A cut diamond is many-faceted, transparent, light-emitting, brilliant and tough. Add a dash of warmth and that is the lady born a tough Scot and put through more challenges in Australia than Clive Palmer has in an election.
She’s written a book, “What Every Woman Should Know Before She Marries a Farmer”. Her first husband was a farmer, she’s married now to a farmer, and says in her book “Don’t ask about the ones in between. I’m a repeat offender.”
“In between” she was a marketing manager for a shopping centre in Perth who one day told the Saudi prince owner she could handle the manager’s job. “You know in my country you would be expected to walk three paces behind your husband,” he replied before giving her the nod to a career managing shopping centres from Perth to Melbourne to Sydney, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and the Philippines.
She stitched up all 200 leases in the Sydney Harbourside development months ahead of schedule.
Joyce (above in the rustic homestead with corrugated iron interior walls) is a good-looking, energetic 66-year-old with a disarming mix of frankness, friendliness and firmness. You sense she has the brains, strength of mind and muscle power to tackle almost anything.
Joyce’s strategy for managing shopping centres was direct. She is keenly aware that businesses rise and fall. “Look at video rentals.” Some awake to find they are no longer flavour of the month and have been superseded by new fads or products. “When they said their rents were too high, I would say ‘No, you are not making enough money. Now how can we help you make more money?’
“If they couldn’t make more money, we would work with them to ease out of the business with as much as possible instead of letting them linger and go down in a heap. It was the humane way.”
I had a load of washing when we rocked up at the homestead 22km east of the North West Coastal Highway between Exmouth and Onslow.. Joyce whipped it through for $3 and said she would hang it out. “Go down to the river, set up and relax or swim. Come and get it when you are ready.”
Pleasant indeed was the riverside, with firewood piled beside an innovative fireplace and barbecue set-up. “You can tell a farmer has made that,” said Tony approvingly. “It is a beauty.”
Later we talked to Joyce and husband Darryl over a cup of tea and marvelled at the diversity of their station life. They have accommodation available and thanks to regular rental by mining companies exploring the south of the Pilbara (commercial quantities of uranium have been found around the property) they have survived the gutting of the cattle industry by Julia Gillard’s savage clamp on live exports.
The industry is embittered that it was ripped apart overnight because the ABC aired a dodgy, five-year-old video showing in inhumane slaughtering of Australia cattle in Indonesia.
“Farmers don’t like to see that happen to their cattle either,” says Joyce, “but there were other ways of dealing with that. We were fortunate we had the accommodation because that ended up bringing in as much income as the cattle when the industry collapsed.”
Evidence of Joyce’s can-do adding-value philosophy is everywhere. Emu Creek station will take you on a couple of tours around the station or to a lookout for a sunset drink. A select range of home-made preserves are on sale and you can dine handsomely on home-cooked meals if you feel like a break from cooking.
Husband Darryl has a couple of wheat properties down south run by his sons. He and Joyce bought the 340,000 sq km Emu Creek four years ago as a family investment and hit some tough times. “We had difficulty coming to terms with expected cattle numbers and profitability,” said Joyce wryly. The Gillard Government delivered the king hit.
Joyce did what she had advised her faltering shopping centre shop owners to do: she set about increasing income. As well as building up the accommodation and value-adding for tourists, she took a job for a year working at a gold mine in Laverton.
She and Darryl agree that the tough times tested their marriage. “Especially having to live apart,” said Darryl. “But we came out the other end with a stronger relationship.”
Now Joyce is excited about a venture with the traditional owners, offering cultural awareness weekend seminars at Emu Creek. The daughter of 10 pound Pom parents who emigrated to Australia when she was a small child is also buoyed by the prospect of a sand gravel business developing on the station.
The road past Emu Creek runs to Mt Augustus in Kennedy National Park and the experience of a couple of Germans who came that way from Alice Springs also has Joyce thinking. “They were thrilled because they had five days where they saw no one,” she said. “They had travelled all over the world and said the country they came through was equal to anything they had been anywhere else.”
She is cross with successive Australian governments for failing to support farmers. “Primary producers are not regarded highly enough in Australia, not like they are valued in other lands. This country will not get it right until it sees farmers for what they are worth.”
The couple was irritated that after 40 years of successful grain growing Darryl had to attend a course and pay a fee to become accredited by someone who had never grown grain.
“Australia needs to undo its reliance on data rather that raw experience,” says Joyce. “Good sheep are bred by stockman, not by data programs.”
Her book for would-be farmers’ wives has plenty of humour. Quote:
“You may not be expected to kill, hang and dress your own meat (although I have) but you will be involved in the packaging and cooking of meat killed on the farm for home consumption. I never met a farmer yet who is a vegetarian. It helps if you can be reasonably detached when you are asked to cook meat which you very well know was the lovely little lambie you named and raised by hand … serve him up with mint sauce roast vegies and good humour. This is farming.”
It also contains some harsh realities about the gruelling side of life in an asset-rich cash-poor industry and is worth reading by anyone who fancies himself/herself as a leader or economist. It could well have been titled “Everything a Politician Needs to Know About Farming Before He/She Runs the Country”.