Family Legacy

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.

Weelbollabolla_finallowresToday, 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.

Weelbollabolla_finallowres2Three 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.

Weelbollabolla_finallowres3Never 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.

A London love letter

As published in Graziher Magazine, Autumn 2017.

In a city of eight million people, it took just one inconspicuous ‘love letter’ in a London magazine to seal the fate of Hamish and Jackie Bligh.

By Georgina Poole Photography by Anna Tomlinson

Spend a night out with Hamish Bligh and hilarity often ensures.

With his thirst for a party, self-deprecating humour and often hair-raising antics this Brookstead, Queensland personality has amassed a treasure trove of side-splitting tales and comical adventures, all of which he recalls with pride.

But without a doubt his best yarn is one in which he was upstaged by his now wife, Jackie.

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It was London, 2004 and Hamish and Jackie were independently enjoying the well-worn rite of passage for young Aussies’, a working holiday in London.

Jackie, a nurse, had settled into a comfortable home with some girlfriends in leafy Clapham, while Hamish was ‘dossing’ in a share house with 14 other backpackers in Acton.

Like many young backpackers before them their fate was sealed at notorious drinking hole, The Redback – described by Jackie as “a feral pub full of drunk Aussies’ and Kiwis’”, that evidently happened to be Hamish’s beloved local.

“It was Australia Day and I had been out with my flatmates for most of the afternoon on a bit of a pub crawl – by the time we found ourselves at The Redback the details are pretty hazy,” Jackie laughs.

Admitting he was on the ‘back end of a four-day bender’, Hamish was well and truly settled in at the Redback when Jackie and her friends arrived, but he still remembers it clearly.

“I was living with an Englishman who was as mad as a two bob watch and we were mucking around doing the worm on the dance floor when the girls’ walked in. We noticed them straight away, and I must have had my A-game on that night because it wasn’t long before they joined us,” Hamish laughs.

While he admits Jackie’s flatmates had their reservations, ‘they thought I was a dwarf’, the group continued the party well into the early hours back at the girls’ flat.

Jackie recalls the night as one of the funniest she has had, and having become quite fond of Hamish, admits she was a little disappointed when he parted the next day with an obliviously cheery ‘well, see you later then’.

“Off he went and that was that, and I was fine, but over the next few days I couldn’t shake thoughts of what a fun time we’d had and how nice I thought Hamish was,” Jackie reflects.

Hamish, meanwhile, defends his speedy exit –putting it down to a lost phone and a dreaded tube ride home.

“I was actually a bit pre-occupied on how I was going to get from Clapham back to Acton on the tube, it’s a long way with a hangover, which I evidently found out.”

Before the days of Facebook stalking and with Hamish still on her mind, her flatmates convinced Jackie to put an ad in the ‘desperately seeking’ section of the TNT Magazine – the expat-bible for Antipodeans’ living in London.

“No one likes to admit it but everyone reads the TNT on the tube over in London, so we took a stab in the dark and sent a classified ad in to see if we could track Hamish down – it was all a joke really and we were in fits of laughter writing it.”

Admitting the stunt was very out of character for her, she even set up a fake email account in the ad for fear of being recognised.

“I had two brothers living in London and was so paranoid that they would see the note, it was really quite embarrassing!”

And so, in a city of 8 million people, on a tube bound for Acton, one Aussie backpacker was in fact reading the ‘desperately seeking’ pages of TNT and came across Jackie’s little memo – a note that left little doubt regarding its intended audience.

“Hamish, the cotton farmer, from Acton: Apparently I picked you up. You were really sweet and made me laugh. Would love to catch up again, maybe put your jeans in the wash first.’

“I was actually with my Canadian housemate, who was extremely loud and vocal, and she came across the ad first – she was almost wetting her pants with excitement, jumping around the carriage and yelling like a maniac,” Hamish recalls on first finding the ad.

“I looked at it and thought, well I’ll be jiggered, I’m in an ad, that’s me!”

Hamish emailed Jackie later that day, who, alarmingly, had already received a number of emails from ‘fake’ Hamishs’.

“As soon as I got his email I knew it was him, one Hamish Bligh is certainly enough for this world!”

Braving the tube ride back to Clapham, Hamish took Jackie out on their first date, which again proved unconventional.

“We were sitting in a great bar talking and it was going really well until I looked over and saw Jackie’s flatmates hiding in the corner!” Hamish laughs.

Ensuring the safety of their beloved flatmate on a blind date, Jackie insists she was oblivious to their plan, but Hamish laughs that he suspects they were called upon for backup in case the date was a disaster.

And Jackie readily admits to a few doubts during those early days.

While Hamish happily recalls ‘fitting right in’ with Jackie’s household, impressing them with cooked breakfasts and entertaining stories, Jackie’s recollection is not quite so jovial.

“Very early on he did cook us all a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, which was great, but when he cracked a Fosters at the breakfast table it was almost a deal breaker.”

There’s also a definite grimace as she recalls their contrasting lifestyles.

“It was such a hideous house, he shared a bedroom with three other couples, I really didn’t enjoy visiting him there!”

But it was from this loathsome Acton share-house that another fateful twist emerged.

“I dragged my flatmate Kerrie to one of their notorious house parties and it turns out she got on extremely well with Hamish’s flatmate, Lukas.”

The two blokes were soon Clapham bound, moving in with the girls – a time they all reflect upon fondly.

“There is always a funny story with Hamish and we had so many adventures, I’m far more reserved than him but it was a fantastic time and so special to share it with two of our favourite people,” Jackie smiles.

Jackie, originally from Wagga Wagga, and Hamish returned to Australia via South America almost a year later and eventually settled on the Bligh family property, Condamine Plains, on the Darling Downs.

Now married with three children, Chloe, 6, Lizzie, 3 and Oliver, 1 Jackie admits she tried to keep their cupid story a secret, with limited success.

“My family didn’t find out until our wedding day, in which the story came up in every single speech!”

Hamish, on the other hand, loves recalling their story to anyone who will listen.

“I think he just loves the fact that I pursued him,” Jackie laughs.

After feigned disbelief that Jackie assumed he would be the type of guy to read the ‘desperately seeking’ column, Hamish admits it was always one of his guilty pleasures.

“It really was a good laugh, most of the ads were just so ridiculous, but sometimes I’d come across one that was thanking TNT for instigating a marriage or a baby – and now that’s us!”

“Jackie hates it but I love it – it was very exciting and it’s pretty amazing that the old TNT found me the love of my life.”

Hamish carried the page in his wallet for years before Jackie, relieved, believed the column lost. When it turned up recently she relented and had the page framed as a gift to Hamish, ‘but in the bedroom where no one can see it’.

With their London flatmates Kerrie and Lukas McEwan also now married with three children, Jackie’s improbably act set in motion a chain of events that changed the course of four lives.

“Looking back I still find it quite shocking that I actually went through with it, but I’m very glad I did, who would have thought what an amazing husband and father that messy backpacker from Acton would turn out to be.”

 

The farmer and his wife

As published in Graziher Magazine, Winter 2017

After falling in love before a national audience, this South Australian couple’s love story continued to evolve, well after the cameras stopped rolling. 

Is it too soon to call a reality show old-fashioned?

An oxymoron perhaps, but in this current era of televised partner swaps, arranged marriage social experiments and dating drama fuelled by champagne and botox, The Farmer Wants a Wife seems positively quaint.

Certainly, for one of the series’ most beloved couples, Rob Hodges and Jo Fincham, family life on their Mt Gambier farm suggests little of their very public love story.

LOW RES RURAL LOVE WINTER copy

LOW RES RURAL LOVE WINTER copy

Digital ag from the field up

With the dawn of a new, digital frontier in agriculture, rural Australia is poised to take advantage of an industry brimming with potential.

And it won’t just be producers in the paddock reaping the rewards, but rural communities also.

Given the wealth of agricultural expertise within rural Australia, Moree Agtech specialist Brooke Sauer of IntellectAg, believes further collaboration between AgTech start-ups and the community will become a key driver for genuine and meaningful digital adoption and innovation.

There is a chasm between start-ups and the farmer, and as AgTech is still in its infancy there are many products that don’t quite meet farmers’ needs,” Brooke explained.

“This places innovative producers in a very favourable position and signifies an opportunity for the AgTech community to capitalise on its vast knowledge base.”

To help foster opportunity, Brooke has initiated the inaugural Founders to Field Tour, a four-day roadshow across the Moree district, aimed at attracting start up ‘founders’ to the agricultural coalface. 

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FarmSimple’s Lee Coleman and Matt Higham with, at centre, IntellectAg’s Brooke Sauer, organiser of the Founders to Field Tour. 

“This initiative will connect AgTech founders with local farmers and help ensure the products and services being developed align directly with the end user’s needs.”

As an agricultural heartland, Moree is home to some of Australia’s most progressive and innovative producers, and Brooke believed benefits of the tour would be two-fold. 

“This tour will deliver context around the agricultural landscape for developers, whilst providing networking opportunities for commercial partnerships with local farmers and agribusinesses – it’s a win/win and the scope for development locally is an exciting prospect for the whole community.”

Digital agriculture could increase the gross value of Australian agricultural production by $20.3 billion, but there remains a fundamental need to connect innovators and the agri-community to help bring ideas to reality.”

Brooke believed there was genuine opportunity for the community to help shape the development of AgTech solutions, with the value of facilitating physical relationships and conversations between founders and farmers enormous.

“There is no one better placed to directly offer solutions to the considerable challenges agriculture faces, and provide meaningful feedback and evaluations on some of the newest AgTech developments than right here on the ground in Moree.”

Putting developers directly in front of farmers and allowing them to see agricultural operations first hand will be extremely valuable, not only to developers but to the growers who ultimately need a product that meets their expectation.

The tour will include over forty founders on a schedule that includes broadacre, livestock, irrigation and research institute farm tours, as well as a strong networking component.

The community will have an exciting opportunity to hear potential digital solutions directly and help refine products that are currently in the developmental stages during the tour’s Pitch Night at the BAMM on Thursday, September 26.

Agribusinesses leaders, technical staff, government and RDC representatives, farmers, agronomists and anyone with a vested interest in agriculture are encouraged to come, listen, observe, strategise and take the opportunity to connect with founders face to face.

This event is also an opportunity for the community to explore the scope for commercial partnerships.

“Most applications are developed out of need, and our Moree producers could be the key to mapping out possible needs and solutions,” Brooke believed.

“This pitch night is a great opportunity for farmers to communicate directly how developments can be useful on the ground.”

“Finding the technology to fit the need has been a challenge, and this pitch night will help steer early stage founders towards the most useful solutions and identify gaps in the market.”

Lee Coleman and Mathew Higham are an example of producers taking matters into their own hands and developing software born out of necessity.

From their Croppa Creek, broadacre cropping operation, they have cofounded an app called farmSimple, streamlining onfarm data collection.

“From grain movements to time sheets, and everything in between on a broadacre operation, farmSimple has it managed,” Lee explained.

The product has been on the market for two years, with the parent company, CroppaCo, currently working on back-end development aimed at feeding farm data directly into accounting and agronomic software.

Brooke also is a case in point, the well-known and highly regarded specialist in applied digital agriculture and precision agriculture, an industry mentor providing honest feedback on ideas to new and existing AgTech founders.

One of the only AgTech mentors living in regional NSW, she believed there was genuine scope for communities such as Moree to become innovative hubs.

“Generally AgTech developments and start-ups are nurtured in the city, away from the real action, but the most valuable resource lies right here in the community – practical, tried and tested agricultural expertise and experience.”

The AgTech to Moree Pitch Night will be held from 6pm Thursday, September 26 at the Bank Art Museum Moree, with canapes and drinks provided.

To register for this event contact brooke@intellectag.com.

With thanks to sponsors for making this event possible, Moree Plains Shire Council, Intellect Ag, supported by B&W Rural, BAMM, Rural Adversity Mental Health Program, Cicada Innovations and McGregor Gourlay.

Forever Moree

As published in New England Living, Summer 2018

Story and Photos: Georgina Poole

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Perhaps it was her unassuming Papua New Guinean childhood that inspired the clean lines and simple design philosophy behind the new build Della Barnes and her husband Justin recently completed.

Then again, Della laughs that it may well have been the relentless dusting of ornate cornices required of their previous Federation style home . “I like to think I’m a no-fuss kind of person and this home reflects that. The design is very uncomplicated – too many edgings and features just means more cleaning!”

And, just as Leonardo da Vinci famously quoted, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, the Barnes’ home radiates minimalist refinement.

Justin and Della have proudly called Moree home for the past 15 years. However, after the arrival of their two boisterous sons, Isaac and Thomas, and an infinite number of cricket balls lost over neighbouring fences, the couple knew it was time to upsize. “Never would I have entertained the idea of building, but the local real estate market was slow and nothing caught our eye,” Della admits. “We crunched some numbers and realised that a new build wasn’t as far-fetched as we always assumed.”

The family, which now included a young daughter, Paris, no sooner stumbled across the holy grail of acreage living – riverside frontage, private road, minutes from town, newly listed – and their fate was sealed. The build itself took just nine months, with the family fortunate enough to remain in their previous home while construction took place.

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Enlisting Inverell builder Chris Farrugia, whose work they’d long admired, the design was based on a basic contemporary plan that Della and Justin developed with a draftsman. “Our only stipulation was that our bedroom be the opposite end of the house to the children, and space for a large verandah.” With Justin running his finance brokering business, Finagri, from home, a generous office was also a must.

“I tried to be a bit of a ‘site boss’,” Della laughs, “but with three young children underfoot it didn’t really work that well! On one occasion the children put hand prints all through freshly poured concrete. Thankfully Chris was wonderful, and so patient with us – there are still little initials and handprints hiding in a number of nooks and crannies where he let them go for it!”

The couple had a clear aesthetic vision concentrated around neutral colours and simple lines, however, engaged a Toowoomba architect and interior design firm, Feather and Lawry Design, to help with lighting and the electricity layout. In hindsight, Della admits one of her greatest regrets was not enlisting their services from the start. “I had a misconception that interior designers were a bit flashy, but it wasn’t the case at all. They provided such a helpful service, especially regarding aspects of the build I hadn’t even thought about,” reflects Della.

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From the interior and exterior palette through to flooring and fittings, Della worked through the finishing details with the designers to bring their dream home to life. Today, the cool, minimalist palette inspires calm, despite the busy Barnes household. The spacious and light-filled open plan kitchen and dining area, dressed in Dulux Quarter White Duck, ensures family socialisation, with Della confessing the kitchen is one of her favourites aspects of the home. “A butler’s pantry has been a lifesaver – and hides a multitude of sins,” she laughs. “We used matt surfaced two pack cabinetry with a one-millimetre edge in lieu of handles, and we love it.” A generous Caesarstone island bench in Frosty Carina has proven its versatility for everything from meal prep to paper mache craft.

The lack of fuss has afforded the couple an opportunity to layer the room with textiles and art, with a large Catherine Stewart commission adding a dashing burst of colour and interest. A cricket scene by local artist Jo White also adorns the living area, a fitting tribute to the athletic family. “We are so lucky in Moree to have access to wonderful artists through our local galleries. I love the fact we can add personality to our walls through art.”

While initially the river frontage wasn’t a huge selling point for the couple, it has emerged as one of the property’s greatest features. “Our builder encouraged us to take advantage of the river aspect, which I’m glad we did.” A high-pitched vaulted cathedral ceiling, lined in Sydney blue gum, provides an impressive entertaining space and a seamless transition from the outdoors in. “As the children grow up we have certainly gravitated more towards the river – fishing, kayaking, taking the dog for a swim. We underestimated what a huge asset it would provide our family.”

Likewise, she did not expect the extra outdoor space to be so inducive to family time. “Every afternoon we go out and have a game of cricket – we never did that in town. We all have busy lives, but it surprises me that now, with all this space, we make time to get out and play together,” Della muses.

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With their eldest son Isaac having this year started boarding school, these are the years, Della believes, the house will really come into its own. “This was always going to be our ‘forever home’, and it was built with this in mind. We were conscious that the day would come when our children would go away to school, so first and foremost our inspiration was to create an embracing space for their visits home. Boarding school is busy, full of routine, dorms and dining rooms – we wanted them to be able to arrive home, exhale, and just relax back into their haven.”

A family oasis for sure, and a home that shines in its simplicity – the Barnes family has created a beautiful space from which they could well run the risk of their three children never actually ‘flying the nest’.

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Rural Love

AS published in Graziher Magazine.

It was a case of ‘long term listener, first time caller’ for Hamish Felton-Taylor, who seized the chance for a blind date with his favourite radio host, and found that life with Arlie Douglas was just as fun off air, than it was on.

Story: Georgina Poole Photography: Anna Tomlinson

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She’s the darling of rural radio, the voice injecting a refreshingly wicked sense of humour into rousing households across Queensland.

Store sale reports take on new vigour. The glummest of weather forecasts suddenly thrill.

Listeners chuckle and chortle and sometimes even choke on their toast hearing her daily banter.

The Australian National Broadcaster unexpectedly exhilarates when Arlie Felton-Taylor is behind the booth, and quite possibly everyone falls a little bit in love with this quick witted rural reporter.

Certainly for Hamish Felton-Taylor, this delightful stranger became a constant companion during his daily commute from Toowoomba to the Oakey Air Base back in 2008.

“Every morning between 6.15 and 6.30am I looked forward to listening to Arlie, obviously she is an excellent reporter, but I loved her chat – her backhanded complements to Jenny Swan on those truly atrocious daily jokes, the weekly updates on her social touch footy team ‘The Rum and Cokes’ – I found her very, very funny,” Hamish admits.

Arlie laughs that with her early program, she could often get away with being slightly ridiculous.

After three years as an avid listener, Hamish seized an opportunity to make contact when Arlie made a public call out for genuinely funny jokes, in light of Southern Queensland Morning Presenter Jenny Swan’s approaching retirement.

“She read out her email address on air and I emailed in a very inappropriate joke about Kiwis and sheep,’ Hamish chuckles.

“She replied almost immediately confirming that joke was, of course, inappropriate for radio, but our email chat continued once we realised we had a common friend, Hamish’s cousin.”

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Suddenly, a vague mention by this said mutual friend that she had a single cousin ‘working as a helicopter pilot instructor at the Oakey Airbase’ became of fervent interest to Arlie, an out and proud cyber stalker extraordinaire.

“I certainly didn’t waste any time putting my journalistic skills to good use and trawled the internet for anything I could find on Hamish,” Arlie confirms.

Lax social media privacy settings or the odd blog make for very good sport when cyber stalking, but alas, Arlie’s search engines continued to return blank.

“Apparently, my new pen-friend was old school and shunned any social media, or internet exposure of any type. I was disheartened, but not undeterred.”

And her commitment paid off, with Arlie celebrating a stalker’s jackpot, uncovering Ep 13 S1 of Top Gear Australia, dedicated entirely to Hamish’s Army piloting endeavours.

The results did not disappoint.

“It really did seem too good to be true, this extremely handsome man in uniform, performing adrenalin fuelled stunts on Top Gear Australia!”

“I thought how on earth is he still single, perhaps there’s something wrong with him?”

No stranger to the entire Queensland social calendar, Arlie was equally perplexed as to how a single man of this calibre could have slipped through the radar, right under her nose in her current abode of Toowoomba.

While Arlie proudly distributed the clip amongst her vast network of friends, Hamish was naively unaware of his newfound status as a viral sensation.

“I really don’t like any sort of attention, I’m quite shy and felt really uncomfortable about the whole Top Gear experience, but I was in the Army at the time I had no say in it all.”

“Needless to say, our courtship outlasted the ill-fated program!”

After weeks of friendly email exchanges, Arlie plucked up the courage to invite this strapping army pilot to the upcoming Horse Futurity show, on which she was reporting.

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“He mentioned he’d like to experience a bit more of rural life, so I thought some horse sports could work well – and it also facilitated a cunning exit plan if he ended up being a jerk,” Arlie laughs.

Meanwhile Hamish, who admits he was never confident around women, took a little time to come to terms with the proposed date.

“Women really scare me to be honest, and someone as funny and smart as Arlie, I really worried that she’d find me boring.”

To the contrary, upon picking up his date the pair agree that conversation was easy.

“We were so busy chatting that in fact,” Hamish laughs, “it took us a while to realise that there were no glaring lights beaming from the showgrounds as we approached.”

It was a dark, eerie and certainly uncomfortable approach to the silent showground.

An empty car park, while Arlie laughs allowed for a prime parking position, confirmed their suspicions.

“I was quietly dying by this stage – I had kind of talked up my gig reporting at this event, and it was abundantly clear that it was not on,” Arlie cringes.

Quick to extinguish any awkwardness, Hamish suggested dinner instead at Toowoomba favourite La Pizziola, where the faulty towers of blind dates continued.

“Lets just say there was a quick bathroom exit when I thought I’d lost an earring down my cleavage,” Arlie laughs, “but it was a wonderful night that we still laugh about often.”

So busy were the two chatting, that the waitress had to return no less than seven times just to take their order.

A work assignment for Arlie in America soon after stalled proceedings, and unbeknownst to her, Hamish tragically lost his brother-in-law in the meantime.

“It took me a while to finally get back to Arlie,” Hamish explains, during which time, Arlie adds, she may, or may not have been, frantically dog earring ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’.

“I eventually invited her over to watch the footy, and you wouldn’t believe it, as soon as she arrived I started to feel really crook,” Hamish laughs.

“I finally had her over, and I had to ask her to leave.”

“Mmm, I didn’t over-analyse that sudden ‘bout of nausea’ at all,” Arlie winks.

Needless to say, further, more successful dates followed, until Hamish, every inch the gentleman, finally landed that first kiss.

“Well, that took you long enough!” was not the heartfelt response he envisaged would follow the highly anticipated, and nerve wracking event.

“It’s fair to say I was pretty smitten, and very proud to claim Arlie as my girl.

“I felt like I knew her from listening to her on the radio, but I didn’t at all, and it was great getting to know the real Arlie.”

“I also became somewhat of a roadie, venturing with across the State for outdoor broadcasts, Moonie Yabbie Races, Burren Downs Picnic Races, Myall Plains Bull Sales and the likes.”

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While Hamish’s parents, Michael and Helen Felton-Taylor, are originally from the bush, Hamish grew up between Newcastle, Coffs Harbour and Sydney, before joining the Army after school.

Arlie, daughter of Jeremy and Robyn Douglas was raised on a number of grazing properties including ‘Congewoi” Kynuna, “Sondella” Clermont and “Oakland” Sarina.

After a Bachelor of Agriculture from The University of Queensland, Arlie ventured to the top end, working with Rite?? In ?? before making the jump into radio.

“I don’t mind a chat, so it made sense, and the ABC has provided me with fantastic opportunities to work in towns like Mt Isa and Longreach – but who knew it would eventually lead me to my husband!”

The couple was engaged in 2011, and typically, it didn’t go to plan.

“We were at Noosa doing a bit of fishing on the river and I had the ring, I really didn’t want to propose on the boat covered in fish guts and sunscreen so suggested we go for a walk to the headland later in the day,” Hamish explains.

“Arlie quashed that idea and wanted to keep fishing, and I was reminded of what a cool chick she was, but it didn’t help my cause.”

Later, Hamish spied a sand flat which would take full advantage of the impending sunset. Yet there was one hitch, Arlie still would not get off the boat – a fact she now acknowledges is due to her competitive nature ‘I was not going home without a bite’.

“Eventually I just had to jump out, waist deep into flowing water with the ring in my hand and hope she’d follow – which she did – and I managed to drop the knee just in time to coincide with the most magical sunset, and then proceeded to put the ring on her wrong hand!”

Now with three children, Fredrick, five, Lucinda, four and Angus, two, Arlie is currently on maternity leave while Hamish works with the LifeFlight Community Rescue helicopter Service.

Theirs is a household with much laughter, and a small hobby farm on the outskirts of Toowoomba affords them a rural lifestyle they both cherish.

“If you put aside the sleepless nights, melting down toddlers and nappy explosions, life is good,” Arlie smiles, “and we do look back on those early encounters and it was all quite mad, but so exciting!”

It’s a love story so unique, perhaps even the queen of yarns herself wouldn’t have believed it possible.

 

 

 

 

Time Tells

As published in Graziher Magazine, Autumn 2017. 

Story Georgina Poole.

Photos Clancy Job

A city girl with her heart now placed firmly in the bush, Wellington’s Mardi Taylor is breathing new life into the community that embraced her all those years ago, with inspirational results.

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When Hugh Taylor, the handsome young Jackaroo at Carinda in North West NSW got a love letter from his city-based girlfriend Mardi, the whole district knew about it.

With the thick waft of perfume permeating through the communal mail bag, bills and bank statements across the whole region took on renewed vigour, and her lovingly, albeit heavily spritzed ‘love letters’ became the talk of the town.

 “I had no idea anyone even knew about my letters, I could never have guessed it was a regional mail run, usually combined with the fruit, vegetable and milk run!” she laughs.

And so her baptism of fire into country living began.

Born and bred in Sydney’s Southern Beaches, she admits family and friends believed her ‘mad’ pursuing a long-distance relationship with her country beau.

 Both just 19 years old, the couple met whilst Mardi’s family visited her uncle, who was working on one of the Taylor’s family farms in the Carinda district.

“It was a huge eye opener for me, but I instantly loved the open spaces, the shearing, the horses – I really felt at home.”

Something else caught her eye that holiday, with Hugh seconded across from the home block in Wellington to help with shearing.

Admitting to a definite ‘spark’, it was 12 months before they saw each other again.

“I really loved the shearing process so returned the following year – by that stage Hugh was doing a year Jackarooing on a neighbouring station and I happened to run into him at a local rugby match,” Mardi smiles.

After which, the humble Carinda post office never smelt so good.

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For six years the couple maintained a long distance relationship, unperturbed by Mardi’s heavy university workload and two jobs – not to mention the long hours Hugh committed to the family farm.

Theirs was an old-fashioned, letter based courtship.

“While my friends would go on dates to the movies or to the beach Hugh and I couldn’t even talk much on the phone, because he lived with his parents of course his dad needed the phone in the evenings to do his business.

“It was certainly difficult but so exciting – mum still talks about me checking the mail every day and then racing to my room if there was a letter to pour over every word.”

Their long courtship did however provide her with the necessary apprenticeship for country living.

“I travelled to the farm most weekends but learnt pretty quickly that the work didn’t stop on a Friday afternoon  – if I wanted to spend time with Hugh I had to learn to chip in with mustering, fencing and marking lambs!”

After six years the couple became engaged, with Mardi finally making the move to Wellington 12 months later.

Leaving lifelong friends and a successful occupational therapy career in her wake, it was a time of mixed emotions.

“Of course I was so excited to finally move to the farm and be with Hugh, I was head over heels in love but the realities of rural living were a bit more overwhelming than I expected.”

Taking on the sole OT position at a rural bush hospital, she was staggered by the huge workload, lack of services and the transition from a city hospital.

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Support from her new community, particularly the local women, helped alleviate some of these concerns.

“I felt so embraced from the start, there was a beautiful luncheon organised to welcome me and I knew straight away that such generosity would be enduring.”

Mardi and Hugh also embarked on their own special project, renovating one of the most derelict cottages on the property.

“The farm was run by Hugh, his brother Geoff and parents Carol and Bruce, and while there were good housing options for us, we wanted something to make our own.

Again, family and friends thought she was mad. Again she proved them wrong.

“We really wanted to bring something back to life and it was a wonderful project for Hugh and I to work on together – we’ve made a beautiful home, one that all the family and friends love to spend time in.”

The family has since embarked on a successful succession strategy, which Mardi credits to Carol and Bruce’s ‘strong support of everyone doing their own thing, while keeping relationships intact.’

Mardi and Hugh have taken over the family’s stud, Boxleigh Park Merinos, with their first on-property ram sale scheduled for this coming September.

“I didn’t have any dreams to marry a farmer, but I look back now and I’m sure glad I did! I look at the hands-on childhood my three children enjoy, the freedom, the bush picnics and the fact we can all work together in the yards or on the horses and it’s just wonderful.”

After their children, Josie, 12, Shep, 10 and Olivia, 7 were born, Mardi’s need for flexible working hours saw her embark on what is fast emerging as her greatest career achievements, Kidmotion.

A centre for children’s therapy and well-being, located in Wellington, the venture is successful bucking the support service downturn gripping many small towns.

“It had always been a career goal to go into private practice and there is such a huge need in regional areas for therapists, but I couldn’t have anticipated such a great response.”

Again fuelling the trend of people thinking she’s a bit mad, Hugh and Mardi recently purchased the old Wellington Times building to restore into a one-stop therapy hub for children and families.

“I’m sure people think we’re crazy, but it’s a beautiful old building and wonderful to feel we are contributing back to the social fabric of Wellington, we already have a number of innovative practitioners on board so it’s a very exciting development – and great to see a historic shopfront open again.”

Mardi’s innovation has almost certainly put the small town on the map as a therapy destination, with most clients travelling from much bigger centres such as Dubbo, Mudgee and Orange.

“Maybe it’s more affordable to buy and develop here in a smaller town, or there’s not as much pressure for full time hours, which suits working mothers,” Mardi suggests.

Regardless, Mardi’s model has already garnered attention across the State, with professionals from similar communities having visited her site to discuss her template.

Today, Mardi is ensconced in the Wellington community, and has well and truly had the last laugh proving her naysayers wrong.

“My old city friends now love to bring their own children to the farm on holidays and a former OT colleague was even inspired to a tree change retirement just down the road.”

As for her city-based parents? Impressed by Mardi’s country lifestyle, it didn’t take them long to make the tree change themselves, with the couple buying their own paddock next door.

“I do pinch myself often, but I’m a big believer in not forcing decisions and waiting for things to unfold – goals are great but it took me a while to learn not to want everything, yesterday – and I couldn’t be more content,’ Mardi reflects.

And so it seems Mardi Taylor isn’t quite so mad, after all.

Fashion forward and ready to race

When it comes to Fashions on the Field, it’s a jungle out there – and while animal prints remain strong this season, would-be fashionistas best leave last season’s off-the-shoulder look at home, lest risk a real cat fight.

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Samantha Murphy and Jessica Kelly, 2019 Best Dressed Lady and Runner Up.

In 2019 two of Moree’s most stylish, Sarah Kirkby and Toy Barwick, will be scouting the crowds for the highly coveted Fashion on the Field competition at next weekend’s Moree Picnic Races.
And from behind their cat-eye sunglasses, there will be little this sharp-sighted duo will miss.
“It’s all about the detail and dressing appropriately for the occasion,” advises Toy.
“Pick a certain style, start with one key piece and work around that.”
Animal prints, such as snake and leopard, are strong this season, with the pant suit also making a return to the winner’s circle.

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Judges, Toy Barwick in Scanlan Theodore, and Sarah Kirkby in Rixo.

And when it comes to the current Western trend, fashion cowgirls will do well to heed Toy’s wise advice – ‘subtlety is the key, it’s not a dress up party.”
With hair clips, headbands and bows all replacing traditional fascinators and headwear this season, Sarah said she was excited to see what looks would emerge next weekend. “While this season’s headwear isn’t traditional, it’s reflective of fashion’s evolution – I’m looking forward to seeing some beautiful bows and clips – but they need to be obvious enough to be a feature.”
Toy also expressed her penchant for a blazer dress – but warned that getting the perfect length was tricky.
She strongly advises against a length at which it simply appears you forgot your pant.
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Mixed prints such as floral and animal was another of the girls’ favourites, and while Autumn colours always looked beautiful, they wouldn’t shy away from Spring hues.
“European fashion is strong at the moment, and features a beautiful, soft pastel palette.”
Likewise, playing with different textures could also score you a spot on the podium, but the girls’ suggested leaving the beautiful silks of last season exactly there.
“While there are some gorgeous silk pieces around, Autumn racing requires a heavier texture.”
This season, the slingback adorns the most well-heeled women, and the girls’ advise that a good block or court heel would elevate this classic silhouette into Fashions on the Field contention.
“Traditionally strappy shoes are a no-no for Autumn and Winter racing, but as long as toes are covered it’s a look we can’t get enough of.”
Toy also said she was looking forward to individual twists on current trends, and loved a bit of fashion risk.

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Best Dressed Couple, Anne-Marie and Eric Carrigan, and runner-ups, Penny and Alastair Jones.

“The pant suit is so strong this year, but in pastel it’s truly something special.”
With Fashions on the Field one of the highlights of The Moree Picnic Races, Sarah enthused that there was always a beautiful cross section of designers on display, and that Moree race-goers were fashion forward and enthusiastically embracing of fashion trends,”
“There is definitely an element of decorum recommended for picnic racing fashions, with anything too tight, revealing, strapless or mid-drift baring to be avoided.”
“Lengths should be not too short, with trousers and jumpsuits acceptable, as long as they are full length.”
Toy advised that a millinery or hair feature was always required for the Fashions on the Field competition, but that a felt and leather hat was preferred over straw.
“Keep in mind the races are a daytime event, so be wary of materials and shapes that are evening like, such as metallic, sequined or high shine textures.
And it’s not all about the fillies, with many a stallion heading in from the paddock for a groom come Saturday.
“For men we’re looking for accessories such as a hat, pocket handkerchief, beautiful watches, cufflinks or sunglasses.”

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Best Dressed Man, Brent Taunton, 4th from left.

Again, men should avoid straw hats, and the girls’ said the Trilby had also run its course.
“Men can pull off some really handsomely shaped hats – there are some lovely Akubras and the like – just don’t wear them in from the paddocks please!
“Polished shoes and a matching belt also go a long way, and you just can’t go past a well fitted suit or sports jacket – not too baggy, not too long and not too tight.”
And with a high calibre prize package befitting the quality on offer, it’s worth putting your best, well-heeled, foot forward next Saturday, May 25.

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Millenary Award, Jamie Moore in a Penelope Haddrill hat.

Coveted prizes include generous packages from major sponsors, Beauty Matters and Assefs, plus a plethora of goodies from sponsors including a pair of RM Williams boots thanks to Syngenta.
Gates to The Moree Picnic Races open at 12.00pm, with the event also including a quality six race line up, Marquee Luncheon, Calcutta and an evening Marquee Dinner Dance featuring The Voice’s Rennie Adams.
Tickets to the evening Dinner Dance are currently available at http://www.moreepicnicraces.com.au

Future Faces of Cotton

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Mingling with ease amongst agricultural heavyweights and innovators, impressive in their school uniforms, Moree Secondary College students attending last week’s Cotton Conference inadvertently piqued the attention of the industry.

With only four students taking the initiative to attend the 2018 Cotton Conference, held on the Gold Coast, their presence signified a refreshing boost of youth, and reassurance that the faces of the future are engaged and willing.

Alliyah Davison and Chris Sim joined St Philomena’s student Jack Montgomery and Armidale’s Tiffany Tarrant.

Moree’s Janelle Montgomery, who organised the group, said they received fabulous feedback throughout the three-day conference, with delegates genuinely thrilled to see high school students taking part in the conference.

“I just thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to see what the industry is about, meet people and get a broader picture of the career opportunities within cotton,” Janelle explained.

“Everywhere we went people were really interested in where we were from, and how smart the students looked in their uniforms, they represented their schools beautifully.”

With many stopping to chat to the students, Alliyah admits much discussion surrounded the urban/rural divide.

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 “It was really interesting to see what their concerns were for the future of the cotton industry as more and more kids move away from regional areas and the farm – I think that having us, and many university students there, served as a type of reassurance in a way.”

Originally from Sydney, Alliyah admits agriculture was something she hadn’t quite ‘wrapped her head around’, but having befriended many in the industry since moving to Moree, she was intrigued.

“How could one crop could draw so much attention and spark so much interest nationally, and internationally? I felt like there would be no better way to uncover this than to go to a three-day long convention held purely for the plant itself.”

Chris was inspired to discover more about whether a career path in the cotton would suit, and jumped at the chance to talk face to face with people already in the industry for a deeper understanding of job opportunities.

With the conference consisting of formal seminars, focused masterclasses, inspirational guest speakers and networking opportunities, Alliyah and Chris took full advantage of the opportunity.

When first arriving at the conference there was a constant buzz – people of all ages, gender and from just about everywhere all eager to discover something new – it really set the tone for a great conference,” Chris says.

And while here in Moree we’re used to checked shirts and boots, Alliyah laughs that it was quite the scene watching 2,500 ‘bushies’ descend on the gold coast.

“It’s quite an unusual setting for cotton conference!”

Guest speakers proved popular, with American futurist Thomas Frey’s discussion on a new aged world featuring driverless cars and planes and ‘smart’ technology featured in everyday items – such as chopsticks that measure nutrient content – was particularly fascinating.

“Even though not directly related to cotton, the insights the speakers had about working with new people in different industries was something which I found extremely interesting and practical – especially for someone deciding what career to pursue in the future,” Chris said.

Armed with new information and insight up her sleeve after every session, Alliyah also found the sessions extremely worthwhile.

“Some of the stand out sessions for me were the ‘Paddock Pitches’, which was a shark tank like scenario where up and coming businesses in the cotton industry would pitch their unique ideas to a panel of judges including Steve Baxter himself.”

“There were also a number of WINCOTT (Women in Cotton) events, led by some amazing women working in cotton, that were so welcoming and inspiring.”

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“I learnt a vast array of information, including some bewildering statistics about the industry, including the fact that 51 per cent of people working in cotton actually live in the CBD of Sydney or Melbourne, and that 80 per cent of Melbourne school kids believe that cotton actually comes from sheep,” Alliyah despairs.

“I also found the technological advancements in the cotton industry so fascinating, from robotic tractors and self-filling water tanks – it’s an exciting future to be involved in, and I certainly see opportunity in a marketing career, one that I may not otherwise have considered if not for the conference.”

Chris also admits a much broader awareness of the industry’s potential thanks to the conference.

‘I didn’t grow up on a farm so agriculture was not something at the top of my list. “However after speaking with people from the cotton industry I now realise there are definitely career options I could see myself pursuing.”

“I learnt heaps about cotton specifics like how to test the activity of the microorganisms in your soil, so following a research scientist path really stood out to me, and is something I plan to look into.”

A new era in Ag

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Agriculture is on the cusp of a revolution, with renewed enthusiasm fuelling a transformation.

Precision ag, increased production capabilities, water saving innovations are all reflective of an industry brimming with opportunity.

And now one of Australia’s rural heartlands is calling forth an agricultural army – a vibrant, skilled workforce to lead into the new age.

‘Join the Ag Revolution’ is an initiative of Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association, created to showcase and promote rural industries, and the passionate people behind them.

Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association Executive Officer, Zara Lowien, said the campaign, which launched this week via Facebook, would target social media platforms with a targeted audience of young graduates.

“Australian agriculture has a lot to celebrate – we are a world leader in terms of production, sustainability and quality, and the innovation in the industry is mind blowing.”

She believed much of the advancement in the industry was thanks to the ‘can do’ attitude the industry enjoys.

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“If there’s one thing rural Australia does well, it’s take initiative – we’ve developed infrastructure, designed new tools and equipment, created export markets and spearheaded water saving innovations, all thanks to our visionary Australian rural community.”

“We want to spread these great messages, while also giving all our industry bodies, and individuals, a platform for a strong, united voice.”

With the project also aimed at tapping into skilled youth, Zara hopes it encourages job seekers to consider rural careers not traditionally associated with agriculture.

“Agriculture is now so diverse and technologically advanced that career options are endless, from robotic engineers to drone analytics, the job opportunities are changing and we need to get that message out.”

In Moree alone she said the local irrigation industry had evolved to include lucrative industries such as horticulture and olives. “Here in the Gwydir we produce 32 percent of NSW cotton crop with nearly 80 percent of it irrigated,” Mrs Lowien said. “We also have the largest pecan orchard producing 90 percent of Australia’s pecans and a growing citrus industry.”

“We want ‘Join the Ag Revolution’ to promote the positive future of agriculture, its value to people in regional communities and our commitment to a sustainable environment across Australia.”

The campaign will also feature a number of engaging video releases, created by renowned film production team, Rabbit Hop Films.

The testimonials revolve around local employees, empowered and excited by the future of ag.

Sascha Estens, Director of Rabbit Hop Films, said there was a genuine enthusiasm in the rural sector that made compelling content.

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“This campaign is also about selling a lifestyle, and with themes based around ‘think outside the city’, we want to celebrate all the fantastic aspects of rural life and grow our communities.”

“Ours is a unique lifestyle and one I think young people are excited to embrace, particularly if they know there are worthwhile career opportunities for them.”

Supported by the NSW Government, Gwydir Valley Irrigator’s Lou Gall said the organisation hoped ‘Join the Ag Revolution’ would become a platform, not only for the Moree region, but the whole of rural and regional Australia.

“Australian agribusinesses is looking for people with new ideas and skills to help revolutionise the industry – this initiative was created to form a collective community of people that are proud to be a part of Australian agriculture.”

She said she was thrilled to be promoting rural Australia, from the coal face, via this high-quality campaign designed entirely by local talent.

“We have the most amazing talent out here in the far corners of the bush, and with so many exciting opportunities on the horizon, we couldn’t be more proud – and it’s time to spread the word!”

For more information see facebook/jointheagrevolution