25 November 2022

Harden district women take farming in their strides

| Sally Hopman
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The NSW Farmers Harden/Boorowa branch executive, from left, Nikki Burton-Taylor, Elke Cleverdon, Christie de Mestre, Bronwyn Ryan, and Wendy Bowman get down to business. Photo: Supplied.

Women, says Boorowa farmer Bronwyn Ryan, make things happen. So when she was approached about chairing the Harden/Boorowa branch of the NSW Farmers Association, the state’s peak rural body, she didn’t have to think about it for too long.

Most of her thinking time was taken up with which women she should ask to join her.

“It wasn’t like we’d decided not to have any men on board,” she said, “it was just that with women, I knew we would get things done.”

Today, Bronwyn is chair of the branch executive in the Hilltops Region of NSW near Canberra, supported by her fellow branch members, Elke Cleverdon (vice-chair), Nikki Burton-Taylor (vice-chair), Christie de Mestre (treasurer), and Wendy Bowman (secretary).

Between them, the women boast the most diverse of skills: agribusiness administration, livestock/grazing management and music (Bronwyn); accountant, company director, banking, farming, counselling, financial and succession planning (Elke); the law – specifically risk and corporate governance, agricultural exports, education, financial services and agribusiness (Nikki); agribusiness, dry land cropping, merinos and fat lambs, fashion and textiles (Christie); and mixed farming, health and human resources, injury management, workplace safety, counselling and conflict resoluton (Wendy).

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“All these women have different skills they bring to the party,” Bronwyn said. “It is not necessary for us to agree on everything in matters of policy in fact it’s better to have different points of view.”

Most of the women weren’t born on the land and have come to farming through their partners, but the passion they now have for it seems to know no bounds.

“I’m a ring-in, I’ve only been a farmer for 24 years,” Bronwyn joked. Originally from Adelaide, Bronwyn said she got her first taste of country life when she and her husband Matthew moved to Dalby in Queensland after getting married. “That was a bit of a culture shock,” she said. “Learning not to say the wrong thing, not offend people. So by the time we got to Harden, I already had a taste of country communities.

“I got involved in the Arts Council early on to meet people and then I started teaching piano so I got to know a lot of people through that.”

But it wasn’t until their two daughters, Jessica and Annabelle, went to boarding school that she really started working solidly on the farm.

Four people

Bronwyn and Matthew Ryan with their daughters Jessica and Annabelle – farming is family business. Photo: Supplied.

“Up until then, I had helped Matthew. But then I learned how to drive the truck, the tractor and the header. I’d never done sheep work so I started doing mustering. I did lots of courses to learn how to monitor livestock and pastures.”

There was only one job she refused then, and now, to do – drive the big boom spray. But it’s OK, her daughters, who have been driving farm machinery since their legs were long enough to reach the pedals, are happy to oblige.

Bronwyn said she was thrilled her daughters wanted to stay on the land, only too aware that it’s not always the way with farm families.

“Our girls know no other life,” she said. “Jessica has always wanted to come back to the farm, she’s never detoured from that – she’s keen to run the empire,” Bronwyn joked, “while Annabelle is doing a course in international business she’s also keen on the business and marketing side of it.

“I’m proud to have paved the way for my girls to take up a career in agriculture.”

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Bronwyn said of all her time on the land, it was during drought that she learned the most. “Droughts really do teach you a lot,” she said. “When you’re hand-feeding animals all the time, you learn so much about them.”

It was also the best time, she said, for farmers to look out for one another.

“One thing I am really passionate about,” she said, “is safety on the farm and mental health. Our focus, as women, is doing things for the community – we’ve already funded some first aid courses – the idea is to have safety workshops where we can bring people together. Show them that they’re not alone.

“Mental health can affect so many things – it is underlying for everything we do. If you’re not feeling great, everything suffers. If things are crap, you need someone you can talk to – it doesn’t have to be a counsellor, you just need a network so we can look after each other. It’s a matter of noticing that someone may not be coping.”

NSW Farmers welcomes new members. More information is available on the website.

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