Elizabeth Brennan: Shooting goals for the grassroots

27 Mar, 2014 01:00 AM
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Outstanding emerging leader Elizabeth Brennan at the Slow Food International Congress in Turin, Italy.
Follow your bliss – make sure the things you’re working on are what you’re passionate about
Outstanding emerging leader Elizabeth Brennan at the Slow Food International Congress in Turin, Italy.

WIAA 100: Outstanding emerging leader

AT JUST a tad under six foot, Elizabeth Brennan makes for a formidable force on the netball court.

Unafraid of tackling new roles, she happily plays goal keeper one day, goal shooter the next.

Off the court, she’s also shooting for goals and helping others do the same.

In 2009, Liz set off to tackle the Kokoda Track with a close friend and their fathers.

Over 10 days, she fell in love with Papua New Guinea and decided to take on an even bigger challenge in the country working as an AusAID volunteer in tourism and agricultural development.

She freely admits it was a challenging two years that taught her the importance of stepping outside her comfort zone and about her own personal capacity.

“Going there, I really experienced life in a totally different space and it helped further define for me what community was about.”

In 2012 Liz returned home to the family farm at Wongan Hills in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt with a renewed passion for community and regional development.

She now works for Regional Development Australia Wheatbelt from an office on the farm, developing projects across a region of the Wheatbelt that’s twice the size of Tasmania.

It’s given her the chance to drive real change in everything from the region’s childcare and education services to its digital connectivity.

“Being able to return to live and work from our family farm on projects that are having a real grassroots impact in our regional communities has been a dream come true.”

Last year, aged just 27, Liz was elected the president of Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) – the youngest woman ever at the group’s helm.

For most women in their 20s, taking on such a prominent leadership role might seem daunting but Liz is matter of fact about the challenge.

“I think what serves you well when you are a young leader is acknowledging that you are still learning – in fact I think that’s important for any leader.

“You may not have the skills and experience of others that have come before you but you bring a different set of skills and experience to the conversation and a new set of eyes.”

Liz is adamant leadership is not about having all the answers but rather drawingon the knowledge and experiences of those around you – in her case the AWiA network – to find the best path forward.

And she believes wholeheartedly in the motto of Catherine Marriott, WA’s 2012 RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year, that leaders are just ordinary people.

“Leaders are just you and me – they’re just an everyday person that’s willing to put their hand up and give it a go.”

She sees AWiA’s role as being far broader than just being a national voice for women that helps them influence the agricultural agenda.

She’s keen to ensure it also supports and mentors women wanting to step up into leadership roles – be they on a national taskforce or a local community group.

Liz credits the organisation with giving her the courage to do just that.

She admits when she was first approached to join the AWiA board two years ago she naturally questionedwhether she had the skills or knowledge to do it.

“But sometimes the only person that’s telling you that you can’t do something is yourself.

“So it’s important to have that support network around you that says ‘go for it – and I’ll be here when you’ve got some questions to ask or need to pick someone’s brain’.

“I see AWiA as this nationwide network of women all extending a hand out to help each other up into various leadership roles.”

Liz will join other rural leaders in this year’s Australian Rural Leadership Program, having been sponsored by

Fairfax Agricultural Media as an active Future Farmers Network member.

For women taking on new leadership challenges Liz’s best advice is to “be authentic” and to defend your “me time”.

“You need to make sure you take time out to reflect. I think that’s where the biggest part of learning comes from is during that reflection time.”

For her, that “me time” is typically spent on the netball court – and, as in life, with her eye on the ball.

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Sally White

is a former editor of The Land.

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