For as long as he can remember Sam Heagney wanted to be a farmer but, as a boy growing up in Melbourne’s outskirts, his road to becoming one has had its challenges.
As a child, Sam Heagney remembers his mum telling him that if he read his school books as much as he read the Weekly Times he would be a straight-A student. “I was probably annoyingly into ag for my parents,” he laughs.
He doesn’t know where this obsession came from, considering the fact that he grew up in outer Melbourne and went to school in Essendon.
When he met with the school’s career counsellor and told her he wanted to be a farmer she looked at him blankly and told him she was sorry but she didn’t really know how to help him.
But, by signing up for a year’s jackarooing at Dirranbandi post-school and later going to ag college, Sam managed to set himself up for a farming future without the school’s help.
None of this was without difficulty though, he remembers the first few weeks at ag college where his classmates were comparing where they were all from and the types of properties they each grew up on.
“I think for a long time it was that kind of thing when people ask where you’re from, and you think ‘oh god.’”
This fear of not belonging stayed in the back of Sam’s mind, even as he finished studying and went on to travel across Australia working as a grain trader.
Then he met his future-wife, a Longworth girl of South Bunarba, a broadacre farming operation near Mungindi in NSW.
For the Melbourne boy, Mungindi was a long way away from anything, “it’s not the end of the earth but you can see it from here,” he says.
Today he manages South Bunarba and the team of employees that harvest close to 35,000 acres of dryland and irrigated crops each year, a big job for anyone, farming background or not.
“I actually wear that kid from Melbourne tag as a badge of honour,” he says, “it’s just who I am.”
“But it also shows that I’ve come in and got myself here just through my own work. And also just to show other kids from Melbourne that you can come and be a farmer if you want to.”
Sam’s unconventional entry into farming has no doubt shaped the person he is today, and the kind of boss he is.
He understands that, from the outside, Australia’s agricultural industry can seem hard to break into. He also understands that farmers like himself are desperately looking to entice workers to remote places like Mungindi.
Because of this, Sam sees no issue with hiring people that are straight out of a capital city, as he says, “hire on attitude, train on skills.”
In fact, he would love to encourage more people from the city to give farming a go.
“Even if you’re not particularly interested right now, just go and have a go at working on a farm. It’s amazing what you’ll learn.”
“And even if you might go and do it for 12 months, or six months, you’ll learn stuff there that you’ll be able to apply to whatever career you do, then go on to. It’ll be such a different experience.”
“So for those kids sitting in Essendon at the moment, it would be so different. They’ll learn so many different things that they won’t get any other way.”