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Robin McConchie: Over 35 years, I conducted thousands of interviews

I was at the Royal Melbourne Show with my Ag Science students when I bumped into an old university friend and asked her what she was up to since finishing Ag. Rural Reporter with the ABC was her reply. She said it was fantastic! You were master of your own destiny, reporting on issues that mattered to farmers, and you had your only daily radio program

I knew nothing about radio and had no actual plans after travelling the world for three years. Still, I loved the idea of talking to farmers about issues that impacted them.

The long and the short was I left teaching and won a position as a cadet Rural Reporter with Auntie.
The new career took me from South Australia to Queensland, Parliament House in Canberra, the US, SE Asia and back to Queensland as Executive Producer of the ABC Country Hour.

Over 35 years, I conducted thousands of interviews with farmers, politicians, scientists, and anyone connected with agriculture. There were stories about drought, floods, cyclones, record crops and dairy deregulation. I covered the collapse of the Reserve Price Scheme for wool, cane toads, wild dogs, mouse and rat plagues, agripolitics and the EKKA.

I loved reporting and got good feedback from the audience.

But in the early days, the interviews were almost always with blokes, ‘the farmer’ and usually older farmers, never women or young people. A colleague pulled me up on this and said, ‘you know women are just as much a part of the farming enterprise as the men’. How dumb could I be, but what great advice.

A brief comment opened a whole new dimension to my reporting. It didn’t matter the story; I always tried to get a perspective from men and women.

In the ’90s, Jan Darlington and the ABC’s Lisa Palu started the Rural Woman of the Year Award (RWOTY). Women in the bush were really punching through the grass ceiling!

I hate awards, but the RWOTY raised women’s profile in ag. It provided leadership and made the politicians think hard about the 50 per cent of their constituents they often neglect. But there is still a long way to go to redress inequality, succession planning, sexism, and domestic violence in the bush.

Since retiring in 2018, I have continued to tell stories through oral history, podcasting- especially about women in the bush making a difference in their community and, more recently, the Graziher magazine.

I live in Brisbane but love getting out to the bush, golf, camping, hiking, scuba diving, and photography.
I will get another dog this year.

PS if you want a game of golf, I am really keen to get the Happy Hacker Podcast firing again after a terrific start with the Queensland Outback Masters in 2021.


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