I am Roma Britnell and I was the National Rural Women’s Award Winner in 2009 and the State Winner for Victoria. I really believe that life is 20% what happens to you and 80% what you do with it. Over the years I might have changed the percentages a bit but in a nutshell that’s me.
My story starts with a belief that my family and I could make a go of the Australian dairy industry. People told us there was no future in agriculture but we have been successful and I am so glad we never listened to them. I am a passionate person who’s been blessed with a positive disposition and this has served me well. My passion for the dairy industry led me to get involved in the RWA. My project was to find the best way into the future for the Australian dairy industry and that project has now morphed into Australian agriculture more broadly.
In 2011, I was accepted as a Nuffield Farming Scholar and I spent a lot of time travelling across the world and being introduced to farmers and producers. My scholarship examined the future of food production. Nations such as China, Japan and Russia were really interested in food affordability and sustainability and at that time, Australian farmers were not determining their future. Now, in the aftermath of COVID-19, food availability has never been more important.
The National White Paper on Agriculture was hosted on our farm and this was important to me. I had been very involved in representing the needs of farmers and families in the Victorian dairy industry as the vice-president of United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) and chairwoman of WestVic Dairy. I served on a number of boards including the Geoffrey Gardiner Foundation, Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority, and Australian Dairy Farmers Federation. I was a Policy Councillor with the Victorian Farmers Federation, a member of the Great South Coast Group’s Economic Pillar and a committee member of the Warrnambool City Council’s Food and Agriculture into China project.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer and I’m now in remission. Ten days after my final procedure I was approached to run for state politics. I am now the State Member (South West Coast) for the largest agricultural area in Victoria and the second largest in Australia in terms of production. I am the Shadow Victorian Minister for Roads, Ports and Freight – portfolios I am absolutely passionate about because of their links to regional prosperity.
The greatest hurdles I have faced have been around my own expectations of my family commitments and my role as a mum. I rate my greatest achievement so far as raising four amazing children who are capable, contributing individuals who I deeply love and respect.
Political life has definitely changed me and made me more aware and savvy about the people around me. As a nurse and a farmer, you fix the broken tractor or deal with the person who is drug affected, but in politics you have to be far more alert about the people around you. I am inspired by everyday people and those mentors who have helped me become a better nurse, a better farmer and a better mother.
My advice to the next generation of women leaders is advice my mother told me and it’s a philosophy I’ve used to be a positive agricultural advocate which the Rural Women’s Award helped to facilitate: : “You really can do anything. If you want it, just go for it. Trust your instincts and never let anyone stop you from doing what you want.”