A car, my bag and my swag

Sophia Pic lowres

Sophia Hoffenberg, Orange
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

As a 24-year-old aspiring agriculturist, I’ve been adventuring around rural Australia to find my place in the wide, prosperous world of ag. Growing up on a cattle property near Longreach in Central Queensland, I have always known and loved outback Australia. Though after moving to Toowoomba at the age of eight, I became consumed by town life and considered myself truly converted.

I completed my schooling at Fairholme College in 2010, deferred my study and moved to England. I spent two years as the ‘cool’ matron in an all boys preparatory boarding school. Returning to Australia when funds ran out, and I could no longer raise revenue from the Bank of Dad, I moved back in with my parents for five months. I picked up a contract as a Prep Teacher’s Aide with Toowoomba Grammar School for a term.

I embarked on my tertiary career in Brisbane at the University of Queensland studying Business Management. During my first year I changed my profession goals regularly. If they had all gone as planned I would now be a firefighting, art curating, paralegal, fashion designing, travel blogging doctor (or thereabouts). Instead, I added an International Tourism degree and am now a qualified Human Resource Manager and Event Manager.

Alongside uni and work, I was President of the 2016 Girl’s Ball Association committee, organising a charity ball held on the eve of the Ekka Show Holiday in Brisbane in support of a rural charity. An amazing team, a lot of hard work, some wacky ideas from my media coordinator, the phenomenal bargaining power of my functions coordinator and the generosity of so many of our family and friends saw us raise $34 000 for the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners.

Upon graduating from university, I had planned a trip to Japan for five months on the slopes of Niseko. A week before my visa came through, my best friend approached me with an idea and a dream that changed my course, again. Niseko was out, Northern Territory was in. With nothing but a car, our bags and our swags we headed north for a year on a 2 million acre cattle station in remote NT; Riveren Inverway, the middle of nowhere.

Walking cattle out Riveren 2017

Riding horses, helicopter flights, chasing cows and them chasing me, early starts and late finishes, a fractured spine, bushfires, weaner scruffs, station parties, a written-off car, campdrafts and rodeos, a terrible and unimproved sense of direction, a few steep learning curves, love and loss; the best year of my life. The happiness and hardships I experienced brought me back to my country roots and reignited my love of the land and the lifestyle of rural living.

A dance filled night in Darwin with some of my favourite jillaroos, jackaroos and pilots, was a send-off like no other. I donned my Akubra, pulled on my Ariats and set off for the airport with a grin on my face and a feather in my cap; a contrast to the heels-and-dress wearing city-chick from 10 months earlier. My direction was now clear: my passion lies in ag.

Once again, it was me, a car, my bag and my swag, this time heading west to find some land with some cows to chase and horses to ride. This solo venture found ‘Ricky the Rav’ parked in my cousin’s shed during his branding muster and then again in the lead up to the RFDS Tooloombilla Rodeo held on his property. A few months building yards on another family farm in central NSW was enough to turn me off boiler making forever and left me feeling lost, wondering if I’d ever find my place in this industry.

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Fortune favours the bold (and a little dutch courage never hurts), so when I met an incredibly fierce woman at the Cassilis Rodeo who told me in no uncertain terms that if I came to Dubbo in the next two weeks she would sort me out, I leapt.

A Wednesday morning coffee date where she inspired me with her story and introduced me to unique ideas and thinking, Jill Kilby became my mentor right then and there and set me on a path of wondrous discovery.

At her direction I volunteered with The Royal Agricultural Society Youth Group for the regional, state and national finals of the Young Farmer Challenge at this year’s Sydney Easter Show. Throughout the day I progressed from Steward to Competitor to Judge and my over-enthusiastic nature labelled me a seemingly ideal candidate to be mic’d up for the Seven News coverage. WWJD (What Would Jill Do) inspired my day, as I screwed up every ounce of courage I possessed to engage with every networking opportunity that came my way.

A well-placed contact, the ability to talk my way in anywhere and some serious mentor string-pulling had me interning at the DPI in Orange; expanding my professional network and making a name for myself in rural NSW. After three weeks across three fantastic branches I was exposed to concepts, roles, situations and people, that have moulded my professional stance and enlightened me on many more opportunities the world of agriculture has to offer. I have since worked at DPI as a Communications Coordinator for a priority R&D project and in September I began a contract within DPI’s Strategy, Policy & Engagement unit.

In August I attended a week-long rural leaders program in Geelong and was awarded the Marcus Oldham College Yulgilbar Foundation Travel Award in conjunction with the 2018 Crawford Fund Conference Scholarship to attend the ‘Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition—The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus’ in Canberra.

I am empowered by the opportunities I’ve embraced, skills and knowledge learned and people I have encountered. I now have a fantastic network of professionals and friends who I will remain connected with as I carve a path for myself in the agricultural industry. The incredible women I’ve met have inspired my journey and left me with lasting messages that resonate through my world.

Laura, Bridget, Sophia on Inverway feb 2017

Someone once told me that we’re in the golden age of ag and I believe it, so I’m doing my damnedest to get in on it and I am excited for what comes next! ■

About nswrwn

NSW Rural Women’s Network is a government program working in innovative ways to promote leadership and action on rural women’s issues. The RWN team is dedicated to connecting and exchanging information with women and stakeholders in rural, regional and remote communities.
This entry was posted in agriculture, Cattle, farming, inspirational, rural women, The Country Web, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A car, my bag and my swag

  1. Susie Williams-Green says:

    Sophia you are inspiring. I also believe the future is bright for women in Ag. I am forwarding your article to my daughters, one on a Gap year and all her friends. One who is in the Top End now too.

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