Meet these five exceptional women forging their own paths in the Australian macadamia industry. Their stories demonstrate how the Australian macadamia industry leads the way in promoting gender equality.
In 2011, Lorraine Gorza and her husband Sandro bought his parents’ farm near Bundaberg thinking they would start a new agricultural enterprise together. A few short years later, before they could decide exactly what type of enterprise they would establish, Sandro was tragically killed in a workplace accident.
“It wasn’t long before I made the decision to grow macadamias,” says Lorraine, who explains that she was inspired to continue with the plans they had made by the confidence shown by the industry. “It looked like it had a great future and I wanted to be part of that,” she added.
Establishing and managing the 1200 tree orchard on her own has meant that Lorraine has been on a huge learning curve. But along the way, she has been helped by many in the industry who have provided information and advice about growing macadamias.
“As a solo woman in this industry, there have been a few intimidating moments, butthe support and help I have received from mentors and professionals in the industry has far outweighed the difficult times,” she says.
Lorraine’s experience is testament to the potential for women prosper from and contribute to the industry. Whatever the role - from working in orchards, to marketing, research and providing advice - Lorraine believes that women now play a “pivotal role” in agriculture.
Kylie Watson, CEO of Sunshine Coast based nut processor Nutworks, is upbeat about the opportunities for women in the macadamia industry.
“I don’t feel that I was ever disadvantaged by being female,” says Kylie who joined the business in 2004 after a career in the media industry. “I don’t think that this is an industry that should be defined by gender. I think if you have a passion for it then you can do it.”
She can point to the company she runs as one that is providing a good example by supporting gender equity. In fact, three quarters of the staff are female.
“I think if women want to be part of this industry then the opportunities are plentiful,” she said.
As the number of women in the macadamia industry grows, Kylie suggests they should be looking out for each other and “building a safe space where they can seek each other out to learn, guide and support”.
Candy Johnson is relatively new to the macadamia industry. When she and her husband moved to Gympie in Queensland in 2015 they began a steep learning curve that recently culminated in winning the Australian Macadamia Society Award for Excellence for nut quality. She is enthusiastic about the opportunities of this young industry for both men and women.
“Anyone can do most things when they put their mind to it, allowing for differences in physical capabilities,” she says. “I know women who run their own farm, drive machinery, undertake research and are industry advisors, so as far as opportunities in the industry are concerned, they are there for both men and women.”
“I used to be terrified of chopping my leg off with a chainsaw or rolling a tractor into the dam but if you learn how to use these machines properly, they get the job done. I still have two legs and none of the tractors have been swimming!” she says.
The important thing for her is that both men and women be treated equally based on ability and skills when it comes to being employed. And for those women who need a bit of inspiration and confidence, she believes that hearing from women who have “been there and done that” is important as those stories can show others the way forward.
“The Australian macadamia industry is an open, non-discriminatory and welcoming bunch of people”, says , a research assistant and PhD candidate at the University of Queensland whose is specialising in detecting and screening macadamias for disease. As she sees it, a defining feature of the macadamia industry is the networking that occurs and its collaborative environment, regardless of gender, age, social status and role.
With the support of such a welcoming industry, Olumide is certain that women can make a huge contribution to the future of macadamias in Australia. “Identify your particular interest, set out clear and achievable goals, and be determined to make a positive contribution,” she says.
Olumide is overwhelmingly positive about the future for women in the industry, where she believes they can make a unique contribution. “There is no restriction in what women can do in the industry,” she says.
Mel Caccianiga feels fortunate to be working in what she strongly believes is a gender-equal industry where women are valued for what they bring to the table. New to the industry, she moved to the Northern Rivers two years ago with her husband Ron to fulfil their dream of growing macadamias.
One of the things about the industry that Mel was quickly impressed by is how members use new media to promote the story of our special nut to buyers and consumers around the world. She thinks this is an area where women in the industry have grasped the opportunity and have shone. “The world is changing in that it wants a story about the food people are eating, and women are great at sharing,” she explains.
Mel says that, looking to the future, technological innovation in the industry is going to support everyone, including women.
“The nature of macadamia growing means that it is physically demanding and can involve long hours out in the orchard,” she explains. But Mel thinks that technological developments, such as automation and robotics, will be “game changers” for women who might be deterred by the physicality of this farm work.