Women of Liebe - Louise House
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was born the eldest of five children in the deep south. My Dad, a self-made dairy farmer with my mother, a home economics teacher. My grandparents early settlers on the Canning River on one side and Victorian and New Zealand immigrants on the other. I grew up on that dairy farm and then on an Angus beef property close to the hills in East Coolup.
I once left that home on my new blue tricycle in my best dress, a clean set of undies, and Teddy, (being annoyed with my mother), knowing that my grandparents lived close by, and all I had to do was ride to sanctuary. About a mile down the road, my father caught up with me. I learnt that not everything is as it appears.
Born in the last year of the baby boomers, TV and Barbie were a late addition to my life of cubbie houses, playing down the creek, riding bad-tempered ponies, reading, dress ups, Kindergarten of the Air, paper dolls and National Geographic magazines.
Our family ran like clockwork to get all the household chores done before I ran to catch the school bus at 8am each day, travelling half an hour or so into Pinjarra for schooling.
After haunting the School Counsellor’s office for the last two years of high school, I decided to pursue Occupational Therapy as a career over teaching, law and journalism. It was a great choice, but aspects of all of the other careers have been part of my daily life. Occupational Therapists are teachers in a therapeutic form. It gave me a good understanding of the medical system and medicine. Handy for living in the country.
Small schools, disadvantaged students, gifted students, fighting for school bus routes... all need advocacy, as do College’s when threatened by a government.
In all my voluntary roles, I started a newsletter, was the communications person. For Liebe, I helped Deb Metcalf with crafting the wording for a successful application for grant funding. I love words and writing.
I've done more short courses than had beach holidays, but that is not progress.
It worries me how future generations of farming families are going to cope with the plethora of more complicated tasks, compliance requirements, constantly evolving expensive technologies balancing time, family life and recreation for the soul. Agriculture indirectly employed 23 people for one in the paddock a while ago, I expect that number to increase.
My role in this farming operation has altered immeasurably over the past 40 years.
As the Daughter-In-Law, one was expected to know one’s place, garden, keep a tidy house, have children, pop out for a bit of sheep work on request, cook wholesome food for the Man of the House, be on hand at all times but to have nothing substantial to do with the farm. However, I found Wong Wong an exciting place to be, with no boundaries. Everything was seen as possible.
In 1982, I did do a spot of ploughing on the Super 70 with a swinging drawbar that someone forgot to take out the pin. In the days of no two-ways, no communications whatsoever, I sweated every gutter I made, having had the fear of God put into me from graphic illustrations of other’s previous ghastly mistakes...but had no idea how to make it better all day!
My role has grown organically. HR, administration and cook to a legion of casual Kiwi staff; off-shore Mum to back-packers from France, Estonia, Germany and Japan whilst being Mum to three children. Don't laugh... but I was the early technology adopter not only of Facebook but setting up computers, email, yield data, and accounting software whilst developing my tractor driver, sheep handler/feeder/mover and could-you-just skills.
I like driving harvesters but don't like chaser bins. I do Ford, CASE, Massey, Chamberlain Super 70 and 90 and Mahindra. I do not drive trucks, nor do I fence. I’ve planted wheat and canola with huge rigs in the middle of the night, and loved the freezing wind on my face driving the old US Army truck home at 3 am after a successful night before rain.
I couldn't grow a crop if I tried, but I've certainly heard a lot about how you do. I love gardens and green plants but I have no aptitude with growing things. I do like sheep. I’m an animal and people gardener. One of the best things I ever did was a Low Stress Stock Handling course which allowed me understand why things went right and how easy it is to handle sheep -you just need to understand them. I think this applies to almost everything.
I can’t work out if it’s a blessing or a curse that I am able to do most things. I like challenges and variety, so have enjoyed trying my hand at whatever was needed. However, it can take you away from things that you really love, that perhaps should be developed and work isn't everything.
I have had immense opportunity. I’ve travelled to many grain growing parts of the world in the company of some wonderful people, also involved in agriculture. I noticed that it didn't really matter what form of agriculture, the same problems were cloaked in different garments. By talking with people, you are able to see different ways of approaching problems or situations and come up with creative solutions. No one person ever invented the wheel. It is always inspiration garnered from somewhere, teamed up with personal knowledge and insights, magic even, that creates the unique solution. Observation, listening, thinking, having a go...
In 2001, I was asked to be on the Growers RoundTable for AWB. This model became the blueprint for CBH Growers Group. Leaving politics aside, it was a spectacularly interesting time. One of the great privileges was gaining unfettered insight into the processes of that large organisation, the people in it and those they interacted with, on a national and state level... And to witness its implosion.
I have no idea how my name came up. I have a feeling someone said, “ Holy moly! We’d better have a woman...” I got a letter ultimately a few days before the first meeting in Melbourne with some blokes name on it, but ah well … !
I was not the Grain Grower, and so my confidence was challenged greatly. Due to my travel, my extensive network, my immersion in many layers of farming, understanding of the total production chain, as well as the world scene, from both an organisational and a farming perspective, I had a more to offer than I realised. As one of only two women, (hi Deb Collins!) I was treated with respect, as a woman (not a bloke in a dress), and after the chaps got over their puzzlement about what I might be on about, they came to ask more and judge less. There were less than a handful of unpleasant, mysogynistic interactions the entire time, and those were with insecure men or those with a power agenda. I cannot speak highly enough of those I encountered during that time. That has been my general
As a direct result, I was asked to participate in the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation course over two years which was an amazing experience. Again, all professionals and those who should know, do not necessarily understand as much as an ordinary person!
Have I loved what I’ve done? Yes, I believe I have.
Who inspires me? Many people!
My Estonian ‘daughters’ - formerly employees.
The Georgian People living in the shadow of the Russian Bear.
Hafiz, the Iranian Poet.
My grandmother, one of the first female chauffeurs in Melbourne.
My Writing Friend Kathy.
Women who survived Changi Prison -Singapore.
Victor Frankl and anyone who survived Auschwitz.
Bob and Linda I met last week from Guilderton - such a lovely couple in their 70’s.
Inspiration is all around you...mostly in ordinary people. The Liebe Group, specifically the Women's Field Days has provided inspiration, connection, knowledge, understanding
and broadened my outlook. Our lives can be similar in Family Business but challenges vary. Knowing you are not alone allows experience to be normalised and for each of us to take inspiration from another Ordinary Woman. I totally loved getting out and meeting other women like me and the great guests Liebe Women have invited along to speak, coming home exhausted and elated!
The absolute blessing about living out of a city is the people and the landscape. I LOVE the people I live with, I meet shopping or at a field day. There is nothing like the country heart and no wonder we are envied. No wonder myths abound, but they are based on fact. It is not easy, it is often inconvenient to downright hard, stressful, frustrating and sometimes soul
destroying. But there is The Something, isn't there, we all live and breathe. Out here we take all-comers. We don't live in ghettos. We have a huge sky to live beneath, with birds from
eagles to willy wagtails. Our tiny wildflowers bursting forth in spring and the crops making a patchwork of iridescent yellow and deep green interspersed with scrub, huge trees and sadly, weeds. We have fresh water from the skies and sometimes way too much dust. The sunsets are soul food as are the sunrises ..as for the stars...
I have been privileged in growing with this business and having the opportunity to indulge in many voluntary passions using my capacity to enhance whatever might be the need of the time. Frustration? Plenty! Rewards? Yes...I like giving to my community, but I get back from those people in equal measure. For me that is what makes the world go round.