Women invisible no more

By Alana Christensen on March 30, 2017
  • Women invisible no more

    Goulburn Valley orchardist Rien Silverstein, who will feature in the project, says she knows all about being an 'invisible farmer'.

  • Women invisible no more

    Victorians Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan says the women have led the way in the region.

  • Women invisible no more

    Australian Women in Agriculture president Sarah Parker says it's time women in agriculture are recognised.

  • Women invisible no more

    Lead Curator of the Invisible Farmer Project Liza Dale-Hallett says the response to the project has been incredible.

When thinking of a ‘typical’ Aussie farmer, city people think of someone wearing an Akubra hat with a tan from the harsh sun and a button-up shirt, often a flannel.

But above all, the image that pops into people’s minds tends to be that of a man.

It’s an image the Invisible Farmer Project is trying to change, encouraging rural women to share their stories, experiences and role in agriculture.

The project, which is funded by an Australian Research Council grant and led by Museums Victoria, will see stories about the contribution of women collected for publication.

Female farmers are far from anything new and have a long history in Australia, as Australian Women in Agriculture president Sarah Parker points out.

Although they did not achieve recognition as farmers, not just wives, under the Census until 1994, women have formed part of the agriculture industry for centuries and largely shouldered the workload on country farms when thousands of men went off to war in the early 20th century.

‘‘During the war women ran the farms and factories and kept the backbone of Australia going,’’ Ms Parker, from Undera, said.

‘‘It’s time for women to actually be recognised for the work women to do and tell their story.’’

Ms Parker said many women out there were just interested in getting the job done, especially with the milk price crisis fresh in the front of many farmers’ minds, and therefore were not searching for recognition.

‘‘It’s about survival,’’ she said.

‘‘This is an opportunity to actually celebrate the achievements of women in agriculture, but it’s also about those who quietly do the jobs that need to be done.’’

One of those women is Goulburn Valley Women in Horticulture founder, VFF Horticulture Group past president and self-confessed invisible farmer Rien Silverstein, who will feature in the project.

‘‘Being an invisible farmer myself I thought it was a very good idea to promote women on farms, especially with my history in the Goulburn Valley with women in horticulture,’’ she said.

Ms Silverstein said women had continued to be involved in all facets of agriculture and as a result their visibility and representation on boards had slowly climbed in recent years.

‘‘It has been gradually increasing over the last five years.

‘‘There’s more women’s groups, more women in agriculture and (Australian) Women in Agriculture has been growing.

‘‘It’s great seeing women taking a greater role in the farming area and making us no longer invisible.’’

For the lead curator of the project, Liza Dale-Hallett, the project is nothing new and is in fact something women have been fighting for over the past few decades.

‘‘The idea (for the project) has been around for a long time,’’ she said.

‘‘Rural women have been seeking to be actually acknowledged as farmers from the 1980s in particular, up to present.

‘‘It just seems like the timing is right, a number of things fell into place (to make the project possible).

Ms Dale-Hallett said the response to the project has been ‘‘incredible’’, and there was hope from many in the industry that it would help to inspire the next generation of women moving into agriculture, as enrolments in agriculture courses continued to grow.

Victorian Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan agreed, and said she believed that as women received more recognition, the more the next generation would take notice.

‘‘I think the more we celebrate the achievements of women, the more we encourage the next generation to realise they too can make an impact and the more they will speak out for those opportunities on boards and in leadership positions,’’ she said.

‘‘Women have really stepped up and led the way in our region and more so than in other places is my observation.

‘‘Once you start to scratch the surface you realise just how many people and how many women are doing incredible things.’’

Ms Dale-Hallett said regardless of where in Australia you live, everyone owes something to women in agriculture.

‘‘Everyone, everywhere in Australia has something to be grateful for the work those women do.

‘‘They’re adding value to the economy in all sorts of ways and supporting that farm in a multitude of ways.

‘‘It’s about time we put them alongside everyone else in their family that are farmers too.’’

■Submissions to the Invisible Farmer Project should acknowledge the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture.

To find out more about the Invisible Farmer Project, visit: www.invisiblefarmer.net.au

By Alana Christensen on March 30, 2017
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