It was my first Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network conference. It was the 20th year since the organisation began. It was also 20 years since I had been in central western Queensland. Much had changed. As had my appreciation of the many issues facing agriculture today. From the politics within the industry and its leadership to the corporatisation of the sector, pressures from competing land uses and greater consumer expectation of responsible production.
The theme of the conference was ‘women with heart, passion and purpose’. While familiar with industry conferences, this conference was personal. It spoke to and sought to give women working in the many facets of agriculture the confidence and support to speak on behalf of their industry, their communities and their families.
Now based in Sydney, the welcome I received was unexpected. The conference theme was evident everywhere. In my welcome and towards my two young sons. With my eldest kindly hosted by Blackall State School, our involvement with the community, albeit briefly, was very much practical and purposeful. It made connections and a lasting impression.
There were many heartfelt and powerful presentations from successful women working in agriculture. Their journeys, whether professional or personal, had not always been easy. A capacity to overcome, collaborate, be generous and talk of these experiences was a common among all. The Governor of Queensland spoke widely, was considered and positive. She talked of her experiences in international relations where each role she was appointed to had never previously been held by a woman. Equally throughout the conference attendees spoke of their experiences, challenges and plans as farmers, community leaders and individuals. While many of the conversations I had were very personal, the messages were equally powerful. What I saw at the conference was a confident expectation that the time for women to take and be more widely recognised in leadership roles locally and nationally would be up to the women themselves to secure. With that awareness, the emphasis to extend and develop networks and strengthen the support base, including with those outside like me, was clearly evident.
There are times in your life when you hear messages that you know you have heard but may have forgotten or you need to be reminded of them. This conference did that for me. What stood out was the passion these women shared for agriculture. Their advocacy dedication and collective ambition was inspirational. It responded directly to the need to engage at a local and national level to address the political and consumer expectations facing agriculture. It was also clear that this voice remains largely unrepresented.
This time will come. It is of course supported by members of this Network and its conference. It is also enabled through technology where making connections and influencing others is helping collective action become easier. The industry’s geographic, ideological and structural boundaries will be shifted and will change. It gives me confidence for the future of Australian agriculture, particularly the opportunity this creates for a more representative, inclusive and balanced industry voice. A voice that is reasoned, reasonable and responsible.