People on the move

Gippsland grower joins Australian Rural Leadership Program

Terry Sim March 23, 2022

MIXED farmer Courtney Mraz has a lot on her plate, but she has still stepped up to help women in agriculture by joining the Australian Rural Leadership Program.

Courtney Mraz. Image; West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.

Ms Mraz has been selected among the program’s 29th cohort and persevered after being nominated because of how she saw women treated in agriculture and to improve the culture for her three daughters and others.

With husband and competitive shearer Dan, Ms Mraz is an owner-director of an extensive mixed farming family operation spanning several properties totalling 11,129 hectares in different municipalities across east Gippsland.

There livestock assets include 2000 beef breeders with the capacity to run up to 5000 head, 3000 Merino ewes, 4000 first-cross ewes and about 15,000 Merino wethers. They trade lambs and also manage 1820ha of cropping.

Ms Mraz’ sponsor was the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Working toward sustainability

Ms Mraz has been a board member on the East Gippsland and West Gippsland catchment management authorities. She was deputy chair of the WGCMA and is now deputy chair of the EGCMA.

She has held other board roles in agriculture and community organisations, regarding herself as very passionate about developing a sustainable agriculture and farming system that combats climate change and sustains longevity of farmers.

Ms Mraz recognises that she is in a male-dominated industry, but is concerned at the “boys’ club” behaviour of some men.

“I’ve worked with men and they’re amazing and have helped me get where I am,” she said.

“But it can be a really toxic environment and I am really fortunate to have so many great male counterparts that I can call on for anything.”

However, after seeing a young woman leave agriculture after suffering discriminatory remarks from men, Courtney felt she needed to build her leadership skillset to offer advice and become a mentor.

“I was like, if I don’t put my hand up to do something about this – I’ve got three young girls – I felt it would be pretty poor on my behalf if I didn’t set an example.”

The couple has employed up to 40 people as shearing contractors before selling the run last year, and Courtney said 74 per cent would under 21 years of age; the farming operation employs 15 full-time and casual employees.

“We incorporate a lot of young people into what we do and hopefully create an opportunity for them in agriculture in the future – it’s something that is not sold very strongly either.”

Ms Mraz said she wanted to be able to present tools to young women in agriculture to build their networks and deal with the issues they come across.

“You don’t have to deal with it alone; it’s not acceptable and it’s not OK.”

Ms Mraz said she is also into encouraging sustainable agriculture and the family is looking at developing a renewable energy solar farm to diversify its income sources.

“We were hit pretty hard by the drought and I think it is the way of the future.”

She would like to help women lead in agriculture in her area and more broadly, specifically mentor women employers in agriculture.

She would also like help lead and educate on sustainable agriculture, facilitate discussion and influence decisions on agriculture matters at a state and federal level, keep farms in Australian ownership, and empower young rural leaders to get involved in local, state and federal boards.

Courtney is among 28 rural leaders in the program’s 29th cohort to win a $50,000 scholarship.

The program starts in June 2022.

Leaders create change

The ARLP is Australia’s longest and most in-depth experiential leadership development program giving participants a valuable opportunity to grow their leadership and create a network of change-makers to positively influence their organisations, industries, and communities across rural, regional and remote Australia. Participants engage in a range of experiential learning opportunities in four sessions over 15 months.

ARLF chief executive and alumnus Matt Linnegar congratulated the 2022 participants.

“For almost 30 years, the ARLF has remained committed to ensuring the delivery of high-quality programs that support improved leadership.

“An adaptive, network leadership approach is more important than ever as rural, regional and remote Australia faces unprecedented change,” he said.

A subsequent announcement will be made to announce a second round of successful applicants who will also join this cohort.

The Australian Rural Leaders Program Cohort 29 and their sponsors are:

  • Renee Bartolo, Jingili, NT, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE);
  • Carly Baker-Burnham, Monto, Qld, DAWE;
  • Melanie Bish, Golden Square, Vic, Telstra.
  • Jack Brennan, Gin Gin, NSW, Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC), Australian Food & Fibre & Cotton Australia, Paraway Pastoral Company.
  • Timothy Brennan, Crows Nest, Qld, Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA);
  • Melissa Brooke, Bundaberg, Qld, National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA);
  • Ryan Brown, Coverty, Qld, ALFA;
  • Robyn Bryant, Mingoola, Qld, Meat and Livestock Australia;
  • Zelmari Coetzee, Mildura, Vic, Agriculture Victoria Research;
  • Sophie Dwyer, Scarborough, WA, AgriFutures Australia;
  • Jay Dryden, Pt Noarlunga, SA, Australian Government Department of Health;
  • Steve Fawns, Deniliquin, NSW, AgriFutures Australia;
  • Rob Fish, Lennox Head, NSW, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation;
  • Jason Herbert, Dubbo, NSW, Australian Meat Processor Corporation;
  • Luke Hooke, Castlemaine, Vic, John B. Foundation (Innovation in Agriculture Scholarship);
  • Bernice Hookey, Charters Towers, Qld,  NIAA;
  • Aaron Kiely, Emerald, Qld, CRDC, Australian Food & Fibre, Cotton Australia;
  • Erin Lew Fatt, Jingili, NT, Tim Fairfax Family Foundation;
  • Renee Lynch, Narembeen, WA, CBH Group;
  • Latarnie McDonald, Taradale, Vic, NIAA;
  • Courtney Mraz,  Sale, Vic, GRDC;
  • Liz Morse-McNabb, Spring Gully, Vic, Agriculture Victoria Research;
  • Clare Purcell, Wattle Flat, Vic, Agriculture Victoria;
  • Chris Ronan, Cooma, NSW, Prime Super;
  • Tracy Sullivan, Cable Beach, WA, DAWE;
  • Angus Street, Avalon Beach, NSW, AuctionsPlus;
  • Jane Wardle, Perth, WA, CBH Group;
  • Eugene Wong, Avoca, Qld, Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.

Expressions of interest for the Australian Rural Leadership Program 30 are open via the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s website.

Expressions of interest for ARLP Course 30 can be submitted on the ARLF website.


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