On the 19th of May 2022, Frances Pollock was honoured to deliver a delayed International Women’s Day speech in Geraldton, Western Australia for the ‘Women Inspiring Better Business‘ group.
The International Women’s Day 2022 theme, Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, recognises and celebrates the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are working to change the climate of gender equality and build a sustainable future.
Below, is a copy of her speech.
For the past 14 years, I have lived in Wajarri country. I am grateful to feel the spirits of their ancestors, and have had the privilege of meeting beautiful Wajarri women to enrich my heart and mind for the years I have been fortunate to walk the red soil of the Murchison. I would like to acknowledge them as part of my journey here today.
Furthermore, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional lands of the Yamatiji people, whose country we all gather, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who might be joining us in this room today, and I urge you to continue to have the strength to rise to the important challenge of leadership in our communities.
Changing climates: Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.
That is the theme for the 2022 International Women’s Day.
Climate change, gender equality and future sustainability of our planet are some of the biggest, most urgent challenges we face today. The continuation of our diverse and beautiful landscape, and its ability to produce food for our future is hanging on the edge. For me specifically, it means growing food sustainably, because for the past 14 years I have been a pastoralist on a cattle station in the Murchison.
I’ve witnessed the lack of female leadership within the agricultural industry, and society as a whole. But I knew it was missing before I arrived at the station. What living on a station has really driven home for me is the effect of a lack of female leadership. The terrifying lack of compassion, nurturing and adoration of our greatest resource, the land and its soils. The longstanding lack of ecological care that has gone into our food production systems is now beginning to crack and unravel the earth’s natural systems. This has led to, and been fuelled by, our changing climate.
As a child, I grew up in Victoria with parents who were qualified horticulturists and therefore passionate gardeners. We admired the daffodils to mark the early days of spring and enjoyed the roses when they started to bloom. The vegetables thrived in the warm summer sun and the leaves turned and fell in autumn. My siblings and I rode bikes up and down the streets and sold plants that our parents had taught us to propagate on our front verge. I learned from an early age that hard work was rewarding, and that the $1 coins from our plant sales meant we could buy special treats from the shops without reliance on mum and dad.
My parents provided for us what they could and we took annual family holidays to the beach. We were privileged to have access to good education and healthcare, and a loving extended family who encouraged our talents and ambitions. I loved reading, and my grandmother brought me a fresh book from the store every weekend. She lined up for hours to get me all 7 copies of the Harry Potter series as they were released. As I got older my aunts gifted me influential books from their bookshelves.
In 2006 I experienced a turning point. I watched the movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ – a film narrated by Al Gore aimed at alerting the public to our planetary emergency. It changed the course of my thinking forever, and awoke a sense of urgency within me to preserve and save our precious planet and way of life. The following year I focused my year 12 studies and end of year assignments on the climate crisis. But as I looked on, expecting a general rise to the impending emergency, nothing changed.
Young at heart and unsure of how this passion could be practically applied in life, I ventured to Western Australia for work. I was keen and interested to work in the tourism and hospitality space. My parents, with their horticultural knowledge, managed a successful garden centre in the suburbs of Melbourne and I was often given the opportunity to help out and do shifts on the weekends. The importance of genuine customer service was drilled into us from a very early age. At 15, my first part-time job as a sales assistant at Bakers Delight also instilled this – the first page of the staff induction kit read: ‘Bakers Delight – Delightful Service’ Pity the boss was a megalomaniac power tripper. A life lesson, for another time!
However, I was lucky to get the support of my godfather to land a job in Perth, building and setting up new resorts on the WA coast. I was thrown into the deep end. It was scary but I loved it. Google became my ally every time I was faced with an assignment I had no knowledge or experience to complete. I buckled down and pretended I knew what I was doing. At the time, my godfather sat on the board of Tourism Council Western Australia and chaired a regional tourism organisation. I was given the amazing opportunity to attend a few board meetings as a young onlooker, which gave me an insight and understanding of the strategic thinking and collaboration required at this level to drive growth in the industry. It excited me.
However, it was not long after arriving in WA that I chose to venture north into the Mid-West and found myself at Wooleen Station.
Wooleen Station is 300kms northeast of Geraldton and was established as a merino sheep station in 1886. My husband, David Pollock, took over the management of the property from his family in late 2007 and began to make some drastic changes to the management style and principles based on his understanding that the resource was declining at a rapid rate. I arrived at Wooleen not knowing David, nor his ambitions for the property. I went simply to see a part of Australia I’d never experienced and lend a hand for two weeks with the Nature-Based tourism enterprise which David’s parents had created.
Within a few days of being at Wooleen it was clear that David and I had some common interests – a concern for the future of our planet and a deep desire to do something about it. I questioned him about pastoral practices and agriculture. Having no experience in these industries before, I was clueless. I gained an insight into the fragile and delicate semi-arid rangelands that the business operated on and slowly began to understand the damage which had been caused by farming practices with didn’t seek to renew the landscape.
My time at Wooleen got extended again and again. The landscape took my breath away and spoke to my soul on a level I’d never experienced before. When chatting with a customer at the kitchen table one day they simply stated: ‘Isn’t it lovely when you find home’. It was the first time I could action my deep passion for the environment, and at the same time combine my enthusiasm for the tourism industry – Eco-tourism was a prospect the careers councillor forgot to mention at school. And of course, with our common interests, my friendship with David grew quickly into a relationship. Now, 14 years later we are married and living at Wooleen Station. I feel like we’ve achieved a lot in our time together.
To understand the issues that our semi-arid patch of land faces we have to go back a bit. Wooleen station, as I mentioned before, had been a merino sheep-producing property for over 120 years before I got there. It was, and to a very large degree still is, suffering from gross mismanagement over that time. The ins and outs of exactly how it was mismanaged could be debated for more time than I have to talk to you today but I think we can safely say that, by and large, it was the Men’s fault.
That’s kind of a joke, but also, absolutely true. Because the men were most definitely in charge in 1886. In fact, the stark reality is that women were not legally recognized as farmers until 1994. On the Australian census, female farmers could only list their occupations as “domestics” or “helpmates”, and in some cases “farmers’ wives.” So yeah, the men are going to have to cop that on the chin I’m afraid. Men have been in charge of most industries. However, women in agriculture have probably had a greater input into their husband’s line of work than most others. Because, whilst they weren’t allowed to be recognised as farmers, they still provided plenty of labour within the business, – out in the paddock, bookkeeping and administration, and supporting management decisions; or contributed to household domestic income which often supported the farm. Not to mention generally keeping the show on the road by cooking, cleaning and tending to families to allow their male counterparts the ability to play their position in the business. But women’s lives were expected to be very different, and their roles and scope for influence were limited.
And I think that’s largely why we have the environmental issues that we have today on our property, and in our region. Because the delicate mulga shrublands of the Murchison needed a great deal of care and sensitivity in order to nurture their innate productiveness. And that’s what we’re good at. It’s not all that we’re good at, obviously, and it’s not to say that the individual men making pasture management decisions in 1886 didn’t care at all. But the systems that demanded uncompromising exploitation which had entirely been created by men, definitely didn’t care enough to maintain the productivity of the landscape. It’s ironic that the drive for perpetually increasing production and profit has now led to enormous properties of eroding soil and unproductive vegetation that barely produces enough to support the average family. My point is that there was no balance in the decision-making, and the results were disastrous.
Fast forward to today and I see the effect of this imbalance everywhere. One of the most upsetting things for me is the disconnect that most people have from nature itself. It’s like we have trodden the path that the Men have prescribed for so long now that everybody has forgotten where home is. Put simply, the men have gotten us lost. AGAIN. ‘Loneliness is a populated place’ literary critic Olivia Laine wrote in 2016, and I believe our disconnect from nature and therefore ourselves has played a role in this. Stress which accumulates in our bodies hinders our connection to nature, because nature is always trying to talk to us, we simply choose not to hear it.
More and more studies are emerging to show the benefits to our health and wellbeing of reconnecting with nature. Healthcare professionals in four Canadian provinces can now prescribe their patients passes to National Parks, to help them manage physical and mental health. But for me it’s not just about heading off to a national park (OK, let’s be honest, I just need to step outside my backdoor, seeing as Wooleen is 134,000 hectares!), it’s about understanding what those interactions mean and how they make me feel, deep inside. Every walk or excursion is accompanied with an openness to my presence in that landscape. What tracks do I leave on the ground behind me? What birds are comfortable with my being? I listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees and the smell of flowers and dry earth. And most importantly I focus on how these things make me feel. As those feelings come up, positive or negative depending on what’s happening in my life, I take the time to acknowledge them and sit with them.
That might sound like some crazy utopia of existence. Don’t get me wrong, the stress is real when the phone is ringing and my emails are pinging, guests are requiring my time, staff need support and mum wants to chat. But if just walking across your back lawn with the sunshine and fresh air on your face can give you a moment to connect with nature, you should. Because understanding and reconnecting with our home in this changing climate is imperative to building a sustainable future. For David and I, the challenge of achieving recovery and sustainable food production in the rangelands will possibly stretch beyond our lifetime. But this is no reason to shy away from the task before us today.
There is a missing link between the feminine and our food production system. If we can integrate both masculine and feminine aspects we restore resilience, balance and health into agriculture which can flow onto the whole planet. The planet which is our home. Food can either nourish or harm our physical body in many ways you are probably already familiar with, but food is also more. It strengthens our hearts, brains, and bones. To me, food is the perfect mind-body tool, and what you choose to put into your body determines what you become, in all aspects.
Nowdays, sustainability is at the core of everything we do at Wooleen. We’ve learned to listen to our environment and understood that in order for it to provide us with a profit and way of life, it needs to come first. Because looking after our environment will naturally flow to address financial and social outcomes. Life, economy and culture depend on a functioning healthy landscape. Our core business combines immersive nature-based tourism which fosters a sense of connectedness, an empathy for the flora, fauna and ecological processes which make it so magnificent. Our sustainable beef production is constantly being redesigned to flow naturally, allowing animal welfare, humility and calmness to guide us, to honour the animals which are going to provide life-sustaining nutrition at the end of their time. And finally the most important part, regeneration and conservation of our rangelands to ensure that Wooleen Station continues to play a pivotal role in shaping our future.
We aim to offer an experience that is ecologically responsible on multiple levels and engages people with their natural environment. For some people, travelling is about visiting pristine and aesthetically pleasing locations to experience something new and beautiful. Focusing our tourism practices on the natural environment ensures that visitors not only enjoy Wooleen, but they actively get involved in caring for and respecting it as well. Tourism and pastoralism combined has helped us establish a nice balance between the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of Wooleen.
One of our biggest goals is to bridge the gap between production and conservation and it is part of our key message when communicating with guests about our goal of operating a sustainable pastoral enterprise. I like to think we can break down some of these larger issues and deal with them in a holistic way, giving them context at Wooleen to illustrate what it means for our future. These discussions and experiences offer visitors education and help connect them to their experiences. The more connected a person feels to their experience, the more invested they are in the destination.
For me, as a female navigating two industries – Tourism and Pastoralism – I’ve faced numerous challenges and plenty of brick walls. I’ve spent a great deal of my time assuming I had to be more like men, in order to achieve what they had – positions of leadership and power, influence, respect. I’m not suggesting here that we don’t have to work hard for what we want in life; many things take guts and determination. But I thought I had to be hard at my core, and I felt my compassion was a weakness. I thought I had to compete, when really all I wanted was to collaborate. I thought I had to be linear, when actually I’m cyclical. I wanted support, but instead I pretended to be tough. You see, in our patriarchal society where men hold the majority of leadership positions and dominate the dialogue, women have been led to believe that the strengths that make us who we are can only be used in the home.
And that’s the problem. Not the men that we see in our everyday lives, well, not the majority of them anyway. The problem is the systems that we live by, systems which are a result of two thousand years’ worth of leaving only the men in charge. Systems that have been designed by men, for men, and don’t employ the diverse amounts of energy women can bring to the table. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe a narrative that says we’re too erratic, too emotional, too nurturing, and therefore without the grit and determination needed to maintain the pace set by men in power. And so we are left with trades that assume that Women are not capable. Boardrooms devoid of half the population. And most importantly, at the pinnacle of our cultural system, lots and lots of male politicians shouting at each other. This has got to change.
Both masculine and feminine energies are equal and necessary and have incredibly powerful strengths, which become much more than the sum of their parts when balanced. I know this because Wooleen becomes more of what I envisage it to be every year by leaning into both energies equally.
Because at the core of it, integration is about feminine and masculine… not feminine vs masculine. . It is about ‘breaking the bias’ and creating a gender-equal world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
I’d like to share with you some daunting feelings I’ve had over the last 3 years. At my core I’m optimistic; I choose to see the good in everything (even if it gets me in a bit of trouble from time to time!) and I’m a big believer that eventually, even in bad times, things will be OK. But after a faced paced and successful decade into my career and life in Western Australia, I recently lost my way.
I continued to tread my pathway at Wooleen, engaging every day with guests on issues of urgency to achieve change in our environments. I took my knowledge and skills onto boards and committees where I freely gave my time. I chose, within my personal life, to live out the values most important to me. But around me, I watched a lack of action and commitment from the people who I expect it from the most. And so, for the first time in a long time, I began to lose hope. I began to wonder, what’s the point? For the first time in my life, I felt irrelevant.
I saw the despair caused by raging bushfires, the hurt on Grace Tame’s face, the lack of honesty and integrity extended to Brittany Higgins. I’ve watched flooding across major populated areas, and a cyclone ravage our own Midwest. I listened to Barnaby Joyce tell us ‘none of us in parliament will be here’ when referring to 2050, so why should they care. We still have no First Nations voice in Canberra and our prime minister told parliament women should be grateful they weren’t being met with bullets for protesting for women rights. I lost heart at how quickly society returned to bad habits post-COVID. Global crisis after global crisis rolled over me via awfully charged headlines, with no time to digest before the next one arrived. Closer to home, I was exasperated by the snail-paced ecological change of the landscape at Wooleen after nothing but sacrifice and pure dedication. I gazed out over my extraordinary wild landscape and couldn’t help but wonder whether the ecological complexity which makes it so beautiful was going to persist and recover after all. Will our endeavours to support it be nought for the actions of others outside of my control?
At a time when I felt we were surely moving forward I’d watch the news and realise that as a whole, we were slipping back. It all felt too much. I had gone down a rabbit hole and I couldn’t define the beginning or the end of it – to try and grasp so much pain.
I was overwhelmed with the extent of the issues and it just seemed easier to turn it off, and simply focus on getting through one day at a time. Using my keepcup felt like a waste of time, as did the effort I’d gone to reduce plastic from our business. I felt like a fraud when I was engaging with our guests. I think that’s a natural response to something that is overwhelming.
But I could feel it gnawing away in my heart, that this wasn’t how life was supposed to be. That in the past I’d been able to surmount these feelings. In my heart, I knew that I could change the situation. I just didn’t know if I had the strength or will. But in my better moments, I realised that the situation was not anywhere near as desperate as what I believed during my darker moments. But which was the truer path? One of optimism and determination? Or the path of overwhelming despair? Or a mish-mash of the two, sometimes hopeful, sometimes hopeless? Spending half my time apprehensive about the inevitable bad days and the other half searching for the good ones.
And then I realised it’s my conscious effort to understand my place in all of this. Nobody else’s. Without meaningful connections to others, to life, to myself, I’d created a ‘moral loneliness’. My pain was coming from a disconnection to everything I knew to be important to myself.
I chose to blame everyone else for my situation – politicians, colleagues, journalists, consumerism, capitalism, the person in front of me clutching a plastic bag and ordering a coffee in a plastic takeaway cup.
I’d fallen into a trap of creating expectations of who I, and society, should be and was unable to maintain them. I’d failed at providing myself the things I constantly gave to others – compassion, understanding and support. Because life isn’t linear, we don’t have a set of directions or a secret map that tells us what to do or where to go. Our paths are winding and filled with sliding doors.
Your direction is your choice. Something that we decide within ourselves every single moment of every single day. Deep down I think everybody knows that this is true, and maybe at this very moment you are feeling more powerful than usual – in a room surrounded by intelligent inspiring women. I hope so. Because you are.
The power to change our society is present in every single person here. But here’s the important thing – you have to choose it for yourself and your business. You have to choose it with your thoughts and quiet the voice inside you that says that you can’t.
We are here in this room today as Women Inspiring Better Business, And I say there is no reason to be overwhelmed. Do you know why? Because being overwhelmed is a choice that I made during those darker times, but it did not serve me to be a greater person. I made the choice to give my power to other people. When we hand this power over to others, we give them the ability to manipulate our emotions and undermine our happiness in ways that perpetuate inequality.
Rather than giving up on the things which defined me, I sought the courage to stand strong beside my hopes and visions of a sustainable future. More importantly, there isn’t one simple answer to the climate crisis, it’s a multilayered, multifaceted issue. The sooner I decided to give up the small granular fights and focus on the bigger one, the easier it got. Seeking validation in others is a fool’s game, as we alone are fully capable of understanding our needs and the core experiences that will bring us fulfilment in life.
In this moment I choose that the path out of the mess we have found ourselves in is not one that is filled with despair. It is not one filled with anger. I choose that in this moment it is filled with enrichment, with triumph, and with passion.
Because I know that adversity is the very situation that gives birth to these wonderful things. I don’t even have to convince myself, because if I zoom out on my life I already believe it. And I think that you do too. Failure is after all, is just another form of learning. Embrace it.
Don’t go away from here today thinking that you’re inspired, and then let that inspiration slip away as you return to “normal”. Act. Choose to do the things which light you up, supporting other women to create gender equality. Break the bias together, with those nearest and most dearest. Choose to have the power to create a better world for our future. Live life to the beat of your own drum, with all the beauty and joy of being alive, moving in time with the greatest gift we could possibly imagine. Each other.