Career decisions – How did you make them ?

I am currently on a journey with UNSW students who are part of a Global Consulting Group initiative to support agriculture to attract the best and the brightest

I am curious what drove your career decision pathways?

I remember in Year 11 at my rural high school  I had early entry into a Arts Law degree at ANU – not a profession I had a genuine interest in but it was a signal of what was possible

Far too many young Australians from Rural and Regional and Remote OZ don’t get these signals.

Its time for us all to step up and say ensuring “equity and excellence” is our joint responsibility



How does agriculture as a career choice reach the hearts and minds of young people (and their parents)

In an ideal world agriculture as a career pathway would have equal opportunity as any other sector to reach the hearts and minds of young people (and their parents – particularly important for 1st generation Australians)

School-to-work pathways have changed dramatically and traditional routes to work have been described as irrelevant (FYA, 2018)

The journey of young people through education into the world of work and the influences on their planning and decision making, including aspirations, sources of information and formal, school-based career education is a complex web to encounter.

Just getting in the school door can be very challenging for all sectors not just agriculture

Agriculture does have some very successful initiatives including the Action4Agriculture suite of programs Kreative Koalas and The Archibull Prize

Our secret herb and spice is our Young Farming Champions ( they know how to change hearts and minds)

Others that come to mind are Cows Create Careers run by Jaydee Events and Australian Wool Innovation’s suite of programs that introduce young people to the world of working with wool

As this graphic highlights agriculture needs to attract a very diverse workforce in the next ten years. I am excited to be working with a team of bright young minds at University of NSW through a partnership with the Global Consulting Group to come up with innovative ways we can attract the best and brightest into careers in Research, Development, Innovation and IT

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I met the team last week and we started our relationship by getting to know each other and our motivations. All of the team are either engineering students or science/commerce students and none have an agricultural background.

The students are supported by an expert from Accenture

I think I am going to learn a great deal and we can get a win:win for everyone

The Global Consulting Group (GCG) is a charity which provides pro-bono consulting services to other charities and not-for-profits.

We do this by connecting university students with experienced professionals who then work together to solve business problems for other  charities, combining the energy and passion of today’s youth with the experience and wisdom of our industry leaders.

The organisation currently has more than 150 volunteers across several locations in Australia and has completed over 150 projects for clients such  as the United Nations, Tedx, Our Big Kitchen and Shelterbox. GCG is sponsored by Bain and Monitor Deloitte, and has informal partnerships with  a range of reputed consulting firms.



Quiet achievers who inspire – thank you Sara Leonardi-McGrath

Woman who inspire – Sara Leonardi-McGrath with YFC Richie Quigley  

I am looking forward to watching Australian Story this week

Sara Leonardi McGrath reached out to me in 2012 wanting to learn more about what our organisation did and what we were hoping to achieve

I remember meeting her in a café in Paddington and listening to her story and getting insights into what drove her

  1. No 1 was her new family
  2. No 2 was young people  everywhere having agency and voice 

I am totally in awe of women like Sara who have the capacity to fulfil the dream of those who came before them and put one foot in front of the other to bring their vision for a better world to fruition

The ten years following our partnership with Sara has taught me a lot. The most important thing I have learnt is we cant do it alone and we can do it in silos. We must join forces, share resources, skills and knowledge

How can we all work better together to ensure young people’s voices are heard ?

Are the entitled having the important conversations – What is enough ??????

When some-one challenges life as you know it, it gives you an opportunity to reflect on whether you want to support the status quo or step up and say its time to embrace a future focused model.

When we have the capacity to ask ourselves “what is enough” only then can we support and enable next gen Australians to envision a future we all want to be part of.

I invite all of my readers to read this report from Learning Creates Australia and ask ourselves are we setting next gen up for success and if not who is going to put their hand up and lobby for change


Agriculture and the “Leaders are Born Mindset” – why has it become part of our identity?

Its been a week of getting my confidence back by stepping up and saying yes to podcasts and interviews

Tonight I get to share my thoughts on leadership

Here is my leadership thought dump of other people’s ideas that resonate with me

Leadership is a process of influence to drive change

We can’t do it alone and we can do it in silos

We must join forces, share resources, skills, knowledge and experiences. Source Julie McAlpin RDA Sydney

I workshopped below with a number of bright minds who came to agriculture from the world beyond and put their toes in the water and went wow the disruptors are very brave people

Agriculture tends to have a “Leaders are Born Mindset”

This has been driven by agriculture’s traditional patriarchal culture where the first born son inherits the farm. This concept has been perpetuated for centuries.

It is a very deep-seated generational identity culture.

In this country women were not allowed to call themselves farmers in the census until 1994

In a sector where you are rewarded for learning to fit in and NOT challenge the status quo we are asking people to re-identify who we are as an industry and as people

Asking people to embrace the concept of “Leaders are Made” will be frightening for a lot of people

This has led to our traditional leadership programs being one off events with no clear pathway of what could be next

These programs are seen as “vehicles” to expose the “born leaders” and position them to fulfil their birth destiny.

and now to the work of the team from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership – Harvard Kennedy School 

How glorious is this concept

Leadership is an experimental art. We are all at the frontier.

Think of your life as a leadership laboratory. In that laboratory, you are continuously facing opportunities for learning how to be more effective in living a meaningful existence, and for making more progress on life’s deepest purposes and leading meaningful change.

Seeing life as a leadership lab enables you to try things out, make mistakes, strengthen your skills, and take pleasure in the journey as well as the fruits of your labour.

This from conversations with our wonderful Young Farming Champions

There is no one size fits all

Young people are doing it differently, the business model has changed

We don’t want to be part of “Old codgers organisations”

We want to ensure young people have a seat at the table

We want to ensure their voices are heard and valued

We can be shapers of “what might we be together”

Back to the brains trust that is the Adaptive Leadership team

The tools and tactics for leading adaptive change should be treated, we believe, in the same spirit as open source technology, made broadly available, so that people who lead adaptive change can learn from each other and improve their skills, and all of us improve our insights into practice.

Leadership for change demands inspiration and perspiration.

We present tools and tactics to lead and stay alive, to build up a sweat by inspiring others, to mobilize people to tackle tough problems while reaching high.

Our work begins with the assumption that there is no reason to exercise leadership, to have a courageous conversation with a boss or a spouse, for example, or to take a risk on a new idea, unless you care about something deeply. What outcome would make the effort and the risk worthwhile?

Trying to create something better from the current reality.

Growing tomorrow’s leaders today moving from reactive to future focused leadership

The practice of leadership, like the practice of medicine, involves two core processes:

  • diagnosis first and then
  • action.

 And those two processes unfold in two dimensions: toward the organizational or social system you are operating in and toward yourself. That is, you diagnose what is happening in your organization or community and take action to address the problems you have identified.

But to lead effectively, you also have to examine and take action toward yourself in the context of the challenge. In the midst of action, you have to be able to reflect on your own attitudes and behaviour to better calibrate your interventions into the complex dynamics of organizations and communities.

You need perspective on yourself as well as on the systemic context in which you operate. The process of diagnosis and action begins with data collection and problem identification (the what), moves through an interpretive stage (the why) and on to potential approaches to action as a series of interventions into the organization, community, or society (the what next).

Typically, the problem-solving process is iterative, moving back and forth among data collection, interpretation, and action.

Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.

Making progress requires going beyond any authoritative expertise to mobilize discovery, shedding entrenched ways, learning from mistakes, and generating the new capacity to thrive anew.

Just love people who wake up everyday to help us create a better world 


Advocacy at its worst – when agriculture chooses the divide and conquer route to market

When I got my latest email from the Australian Farm Institute this week  advertising their upcoming conference I couldn’t take it anymore and hit the unsubscribe  button

Our agri-politicans are a great example of how broken our political system is. Like our federal politicians they tend to follow the Allan Jones model and appeal to the prejudices of the masses

“The argumentum ad populum used in democratic political rhetoric can make political argumentation appear to be reason-based when it is not and subvert and undermine reason-based deliberation in democratic political argumentation.”(Douglas Walton, “Criteria of Rationality for Evaluating Democratic Public Rhetoric,” Talking Democracy, ed. by B. Fontana et al. Penn State, 2004)

Its the “them and us” model where farmers are pitched as victims,  and our state farming organisations are our white knights.

As an example when Agforce deleted their data  and lost their credibility in government they decided a roadshow with Peter Ridd was their advocacy model

Its too easy and so lazy to choose to pander to audiences by telling them what you think they want to hear.

This is not advocacy, this divide and conquer and it makes me cringe. Its time to rethink what advocacy looks like because Australian agriculture has some very serious human rights issues we should have addressed a long time ago.

We do have a choice

We can all work together and build a better world or we can focus on bettering our world

Who would you put on the podium if you wanted to hear from people who do advocacy well?

Beside the three very courageous women in the video above some names that come to mind for me

Cows Milk without cows. The birthplace of the Australian dairy industry is stepping up to answer the big questions.

The birthplace of the Australian dairy industry is stepping up to answer the big questions.

What will our rolling green hills look like in 50 years time if cellular agriculture means we can have all the nutrition cows’ milk provides without the cows ?

What will the view from my front verandah look like without the cows?

As a sixth generation dairy farmer this concept seems so far fetched but then so did the smart phone twenty years ago

We have a new council. They plan to make protection of rural lands a pillar. But what are we protecting the land from?

Is the science going to decide for us or are the property developers with deep pockets?

Where does the native flora and fauna fit into all of this?

We have an amazing opportunity to have our voices heard as part of the community consultation process for the new Local Environmental Plan.

I look forward to hearing the community’s hopes and dreams for the future

And what of our dairy farmers and the cows. What does Just Transition look like?

Me – I feel so passionately about Sam Archer’s vision I nominated hm for the 2014 Bob Hawke Landcare Award. Sam was runner up and like me retired from farming. Does that allow us to have the best of both worlds – inside and outside perspectives?

Social Media can be a blessing and a curse – celebrating the blessings

Last Friday I got to spend 4 hours with the administrator of our local   community’s Facebook page

Jamberoo local Alan Smith ensures our community page is one where kindness is our first priority   

I have been watching this page with awe – somehow or other our community had managed to create something beautiful.  Something the rest of the world aspires to  – Kindness

I had personally benefited from this community so many times – the shock of my beautiful personal trainer deciding suicide was her only option to people rallying when Mr Fox decided my beloved chooks should be feeding his/her/they  family

I had taken in strays, whether its the Kelpie from up the road who thinks the menu is more exciting at my  house to feral cats who either feed themselves on the wildlife or what you have on your verandah.

A fortnight ago I left the door open as I do regularly these days as my orphan shadow is a little bit too grateful I have changed her life and my front and back doors are bearing the brunt of her being left out to discover there was a little red dog in my kitchen eating my cat food.

My tiny little feral friend  hangs on the door till I see her little face 

And he/she/they was still there when I went to have a shower

and we have these interlopers who want what we have – the things that greet you in the shower. The little red dog was definitely less frightening than the python or so I thought. Yes, us people people who live in paradise must learn to live with the wildlife    

I am thinking my beautiful neighbor Robin has a gorgeous  little red dog and she has come to visit but Robin was nowhere to be seen when I went to greet her

So I  let my latest hungry orphan go only to look out the window and see her chasing my chickens. Then the funniest thing happened when my shadows followed me outside to investigate this conundrum

The little red dog became more interested in them. After making sure my chickens were safe I followed the barking.

From the big smile of how my rescue cats took control of this current scenario  I just knew my team had our little community’s  back

They were saying everybody is safe and we are a team

How does this relate to our community Facebook page. I knew I could put this little dog’s picture on our Facebook page and this little dog would be back with its family in 30 minutes

One can hope and dream for great outcomes.

What drives you? I remember too vividly the disaster that was my parents marriage and how my father’s involvement in APEX gave us a short term sense of normality.

The one thing I am truly proud of is when you join the Young Farming Champions  you are part of community that is there for you for life

The ripple effects when good people do nothing

As I made very obvious in my previous post I am not a fan of people who operate like Barnaby Joyce

My experience  was just a small example of the behavior of politicians who believe they are all powerful

More than 10 years ago an extraordinary young woman who had been identified as a leading light sat at my kitchen table and told me her hopes and dreams.

When she told me all the people she was going to introduce herself to I cringed when she mentioned Barnaby Joyce’s name. Age gives you a wisdom you wish you could share with the world.

Catherine Marriott deserved better. We all deserve better. Its time to select people to represent us we can all be proud off.

Its time to stand up for everything that is good in this world

Show Catherine Marriot her courage matters. Vote for people with your values

The importance of speaking your truth

Watching Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, being inspired by Cathy McGowan and her sister Ruth and politicians living their values like Helen Haines and Bridget Archer I am getting more and more courage to be honest about how tough it can be when you make the decision not to learn to fit in

To support our  Young Farming Champions and ensure their voices are heard over the past few years I have recommended they take my place when I get requests to do conference presentations or interviews .

I realised I had lost confidence when I was the only one who could take up this opportunity from Channel 7 .

I was smiling when I saw it.  It was a great reminder you cant always control the message.  Watch where this sentence gets tweaked “I love the science and technology and my family just loves milking cows”

To get my confidence back I have been accepting a few more interview opportunities as long as they promise to interview a Young Farming Champion as well.

Just like the Channel 7 team the majority of journalists will do a very thorough background on you and you can make it easy for them to do minimal edits by being prepared.

In my case no matter how much I say I want to talk about the work I do now, everybody wants to talk about my farming background.

That’s not easy for me to do these days.  Yesterday I got a request to be part of the media for 10 year celebration of the Bob Hawke Landcare Award and the request really hit a nerve.

Awards can be a blessing and a curse. They can put you on a pedestal or they can put you in a cage

Winning the inaugural Bob Hawke Landcare Award  was the most extraordinary night of my life. The team in the Dept of Agriculture Water and Environment (as its now called) had put together the most extraordinary prize package. There was a  large cash prize, personal and professional development opportunities and invitations to be part of a blue sky visioning think tank. When I won the award the Labor Party were in government, 8 months later the LNP where in government and Barnaby Joyce was Minister for Agriculture. He took away everything but the cash prize. I was devastated.

I had only been back in agriculture less than a decade when all these opportunities came along. I had so much to learn,  it was happening and then Barnaby Joyce and his wrecking ball came along and crushed my spirit. I resonated with Grace -yesterday. The poor bureaucrats, the phone calls kept coming in “Minister Joyce would like you to resign from this committee” and the next day another bureaucrat would ring up apologizing asking me to resign from something else. I stood my ground I refused to resign to find all the opportunities no longer existed. It wasn’t just me, there were lots of other people getting similar calls.

On the farm my family were exhausted from keeping the farm spotless for the never-ending stream of visitors and media.

Its takes a lot of work to milk 300 plus cows and turn around and put on a function like this 3 hours later 

They were very hurt by the strange reaction from the industry we got up every day to promote. Just going down the street to get groceries was something to avoid

“ah the greenies from the hill are in town”

The dairy industry values quiet achievers – its rewards people who learn to fit in. It prides itself on the level of science and technology in the industry

Yes, it has a high level of science and technology but only 20% of farmers know how to collect the data and analyse it and use it to make on farm decisions

It’s the cotton industry that uses science and technology at a very high level

The dairy industry has a lot to be proud of that it doesn’t talk about ( or it didn’t then)

Our dairy farmers were the first to practice regen farming

They were the first to use cell grazing

The first to fence off their water ways and put water troughs in all their paddocks

They were the first to become gurus of growing water efficient and fertiliser efficient grasses

The animal genetics and animal nutrition knowledge is incredible. Australian dairy cows have doubled their capacity to produce milk in the last 50 years.

Slide Credit Dr Jo Newton

The reduction in green house gas emissions per litre of milk produced is  definitely something to shout from the roof tops.

Our farm was talking about things, that didn’t appear to be on the Australian dairy industry’s radar to have conversations about at that time. In reality we probably didn’t stand out from the crowd we had just done the sums

What have I learnt from this experience?

I have learnt being in the spotlight is a lot of pressure, its very important to have an inner circle that supports you. Its very important the organisations handing out awards have a pastoral care package in place. I learnt it would be wonderful if we all learnt to be a little kinder to the people we put on pedestals