When people said she could never be a farmer, Roma Britnall dug her boots in and is now the winner of a 2011 Nuffield Scholarship.
Story By Steve Nally
Roma Britnall leans forward across the table and poses a serious question: “Are we going to get to a point in this country where we don’t realise how fundamental and important farming is?” It’s a heartfelt question.
The 2009 Australian Rural Woman of the Year and 2011 Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship winner zealously peppers her conversation with words such as balance, sustainability, economics, subsidies, environment and succession plans. You get the feeling that this dairy farmer and mother of four from Woolsthorpe in Victoria’s Western District could hold her own on the parliamentary floor, and when asked what she would do if she became prime minister tomorrow, she has a quick-fire answer.
“I’d embark on a media campaign about the importance of producing food safely and responsibly, and how farming is done really well,” she says. “I’d use interest in shows like MasterChef Australia to turn around the culture of not understanding the importance of agriculture.”
Roma’s father was a stock agent who tried sheep farming when he moved his family from Deniliquin to western Victoria in 1972. He also bought the lease to a rundown pub in Warrnambool with the intention of turning it into a tourist attraction (it’s now the famous Whalers Inn). He died 12 weeks after buying the pub, aged only 41. Roma was just eight.
Roma’s mother, a registered nurse, and her two older brothers tried to keep the farm going but fences were cut in the night, sheep were stolen and there were pressures on the new widow to sell, which she eventually did. “In those days women didn’t become farmers, they married them,” she laughs. “When I was 10, I set my goals on marrying a farmer and becoming a nurse because mum was a nurse and that got us through that really difficult time.”
In 1987, aged 20, Roma married Glenn Britnall, a shearer. “The only advice I remember my father giving was, ‘Don’t marry a shearer because they drink a lot and they’re rough’,” she says.
This story excerpt is from Issue #75
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011