They sacrificed lucrative corporate careers in the name of love, but two Moree farmers’ wives have found you can have your cake and eat it too – all while producing the key ingredients to bake it.
Susannah Pearse and Libby Carter were strangers, both treading Brisbane’s well-worn corporate path during their twenties, blissfully unaware of how far their worlds would diverge from the concrete comfort of Eagle Street.
For Brisbane-raised Susannah, a former marketing manager for Coles Hotels Group, country living was a foreign concept.
“I grew up in a very suburban household. We had no rural ties and I’d certainly never been to a working farm, I don’t think I even knew any country people,” she admits.
Libby, however, having grown up in the small north Queensland community of Ayr, knew firsthand the charm of country living and admitted it was always a niggle in the back of her mind. “My father, Bill Dowdle, is originally from Gunnedah and was an agronomist in the North West. Ironically, I was in fact born in Moree,” Libby explains. It was over 17 years ago, at the Queensland University of Technology, when Libby first met her now husband Andrew Carter, the pair both studying law and commerce. “We were so young, but had a similar background and probably a desire to replicate that for our own future family.”
Although, at the time, having both secured graduate programs in large firms and, later, corporate careers in London, Libby admits small town living wasn’t at the forefront of her life trajectory. “All I remember of those early visits to Moree were the flies and the heat,” she laughs.
“Meanwhile, my family was thrilled I was dating a Moree boy, holding onto the romantic notion I may end up where my parents started out. I soon realised there was nothing romantic about rural living!” With Andrew’s family based 70 kilometres west of Moree at ‘Bungunya’, she says the pendulum swings between feeding sheep in drought to wading through floodwater to rescue bogged stock.
“It really does have to be in your blood; working with stock is not always that pleasant.” This was realised first hand, only weeks out from their wedding. “We’d had four years working in London, me in capital raising and Andrew in mergers and acquisitions. They were big jobs in a pre-GFC market, and while we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, we wanted to move back to the farm to raise a family.
“We moved home in the October, to be married in November, with a spot of lamb-marking in between.”
Needless to say, a kick in the nose by a lamb just weeks out from her wedding knocked out any international delusions of grandeur, and UK wedding visitors to the farm were left justifiably ‘mortified’ by the Carter’s new lifestyle choice.
Susannah’s course to Moree was slightly more whirlwind.
“Like many young unsuspecting Brisbane girls, I met my country boy on Caxton Street. Oscar was working in Brisbane for Ag Force and as I’d never met a farmer before I was quite intrigued.” Laughing at her naivety, she admits, “It did take me quite a few weeks to establish he was from Moree rather than Moura or Morven, it was all quite novel initially.” Even her first few trips to Moree were fanciful, with Oscar pulling out all the stops to showcase bush living. “There were barbeques on the Gwydir River, romantic picnics in the paddock, country races and we even went horse riding, a pursuit we have never endeavoured since!”
And while the flat North West plains were a stark contrast to the rolling green hills of her imagination, she smiles that “it only takes your first sunset to fall in love with the landscape.”
With the couple soon married, the possibility of life on the farm was always a consideration, however the calling came far sooner than expected. “I was always open to the idea, and then in early 2007 Oscar’s parents made the call that we had to be home to sow the next crop in May!”
Oscar and Susannah run a mixed cropping operation in the Pallamallawa district, with their three young children: Gregory, Eleanor and Josephine. “I have a huge respect for the lifestyle out here, and for the work. You can see the fruits of your labour, literally, and it feels like a far more noble pursuit than sitting at a city desk, detached from the outside world.”
While these confident, savvy brunettes share a very similar backstory, it’s only recently their paths have crossed, in a fusion for which the whole community can be thankful. Both women work at the Moree Plains Shire Council, and are shaking up the local government sector.
Libby has worked at the Council since she first moved to Moree. “As the town’s biggest employer I thought it would be the best way to meet people,” she says, and Susannah was employed 12 months ago. Together they are the genius behind the ‘My Moree’ campaign, a promotional project using Facebook to share inspirational local stories.
“Like any rural town we have issues, and it’s easy for people to dwell on the negative, so we wanted a vehicle to remind people of all the great reasons we live in Moree,” Susannah explains. Using local filmmaker Sascha Estens of Rabbit Hop Films, the highly engaging videos share stories from within the community, instilling pride and showcasing the region’s diversity. The campaign also included a local photography competition, professionally displayed at the Moree Plains Shire Council, from which a number of talented photographers were uncovered.
“It was such a positive, successful project for our little town, and the feedback has been phenomenal. We’ve learnt of many people stopping off in Moree for a look thanks to the ‘My Moree’ message,” Susannah beams. “I, and so many of our local friends, just love living in Moree; it’s a fantastic community and you certainly get back what you put in. I am also thrilled to be raising three little farm children and restoring those traditional city/country ties that had been lost in my own city network,” says Susannah.
Both women are a case in point of the benefits of rural living, with Libby admitting she would never have enjoyed a work life balance living in the city. “We now have two delightful young daughters, Isabelle and Grace, and they probably would have been raised by nannies if we continued our city careers, or I would have had to step away from work,” explains Libby. “It’s so refreshing that here in the bush I can still fulfil a meaningful career, help on the farm and be a mum. One who can even commit to canteen duties and committees!”
The potential for future concepts and locally driven initiatives also fills Libby with delight. “There are so many women with skills in Moree who we’re excited to tap into. Having moved from the private to the public sector, there was a definite shift in culture, but I feel wonderful about potentially mentoring some of the staff and inspiring them to push boundaries and strive for better than ‘good enough’. And I’m excited to see what other locally led initiatives we can develop, because at the end of the day our locals are our best advocates.”
While both these women may have married into well-established local families, they have certainly gained a strong reputation far beyond the farmers they married.
To view the ‘My Moree’ campaign, simply access the page through Facebook.
Story & photos Georgina Poole