Kerry Wilson on Women on Farms Gathering
Kerry Wilson, a sheep farmer from Violet Town, is a member of the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage committee.
In this video she discusses farming and its challenges and the Women on Farms Gathering project.
I’m Kerry Wilson and I farm with my husband John in Northeast Victoria, a little town called Violet Town. We have merino sheep for wool and we’re hoping that this year is the end of quite a prolonged drought. I come from an urban background in Melbourne…came here in the ‘70s. I worked as a teacher and then retired from teaching to have children and was very involved physically in the farming partnership. Women on Farms I heard about via the radio and we’d been through some very hard times on the farm and I thought that sounds like something I’d really like to try. So, I enrolled and my first gathering was in Beechworth in 2001 and what really impressed me was the welcoming of the women and the diversity of women from different farming backgrounds and all the things that they were involved in over that weekend from workshops to tours and it involved not just farming enterprises but wonderful things like textiles and produce and lots of animals and plants. Yeah, but it was the camaraderie too…and the support from the rural women at that gathering that I became a convert too.
Our flock, our flock of sheep was diagnosed with Ovine Johne’s which is a wasting disease when sheep are in their prime. So the policy in Victoria at the time was if you de-stocked, which meant all the flock went for slaughter, that you would get compensation. So we chose that option because we’ve got farm in three different physical places and we weren’t allowed to have stock on the road for a couple of years. But, it meant that the breeding program that we were doing since John started in the ‘70s, we lost that genetic pool. He also had a couple of heart operations and a cancer operation…and we had to decide what we would go back into, so we chose a bull beef operation, but since the drought this year we’ve had to de-stock the bull beef because of the high cost of feeding…and the other thing, that when we did go back into sheep we struck…a couple of summers ago now…we struck the coldest ever day recorded in February and of the 1,200 sheep we had, we lost 1,100 overnight where they basically suffered hypothermia and it was the most amazing thing to experience, as animal farmers who sort of care about their animals, to see them. You felt like they, you know that they were still alive, they were sort of sitting in groups, under trees and anywhere they could huddle really, but...yes… it was quite a thing to see and to sort of recover from. But now we’re back into sheep and we’re hoping for rain and then we can stop feeding them all this expensive grain.
There was a wonderful icon developed by one of the women’s daughters who made this beautiful sculptural icon of a rose. She used a long barbed wire stem which really to me symbolised the strength and sinew that’s involved with people who work on the land and also it symbolized the theme of ‘Take time to smell the Roses ‘…and so the bloom, which was made from a recycled tobacco tin, has this wonderful pattern of bronze into sort of, mild gold colours and just reminds you that life’s not all tough, that there’s some beautiful moments and you know, we should enjoy the journey.
At the Beechworth gathering, that was my first gathering, the curator from Museum Victoria talked about this possibility to have a unique partnership and I thought that seemed like a terrific project to get involved with… so I signed up and I have found it really a life enhancing program because it’s an opportunity for a grass roots community group to work with, perhaps the major institution for recording stories and memories in Victoria.
The Museum itself has actually recognised the Heritage Program by making Rhonda Diffey and myself Honorary Associates of the Museum and to us that really strengthen our relationship with Museum Victoria and it recognises that it’s the women themselves who are the keepers of their own stories.