Overcoming tragedy to become a cattle industry pioneer
THIS is an extract of Joyce McConnell’s story, written by author Paula Heelan.
In 1981, at 39 years of age, Joyce McConnell’s world was turned upside down.
Her husband, John, on his way home from inspecting a merino stud in the New South Wales Riverina district, was tragically killed in a car accident.
Involved with the Bell Group and setting up joint ventures with sheep producers across Australia, John had intended to buy the property he had visited.
Following his death, the Bell Group needed a replacement to run the company. Aware of Joyce’s extensive industry knowledge and capabilities, the company invited her to come on board.
Left with three young children, Sarah, 11, Nicholas, 10, and Sam, 7, it was a heartbreaking and difficult time for Joyce.
In the process of coming to terms with her loss, she faced some weighty, life-changing decisions.
“When the Bell Group asked me to run the company, I agreed,” Joyce recalls.
“My job was to inspect and stock properties. The company financed the stock, farmers managed the properties and profits were split 50-50 after costs. But I made it clear the children would come first – they always have and always do.”
At the time, Sarah and Nicholas were at boarding school in Melbourne and Sam was still at home.
“I presumed there would be resistance to a female in the industry – and there was,” Joyce says.
“At that time, you hardly heard of women doing what I was doing – flying around the Outback to inspect and stock properties and attending sales.
“I decided not to take any notice of the disapproval and just got to work setting up sheep and cattle stations all over the eastern half of Australia.”
Joyce worked hard to keep her children’s spirits up as well as her own.
“I had this thing that we all had to get up every day with a smile on our face and go forth.
“I wouldn’t let anyone have a downer. It was a big thing for me at the time, but I think the distraction and effort needed to run the company and to keep us moving along helped me get through.
“Sam was too young to attend boarding school so he stayed with me and came on every road trip and every outback flight.
“I didn’t want him to stay with friends or family while I was away because I didn’t want him to be spoiled by people feeling sorry for him. So I took him with me.”
Joyce McConnell at Belaley Station, Gunnar, NSW.