How does a self-confessed city slicker end up being named the 2022 Rural Community Leader of the Year? It is quite the story.
It all started with young love and a trip to the Brisbane Ekka. Now, Sarah Parker calls a dairy farm in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley home. Finding connection in a remote part of the world became a calling that’s now part of her identity.
Sarah is making her mark in the industry as Vice President of the National Rural Women’s Coalition, a director of the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, a Victorian Farmers’ Federation member and Treasurer of Australian Women in Agriculture. Clearly, Sarah hasn’t wasted any time finding her place in a new home.
Testament to how much she loves the country way of life, she says the serenity and safety of her farm were a blessing during Covid lockdown in Victoria. “On the farm, you had something to do, you could focus on other things and life had a pattern to it,” she explains.
A city slicker
Hearing that, it’s hard to believe Sarah grew up in inner-city Brisbane, about 5 to 10 minutes from the CBD. Even when she met her now husband Raymond, it was at university, and he was showing no signs of returning to the family dairy business. In fact, they were married, bought a house and spent a decade in corporate careers.
“Then, he comes home one day and says he wants to go farming!” Sarah laughs.
The couple spent a couple of years looking for a farm and eventually settled on leasing a farm at Tatura. “We moved with a trailer, the Ute, the dog and that was about it,” Sarah explains. Sarah started her agricultural education by going back to university.
“I was able to learn about agriculture, farming and rural living in an environment that I was comfortable with because I came from an academic, professional background rather than a practical farming background,” she shares. It was there, she networked and met some supportive people.
I learnt early on that if you want to be part of the community, you have to get out there and do things.
Sarah says the fact they didn’t have children, made developing those connections that extra bit harder.
“The community will get together at the schools, the football clubs, the netball clubs. So, I joined the local Victorian Farmers’ Federation branch, which is obviously what leads up to the National Farmers’ Federation and met people through that.”
She had no idea how important those connections would be until her husband was involved in a terrible accident with a bull on the farm which broke his femur. It was six months before he could walk properly again. Sarah put the call out to her networks and ended up with university students milking cows and a couple travelling around Australia in a bus deciding to park and take on a farm manager’s position.
Fast forward to now and it’s Sarah who is supporting her local community by sitting on boards, speaking at the UN and joining every rural advocacy group you could think of.
“It’s about having a sustainable future. That’s really important to me. I mean a future where we have a good workforce, a vibrant community and equity in opportunities and rural services for our regional communities and our primary producers.”
Sarah wants to see the day when country people don’t need to travel for hours to access medical services, have better psychological support for young people still coming to terms with the isolation cause by Covid, as well as better digital literacy and capability.
“The one area where we can compete on an even scale is if we have access to services remotely and we learn to use those.”
Women’s health focus
Sarah is working on a research group with a women’s health focus. That includes reproductive health and maternity services. She’s pushing for preventative care, rather than reactive treatment.
“For women with severe conditions such as endometriosis, or even life-long conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, those kinds of things can have a huge impact on the outcome if they want to have children,” she explains.
It’s this kind of dedication that lead to Sarah being named Rural Community Leader of the Year for 2022. She credits her success to those who’ve enabled her to pursue those interests.
For every hour or every day that I spend off-farm, there is someone on farm that takes on the work.
Sarah’s husband and parents have been her biggest supporters.
Looking back, when Sarah’s husband, then boyfriend, took her to Brisbane’s Royal Show, the Ekka when they first started dating, an experience there planted the seed for what would become a wonderful stint as a community leader. One of his mates handed her a shovel and asked her to help shovel the cow manure.
I laughed but really what I gained was an understanding of the connections.
“Coming together is really important for rural communities. People just think, they’re only showing off their cows, but behind the scenes it’s the discussion that occurs, the connection, the functions where people reconnect. Those lightbulb moments.”
So, if you’re ever asked to shovel cow manure, there may well be a life-changing moment waiting to be found on the other side.