Women of the Hinterlands

Shayne Wass of Coorow  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2021)

Shayne Wass

"My name is Shayne, I'm from Coorow, and I am 42 years old. I am a farmer and a farmer’s wife. I spent the first few years of my life on a farm in Coorow with my Mum and Dad before we moved away. Dad is also from Coorow and my Mum is from Carnamah.

After moving away from the country my family lived in semi-rural parts of Perth. I spent a lot of my time growing up feeling like I didn't fit in with my city friendship circles, but I didn't fit into my country friendship circles either. My Perth friends called me a country bumpkin while my country cousins would call me the city slicker.

The sheep farming came into play when my husband's parents bought a farm in Perenjori. My father-in-law then started up a Dohne stud, which is where the passion began for me. My husband and I currently have about 1,200 breeding ewes in a self-replacing Dohne flock.

I'm not a traditional farmer's wife at all. I suppose, by traditional I mean the wife is making the food for all the workers and making sure the house is clean, and the children are looked after, and that sort of stuff. That's not who I am or how I operate. Hence, my very messy house! I spend my time side by side with my husband Charles on the farm. I'm a machinery operator, and I handle the sheep. We have a sheep stud where there's a lot of looking at genetics and matching up different bloodlines to go in a particular direction with the flock. I do a lot of the paperwork and the data input behind that. We have to take DNA samples from the stud flock and record a heap of data throughout their life so you can work with or against heritable traits... It's a little bit scientific and I get a bit nerdy with it.

I’m a strong woman but physically Charles is definitely stronger than me! He does the heavy lifting, but I can handle the sheep on my own with a dog and do a lot of physical stuff that other women my age can’t. Charles much prefers to work with people whereas I often like to work on my own. And that's the difference in our personalities. He seems to really enjoy having me work with him, which is great and we get along like a house on fire, so I guess that’s lucky!

The role of women in our society and mental health is a big one. But that's not limited to women. Mental health is a huge issue and isolation comes into that. There are certainly women on farms who aren't a big part of the hands-on part of the farming operation and can feel very isolated. But if you've got children, you tend to be a big part of the community by default.

I play hockey for Coorow. The women who play hockey generally are playing so they've got their Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon off the farm or out of the house. That's their time to chill with their friends, to vent and to just be reminded that we're all in the same boat together. We've all probably got the same worries going on at home and in our heads. Some people live a long way out of town and don’t leave the farm for quite a long time but they will come to training and play their sport, because that time out is really important. Often we don't even chat about problems. It's mutual, you just know.

2017 was a really tough year. A lot of women were struggling mentally. Not only do they do a lot of work on the farm, be it in the paddocks or in the office, but women carry a lot of the emotional load - trying to smooth things over and make sure that everyone in the family is feeling okay and well cared for. You tend to put your own needs aside and that can get pretty heavy. If every year was like the one now in 2021, it would be kind of incredible. In fact, it's funny because a couple of people have said they are looking forward to a drought year so they don't have as much work to do like this year. When it’s a drought, there is nothing you can do - you just sit and wait for it to be over.

Ultimately, you just have to do what you love in life and what brings you happiness. The photo shoot we did was way out of my comfort zone. My first instinct was not to do it, absolutely not, no way, but… we've got to try everything once, don't we? And while I’m not sure that I loved it, I feel proud to have done something totally different to anything I would normally choose. It created a spark. You’ve got to do what you love because life is too short to spend it in the doldrums."

MEET THE OTHER WOMEN OF THE HINTERLANDS

Click the images below to read each of the women's stories.