Isabel, tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m a corporate lawyer practising in the agribusiness sector. I’ve recently married a ‘future farmer’, and live in the Upper Hunter Valley at Scone, on my husband’s black angus cattle block, “Belltrees”.
My family originates from Goondiwindi, where I grew up on a mixed cropping and cattle property. My family still runs the farming business, with my brother moving home to take over the reins.
My childhood consisted of earning below minimum wage pocket money cotton chipping, shielded spraying and throwing siphons. It’s strange to think that most of these jobs are now obsolete…
Tell us about your career… how did you get from high-school to where you are today?
Honestly, Dad always encouraged us kids to explore opportunities outside of agriculture, to really establish whether our passion for the bush was something with which we wanted to make a career. Both my siblings studied Ag, in some form, at university – so I was relatively the black sheep in deciding to study law. I had this idyllic notion that I may be able to tie in the law and ag, I just had no idea how.
Even before my final marks were delivered from University of QLD, I was backpacking in Europe. I arrived home broke and was luckily offered a junior lawyer position for a mid-tier commercial firm in Sydney. By accident, as opposed to career management, I ended up working in the commercial litigation team for 4 years and absolutely loved it. Whilst not conducive to any form of social life, the adrenalin of litigation was addictive.
What was it like transitioning your career from corporate Sydney to regional Australia?
To be completely frank, as a female, if you ultimately end up in a relationship with someone from the bush, your career path is relatively dictated by your partner’s respective location. You cannot predict who you’ll end up with and where they’ll be from, so having a career that is fluid is hugely beneficial. Originally, I had thought that the decision of whether to relocate to Scone was ultimately a decision between my relationship and my career. Happily, experience has taught me that I can have both.
Technology allows me to work remotely for clients, delivering the same standard of services I would’ve otherwise delivered in Sydney. This is key to me being able to retain bigger agribusiness clients, to avoid them taking their legal work to the larger city firms.
From a legal context, in your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the next generation in agriculture?
2 really stand out for me:
1. WH&S – love it or hate it, WH&S is here to stay. Sadly common sense is not a given anymore, nor is it readily recognised in the law as a basic standard of being. Recent decisions have shown that the Court is really cracking down on inefficient WHS policies and practices. What were previously considered as tragic accidents are now litigated and investigated, and invariably someone is held responsible.
Agribusinesses, particularly family-run farm operations, can no longer afford not to spend the money and time associated with putting proper WH&S practices in place.
2. Succession – I think my parent’s generation are, through their historical lessons learnt, the first generation to really identify that succession planning has moved past a handshake and informal dinner table conversations. Invariably our generation will benefit from this shift in planning, and so will the longevity of the relevant business.