Leader sees land as bridge to understanding
In between watching the skies for rain, monitoring the encroachments of mining activities, and carrying out the daily ins-and-outs of farm life, ARLP Fellow Lyn French runs a retreat that is all about family, Outback life and the environment.
Since 1869, seven generations have worked Gilberton Station, and the last quarter century has seen Lyn, her father in law and husband Rob grow the cattle property into a sustainable, best-practice venture.
Lyn, Rob and their children Kerri-ann, Ashley and Anna are without exception working for, and dedicated to the land, but Lyn knows that her family’s way of life is not the norm for many in Australia and beyond.
From this knowledge, a dream was born to utilise the spectacular land at Gilberton “to educate people about where their food comes from, and why it is important to have people on the land.”
Around the same time that Lyn completed Course 20 of the ARLP in September last year, the doors opened to Gilberton Outback Retreat.
“I love people. We can learn so much from each other,” Lyn, director of the retreat, says.
“I felt we have so much to offer here in our piece of paradise … Looking about there wasn’t much available giving people a chance to see the true Outback way of life, and keeping it ‘Australiana’ but also luxurious.
“Visitors get to experience and enjoy the peace and quite of the Outback,” Lyn says.
The retreat offers endless options for visitors wanting as much or as little adventure as they like.
Wildlife, walks and bird watching offer gentle activities, while Aboriginal art and ancient paintings provide a key sense of Gilberton’s original people.
Guests can watch station work, including mustering, swim, fish and kayak, or even pan for gold.
The first guests to come and stay at Gilberton were a young couple on their honeymoon, and Lyn says they were blown away.
“People have said it’s a getaway fit for a king, and Australia’s best kept secret,” Lyn says.
But what makes a getaway to a remote, working cattle station such an alluring experience for people from all walks of life?
“Being Enviromently conscious of the practice we have on the land is very important,” Lyn says.
She and her family have approached tourism in the same way they have approached farming; knowing that outcomes and outputs are poor if custodianship is not strong.
“The land has been handed down in pristine condition from our forefathers and it’s important that we follow suit,” she says.
“Gilberton stock lightly, which means being aware of what our country can and cannot do.
“To live on the land we must be able to read our country to be able to look after it. We see so many people in dire straights should a bad season come by, so we have strict guidelines,” Lyn says.
“By setting up the retreat, we are able to showcase what the family has been doing for 7 generations and why it has worked so well for us.”
And diversification is a crucial part of Lyn’s leadership as a remote primary producer.
“I think more people are starting to think about diversification and doing something like we’ve done,” Lyn says.
“We could see an opening for this market, as no one else is doing anything like we are. It has been troublesome to me that the cattle industry won’t be able to support all families, and the cattle industry can be really quite an insecure market in North Queensland.
“I would have done it 10 years ago if funds had allowed, but there was always something else that needed doing, or new bulls to buy,” Lyn explains.
“More people are thinking of diversifying to help them through tough times.”
These tough times happened to punctuate the background to Lyn’s ARLP experience, as severe drought gripped Gilberton, and difficult decisions knocked constantly at Lyn’s door.
But she says the support of her sponsor, Meat and Livestock Australia, and the Program experience are important influences for her as a leader.
“Doing the ARLP has certainly given me the strength to move forward,” Lyn says.
“I’m not being timid in just thinking about something, but actually doing it—fight on and actually be more confident in what ever I tackle.
“I am sure as time goes I will draw on things that I am not aware that I am actually doing.” Lyn says.
While Lyn and Rob are hoping their son Ashley will begin to take the reins more firmly running Gilberton’s farming ventures, the committed cattlewoman sees a lot more yet to be done.
“The ARLP has given me the push to take a step further and voice my opinion for our industry, not only in the beef but tourism field as well,” Lyn says.
“I am not afraid now to stand up and be heard, but most importantly, not to be cocky, but to be confident in what I say, and know I am speaking for our industry.”