The Number 61 issue of The Country Web has the theme, ‘A new you’. It will include stories of women who have reinvented themselves, risen from the ‘ashes’ to overcome adversity, changed roles or careers for something new, started up a new business, stepped out of their comfort zone, and more. If Roby’s seachange story resonates with you, and you would like to share your own story and any tips and strategies you may have for women looking to see life through new eyes, we would love to hear from you! Stories are required by 23 January for publication in March 2015. You can email your story and ideas to Allison at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aspirational women in agriculture – Embracing a fruitful sea change
“Joyous, free and filled with nature, horse rides and books,” is how Robyn Clubb, 57, recalls growing up on her family’s Cooma property, surrounded by Angus cattle and Merino sheep. Her master plan at 18? To finish high school and work on the farm. But having just endured years of drought, her father insisted she obtain a qualification first. “His instinct was absolutely right,” she says looking back. “My bachelor in economics led to a 22 year corporate career in the merchant and investment banking sector. This expertise now informs my contribution to three boards: the NSW Rice Marketing Board, Murray Irrigation Board and West Arnhem Land Karrkad-Kanjdji Trust.”
Robyn also holds the honour of becoming the first female RAS Councillor (since August 1993). She is former Chair of the Agriculture Development Committee and now serves as Treasurer of the RAS.
Though she long-lived on five acres at Duffys Forest in Sydney’s Terrey Hills, Robyn always craved the more vast open spaces of country life. Her ‘treechange’ came nine years ago when making her annual pre-Christmas pilgrimage to Wisbey’s Orchards, in Araluen near Braidwood, to pick up boxes of peaches en route to visiting her family. This time, the stunning seventy-year-old orchard was up for sale. Though single, Robyn enthusiastically and with little hesitation, embraced the idea of running the property herself. Within months, the orchard was hers. “It was so liberating to come back to the land after the constrictions of city-style living,” she confesses. “Though I knew nothing about fruit farming I underwent a steep, rapid enjoyable learning curve. This involved reading voraciously and for a while, I asked constant questions of the owners, who were still in the area.”
The 1,200 acre property features 19 different orchards and houses 25,000 trees bearing famous Araluen nectarines and peaches. She runs the picturesque property which also contains old goldmining areas, with the help of only two permanent staff members. Last year, she also had a café built there, which now draws locals, day visitors from Canberra and passing travellers in search of a long black and lovely view. “The cafe has helped to make the orchard a destination, which is a great opportunity for cross sale and I love the social interaction,” says Robyn.
Despite 10 to 12 hour days of ‘hands-on’ work, Robyn is totally in her element. “I love the feeling of freedom and openness on the orchard, the affinity with the land and working in close proximity to nature,” she says. “I feel totally back in step with the seasons, which I enjoy in relation to our fruit trees as they go from pruning or dormant periods to bud formation, the blossom stage, fruit formation and harvest, when I employ between 18 and 30 casual workers.”
In this day and age, women in agriculture are more multi-skilled than ever, navigating yard work as adeptly as business promotion. “As technology has improved, farming is no longer as dependent on physical strength and women handle everything from tractors and sheep to computers, artificial insemination and GPS mapping,” she observes. “I am incredibly excited and encouraged by the women I see coming through the RAS who are so diverse, passionate and skilled. On the land or in the boardroom, women draw on their drive and emotional intelligence and are sensitive to issues affecting families, which are the backbone of rural communities.”