us all to be a part of the conversation. If we aren’t, the space will be taken by people who have an ill-informed, agenda driven opinion that is anti farming.and it mostly comes from ill-informed groups with a negative agricultural agenda.

Now as farmers, I believe we have nothing to hide, we need to share what we do on our farms openly and most importantly why we do certain things. We need to be proud of what we do in agriculture and share it with an intrigued and interested consumers and celebrate the roles that we play in providing the Australian public with safe healthy and nutritious food and fibre. 

As farmers we need to have a voice……. and that voice needs to be constant, articulate and concise, friendly, engaging…. and delivered regularly.

How exciting is it for me to find some-one equally determined to not only drive change but most importantly invest in it .

At every opportunity I find ways and means of exposing our Young Farming Champions to the like-minded networks that Catherine gathers around her at her workshops.

In the words of Beef Young Farming Champion Hannah Barber who attended an Influential Women’s workshop recently in Holbrook

Having heard of Influential Women and the fantastic work this organisation does to connect and empower rural women, I was very grateful to the Holbrook Landcare group for their sponsorship to attend a workshop. Flanked by two other Young Farming Champions Steph Fowler and Jasmine Nixon, we met a range of impressive women of all ages, from all backgrounds involved in a variety of industries with one thing in common, our love for agriculture. Of these amazing women, leading the way forward was facilitator Catherine Marriot, who, teamed with her mother Cath, make up the very aptly named Influential Women.

Catherine’s talent as a presenter and facilitator are matched by her personal warmth and genuine desire to help rural women be the best they can be. Nearly every break Catherine forwent the casual conversation and refreshments to personally connect with & continue conversations with attendees.

After lunch on day one, a bare-footed Catherine presented a vital section on social media, something Steph, Jasmine and I were able to assist other women in the room to connect to, and understand the various social media avenues. The isolation of our rural societies was in the past, a major issue and blockade in the quest for farmers to connect with each other and consumers, thanks to the development of the internet and social media we now have the opportunity to be heard in our cities and have our issues recognised and addressed; we have a voice and united we can achieve great things as we have seen particularly over this past month.

I walked away from the Influential Women’s workshop very proud of our rural women, the Art4Agriculture program and with a virtual schoolbag of skills and knowledge I will be able to apply to various sectors of my personal and professional life. The networking of talented and driven women at the workshop and the guidance of Catherine who makes herself unreservedly available to workshop alumni, made the Influential Women’s workshop a very worthwhile way to spend my first two days of uni holidays and I highly recommend the workshops to women of all ages, abilities and industries, you will gain friendships and knowledge guaranteed.

and this from Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion Steph Fowler

Over the years I have done personality profiling type exercises and have long known that I am an extreme extravert, intuitive, thinker, perceiver or ENTP in Myers Briggs. While I have known what it means for my personal strengths and benefits, I haven’t seen how to apply this knowledge in a social context. Until the Influential Woman’s workshop in Holbrook that is. During the Myers Briggs session at the workshop, once we had all figured out our personality types, Catherine divided us into opposing types for the different sections and gave us a task which highlighted the differences. For me this opened up a whole new world where suddenly I can identify what I can do for other people to help them get what they need out of a situation rather than just allowing my own personality to dominate, objectify and focus on the big picture. The Myers Briggs personality type was one session out of many that provided not only the knowledge but also enabled us to apply it within our context and to things that were relevant to us. I gained so much out of this applied approach to the sessions and after spending two days with some of my fellow country woman who are all amazing in their own right, I am now more empowered and motivated than ever.

Catherine and the rural women who attend her workshops and the Young Farming Champions inspire me to get out of bed everyday, block the detractors from my mind and celebrate change. I salute you  all



Sue Middleton nurturing people who feed people

I recently was lucky enough to catch up with the remarkable Sue Middleton twice in a period of four weeks.  Sue was the “RIRDC Australian Rural Woman of the Year 2010” and farms with her husband Michael in the Wongan Hills In WA.

Sue and I share a similar passion and commitment to drive change in agriculture. Sue is particularly committed to building capacity in rural women and me in our young people.

Sue is heavily into making a difference, where it counts, at policy level. According to Sue ‘Policy is a dark beast, untraceable. to influence policy and make a difference you have to learn the skills – it takes patience and tenacity.’ Mentored by Cathy McGowan who Sue’s says ‘taught me the value of pinpointing what makes a difference to the people you want to convince to help you solve your particular issue. If you want results, discover what engages your audience, find where that intersects with what you’re after and speak to that.’

Sue’s commitment runs in the family and her daughter Lizzie Brennan together with Catherine Marriott has recently set up Influential Women to ‘recognise the inherent power women have as natural communicators and seek to nourish their infinite potential’ Lizzie and Catherine custom design training to draw upon the strengths of women and build their skills and confidence in communicating their unique story.     

Sue Middleton Jenni Hawkins Lynne Strong and Lucinda Corrigan

Sue Middleton, Jenni Hawkins, me and Lucinda Corrigan at CCRSPI conference in November 2012

We first featured Sue as part of our Art4Agriculture case studies in 2010. See here. Today I want to share with you what she had to say when asked the question ‘What do I wish non-farmers and the Australian Government understood about farming?” as part Fleur McDonald’s 52 Farmers in 52 Weeks series for Australian Year of the Farmer. Read it in full here  

What do I wish non-farmers and the Australian Government understood about farming?” 

Sue answered …….

Firstly that what we do is really risky and we are at the mercy of weather.  That means that not every product we produce will look the same. Oranges with a blemish on their skin are just as good as fruit without a blemish on it.  Blemish is caused by wind – it’s a very natural part of fruit.  Learn to eat fruit and food that doesn’t look perfect but is identical in every characteristic that impacts your health!   This one shopping habit alone will save you dollars in your pocket.

We are wasting 50% of the food we produce in Australia. We don’t need cheaper food – we need to stop taking good productive energy and turning it into waste!  If people focused a little bit more on reducing the food waste from their homes, they would find their food bills dropping dramatically.

Buy as direct as you can- each week take one product that you consume and find a way of purchasing it as directly from a farmer as possible.  Start reading labels  – be ferocious in your food stores – demand locally produced food where you know the food production standards are high.  You have all the power – exercise it – start reading food labels and start checking where food comes from.  We do supermarket checks regularly and supermarkets frequently label fresh food incorrectly and say it comes from WA when it really comes from interstate – check the labeling and challenge the stores to be more accurate.

The government needs to understand the huge impact of policy changes.  The banning of live trade to Indonesia has rippled through WA agriculture and caused huge impact not just on northern Australian cattle farmers.  We now have $500k of straw in our paddocks we can’t sell because the bottom fell out of the pellet market.  The knock on effect of decisions like the cessation of the trade has been gigantic.  The government doesn’t pick up that tab, and they need to be VERY cognizant of the impact of their decision making.   We do not need them to add to our market risks.

Finally I would like people to know we are in a very technical game. It is very science driven and we utilize all knowledge we can to improve our sustainability constantly.  Looking after the land and our animals is a priority for us.  But we are in a marginal game and we are unprotected in the world markets competing against countries that are highly subsidized.  It is not a level playing field in this globe!  To keep our noses ahead we need more investment in research, development and most importantly extension so we can keep learning and driving our businesses productivity and profitability further.

And what does Sue love about being a farmer?

It is great to drive around the crops doing a crop-run when they are growing well.  There is no greater pleasure than growing a great crop.  Conversely in the dry years it can be tough when the rain doesn’t come and the crops get compromised.  It is also very satisfying to see our animals grow well and we love to see them in good condition. 

Growing things is what we love.