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Outstanding regional and rural leadership


Territory Tuesday: Clair O'Brien

Territory Tuesday: Clair O'Brien

With just 10 days to go until the 20th cohort of the Australian Rural Leadership Program graduate in Darwin on Friday, 19 September, we're dedicating each Tuesday to profiling a Fellow or graduate based in the Northern Territory. It's a huge place, and a unique, highly-rural environment, shaping its own unique leaders. So to get you in the graduation mood, here is one of the Top End's top leaders!

(More Territory Tuesdays here: Alister TrierSally BanfieldRowan FoleyAnnette Burke and Katherine Winchester)

Clair Obrien, ARLP Course 9. Mataranka.

I followed my husband Mike to the Territory with three generations of our family. Since 1976 we'd been investing in and breeding and selling our special type of Brahman bulls across Queensland and northern Australia, and we thought why not take them to the buyers?

So we did.

That was in July 1993, and we have continued to breed and sell our special genetics of Coodardie type Brahman bulls from a closed pure herd pool.

We now have Classic Livestock Management Service accreditation for tender and tasty meat assessed on the hoof before being on-hook. We assess for 28 traits with the CLMS. The end result is specific production info for the buyer.

When we moved, we brought 2500 head of our Brahman cattle from “Craig’s Pocket” station in north Queensland (at the headwaters of the Burdekin River) to “Carmor Plains” next door to Kakadu National Park – 80,000 acres right to the coast on Finke Bay. It was a mecca of amazing wetlands, but very tough on man and beast alike. In November 2001, we again trucked our beloved Coodardie Brahmans with genetics set back in 1976, to Numul Numul station on the Roper Highway, one and a half hours drive east of Mataranka.

Here we leased 500 square kilometres of cattle country from a local aboriginal family and we still do so today, bringing a lapsed pastoral lease back into operation and production. We have had three of our kids working with us in the family company which is driven by holistic management principals – we are the decision makers, and our end-goal is always to be healthy in every aspect of our lives, business and actions.

In 2004 I moved to “town”, ten kilometres south of Mataranka, on 5000 acres of freehold native bushland, which had a boundary fence and little more! That's as close to town that I need to be and I love it – Mike and I have grown into the place we wish it to be and the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere is what Coodardie Station Stay is all about too – we have an open home and share experiences with people who visit.

I waited 38 years to build my own design home: a true outback homestead that allows you to live in this environment without air-conditioning. You need to live with the environment, not against it, whatever you do.

I am living my vision for rural Australia, where by offering this truly extended family experience, we can somehow start bridging that city/country divide that the 2011 live export ban clearly demonstrated to me, is wider than ever, sadly.

My experience on the ARLP taught me that there are all sorts of leaders and it confirmed for me that it doesn't mean you always have to be visible or out the front, to be a leader. I've always been more comfortable to lead from within or behind, and that reinforcement and reassurance has made me much more at ease with who I am and that it's quite ok for me to take time out for me too.

I'm a nurturing type driven by my passion for what I do and believe in for a healthier environment from our soils up – we are what we eat and should do that naturally. I continue to work with my extended family, others and my community to ensure change, development and most importantly succession planning for sustainability are priorities. I feel that I do walk the talk, taking others with me.

What I love about being a leader in the Territory is the vastness of this place; the endless opportunities and the diversity.

I enjoy providing my perspective of outback life and country hospitality through an established, comfortable and relaxed natural environment that is my home, family and property, where visitors may come as strangers but leave as friends appreciative of our efforts. Here, daily, long-term decisions have implications for people, animals, country, the environment and our finances – it’s a quadruple bottom line!

Many of the challenges facing the Territory aren’t addressed by utilising local ideas and input. I wonder why there’s a tendency to think that expertise or ideas need to be imported. Experiences on the spot really do have massive advantages if only recognised; encouraged and supported. We need to give them a value.

Our low population here is an advantage, but can just a much be disadvantageous when promoting a product; preventing enough turnover for sustainability.

The north needs to learn from other regions in Australia when it comes to future development – simply adding water is not necessarily the answer to being the “future food bowl”. Our vast distances and low population mean large tracts of land are being managed by a few. We need to offer the opportunities to have more families on smaller tracts of land, then you'll see true engagement and resource utilisation through diversity and management, rather than large monocultures.

It has the potential to be an amazing healthy tapestry across our vast landscape. We aren’t yet utilising our free, natural resource of sunshine enough either. Again that simply needs more encouragement, value and support. It's here in abundance but it does need more harvesting for use. We need more leaders to demonstrate that we can live with our environment, not against it.

The advice I would have for Course 20 as they graduate is: Dare to be different. It's quite okay not to be the norm (whatever that is). Trust and believe in yourself and walk your talk. Find like minded people who accept you as you are; allow you to develop, learn, and who bring out the best in you. Don't try to be who you're not, it’s too much hard work. Stay positive and enjoy what you do and where you do it. Remember that change is constant, and it is okay.

My own graduation was characterised by reunion; reflection and rewards …. Thanks and appreciation to my sponsor News Limited, and to ALL sponsors for the opportunity!

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