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In it together - Steve and Ursula Keating enjoy the leadership journey in partnership

Steve Keating is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP). Sponsored by the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, he began the program in 2008 with the 15th cohort of participants, but due to deteriorating health, couldn’t complete the program until 2010.

Steve’s commitment to completing the program demonstrates his determination to work for rural Australia and promote resilience in his part of the country.

“Growing up in Cape York meant that I saw first-hand the difficulties communities were having in terms of access to communications, opportunities and general assistance,” Steve says.

When he began the program, he was living near Dimbulah running a farm and also working with Biosecurity Queensland conducting pest management planning and control programs on Cape York and Torres Strait.

By the end of the program the farm was sold and Steve and his wife Ursula, purchased a property at Chinchilla in south-east Queensland, where they now own and operate Warregold Australian Stock Horse Stud, and manage a stock horse export company, Wedgetail Exports. Both Steve and Ursula built their stock horse bloodstock over many years of breeding. They are proud of their achievements and through their export venture, are promoting Australian stock horses in other parts of the world.

When Steve initially became interested in participating in the ARLP in 2008 he said that he needed to connect with other people.

“Growing up in an isolated community meant that my confidence in dealing with the public was limited. Through my participation in the program I have gone some way to overcoming this but I am still working on it.”

Steve’s involvement in the program was interrupted due to deteriorating health.

“I needed to take a break because my cancer came out of remission and I had to deal with it urgently, causing me to miss the Sydney session. During this period I was not able to do much and really just had to focus on my health.

“I remember when, as I was recovering, there was a Queensland Pest Animal Symposium being conducted in Cairns. I had been booked in to be a keynote speaker earlier that year in conjunction with a state government worker from Queensland Health. People knew I was not well and I had been asked a week earlier if I still wanted to go ahead,” he says.

“I agreed to keep going and the night before my presentation the Queensland Health co-presenter pulled out due to urgent commitments. I was extremely nervous but I called on previous ARLP experiences and advice and I gave the speech on my own to nearly 200 people—something I had never done before. This was a life changing moment for me. It gave me extra confidence.”

Steve and Ursula’s move to Chinchilla in the Darling Downs meant that they could both be closer to some advocacy roles and opportunities, and also Steve was closer to good medical assistance.

However, as he recalls, “I landed right in the middle of coal seam gas (CSG), which at the time of the move I did not know even existed. This exposed me to another set of community issues. I am now working with Origin Energy, based out of Chinchilla assisting Traditional Owners develop business opportunities within the industry. I am currently assisting the Iman Traditional Owner group develop a joint venture business opportunity with Savanna Energy, a coal seam gas drilling company, in the purchase and operation of a $12 million drill rig, which will be commissioned by Origin.”

Steve’s wife Ursula participated in the Foundation’s client-focused Blackwood Corporation program in 2012, an experience designed to improve leadership practice and challenge participants, both personally and professionally.

Ursula was particularly interested in the program because of their close proximity to CSG operations, as they reside in the heart of the Surat Basin where mining and gas operations have transformed a small community into an economic hub.

“I believe the environment is at the forefront of this development and that there should be a happy medium where economic wealth can be generated without sacrificing the environment or agricultural activities,” Ursula says.

“Through my business, Australian Agricultural and Environmental Solutions, I am working with coal seam gas proponents to develop strategies to prevent the spread of declared pests due to increased traffic movements. I am involved in some community organisations, and I also assist Traditional Owners within the Surat Basin meet their aspirations of developing sustainable business enterprises, but also assist in caring for their traditional lands.”

Both Steve and Ursula demonstrate that through the challenges of rural life, involvement with other people helps you build and grow in ways that you could never have envisioned.

Steve still has challenges ahead of him but he takes these on because he still believes strongly in and is committed to rural Australia.

“My current challenge is assisting not for profit community groups with conflicting personalities make informed decisions about the future of the organisation and the community,” Steve says.

The inspirational couple’s ability to take on the dynamic and contested environment that characterises rural Australia, demonstrates the style of leadership that is needed across Australia. 

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