AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award speech

11 September 2019

It’s great to be able to attend this event, to hear the great stories of all the finalists and to meet all those who are passionate about supporting them on their journey—which is everyone in this room today.

It’s such an honour to be able to join you tonight and to celebrate the enormous contribution that women make to Australia’s rural industries and communities, and it’s great to see the president of the NFF Fiona Simpson, Kay Hull and I could go on, and on, and on, every single table here tonight is full of people that deserve worthy recognition for backing women’s role in rural and regional communities and agriculture. 

In the words of the great Beyoncé, “Who run the world? Girls! Girls, girls” that’s what she said. For nearly two decades the AgriFutures Australia Rural Women’s awards have celebrated our amazing rural and regional women and it’s great to see so many past winners in the room tonight. 

I’m in awe of the impact that our ladies have on our communities and our industries, these awards have been going for two decades but rural Australian women, for centuries, have been demonstrating their innovative spirit, drive and influence to benefit their industries and their broader communities.

I want to share with you all tonight the story of one such woman, Myra Juliet Farrell. She was born in Ireland and migrated to Australia as a child in the 1880’s living in Broken Hill, Adelaide, Western Australia and finally Mosman.

She was an inventor. She like so many women would identify a problem, sleep on it and then somehow discover a solution.

At the age of 10 she came up with the idea of the self-locking safety pin. She invented a folding clothes line as well as some kind of mechanical facelift that sounds less appealing to use.

She was also responsible for the invention of a corset that provided support without the requirement for painful stays—she was all about solving women’s problems of the time it sounds like.

In her 79 years she developed more than two dozen patents—from military through to medicinal.

But the reason I mention her tonight is because she was also responsible for some amazing innovations in the agriculture sector. She invented an automated fruit picker and packer, and a device for sampling and weighing wheat.

She may not be a household name but she serves as the very definition of inventiveness and industriousness—and quite possibly a worthy recipient had the Rural Women’s Awards been around back then in 1906.

I love this quote from the Western Age paper published in Dubbo in 1915. “That Trite phrase “A prophet hath no glory in his own land” was never so strikingly illustrated as in the case of Mrs. Myra Juliet Farrell. This remarkable little lady might justly claim to be the most versatile woman in the Commonwealth, yet she dwells in our midst unknown, almost in obscurity.”

Well these awards give us the opportunity to stop, to look, and to celebrate what women are able to achieve. No longer are amazing, versatile, remarkable women dwelling in the unknown. We are now able to celebrate their, and your achievements.

But these awards are more than just that. Prior to becoming Minister for Agriculture I was the Minister for Sport. 

Women’s sport is definitely going through an exciting golden era, and I loved meeting the young women who aspired to be the next Australian Diamond, the next Ash Barty, and I was constantly reminded that “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Young women are flocking to fields, to pools, to beaches, to tennis courts to actually emulate these fabulous women whether it’s the Diamonds, the Matildas or the Southern Stars. We need the young women of Australia to harness and to see these young women in the agricultural industry in the same way, and to contribute to its growth in development over the coming decade. That is your role here—everyone in this room—to be that role model for the next generation.

It’s an ambitious target of a $100 billion sector by 2030 but achievable if we all work together. We in this rom need to inspire the next generation, our government’s been focusing on developing STEM education—particularly for young women. 

Agriculture is so much more than sheering sheep and riding tractors—but we all do love that kind of stuff as well—it’s working to implement the new system to track livestock on a farm, a Fitbit for sheep. It’s working to influence and educate the way our industries network with one another through Trust in Ag Champions. It’s promoting the value of our biosecurity system to send healthy, clean and virile bees to the world—I’m also hoping to dump a whole lot of not virile fruit flies in a town near you soon to try and solve that problem—It’s pioneering smart technology to save costs and improve production output. It’s creating a toolkit to resource community and volunteer groups. It’s encouraging, educating and mentoring the next generation of beekeepers—because there are no barriers to beekeeping. It’s working to connect businesses with talented professionals living across regional Australia.

I want our rural women to aspire to be the next CEO of a RDC, the next president of a farming association or maybe even the next female Federal Agriculture Minister—Not in this parliament, let’s wait a little bit for that one, I have a bit to do.

Women currently make up 32 per cent of the agricultural workforce, and this one just kills me, 25 years ago women couldn’t list farmer as their profession—it’s outrageous! I’m the first generation off the farm, and I was born off the farm because my grandfather had two daughters, anyway things have definitely changed thank goodness.

Female representation across agricultural boards is now at 46.7 per cent—that’s an increase of 9.4 per cent since December 2017, and the highest it has ever been.

Sometimes we always talk about the negative, but we have to actually realise we have come leaps and bounds, we need to be proud of that. We’re on the right trajectory, encourage each other to keep going, and again as Beyoncé implied it’s not that we will take over the world it’s that everyone might find out we’ve always run it.

As I draw this to a close I want to loop back to how I started tonight.

I know how tough things are out there for many of the people in this room and many of your communities. I think if the projections are correct we’re all going to be in for a tough summer.

I want to congratulate the hundreds and thousands of rural women who just get on with the job raising families, running businesses, working hard caring for neighbours supporting their social clubs and keeping an eye on the future. 

Its women who work as equal partners in farming businesses it’s always been the partners who make a strategic and tactical decisions alongside their husbands.

Our rural women leaders have always been resilient, innovative, hard-working and capable advocates for their communities. That’s why initiatives like the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award are so important—it’s an investment in all of our future—those who live, work, raise families and support rural and regional Australia. It recognises the previous achievements of women like Myra, current achievements of women like Belinda, Deanna, Claire, Anh, Zoe, Natasha and Jo. It recognises women’s contribution, passion and leadership in primary industries and rural communities. It’s important because it gives the mentoring and also the financial resources and support for state winners to turn their visions into reality.

This leadership incubator is a real positive for the industry—a good reminder to all of us that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, let’s just get on with it.

Thank you.