Story telling from Australia
The two women I met this week, one on a dairy farm three hours west of Melbourne, another on a sheep farm two hours north, sought neither power nor glory in their lives, yet each radiates exceptional strength, energy and authority.
Roma never wanted to be a farmer she wanted to marry a farmer. She ended up marrying a shearer, and husband Glenn was away shearing for weeks or months at a time while Roma worked as nurse. The arrival of their third child was the catalyst for Glenn to give up shearing and turn to share farming, the first step on the road to buying their own farm, or so they hoped. In spite of assiduously saving money they were told repeatedly that they would never be able to afford it. ‘You might as well settle for working on someone else’s farm,’ said bank manager after bank manager. That’s the kind of comment that spurs Roma on.
She and Glenn took out a loan, bought a farm and rebuilt the dairy from scratch. They now have four children, three farms and they milk 1,000 cows. Four years ago Roma was voted Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, then Australian Rural Woman of the Year, and she won a coveted Nuffield Scholarship to study farming practices around the world. She has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the Victorian dairy industry by participating on various Boards, including the West Vic Dairy, Australian Dairy Farmers and United Dairy Farmers of Victoria, but she would never trumpet her own achievements. She is mindful of the responsibility that rests on her shoulders and always wonders if there might not be someone else better suited to the job. I find that unlikely.
When I arrived at Cath Marriott’s farm, Yarallah, I felt exhausted from two days of intensive interviews followed by a five-hour drive from Roma and Glenn’s place. All I wanted to do was drop my bags and fall asleep…then Cath started talking. Within minutes I was captivated by her energy – a positive, life affirming force that picked me up and carried me along. When Cath showed me around the farm it was like being plugged into a power source.
There’s something about Yarallah – the well-fed, visibly contented sheep, the thousands of trees, the grass covered paddocks, the flora, fauna and fast flowing creek – that exudes a tangible energy. Cath was forced to raise four young children on her own when her husband, John, died of cancer, and she never once thought of selling the farm. It’s testament to her parenting, and her exceptional skills as a farmer, that her four children – all now adults – chose to study agricultural science and are all in close contact with their mum. Cath is a glass half-full kind of woman, who sees herself as a custodian of the land, not the owner. Two years ago fire destroyed her home and she is slowly rebuilding it. ‘Out of any dark moment you can find light,’ says Cath.
Both women will be featured in the book I’m writing. I’m already looking forward to writing those chapters.