Barb Madden: Opportunity knows no colour

16.04.21

Barb Madden saw that culture and cattle could go hand in hand, which is what led her to devise an initiative called the Beef Industry Indigenous Alliance (BIIA). Barb reflects on her time since being named the 2009 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Runner-Up.

My name is Barb Madden and I was the National Rural Women’s Award Runner Up in 2009 and the State winner for Queensland. I am co-owner and Chief Financial Officer of the Smithfield Cattle Company, a large inter-generational family-owned agricultural business specialising in backgrounding and lot feeding cattle.  At the time of my involvement in the RWA, I was also the Chief Financial Officer for the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, and a then graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program. I have always been committed to primary industries, my community and the role of rural women and improving the liveability of rural women wherever they call home.

My project was a unique one for many reasons. I devised an initiative called the Beef Industry Indigenous Alliance (BIIA), which created national partnerships between Indigenous beef producers and key supply-chain sectors through the development of a commercially sustainable cattle-feeding and training business model.

I conducted a pilot program between the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and my own business, Smithfield Feedlot, forming industry partnerships and providing onsite training throughout the beef supply chain. Cherbourg and ILC cattle were brought to Smithfield Feedlot for fattening. Indigenous workers observed the feedlot processes and underwent on–site training. They followed the progression of the cattle through the abattoir to the supermarket and gained an understanding of the complete supply chain. I think it would be called “paddock to plate” now but back then it was a novel idea.

It was a learning process for everyone involved. It made sense to me to bring Indigenous organisations and their people who were managing vast grazing land and cattle herds and train and connect them with key stakeholders along the beef supply chain. There were commercial gains for every party involved along the supply chain.

In 2009, the BIIA was a pioneering program of sorts, as it worked towards breaking down social and cultural stereotypes through a greater understanding of the beef supply chain and how businesses could work together for commercial gain. As a young girl growing up in my small country town, I saw racism was rife throughout the community.  And then years later, after working in Cherbourg, I saw an opportunity to break down the cultural divides through building the capacity of Indigenous people within the beef supply chain, using my business as the training ground. The program overcame some hurdles in the beginning and eventually things settled down and lifelong relationships were forged. I remember my father being so proud to show the Cherbourg Mayor around our feedlot and retell the stories of how the Cherbourg cattle had performed.  This was a proud moment for me.

After a decade has passed, I pause to reflect on the BIIA, the successful training and relationships that were forged and how the project was a courageous thing for a young white female to do. The program success lay firmly in the communication between all stakeholders and how their cattle and people would benefit from being involved.

My greatest achievement to date, is contributing to the growth of our family business to the position it is today. Our business turns over 100,000 cattle annually and we employ over 70 staff. Working in a family business is not always easy, and we have managed to build our asset base and remain a unified loving family. Our business continues to work closely with some of the Indigenous beef operators involved in the BIIA.

My advice to the next generation of women leaders is surround yourself with good people who will challenge you to be a better person. Life is not always easy but find good support and mentors that will challenge you to reach your full potential.