“Don’t be afraid of being the only woman in the room. People judge more on ability, smarts and character, so just be yourself and prove your knowledge and you will be able to talk to anyone.” ~ Laura Bennett
Usually I would find an inspiring quote from a famous person to introduce my next Bush Lantern, but today the quote comes from Laura herself. Laura is based out of Esperance, where I live, and word of her had got back to me not long after she moved here. I was hearing fantastic things and once I read her answers to the Bush Lanterns questions, I knew what I’d been told was dead on the money. Enjoy Laura Bennett’s story.
- Tell us a little about yourself, family and work?
Hi. I am 23 years old and can proudly claim that I’ve already stumbled upon my forever career; the one that makes me gloriously happy. Growing up as a beef and banana farmer on the North Coast of New South Wales it was almost inevitable that a life in the bush working in agriculture was going to be the thing that made me tick. From a very young age my Mum and Dad taught me that hard work, fresh air, copious pets and home grown produce were the keys to a happy life, and I am a walking, talking result of those simple rules. After finishing school with good grades I set off to Wagga Wagga, NSW to study vet at university but after one year of study (and an insight into what must be one of the toughest, underpaid and harsh careers there is) along with a summer checking cotton in Narrabri, Northern NSW, I followed my heart and switched to agriculture. Five years later I haven’t looked back, and 12 months after graduating with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science I am now halfway through a two year graduate program with a large corporate cropping company. I am a trainee assistant manager for the company and throughout the two years I am on rotation between different farms and the head office, and during this time I will learn the ins and outs of large-scale corporate farming from growing the crop to marketing the grain, doing the books and dealing with HR. This is a stark contrast to my small family farm and after many summers doing agronomy I longed to return to farming and the lifestyle it provides.
As for family, I am the youngest of four, with an older sister and two older brothers. I love being an Aunty to the most adorable niece and nephew in the world (two of my three siblings have children), along with being a proud mother of a blonde kelpie puppy who will be 6 months old on Christmas Day.
- What is your greatest achievement?
I have been very lucky in the opportunities I have been given and I feel there are times where it is as much luck as hard work that I has helped me achieve the many things that I am proud of. But I guess if I narrowed it down to one thing it would have to be completing my university degree. We started with 60 fresh faces at the start of my degree and four years later on Graduation Day only 22 stood there to receive that piece of paper. I struggled with bouts of depression for half of my time at university and there were countless moments when I swore I wanted nothing but to quit, but I promised myself that I would complete it and stubbornness won.
- How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you?
I think I have to say that it is all in the family and friends support crew. My parents raised four children who were taught that nearly anything is possible given you try hard enough. My Dad always treated me and my sister as equal to the boys and taught us to farm, fish, hunt, hike, camp, ride horses and fear very few things. While Mum and Dad have always kept me grounded I must say that they have helped me to jump at the opportunities presented to me and not be afraid to leave my comfort zone. My family and friends have always helped me feel so secure and strong that I never doubted that I’d be able to pack up and move to the other side of the country where I knew no one, or leave what is one of the highest esteemed university degrees in the world. I think it is all about forgetting the ‘what if’s’ and to just get on with it and do it. Most of the greatest things have happened to me when I’ve been on adventures that I never imagined myself doing. Say yes more often than no, and always respect people and be friendly to them. The world is a small place, and being in the ag industry makes it smaller!
- You are an effective female leader. What drives you?
I’m on my way to becoming a leader, but for me it really is the thought of my children and their children, and my niece and nephew and my friends’ children living in a world of gender equality. I am not sure if it is my tough skin or the fact that the world is continually changing but I have never felt overly discriminated against in the agricultural industry. However I have close friends that face it daily and I hope that by getting out and challenging the stigma, I too can help to make a change. I am the first female in the 20 years of the company’s history to be a part of the farm management team, and I love that fact. I love a challenge, I love proving my abilities to others and I love doing a good job. But the main reason I am driven to excel and become a leader in agriculture really is to ensure that in the future none of the women will have to worry about being discriminated against, or feeling uncomfortable in the workplace.
- Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know
I feel as an extrovert that there are not many things about me that I don’t vocalise to others! Haha however I guess one thing most people wouldn’t know is that I really love flying, and I dream of one day having my pilots licence and my own plane.
- What would be your advice to younger women who are trying to achieve great things in rural areas?
Well I am a younger woman and I’m definitely trying to achieve great things, so I’m not sure if I can help you there. But I’ll say what I’ve learnt on my travels so far. Don’t be afraid of being the only woman in the room. People judge more on ability, smarts and character, so just be yourself and prove your knowledge and you will be able to talk to anyone. Also, never underestimate the power of a smile. By no means am I saying be a flirt or be pretty or any of that bullsh*t! But being friendly and happy always has a great effect on people and when you need help, which I guarantee you will, then people will be more willing to help you out. Speaking of help, always try something if you are able before you call for help. Not only may you surprise yourself (I’m always stronger and better at mechanics than I think I am), but people are happy to help given you have done your best. Oh, and always do what makes you happy. You will learn things easier and achieve things quicker if you love your job and your life.