Coming Home

Many would say that the 641 kilometre distance between Sydney and Walgett is not the biggest factor that separates the two places. 

This divide is made up of vastly different career opportunities, or the ability or lack thereof to access things like healthcare services, coffee shops, beaches, apartment blocks, more than one grocery store within a 100 kilometre radius – that kind of thing.

Anna at home in Burren Junction

Despite the differences, much of Anna Holcombe’s life has been spent jumping between these two places, attending primary school with 40 other children in Burren Junction, then high school with 1,400 others in Northern Sydney.

It was at high school that Anna was told by a guidance counsellor that studying Ag Science at Sydney University might not be possible for her and perhaps she should aim for a different uni. 

“She pretty much told me that I wasn’t going to get the grades to get into Sydney uni and I should look at something a bit more achievable,” Anna said. 

“And then I think in spite of my counsellor I worked a little bit harder in my Year 12 days, I got a bit passionate and wanted to prove her wrong.”

And she did. 

And so, in 2013, after a year spent polo-grooming in the UK, Anna returned to Sydney to study Ag Science, majoring in Agronomy. 

It was midway through her degree that, back home on the family property outside Walgett in North West NSW, Anna’s parents began to struggle under the weight of the ongoing drought. 

By 2019, the Walgett district was little more than dust, with many failing to get a harvest for the third consecutive year and any remaining stock being fed daily.

 At this time, Anna, recently graduated, was working a nine-to-five in the city centre for AuctionsPlus.

“My older sister, Sarah, was home part time during the drought to help Mum and Dad and separating her time working between home and her boyfriend at the time – now husband’s – property in Central Queensland.”

“Sadly for us, but excitingly for her, she began working full time in Sam’s business and wasn’t able to keep lending a hand down here, so I thought ‘rightio, I’ll bite the bullet now and come home and help.’”  

While this original decision to return home was only temporary, Anna can now hardly imagine going back to the life in Sydney she was once so comfortable with.

“On reflection, I probably could have left six months or a year earlier than when I did,” she said, “I think I enjoyed living in Sydney and I love the Sydney life but it wasn’t where I wanted to be long term.”

“I think I kind of got a bit sick and a bit sour about living in the city.”

Two years later Anna is running the family’s sheep, dryland cropping and stud Poll Herefords under the mentorship of her parents, who have moved east to a smaller block of land outside Narrabri. 

This means that, for significant amounts of the year, Anna is living on and managing 8,500 acres of land by herself, a task not without its challenges. 

“My dad was diagnosed with cancer not long before harvest last year and he had to go into surgery and so halfway through Mum and Dad both had to leave and they just left me with the reins and, yeah, it was a sink or swim kind of moment and it was a very hard couple of weeks.”

“I think initially, I wanted to do it all myself and I wanted to prove myself so I tried to knuckle down and just take it all on board,” she said. 

“But it got to the point and I just started throwing my hands up and I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The beauty about returning to the place you grew up is the community ready to rally around you when you do start to struggle, Anna notes. 

Her uncle down the road, the local vet and her agronomist are just a few people she mentions that have been there to lend a hand or give advice when needed. 

Her biggest help, however, has been her parents. 

“If I have an idea and it’s different to what Dad wants to do, the majority of the time he’ll just say, let’s run with that, we’ll give it a go your way and if it doesn’t work, we’ll do it my way.”

“He’s pretty willing to trust me and Dan, who works with me, with whatever we want to roll with,” she said. 

Dan, too, has been a major support for Anna, having worked at Rayleigh for over ten years, he is always there for her to lend some muscle and bounce ideas off.  

“And if we ever get something wrong, Mum and Dad are never angry. They’re just happy for us to do our best.”

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