The Invisible Farmer project seeks to address the historical and contemporary invisibility of Australian farming women and to celebrate the creative and vital role that women play in sustaining Australian farms and rural communities. It will combine personal narratives and academic research to map the diverse, innovate and vital role of women in Australian agriculture. The project involves a creative partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations. Together we will:
- Create new histories of rural Australia
- Reveal the unknown stories of women on the land
- Educate communities about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture and rural communities
- Stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
- Develop significant public collections that will enable far reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy.
This project began with a pilot project in 2015 and will continue through 2017-2019 funded by the Australian Research Council. Additional funds are being sought to cover the costs of education and community programs across Australia.
The Pilot Project
The Invisible Farmer Project was born out of a successful pilot project that was undertaken in 2015/2016. This Project was funded by the McCoy Seed Fund and involved a partnership between Museums Victoria and the University of Melbourne, as well as collaboration with a range of collecting institutions and organisations. The project gained considerable media and public interest and resulted in the following outcomes:
- Oral history interviews with 9 key women who have made significant contributions to agriculture, farming and rural life. These important interviews shed light on women's experiences with farming, agricultural education, policymaking, rural life, the media, women's networking and the wider Rural Women's Movement of the 1980s-1990s.
- Presentations, exhibitions and workshops for communities and industry stakeholders, including the 2015 Victorian Women on Farms Gathering (Healesville) and 2015 Australian Women in Agriculture Conference (Alice Springs).
- Intensive and ongoing media publicity and interviews that raised and promoted the importance of farm women's histories (ABC Radio National, 774, ABC-NT, ABC-QLD, ABC-Tas, ABC-News, The Age, Weekly Times, Rural News).
- Collaborative workshops with a range of collecting institutions such as the State Library of Victoria and Melbourne University Archives, with a view to establishing a strategic plan for how institutions in Victoria - and Australia-wide - might start to recognise the urgent need to collect these important histories.
- Development of an Australian Research Council Linkage application: The Invisible Farmer: Securing Australian Farm Women's History, leading to the large-scale Invisible Farmer Project.
The Invisible Farmer project is an initiative of Museums Victoria and has input from an external advisory group. Key partners include: ABC Rural, University of Melbourne, Monash University, Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, National Library of Australia, National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, and the National Foundation for Australian Women.
Australian Women in Agriculture Inc., Country Women's Association of Victoria, Museums Australia (Vic), History SA, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Rural Women's Network. Further support is being sought from relevant industry organisations, women's organisations, and agricultural R&D organisations.
The project seeks to honour the contributions and leadership of farm women of the past, in the present and into the future in the areas of:
- Caring for Country - through transformative land management practice.
- Positioning rural Australia to respond effectively to innovation & change in food production, climate, rural communities, environmental & economic conditions
- Building connections and maximizing internet connectivity to link: 1) present and future generations 2) rural and urban women 3) agricultural and environmental sectors 3) farmers and consumers and 4) agriculture and science
- Caring for and building families and communities
- Celebrating the diversity of rural communities across a myriad of indigenous and migrant cultures, industry groups and farming practices
- Honouring rural women in their innovative, creative, productive activities and creating opportunities for them to develop fully their many innate skills, competencies.
- Fostering women's leadership opportunities.
- Building community capacity through education and community programs
Women in Australia play a vital role in farming and agriculture, contributing at least 48 per cent of real farm income through their on and off-farm work (Missed Opportunities report, 1998). Sadly, however, women's contributions to agriculture have continued to be ignored, unrecognised and rendered invisible. Farming women have been excluded from censuses and official documentation, stereotyped as 'housewives' or 'domestics' despite their significant contributions to the farm economy and blindsided by a popularist vision of Australian agriculture that idealises masculinity and posits rural Australia as a 'male domain.' This is best summarised in a 1992 Australian Government report, The Invisible Farmer: A Summary Report of Australian Farm Women: 'Farming has traditionally been seen as a male domain, while women have been seen as homemakers or in domestic occupations rather than a visible or significant contributor to agriculture,' (Williams, 1992). Some notable ways in which farming women have been rendered invisible include: 1891: a decision was made to not count farming women in the census. Women have been denied access to agricultural education opportunities, with some agricultural colleges not accepting women until the 1970s. Up until 1990s women were legally defined as "silent partners", unproductive. The dominant cultural representation of farming in Australia has continued to be male-orientated and focused on the 'man on the land.' An important outcome of the Invisible Farmer Project is to create interest in the need to preserve the stories of women in agriculture, in particular those stories associated with the Rural Women's Movement of the 1980s-1990s. Some notable events associated with this movement include the creation of the Rural Women's Network (1983), the beginnings of the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering events (1990), the establishment of Australian Women in Agriculture (1993), the creation of the ABC Rural Woman of the Year Award (1994) and the organisation of the largest ever agricultural conference to be held in Australia, 'The First International Women in Agriculture Conference' (1994). Unfortunately, however, this national movement is largely absent from our history books and institutional collections. With much of this history undocumented, the stories of those who led the movement are at risk of being lost, just like so many generations of rural women before them.
Register as a supporting organisation via our website. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@invisfarmer). Support the development of national education and community programs by donating to the project.
Missed Opportunities: Harnessing the Potential of Women in Australian Agriculture, Commonwealth Government of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Rural Industries and Research Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE), 1998.
The Invisible Farmer: A Report on Australian Farm Women, Commonwealth Government of Australia: Department of Primary Industries, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Williams, Julie, 1992.