Some people are talented and brave enough to be trailblazers in one industry, but one young woman is breaking down barriers in two male dominated arenas – footy and farming.
She is a star recruit in the AFLW for Greater Western Sydney. Then, when she’s not training or playing, she’s working full-time on the family farm at Holbrook in southern NSW.
It means, Alyce Parker lives six months in the city and six months in the country, while studying agriculture in between. At 21-years-old, she is dedicated to both pursuits but is sure the bush will play a leading role in her future.
Alyce loves nothing more than getting her hands dirty on the farm from riding motorbikes to driving tractors and working with the sheep – she loves it all.
“When I’ve just spent six months in the busyness of Sydney, I’m very excited to get back on the farm. One my favourite spots to go is in the northernmost paddock.
“It’s quite a trek from the house. It’s a large paddock with a gully running through it. In the 2011 floods it was pretty much a 75-metre river running through it which was quite amazing to see. We call it the gully paddock, and, in the corner, we have a sectioned off area of woodland which has my bike track. It’s certainly one my favourite places to have family picnics by the water,” Alyce explains.
I do live two very different lives. Half the year I’m up in Sydney as an AFLW player and in the off-season which could be between four and six months, I’m straight back to the family farm.”
It takes a matter of minutes in conversation with Alyce to truly see her passion for the land. It would have to be something pretty special to lure her away from that lifestyle. As it turns out, that special something is AFL.
Two different lives
“I do live two very different lives,” Alyce laughs. “Half the year I’m up in Sydney as an AFLW player and in the off-season which could be between four and six months, I’m straight back to the family farm working alongside my dad,” she says.
Any chance Alyce gets, she’s on the farm. The property is a mixed-farming enterprise. They run merino ewes and then in the cropping side, they grow wheat and canola. It’s a fascinating combination of skills and Alyce credits her upbringing with allowing her to take on the fierce world of competitive sport on a professional level.
The face of AFL is being shouldered by a women’s program… Now you see girls playing footy or girls jumping on tractors. It’s certainly really exciting.”
“I first noticed it in primary school. I seemed to be a lot more mature and different in a way to my friends and I couldn’t quite work out what that was but as I got older and progressed through high school and into AFLW I found myself with an old head on my body! I certainly have realised that the lifestyle growing up in the country and the lessons you learn, people in the city aren’t aware of or don’t understand,” she explains.
Alyce says the task of making food and fibre for the world makes her feel resilient, motivated and determined with a healthy perspective on life. Farming is also a very physical job so perhaps it’s no surprise that Alyce is also a swimmer, a netballer and a tennis player. Footy came last!
The long road
“I was actually playing seven sports before I picked up a football. It wasn’t until six months before I was drafted to the Giants. I was 17 at the time. That’s when I made the decision that I wanted to do AFLW. I wanted to see how far I could take it,” she explains.
Taking a sporting career to an elite level is hard for anyone but spare a thought for Alyce who has achieved all these things living in regional NSW. One year, her father clocked up 92,000 kilometres to get her to all her sporting commitments.
“Nothing is around the corner! It’s quite a drive. You can imagine playing seven different sports at one time, you had to rack up a few kilometres. I loved training. I loved playing and I had incredible parents who pretty much wanted me to have every opportunity,” Alyce recalls.
Taking the leap from playing sport for enjoyment to playing professionally was a big call.
“I’m very much a country kids and I love home. So, the thought of moving up to Sydney at the age of 18 was the biggest thing holding me back. Moving off a broad acre farm into a two-bedroom apartment in North Sydney was certainly a change. A lot of home sickness in my first year and it’s certainly something that I’m still adjusting to four-and-a-half years down the track,” she says.
Quite young, I developed this attitude that if there was something I couldn’t do, I’d be right next to dad, learning how to do it.”
One thing hasn’t changed though, and that is as soon as the season is over – Alyce is straight back home.
A hands-on approach
When she returns, Alyce’s role is very hands-on. She’s up early and works until sundown.
“Quite young, I developed this attitude that if there was something I couldn’t do, I’d be right next to dad, learning how to do it. As I’ve gotten older and stronger, I’m a lot more independent on the farm and able to operate all the machinery. Having the ability to go outside and do any job myself is certainly something that I really enjoy.”
Alyce is supplementing that knowledge by studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management through CSU in Wagga.
“Certainly, post footy I definitely have a dream to live and work on the land in whatever form that looks like. I think the best advice someone ever gave me coming out of high school was to study your interests.” Alyce has taken that advice and run with it ever since.
As such a confident and successful young woman, it’s heartening to know such experiences are available to young women in both footy and farming. Alyce however admits there have been challenges.
Male dominated industries
“I’m involved in two very male dominated industries. With agriculture if you ask someone what their picture of a farmer is, the most common response is a 50- to 60-year-old male with a chequered shirt, straw in his mouth with a cowboy hat on. So, certainly being a 21-year-old female, I don’t fit into that category. But we’ve seen a massive change in recent years with agriculture,” Alyce explains.
The same goes for footy. “The face of AFL is being shouldered by a women’s program and more and more women are now throwing their hands up whether that’s as players or staff or coaches. Now you see girls playing footy or girls jumping on tractors. It’s certainly really exciting.”
Alyce says all she wants to achieve is a life doing what she loves. It just so happens that right now she has two loves and that suits her just fine.