by Susie Cay, Corowa
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.
What is your background?
I was born the eldest of three girls, at the end of the second world war, to parents who had both served in the war. My father returned from the war to take over his family farm ‘Warrembool’, 20 km north of Corowa in the Riverina. My mother, a Corowa doctor’s daughter, began the journey with him.
We had an idyllic farming childhood, going to a small school and playing endlessly. We were encouraged by our mother to farm with our father at every opportunity. As we reached secondary school we broadened our horizons by going to boarding school.
What did you want to be when you left school? Did this change?
I really wanted to stay in the country after I left school but there were few opportunities, so I ‘toed’ the line and spent five years studying, and working in the city as what was then known as a private secretary, now a PA. As the future turned out, my brush with the business world stood me in good stead.
When I was 23 our father died, and we were left with a property to run. In 1968 boys of 23 rarely managed properties, let alone a girl. I had a good overseer who had worked with my father for 11 years and my mother who looked after me. My city business experience kicked in, and together with my childhood farming experience and love for farming, I held my head high and worked hard.
I never asked anyone to do anything I could not do myself, and I was either supported by the rural business people or received their disapproval—there were plenty who disapproved. At one time my sister came home to help as well.
After four years I married Robbie Cay from Parkes, where we lived for a year before returning home to Warrembool.
Robbie managed Warrembool and I worked with him for 25 years. We were on equal footing and he never demeaned my ability in farming. We had three sons who enjoyed the idyllic childhood that Warrembool had provided me. Tragically, Robbie died when our eldest son was 23.
History repeated itself. For almost 20 years I have worked with my sons, each of them having businesses independently outside Warrembool Pastoral Co Pty Ltd. Our eldest son takes a major role as CEO, and we employ a farming manager who heads an excellent team. Throughout these years we have expanded the business considerably and it has been an exciting journey for us all.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Love what you do. Achieve your ambitions. Treasure the happy parts. Be strong and dignified throughout the tragedies.
Who has inspired and supported you along the way? What has been their impact?
My father inspired me, my mother supported me, but above all, my husband was my everything. He believed in women in agriculture and the contribution that was so often not acknowledged by men, and he supported my role beside him always. He gave me love, confidence and strength and I would not be who I am today without him.
What have your experiences taught you?
My experience has taught me that dignity and caring is important and hard work is satisfying and rewarding.
To me, keeping my femininity was also always important. I like to keep to myself, although if I can help anyone I like to do so.
I had plenty of challenges. Although women in agriculture are common place now, at the beginning they were rare. It was a challenge to take my place in the rural business as a 23-year-old. It was a challenge to take my place in the rural industry in partnership as a wife. And it is a challenge to take my place in the rural industry in partnership as a mother. You have to get it right.
What has been your biggest triumph?
Family. Without a doubt, my family and the fact that through the generosity of my sisters, we have been able to do business as a family, as well as members having their own individual businesses.
Credit must also go to three beautiful daughters-in-law who support and acknowledge the closeness of three brothers.
What does being a rural woman mean to you?
Rural women come from all aspects of rural life, but I really want to acknowledge the ones who work in farming businesses with their husbands. I believe this acknowledgement has to come from home and until they get the respect of their husbands and partners, they will go unnoticed. Everyone can see the female agronomist, vet, rural supplier, university lecturer, academic, but who sees the shadowy figure of the farming business partner?
Where to next?
I am now known as ‘The Office Nazi’, running the office, and it is my ambition to work in this capacity for as long as I can. I would like to die with my working boots on.