As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual.
In 1965 the generosity of Mr CB Alexander allowed the opening of Tocal Agricultural College with its initial enrolments consisting of 15 young, male students.
It was not until 1972 that the first intake of female students occurred. At the time they made up just six per cent of the total student population. Since then, Tocal has paved the way for women to claim their rightful place in Australian agriculture, with female numbers at the College in 2016 accounting for 62 per cent of full-time enrolments. In fact, in 2012 the proportion of females in full-time courses peaked as high as 72 per cent.
No doubt the very first female students to enrol at Tocal were pioneers, entering into what was then considered a mostly male domain. However they proved themselves incredibly capable and many have gone on to achieve great things in Australian farming. There is no doubt that their examples have made it easier for female students at Tocal today to follow their ambitions without fear of sexual prejudice.
Often Tocal’s female students have proven far more than equal to their male counterparts. In 2015 the Dux awards in all three full-time qualifications went to female students. Even the very practical and hands-on Certificate III in Agriculture course, with a large component of technical competencies (including tractor, quad, motorbike and chainsaw operation, fencing and chemical application) saw females take out the top three placings in the course. Furthermore, their dominance was not just due to an overwhelming weight of numbers either as in this course the ratio of females to males was almost exactly 50:50.
Last year’s Certificate III in Agriculture Dux, Ann Shipman, is an excellent example of how a person’s tenacity, enthusiasm and capability can break down traditional stereotypes. Very early in her first year course Ann answered an advertisement to undertake haycarting on a local, Maitland area farm. The owner, Des Richards, was so impressed with her attitude, work ethic and skills that he says, “Ann proved herself physically equal to any male I might have employed and since then I have not hesitated to employ females to work on my farm.
“Ann was competent and hard working. She assisted in hay making, beef cattle work and turkey growing. All these activities might be considered commonly occupied by males but Ann proved to be more than their equal,” Mr Richards went on to say.
Ann was equally impressive when undertaking a practical work placement on an Upper Hunter beef property. Based on her strong performance during that week she was offered part-time work on the Merriwa property before securing a stationhand position with them at the end of the year. The farm is now supporting her to complete her Certificate IV in Agriculture qualification as part of the Tocal Traineeship program.
Recently Ann was encouraged by Tocal to apply for the Women’s Network Hunter scholarship for women in non-traditional or male-dominated trades. She was delighted when successful and awarded the $500 prize money in front of a group of leading Hunter women at the presentation held at Tocal.
The ceremony was reported on by the local newspaper, The Maitland Mercury, which quotes Ann thanking her supporters.
“I come from a family that’s very supportive, especially my father. They always told me ‘you can do it’, regardless of gender. My co-workers and my boss too. Gender doesn’t matter, they treat me as an equal.”
It was fitting that Ann asked Tocal agronomy lecturer, Carol Rose, to support her on the day. Before joining Tocal, Carol forged a formidable reputation in the once male-dominated role of District Agronomist. She did this on the Mid North Coast and in the Upper Hunter Valley during a time when women were seldom seen working on a farm, let alone advising. Her technical competence and practical problem solving ability had even the most chauvinistic farmers flocking to her field days and workshops in search of help.
Today, Carol is but one of many females in significant roles at the College who, by example, encourage younger women to strike out on their own path in agriculture.
For example, Jill Clayton is Certificate IV Coordinator and Animal Genetics lecturer who co-designs the Tocal Brangus herd’s breeding program. Simone Harvey is Horse Breeding Course Coordinator and multiple national Australian Stock Horse champion rider. Steph Teterin is Off Campus Coordinator with skills so versatile she can train two-wheel bikes, use her contracting experience to teach fencing skills or lead a Tocal team to Inter Collegiate Meat Judging success where she has been awarded the Tom Carr Award for Coaching Excellence.
On top of this Tocal has women in other prominent positions such as Chair of the Tocal Advisory Council, Numeralla Free Range Egg Farm Manager, Education Delivery Manager and College Registrar.
Where ever you look, Tocal’s female students (and staff) are proving more than equal!
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