"If we do not help ourselves and communicate our needs and the realities we face, our future is in jeopardy. Rural and regional areas contribute much to the real fabric of life."
WA graingrower Louise House, who is sponsored by GRDC, reports on her experiences with the Australian Rural Leadershp Program (ARLP).
My involvement with the ARLP stems from a passionate and abiding interest in contributing to our industry - on the farm, and in the community. For 22 years I have lived on a grain and sheep farm in WA"s mid-west and have always liked to be involved, busy and contributing - for the past six years as a partner.
I made a conscious decision many years ago that I would learn as much as I could about our industries, the day-to-day running of the farm and the business, partly out of fear as well as a sense of responsibility. How would I cope, for example, with the legacy of a beautiful, exceptionally well run and loved farm if something happened to Kim, my husband?
Since then I have actively pursued knowledge and understanding, and been involved in the practical out-of-doors farm activities.
In 2002 I was given a wonderful opportunity when asked to participate in the Managing Directors Roundtable of AWB. This was a group of diverse growers from around Australia who met or communicated regularly to provide grass-roots perspectives on AWB.
We were fully briefed on the complexities of its structure and organisation so we could provide informed comment. This continues to be a passionate and abiding interest.
As I have been involved in leadership in some form or another since primary school days, I decided the ARLP was an opportunity to actually acquire skills that would help me work more effectively in the community. If we do not help ourselves and communicate our needs and the realities we face, our future is in jeopardy. Rural and regional areas contribute much to the real fabric of life (as well as the economy) but our image is poor. This means our power to influence public policy is declining.
This is where the ARLP becomes very important, and it is helping us to raise our sights and performance. Travelling with motivated and talented individuals from across Australia is exciting, exhausting and constantly challenging. It means questioning personal opinions, beliefs and ideas. You learn and absorb new ideas and perspectives, and equally you are expected to present your own thoughts to the group.
Topics are spread across the board to create a wide social perspective - everything from multiculturalism to the prison system, domestic and international economics, the challenges of trade in agriculture, and even how the Victorian Police Force trains its leaders. Underpinning everything is the realisation that life is a collection of opportunities accepted or declined.
The ARLP insists that participants strive to know themselves and identify personal priorities - for work/life balance, family, rural and regional Australia, the world and how we fit in, and our communities. These represent a lifetime of challenges. However, leadership does not necessarily mean being out the front. Leadership is "thinking constructively about the group".
I see rural Australia surviving and progressing just as we do on farms, and that is by everyone being involved. It means we offer our individual strengths to the group"s development. It means working together, and realising that the future of rural Australia is a task that sits on our shoulders. And leadership, or "broadening our education", is the key.
For more information: Louise House, firstname.lastname@example.org; ARLP: www.rural-leaders.com.au