Named Australia’s Rural Woman of the Year for 2010, West Australian pork producer Sue Middleton has always had an unshakeable belief in the positive future of rural Australia.

Story By Lara Jensen

With eyes focused clearly on the horizon and both feet planted firmly on the ground, Rural Woman of the Year Sue Middleton is blazing a trail as bright as her vision for regional Australia. By 2013, Sue hopes to see bioenergy commercialised and embraced by the majority of pork producers across Western Australia. It’s an ambitious goal but one that’s gaining momentum since this year’s announcement of the prestigious Rural Women’s Award, coordinated by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC).
Sue’s preliminary work investigating the field of bioenergy development within the Australian pork industry is geared at converting pig waste into electricity. The work won her the title and saw her make history as the first West Australian woman to do so. In addition, the national award recognises the monumental contribution Sue has made to rural Australia through her business achievements, community building and key national leadership roles.
When you talk to Sue, though, you get the feeling that the national award belongs to every one of the RIRDC finalists whom she refers proudly to as “the class of 2010” and, more broadly, to every woman giving life in the bush a red-hot go.
“I was uncomfortable with just one winner being picked because I wanted all of us to be up there on the stage – we are all daughters of rural Australia and we are all in this together,” Sue says. “It’s really important that the stories of the other finalists are also told because they are all truly amazing women.”
A self-confessed passionate ‘bushie’, Sue attributes her childhood on the family farm “Canaga”, near Chinchilla on Queensland’s Western Downs, as being formative in shaping her passion for rural Australia, but she admits her career has been more a natural evolution and less a conscious destination.
“As a kid I just loved being out in the ute with Dad,” Sue says. “Come to think of it, I was a bit like a cattle dog in a way – if it was moving, I was in it. In later years I think I actively didn’t pursue agriculture because I wanted to keep an open mind about other careers – little did I know that agriculture had already chosen me and just kept calling me back.”
Sue grew up as the youngest daughter of Ivan and Joyce Middleton with two older siblings Andrew and Jenny – a loving, close-knit farming family with strong ties to the community. “Dad was a farmer who spoke about so much more than farming – he was on the Soil Conservation Council and had an interest in conservation farming, so from a young age I learnt about erosion, and birds and trees – I think it was from him I began to understand the concept of ecosystems and the importance of preserving them,” Sue says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2010