Kate Lorimer-Ward, Deputy Director General DPI Agriculture, Orange
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.
Tell me about your childhood, family, home and work?
I was born on a property at Nymagee called ‘Trugannini’, to Bruce and Patty Lorimer. I am the eldest of three girls and I am pretty typical of what they say about the eldest in a family.
My parents sold the farm and bought another farm at Parkes, ‘Oaklands’, where I attended Parkes Central Primary school. Following the 1982 drought and the wet harvest of 1983, I can recall my father saying cropping is for fools, and he wanted to get back into a livestock enterprise. So they sold the farm at Parkes and bought a property at Panuara on the outskirts of Orange called ‘Weemalla’. I undertook all of my high school years in Orange and graduated from Orange High School. In the late 1990s my parents were forced to sell the property with the establishment of the Cadia Gold mine.
I had a truly blessed childhood—plenty of freedom, plenty of responsibility, and a life living in some vibrant communities where traditions were strongly held. It was also a childhood where I played witness to some of the many challenges of agriculture, experienced by my parents—drought, floods, removal of floor prices in wool, record high interest rates, and shooting sheep because they were worthless.
I left home at 18 to go to university in Sydney for three years. From there, I took on my first job at Condobolin with the NSW Soil Conservation Service. This was the start of my public service career.
I have held a number of roles since then: Landcare Coordinator, Property Planner, River Planner, Executive Officer to the water reforms committees, Business Manager with the Catchment Management Authority, and then into Department of Primary Industries (DPI) as Leader of the climate change programs, then as the Director for Education & Regional Services. Earlier this year I was appointed the Deputy Director General for DPI Agriculture.
I am married to a wonderfully supportive husband and I have three children aged 19, 16 and 13, and for the past 10 years I have helped raise another child who is now also 19, and who I class as my own. We live on a small farm outside Orange in a house my husband built (he is not a builder!) on top of a hill in a gorgeous community. I am a member of our local Country Women’s Association branch, Byng Emu Swamp Branch—one that I set up 10 years ago in response to the millennium drought in our community.
What did you want to be when you left school? Has this changed?
I always wanted to be a farmer, but being the daughter of a farmer, my mother was adamant that we needed to have another qualification to support us/the family if that was where I ended up. So, I left school wanting to be a psychologist. I attended Sydney University doing a Bachelor of Arts, and started doing psychology and economics as my two majors. I dropped economics after first year (too dry), and dropped psychology after second year because I hated statistics. I completed my BA with a double major in geography—physical and social geographies. That is where I learnt not only about the physical processes of the environment, but the social ones as well—people in place with purpose.
As the Deputy Director General DPI, Agriculture, what is the best thing about your job?
The people I get to work with! The people make this organisation great—they are the reason why we retain our great research and education facilities, they are the diversity that create great ideas and approaches, they are why we are in regional locations all over the state, they are the family that we turn to when we need help and they are the ones we celebrate achievements with. They are the ones that convert abstract thoughts into products and knowledge that the industry can adopt to make changes that drive a productive community and industry. The people are what I love about this job!
Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?
Like most people, I haven’t ended where I started. Actually, when I started I swore I would never work for the Department of Ag! They were like the enemy when you were in the soil conservation service—we had different philosophical approaches and a different research focus. However, time has seen these two worlds come together.
The work interests me greatly because I love the problem solving that is involved and helping people, industries and communities uncover solutions. While I will never be the researcher, loans assessor, educator or policy officer, I do love that I can play my part in helping them achieve what they need to achieve, so perhaps it is that I love being able to provide service to others.
What steps did you take that were vital in getting to where you are now?
I have moved roles into areas that were quite different from previous ones, and I think this has helped by having a breadth of experience. I have also remained committed to self improvement, ongoing learning and self reflection. These are all deliberate actions to improve how I do things. Finally, I took some risks and thought about things a little differently—bringing some innovation and energy to a new role.
What is one challenge you have encountered along your career journey?
I have had to make one really deliberate decision along my journey—to pursue a technical career or shift into management. This is probably the biggest challenge I have encountered. At some point I had to make a decision as opposed to just being a passenger on a career journey.
Who has inspired and supported you along the way?
So many people!
My parents—because they believed that we could and would be anything we wanted.
My husband—he has given me the freedom and support to pursue my passions, and he has readily accepted the role-swap of being the chief kid wrangler!
So many male managers—I have never had a female direct boss, so my experience has been shaped by some great male leaders and mentors who have invested time, shared great advice, provided wonderful opportunities and given me permission to grow. I have also been privileged to witness and connect with some great female leaders who have also done the same—invested time, shared great advice, provided opportunities and backed me when I have not had the confidence to see it for myself.
What have your experiences taught you?
It is OK to not get it right. Just know why you made that decision and then have a great plan B in place. Always be thinking about the next decision that may need to be made.
You will always swallow some water while you learn to swim.
Have a framework of questions that you work through to make sure you have considered everything.
Stay calm—panic is exhausting and stops your best decision making. Take a deep breath and stay calm.
With happy comes sad—if you are passionate about your work you will feel the full range of emotions, and that is OK.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Perhaps the 18-years-olds of today don’t have this problem but, believe in your skills and knowledge, and back yourself.
Your roots and where you are anchored is important in shaping what you do, how you make decisions, and what you draw upon to make those decisions. Remember where, and what this is.
Know what is important to you—be deliberate in thinking about what it is that is important to you in your work! This will shape your decisions and judgements—it can also create blind spots—so know what you believe in, make sure you stay true to this, but also be aware of what others believe in—you need to consider them as well in your decision making.
18-year-olds need to listen—and listen deeply.
I have been blessed with great mentors and managers, so my advice is to make sure you deliberately link up with people you want to learn from. Pick them, ask them and listen. My experience was by accident, if I hadn’t landed in such a great work environment straight up, I wouldn’t have known to ask for it.
What has been your biggest triumph?
Having three healthy children and having the privilege to help raise another mother’s child. These four young people are my constant source of joy and pride.
What does being a rural woman mean to you?
It is what drives and defines me. I truly love the regions, the sector, the industry, the culture and the communities that support them. It is so much a part of my identify, that I cannot imagine living or working anywhere else. People in place with purpose!
Where to next?
Buckle down and enjoy the current opportunity. I am still too young to retire so there will be a ‘next’. I have visions of sometime well into the future actually getting to end my career ‘back on the tools’—I loved working on the front line with producers where I started, and I wouldn’t mind ending my public sector career there as well. I have watched a colleague do this transition and it looks very attractive when I get to transition to retirement.
In all seriousness, my ‘next’ will be in work that involves regional Australia and people—I can’t see myself without either of these.
We have discussions as a family of taking on foster children when all ours leave—so we will see where that takes us.