From Mallee Girl to Territory Woman

Olivia Borden’s 1998 model Hilux ute has taken her to places in Australia many of us have never even heard of, let alone experienced.

Childhood for Olivia Borden was never boring – a detail that has carried through into her later life.

Her parents were pig farmers at the Wimmera-Mallee border of North West Victoria, where they had two properties on which they had one indoor and one outdoor piggery, and they would spend time living between the two. 

On the property that hosted the indoor pig farm sat Olivia’s family home, the comfortable house that she was born in, but the property on the other side of town was where she preferred to be, living for months at a time in the old mud-brick cottage with no power and an open fireplace her mum would cook over. 

Looking back on that time now, she can recognise that she’s still chasing that kind of lifestyle.

“I remember that was the most joyful time in my childhood,” she says, “and now I still love nothing more than cooking over the fire and sleeping in swags.”

“It’s just the most enjoyable thing in the world being out of reception and not having electricity and having to boil the donkey to get hot water to have a shower at night. Way back then that was cultivated into my heart and I love it.”

But things weren’t always easy, the farm began to struggle during drought periods, Olivia’s parent’s marriage fell apart and she started seriously thinking about what life would be like outside Mallee. 

“I guess you end up going into survival mode a little bit. And when I was about 15 or 16 I started going to school less and less and working on the farm two days a week… and then I ended up working on the farm full time and ended up dropping out of high school.”

Liv on a watermelon farm in the Northern Territory

Worried she would lose a connection with people her own age, Olivia initially began doing a couple of classes at Longerenong Ag College purely to meet people with similar interests. 

It was here she was introduced to all different kinds of farming practices, and fell in love with the ones she least expected – shearing being one and agronomy being another. 

And so, on the Monday after her 21st birthday, she rang a number she’d found on a shearer’s singlet and asked the contractor if he needed any work, to which he replied, “I wish you’d have called yesterday, can you start tomorrow?”

Within 24 hours, her life was packed up into her ‘98 model hilux ute and she was off to Ivanhoe, where she spent half a day roustabouting before one of the shearers knocked up and she was handed the clippers. 

Liv shearing sheep 101 before heading to the Territory

“The shearer Lenny did his back, which is not lucky for him but lucky for me because he just got up and he said, ‘Liv, you’re shearing.’”

“And so I jumped on the handpiece that day and it was running really hot in the first couple of runs and which means your hands start to blister and by the second run my hands were, like, lifted… I can tell you yes, they were bleeding.” 

Not to be deterred, Liv worked as a shearer until she could do 100 sheep in a day – 101 for good measure – and then she was off again, and this time she was going to the real North…

Liv’s career has certainly taken her to some extraodinary places, if there’s something that sets Liv apart is just how deeply she cares for others and places their interests before her own.

“What matters more than how much you know or how much you don’t know, whether you’re a female or a male, how old or young you are, it’s how much you care. Your influence is determined by how you place other people’s interests first. Because if you truly care, you’re going to go that extra mile for them.”

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