Melissa Barnett has undergone many career transformations in her lifetime – from nurse to librarian to journalist, she says the most rewarding was becoming a woman of the land. Barnett was born and raised in the city, but did not hesitate in choosing a job in agriculture.
Not seeing herself as a “one career woman”, she had decades of experience in various fields of work, trying lots of things, but her love of the country has been constant. Barnett says that learning to grow things is something she will never tire of and never have enough years to know completely. “I’m one of those people who even at 59 still says ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’,” she said. Barnett’s attachment to the country life began in early childhood when she would spend time with her family driving out to the bush for holidays and weekends.
She first headed to the South Burnett in 1982 when she moved to Kingaroy to nurse. This is where she met her husband, Michael, whose family owns one of the oldest properties in the region, Taabinga Station. Established in 1884, Michael’s grandfather Arthur Youngman took ownership in 1887. The property has always played a role in the South Burnett community. “Taabinga has contributed financially to various public buildings and organisations, along with giving land to Kingaroy township,” Barnett said. The property also hosted the Taabinga Spring Music Festival with the Queensland Conservatorium in the early 1980s, as an early pioneer of agritourism.
In the 1980s, Melissa and Michael made the move to Brisbane, where they remained for 25 years, however in 2011, the couple made a permanent move back to Taabinga Station. Both maintained off-farm income, and as a self-employed writer, Melissa was the one with the flexibility to take on the lion’s share of the farm work. Previously, they had managed the property remotely with the support of an assistant farm manager. Unfortunately, Melissa’s 15-year career in journalism, and her time spent nursing did not prepare her fully for responsibilities such as herding livestock and farming work. “I had a huge job in front of me to learn everything I could about the cattle business,” Barnett said. “Preg testing a cow was especially challenging, and if you’ve met me you know I’m not very tall with short arms,” she laughs.
Barnett says her career in agriculture has been a fulfilling experience, allowing her to expand on her research skills and communication from journalism and her nursing skills such as giving injections, wound management, and staying calm under pressure. Out in the field, Melissa has tapped into the fantastic grazing network that exists in the South Burnett, and also the experience and help of her team.
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