As published in Graziher Autumn 2018
Over 140 years in the industry, and a new generation of Munro women are ensuring Weebollabolla Shorthorns viability well into the future.
Story and photos Georgina Poole
For four generations they were stockmen, businessmen, and cattlemen – over 140 years of Munro men following the legacy of their father’s before them.
That’s until they weren’t.
Today, four highly capable and passionate fifth generation Munro daughters, Catriona, Kirsten, Jennifer and Jacquelin, look to the future.
Their parents, Managing Director Sandy and wife Jude Munro, still run and reside at Weebollabolla, but the wheels of succession are turning in this contemporary dynasty, of which all four daughters are spread across Australia, and the globe.
Jen – practical, hands on and a natural stockwoman – has emerged as Sandy’s ‘right hand man’ and is now a Director of the family owned company, formally named Norland Pastoral.
“Growing up there was constant commentary from family, friends and employees as to which daughter would ‘come home and help run the show’ – and there was plenty of advice to just sell the lot.”
“But Dad was never one to stick to traditions, he’s never shied away from new technology, new seed varieties, new industries – he introduced cotton to three properties which helped us through some tough cattle years, and he certainly never doubted the capabilities of his daughters’ in running the show’,” Jen muses.
“We always felt totally empowered and vital to the business, as a result we’re all equally passionate and ambitious for the family legacy to continue.”
And with ‘cotton irrigating on Christmas Day’ one of Jen’s fondest childhood memories – ‘I just loved that feeling that we were keeping the place going while most people relax’ – their work ethic clearly rivals their passion.
Every inch the modern rural woman, Jen’s time is split between Weebollabolla, Moree and ‘Delegate Station’ Delegate, which she assists husband John, brother-in-law William and his wife Meg in their expanding agricultural business, some ten hours away.
Three young children, including twins Georgina and Amelia, five, and James, two, seems like water off a duck’s back, but Jen admits it’s a daily juggle.
“I just think of the commute as like a tractor shift – except you have a destination, plus you get to see what the season is doing from one end of NSW to the other!
“If you’re not in the car before 5am it’s a tough shift though – there are always plenty of snacks on hand for bargaining power!”
Jen is equally pragmatic about the twins, five-year-old Georgina and Amelia’s, arrival.
‘‘On their first night home from hospital we had about 1000 newborn lambs in a 12 hectare paddock by the house, those lambs sounded just like our girls’ crying – it was very confusing!”
“And typically, I was due around our annual bull sale! I madly finished our catalogue, had the girls two days later and drove to Moree for the sale a couple of weeks after that. All I remember is having to concentrate so hard my brain hurt trying to work out the agent’s commission – I was so sleep deprived!”
Her decision to leave the family property and move South was a crossroad not taken lightly.
“It was not easy, and quite devastating for my parents. I also felt a lot of pressure about the whole maternal pull, I was past 30 and had been doing the long-distance thing for nearly eight years.”
“My wonderful mother gave up everything for her four daughters and husband, and it scared me to be so selfless. I guess that made me even more determined to pursue my career.
“However, the saying “you can do it all but you can’t do it all at once” really rings true, and I’m grateful every day for my three gorgeous children, very patient husband and wonderfully supportive parents-in-law Kathy and Peter Jeffreys – not to mention my own parents.”
With her naturally athletic ability, a school career advisor initially suggested Jen ‘forget agriculture and get into human movement’, but from the moment she started Ag Business at the University of Sydney Orange Campus, her fate was sealed.
Never afraid to smash a gender stereotype, Jen was the first jillaroo to work on the McDonald family’s Rutland Plains in 1999.
“We had a property in the Northern Territory at the time, Mittiebah, but I didn’t want to be the boss’s daughter – and truth be told I had some major insecurities about my fencing skills!”
“Zander and Julie McDonald were just married, and so supportive taking me on.”
“I’ll never forget Zander shaking his head in awe at Dad having four daughters, and then they had four daughters themselves! His loss was enormous, and felt throughout the whole industry.”
A career meat trading in Sydney followed, before Jen’s eventual return to Weebollabolla, and finally, Delegate.
Youngest sister Jacquelin is at ‘Brooklyn’ Narromine, while eldest Catriona lives in Sydney, and Kirstie, Singapore.
But thanks to today’s technology, the tyranny of distance is no longer such a challenge.
Apps such as WhatsApp have proven integral to the business, streamlining communication and feedback.
“Dad sends photos almost daily, updates on the latest farm developments, everything from fallow sprays to cattle exiting the feedlot, we all have our finger on the pulse.”
“Between my three sisters there lies a wealth of knowledge in and out of agriculture, with backgrounds in banks, HR, grain marketing, share market trading, feedlotting and tech start-up companies,” Jen explains.
“Dad and I are so fortunate that we can call on them for advice and industry experience – we all enjoy fleshing out ideas and strategies together.”
In September 2017 the family celebrated its historic 50th on-farm bull sale, one of the oldest in the country.
“It was a wonderful milestone, marked with plenty of celebration and familiar faces,” Jen beams.
“And while it was an opportunity to reflect, and appreciate over a century of effort dedicated to building our herd’s strong genetic base, it also reaffirmed our passion for the future.”
The girls’ grandfather Wally was one of the pioneers of on-property sales in Australia following a trip to America in 1968, where the method had become the norm.
This pioneering spirit endures.
Inspired by its strong custodianship and beef provenance, in 2017 NH Foods approached the family, naming it as the exclusive supplier of Australian Shorthorn Weebollabolla est 1873 beef into the Chinese market.
“These are the opportunities we’ve worked hard, as a family, over many decades to secure,” Jen proudly reflects.
While the Weebollabolla herd flourishes today thanks to generations of fine breeding, the Munro family bloodline is equally inherent.
And Sandy believes some things can simply not be taught.
“I watch my four daughters together and I see Munro traits in all of them – my great grandfather Alec’s tenacity, my grandfather Roland’s eye for stock, my father Wally’s industry foresight.”
“Their vision for Weebollabolla is so rewarding, but when I see my girls laughing together, talking over the top of one another with ideas, continually encouraging and supporting each other – their bond is the Munro family legacy I’m most proud of.”
A legacy he can be confident will flourish for generations to come, thanks to the capable hands and minds of his four daughters.