Heather Mitchell is best known for being the first female President of the Victorian Farmers Federation (1986-89) and for her collaboration with Joan Kirner as co-chair of Landcare Victoria in 1986. Her Presidency highlighted the family nature of farming and gave women on the land a focus for the expression of their involvement in the business. During the ten year period that Heather was particularly active in agri-politics, her Akubra hat, with its many different badges, was an identifiable part of her public persona.
Badges of Activities & Community Connections
There are 40 badges on Heather Mitchell's hat.
These badges capture the diversity of activities, issues and community connections that formed Heather Mitchell's life. While she wore this hat during the 1980s and early 1990s many of these badges go back to early parts of her life. They highlight Heather's ongoing interest in all aspects of agriculture and rural communities, particularly fostering the spirit of resilience, self-help and enterprise. "Don't talk about the problems, find the solutions," is what she would say to farmers, ministers and premiers alike when addressing a particular issue.
These badges also graphically symbolize the multiple hats that farm women wear in sustaining their farms, families and rural communities.
The badges come under a number the following themes: agriculture & farming, healthcare & medicine, community organisations, education, government, agricultural finance and travel. Each badge is identified by a number which locates it on the hat.
Agriculture and Farming:
Badge 1 - Farmers Fighting for a Fair Go, the largest badge on the hat, was the slogan of the campaign organised nationally by the National Farmers Federation and the Victorian Farmers & Graingrowers Association (VFGA) in 1985 to highlight the problems being faced by farmers and rural communities at that time. Key issues of concern included low farm incomes, a push towards free trade after decades of protectionism, increasing costs especially in fuel & grain freight charges, over regulation, crisis in the dairy industry, drought, rising public sector debt impacting on currency exchange rates, high interest rates and farm debt.
The campaign resulted in huge rallies by farmers & supporters - in Perth there were 8,000 marchers; in Adelaide 17,000 marchers; in Melbourne 30,000 marchers and 45,000 in Canberra. During the marches, farmers wore sandwich boards using the slogan and logo shown on the badge. Heather Mitchell played a leading role in these demonstrations. In the month following the marches, Heather was elected the first female Vice President of the VFGA (in 1986 she became the first female President of the renamed VFF). Other badges in this category reflect the challenging arena of balancing environmental concerns and agriculture so admirably exemplified by Heather Mitchell and Joan Kirner in their joint leadership of Landcare Victoria.
Badge 13 - Tasmanian Mountain Cattlemen's Association was formed in 1986 by cattlemen in Tasmania's high country as a collective voice to protect their right to farm, their heritage and traditions whilst being mindful of conservational issues.
Badge 17 - Tread Lightly! relates to a public awareness campaign of that name initiated by the US Forest Service in 1985, for community support to protect outdoor recreational areas. In 1990 the campaign became a non-profit organisation supported by a unique network of partners actively involved in cost-effective solutions to key issues.
Badge 28 - Beef 88 consists of the words "BEEF" and "88" with the Australian Bicentennial logo. "Beef Australia" was created in 1988 as part of the Australian Bicentennial. A range of government-funded projects were held in Australia. In recognition of Australia's position as the world's second largest beef exporter, it was decided to showcase the cattle industry through the first Beef Australia exposition in Rockhampton. This was so successful it has been held every three years since 1991.
Badge 32 - Alberta Pool, is associated with Canada's first wheat farmer cooperative, set up in 1923 for selling wheat for the best advantage to its members.
Healthcare and Medicine:
Healthcare and Medicine is a theme that resonated very strongly throughout Heather's life, not only personally but also as a part of rural and community life. Heather's initial training and career was as a nurse and she was actively involved and supportive of health related community organisations.
She was a tireless supporter of the local hospital in Hopetoun and was a Board member of the Wimmera Base Hospital (1975-80) and an innovative and key fundraiser for a local campaign that led to the establishment of the Corrong Retirement Village (Hopetoun) of which she became a Life Governor in 1979. The badges associated with Healthcare and Medicine is the largest group, with eight altogether. The key organisations represented in this group of badges are the Red Cross and the Royal Bush Nursing Association. Some of these badges were presented to Heather Mitchell in recognition of her ongoing active support and involvement with these organisations.
These badges are of significance not only as a testament to Heather's life but also for the benefits that flow on to the health and wellbeing of rural communities in rural Australia through these organisations.
Badge 2 - Australian Junior Red Cross is associated with that organisation's youth section, established in 1918 and reinvigorated in 1989 with a National Youth Camp to refocus on youth. Its aims are to focus on the development of a humanitarian ethos among young people, through education programs, and activities that encourage active citizenship and community participation.
Badge 6 - a gold badge with a red enamelled Maltese Cross, shows Heather Mitchell was a member of the International Order of St John. This is only awarded to serving members of the Red Cross who are admitted into the Order of St John for 25 years' service.
Badge 14 - a Maltese Cross with an oil lamp associated with Florence Nightingale and the letters RDNS in its centre, is associated with the Royal District Nursing Service.
Badge 19 - HBA was a national health insurance company that operated until 1991. Heather was Deputy Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of HBA in 1979.
Badge 31 - VBNA - Heather Mitchell, consists of a metal bar with Heather Mitchell's name from which an outline of the State of Victoria, a red Maltese Cross and the letters RDNS is attached. This badge is associated with the Victorian Bush Nursing Association, established in 1910 and amalgamated in 1999 with Aged Care Victoria to form the Victorian Association of Health & Extended Care.
Badge 37- Australian Red Cross Society badge
Badge 38 - Australian Red Cross Society Service Award acknowledged Heather Mitchell's roles as Foundation Regional President Mallee Region Red Cross (1956-66) and Foundation Regional Commandant Mallee Red Cross Region (1966-74).
Community Organisations and Services:
Heather Mitchell supported and was actively involved with many community organisations. She often took on a leadership role in fundraising to support organisations that promoted self-help and resilience in the local community. The variety of organisations represented in this group of badges highlights the diversity of Heather's interests and connections to rural and wider communities.
Badge 5 - Speed the Plough: Member's Guest. "Speed the Plough" is the motto of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and symbolises an attitude of innovation and leadership.
Badge 7 & Badge 10 - ANZAC Appeal badges. Badges such as these are issued on 25th April each year for ANZAC Day by the Returned and Services League to promote community awareness and raise funds for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand current and former servicemen, servicewomen and their families.
Badge 8 - Scouts Australia, is an organisation that provides young Australians aged 6 to 25 with fun and challenging opportunities to grow through adventure. Scouts Australia has almost 70,000 members, making it the largest youth movement in the nation.
Badge 22 - CWA Victoria - The Country Women's Association is active throughout Australia. Its city and rural members have a focus on friendship, personal development and advocacy.
Badge 36 - Country Fire Authority Victoria provides volunteer firefighting and other emergency services to rural areas and the regional townships of Victoria, as well as part of the outer suburban areas of Melbourne not covered by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
State and Local Government:
In her role as VFF President, Heather had an ongoing involvement with state and local government agencies on a variety of issues as she promoted the interests of members.
Badge 3 - Bairnsdale Shire Council is a local government authority that was established in 1868 and celebrated its centenary in 1968. It dissolved in 1994 and became incorporated into the new municipalities of East Gippsland Shire Council and Wellington Shire Council.
Badge 27 - Warrnambool Victoria includes is a brass badge with a white enamel background & features an iconic image of pines and foreshore. While this logo is not currently used by the local Council or associated tourism authority, it may have been in use at this time.
Badge 30- a silver badge with a blue enamelled flag and a white cross. There is a silver "fleur de lys" in each of the four blue sections of the flag. This is consistent with the official flag of the Province of Quebec.
Badge 33 - is a silver badge with blue, white, red and yellow enamelling with the design identical to the State of Colorado, USA.
Badge 35 - Conservation and Natural Resources Victoria is from the Victorian Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, which operated from 1992 to 1996. It was succeeded by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in 1996.
Heather Mitchell was an advocate of progressive land management practices and promoted a spirit of collaboration between country and city for agriculture and conservation. This guided her in her role as co-chair of Landcare Victoria, alongside the then Minister for the Environment, Joan Kirner and resulted in the outstanding success of Landcare Victoria. Landcare became a leading role model for community partnerships in land conservation and has been adopted nationally and internationally.
Heather was actively involved in promoting education and training throughout her life. She was the President of Hopetoun High School Council, a member of the Longerenong Agricultural Advisory Committee (1976-80) and Deputy Chair Wimmera Regional TAFE Board (1975-80).
In an obituary printed in the Herald Sun, 20 Oct 1999, it was noted that "she supported an improvement in the quality and availability of agricultural education." There are 4 badges that relate to Education.
Badge 4 - 1990 Literacy: Learning for Life relates to a UNESCO Literacy Campaign in 1990 that highlighted the critical role of literacy.
Badge 11 - VCAH - The Horticultural College Centenary 1891-1991 Burnley relates to the Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture. The Burnley Campus operated from 1983 to 1997 and is now a part of the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Horticulture.
Badge 29 - LAC - Dum Colimus Eredimur - Graduation is a silver badge with blue and white enamelling and silver laurel leaves enclosing a shield with LAC and the motto. It is associated with Longerenong Agricultural College, one of Australia's leading tertiary institutions specialising in agriculture and land management. The motto means "While we are instructed". Heather's connection to Longerenong was strong and personal. She became Patron of the Longerenong Centenary Appeal in 1989 as well as establishing the Lester Mitchell Scholarship for second year students and is still available to support these students.
Badge 39 - A.H.S. - Ad Astra Per Apera is a gold shield shaped badge with black and red enamelling and gold stars. This relates to Heather's high school in Albury whose motto means "To the stars through difficult and challenging ways".
Agricultural Finance and Infrastructure:
Heather is fondly remembered by members of the Hopetoun community for her support of young people wanting to get involved in farming. This support and mentorship continued during her career with the Victorian Farmers Federatino and the National Farmers Federation.
In 1986 she was Deputy Chairman of the Young Farmers Finance Council of Victoria. In this group of 3 badges we can see a connection to Agricultural Finance and Infrastructure, which are all essential to successful agricultural enterprises.
Badge 21 - National Australia Bank logo.
Badge 24 - Telstra Countrywide relates to Australia's largest telecommunications provider - a vital piece of infrastructure to rural enterprises and communities.
Badge 26 - Sandhurst Trustees is a gold badge with blue enamelling and a gold castle in the centre. Sandhurst Trustees was established in 1887 to help the people and development of Sandhurst (Bendigo) and its surrounding agricultural districts. It subsequently became a part of the Bendigo Bank.
There are several other badges that are more general, relating to travel and national civic events.
Badge 12 - Black Swan
Badge 15 - Tasmania
Badge 16 - Road Train NT
Badge 20 - Kanga Crew
Badge 34 - 1985 with the logo for Australia's Bicentennial.
There are three badges that have not yet been identified and classified.
Badge 18 - CD - in adversitas paratus
Badge 23 - badge with a green map of Australia enclosed with a white background and a green circle.
Badge 40 - golden horse
Agriculture, Women on Farms Gatherings, Women's Work, Agricultural & Farming Organisations, Women's Role, Healthcare & Medicine, Community Groups, Rural Women, Environmental Issues, Hat Accessories, agricultural industry, Women's Associations, Women's Issues, Rural Industry, Rural Victoria, Rural Landscapes, Environmental Activism, Political Protests, Sustainable Agriculture, country life, Scouting Movement