Sue Middleton, winner of the National Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award in 2010, admits that she has always been extremely earnest in her desire to solve the world’s many problems.
She believes this stems from growing up as the daughter of the town mayor.
“When there was a problem in our local community, Dad would ring the Minister and solve it and so I think I just grew up with this sense that you have control over your destiny, and you have power over your community’s problems,” she said.
And she’s always been a planner, laughing when she remembers how, during her twenties, she wrote down that she will ensure all of rural and regional Australia prospers.
She expected to achieve this by the age of thirty, then she would be ready to work for the United Nations on her next plan: to solve world hunger.
Unfortunately for the UN she hasn’t quite got there yet, it turned out that the issues facing rural and regional Australia were a bit bigger than twenty-year-old Sue first anticipated.
Jo laughs when Sue admits this, saying her twenties were the exact opposite.
“I did a teaching degree because I had 12 weeks of school holidays that I could travel in,” she says, “my worldview in my twenties was very Jo-centric, that Jo got to do the things that Jo wanted to do, I certainly didn’t care about world peace.”
It was in her thirties that Jo felt like she hit her straps, and with this came a strong sense of frustration.
“I had that purpose, I finally got it and all of the things that I wanted to do were clear, but I’ve got these little kids that are so time consuming – I love them dearly, don’t get me wrong – but the thing is they force everything to chug along at second gear.”
Jo and Sue’s experiences of winning the Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award also differ greatly.
Sue was pushed towards it by friends and family, and eventually applied when she felt like she had an opportunity to improve the sustainability of the piggery industry.
“When I won at the WA level, I was like, ‘oh my god, what have I done? This is not what I was expecting,’ she said, “and then I went on to win the national level and my life disappeared for the next 18 months.”
She was swamped by media attention. The day she won, she and her husband had to run two phones. For the week afterwards she wasn’t able to fly home to WA because she didn’t have time between interviews.
“I started to exhaust myself pretty quickly, because I’d see where it was headed, and so I asked for a researcher. I said, ‘I’m not going out there to talk on really meaty topics on rural and regional Australia if I don’t have facts behind me.’”
Eleven years on, she looks back on the experience as a time of growth for both herself and the Award.
Jo, when she won in 2019, was incredibly grateful for the support she received from the award, something that she believes has been evolving over the years thanks to women like Sue.
Because of this, her challenge as the winner was not from the media attention but from her own “internal friction.”
“For me, I was like ‘Why can’t the business itself be enough to generate a conversation? Why does it have to be because it was founded by a woman in a rural area? Why does every photo have to be me with a kid on my hip and a paddock in the background?’”
Then she had a conversation with a friend who posed Jo’s concern from a different perspective.
She said, “have a think about how you shop. If you were looking at two different things, do you go for the faceless machine that has no personality that, yes, we’ll probably get a result?
“Or you’ve got this business where you think, ‘oh, that’s cool, look at that woman, she’s got young kids, she’s on a farm and she’s running that business.’”
“And as soon as that switch in my mind happened, I was quite happy to go and talk. Now I know that as soon as I get to talk to people about it, whether it’s in person, on a podcast, with a journalist or whatever, they see how excited I get and that is what’s contagious.”
The Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award National Announcement is being held virtually next Wednesday the 20th of October at 12:30pm AEDT. To Register, click HERE.