Kate McDonald has been a farmer in England, a teacher in Australia, a governess in outback Queensland and now works in the world of stud cattle. She loves the community of agriculture, the spirit of the people and believes in the value of coming together for a common goal. She now hopes to inspire people to take the plunge and follow their dreams.
This is Kate’s story….
Some of my earliest memories are from visiting my grandparent’s farm in England, digging potatoes, bottle feeding lambs and bucket feeding calves. Up to our elbows in dirt, my brother and I were eager to help our Grandad with the planting and harvesting of all sorts of vegetables in his garden. Because of the distance we cherished all the time spent with our grandparents and during the few visits when I was a child, any chance we got we were out in the fields with Grandad in his van, checking stock or in the shed helping feed silage to the cattle.
Growing up in a rural community on the Mid North Coast of NSW community events such as Beef Week and the local show were always a great experience. Whether I was watching or taking part, I always enjoyed attending these events. At school agriculture classes, whilst a chore to some, was a lesson I thoroughly enjoyed. Visiting friends’ dairy farms and helping with milking is something I remember fondly.
While many of my friends made the trip from high school to university, I flew half way around the world to England to live with my grandparents on their sheep and cattle farm in Somerset. I worked for a local company that prides itself on the paddock to plate experience and spent eight months packing cheese for supermarkets.
Within my first two weeks in England I was taken to a local Young Farmers meeting. My grandparents were founding members of the local society and my mum, aunty and cousins had all been involved. It was like a rite of passage. With an age range of 10-26 this group of people became my life and I still remain friends with them 12 years later. Young Farmers Club allowed me to develop leadership skills, as I was appointed Chairman of the Club in the summer, despite having only been there for four months.
My grandfather and great-uncle taught us vital stock judging skills that we used to compete against other Young Farmer clubs at the local County Rally. Every week brought new adventures of progressive dinners, tug-of-war competitions, car rallies and horse riding, just to name a few. Sport meets on the weekend saw some of the older members of the group arrive in their tractors, play the game of hockey/soccer/rounders, get back in their tractors and go back to work. The motto of Young Farmers is “you don’t have to be one to be one” and this rang so true. There were farm kids, town kids, city kids and we all just mucked in together and had a good time.
Upon returning to Australia I completed a teaching degree at UNE, Armidale and then taught history and geography for four years. But something was missing. I really wanted to work in the agriculture industry and so decided to make the plunge and take leave from teaching.
After spending a Christmas in the UK and being snowed in at the farm for two weeks I decided that I was more suited to Outback Queensland and took a job as a governess on a cattle station in the Channel Country. Being a large station, there were lots of people to interact with so the isolation was not an issue. When I wasn’t in the school room I was outside tending to my small herd of dorper sheep, helping in the yards or around the compound. I learnt many new skills, not limited to but including horse riding and tailing weaners, cattle yard work, how to fix windmills, generators and busted pipes.
Wherever I went I had my camera with me, documenting this great experience and even blogging about my time so my friends and family could try to see and understand what I was experiencing. Twelve months turned into three years and it was during my second year up north, with the support of my employers and family, that I decided to go return to university and completed a Graduate Certificate in Agribusiness via correspondence.
I truly loved living in the outback. The wide open spaces, the big skies, the changing colours and the sense of community. Whenever there was a local event such as a gymkhana or rodeo, everyone made the effort to attend, even if that meant completing a 1200km round trip. The work is often hard and the days long and the conditions are tough, but having these events to look forward to kept everyone going.
One great initiative that I became involved with is Channel Country Ladies Day, a mental health initiative to bring women together, giving them a break from their daily routine and have a weekend of fine dining and pampering. For some women this was the first time away from their families in years, the first time they had done something for themselves. Many commented on how nice it was to talk to other women face to face and just sit and relax and be looked after.
To help me with my agricultural studies, it was suggested that I apply for the Rural Ambassador Program. Not really sure what I was getting myself in for I applied through the Longreach Show Society and ended up at the Ekka competing at the Queensland State Finals. Being ‘just a govie’ it was a daunting experience meeting industry and state leaders but one that was very rewarding.
I spent a week with nine other like-minded people, people who were as passionate about agriculture as I was and saw a future in the industry. I came away with the Community Spirit Award and a whole group of new friends and contacts around the state. One of the greatest ‘compliments’ I received was from the 8-year-old I taught who said, “Wow that’s a big trophy but I don’t know why you got a saddle bag, you don’t even ride a horse!” Station kids are taught resilience from a young age, but they are also taught respect for the land and animals. They are often old before their time but, like their parents, are some of the most genuine people I’ve met.
Leaving the station behind and driving off into the sunset was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but it was time; time to spread my wings and reunite myself with civilisation. 2015 has brought new adventures, new challenges and new experiences. Graduating with my new qualifications and gaining a job in the agriculture industry is one of the best feelings. Working for a cattle breed society has opened my eyes to the world of stud cattle and a different side of the show movement (apart from just fairy floss and handicrafts).
I thoroughly enjoy meeting people that are as passionate about agriculture as I am. It brings me hope that the future of agriculture in Australia is in safe hands. I hope I can inspire people to take a plunge and strive for what they believe in, strive to make a change in their communities and help people along the way.
I also want to be successful and achieve as a female in a traditionally male dominated industry. My Gran said to me once, “We’ve got all these Grandsons but it’s our Granddaughter that wants to be a farmer.” I also hope I can honour the life of my Grandfather who has recently passed away and enjoy a long life in the agriculture industry, engaging and inspiring people along the way.