Gippsland’s Colleen Barnett has forged a successful career as a stock and station agent, quietly blazing a trail in a male-dominated industry.

Story By Martin Auldist

“Shake hands like you mean it.” That’s the advice Colleen Barnett was given not long after she commenced work as a stock and station agent in Gippsland, Vic, eight years ago. It’s advice that has held her in good stead in a line of work that has traditionally been fiercely male-dominated.
Colleen herself would never point it out, but there’s no escaping the fact that she is one of very few women forging a successful career as a stock agent. “I know of one or two others around the state working with sheep but, no, there’s not many of us,” she says.
To Colleen and her ever-increasing band of loyal clients, the gender imbalance is no big deal – but it hasn’t always been like that. She took up the profession in 2002 when she successfully applied for a position with Rodwells in Sale. “Back then some blokes reckoned it wasn’t a job for a woman,” Colleen says. “Now, though, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you do a good job, that’s all people want. I still get the occasional funny look when I turn up to mark the bull calves though.”
Colleen says being a local has helped her do the job. “Mum came from Sale and Dad was a livestock carrier in Rosedale, so I was known to farmers in the district even before I started,” she says. “It would be much harder having to start fresh in a new area. It also helps that today many farms are run by husband-and-wife partnerships, with the wife taking an active role in livestock trading. Many of the clients I deal with are women, so of course they’re quite happy that their agent is a woman.”
In her role, Colleen deals only with cattle. That suits her fine because she loves cows and has always been around them. She grew up on a small beef farm and has her own 36-hectare block on which she runs 35 cows with calves. Her work with Rodwells sees her working with both beef and dairy farmers. In recent times, selling prime dairy heifers to China has become lucrative business for farmers and so arranging the export of those heifers has become an important part of Colleen’s job.

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2010