It was during the height of the drought between 2017 and 2020 when I met Carolina Merriman.
She’d recently been elected as the first female chair of the NSW Farmers Yass Branch and convinced me to interview local farmers about how they were changing tactics through the heat, including alarm clocks set to 4 am and shearing sheds reconfigured.
Thursday, 24 January, 2019, was a broiling, cloudless day and Carolina and I set about visiting properties where she’d organised for me to do interviews. What struck me most was her age. At 26, she was carrying a 10-month-old baby on her hip, plus the weight of helping manage two properties along with her newly elected role.
Carolina took it all in her stride, as she does today, but with even more responsibility. As well as being the NSW Farmers Yass Branch chair and single mum to three-year-old Arabella, Carolina has taken on the management of her family’s farm, and a job at Elders.
She’s an inspiration to women in agriculture and to young ones climbing the rungs, which is exactly Carolina’s intention.
“My long-term dreams and hopes are to continue to encourage women to use their voices to be heard to be able to stay safe, to feel supported and to take on more leadership roles,” she says.
Like most kids on rural properties, Carolina was checking fence lines with her father, Michael ‘Bimbo’ Merriman, before she could walk.
“I’ve been on my parents’ farm since I was a baby,” she says. “I remember from a very young age being taught how to drive while feeding stock and steer, while dad would be following a fence line.
“To this day, I will never forget when he didn’t think the electric fence was working so grabbed it and went flying. I laughed so hard, I forgot to steer the ute!
“Luckily, we were in a very straight, flat, long paddock.”
Carolina is the fifth generation of a family synonymous with sheep farming in the Yass district, beginning with George Merriman, who founded Ravensworth Stud in 1865 and Merryville Stud in 1903.
Bimbo is George’s great-grandson and he runs superfine merinos and some cattle at ‘Fifeshire’, on the edge of Burrinjuck Dam in Good Hope, 15 minutes from Yass.
Bimbo never thought twice about involving Carolina in the day-to-day operations of the property and is proud to see her continue his legacy.
“Mum would always say I would go back to school to have a holiday as school holidays were always the busiest on the farm,” says Carolina. “I was there to help and work long, hard days and big hours. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Dad has every respect that anyone can do anything, no matter their gender.”
Carolina joined the show cattle team as a child and pushed to study agricultural subjects that weren’t on offer at her school, but her teachers agreed to facilitate them to keep her in the classroom.
At 18 years of age, she left Yass for six years to work on isolated and large cattle stations in the Northern Territory and Queensland before returning home to help manage ‘Fifeshire’.
Working with animals and being outside is Carolina’s happy place, and she’s committed to a life in the Australian agricultural industry despite its challenges.
“It’s high-risk and very hard work at times, but it can be so rewarding – the people, the landscape, the challenge of managing such a complex business,” she says.
“I really like the emerging focus on business, personal resilience and sustainability – we need to continue to improve our farming sustainability and continue to show society how Australian farmers produce the best food and fibre.”
Carolina’s passion has seen her go above and beyond for the local farming community, running Q Fever vaccination clinics, advocating for women’s safety on the land, establishing a local weeds committee, and hosting breakfasts and dinners to boost morale.
It’s why Carolina won a NSW Rural Women’s Scholarship for Future Women in 2021, was nominated for the First National Real Estate Leadership Award 2021, and was named on the Hidden Treasures Honour Roll 2020.
“I really wanted to be branch chair to show our community I can make a difference,” she says.
“I may be a female, but my voice is just as important as anyone else’s. My passion to help farmers and connect farmers is what drives me to do my best. We have such a great community of farmers in the Yass district.”
However, Carolina’s unwavering commitment always comes back to supporting women, which includes Arabella as the eighth generation on ‘Fifeshire’.