Dr Mary Retallack: A recovering perfectionist


Dr Mary Retallack was named the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award National Winner in 2012. Mary’s story that will be featured in our upcoming AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award “Celebrating 21 years” book is about doing what you love, managing expectations and not being afraid to say no.

I am Mary Retallack and I was the National Rural Women’s Award Winner in 2012 and the State winner for South Australia. I am also a recovering perfectionist.

I have always supported women and love seeing them reach their full potential. I am an experienced board director, agricultural scientist, third generation viticulturist and Managing Director of Retallack Viticulture, which offers a wide range of agribusiness consulting services throughout Australia. I have worked in vineyard management, technical, research, consultancy, training and extension roles both within Australia and overseas. I am focused on ways we can build resilience, profitability and regenerative practices into agribusinesses, so we can future-proof our production systems.

I am also a Director of Wine Australia, and the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia. I am a member of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) Viticulture Commission, ENVIRO and PROTEC groups, Food Agility CRC Strategic Investment Council, The Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker Journal editorial panel, and a mentor for the Stepping into Leadership program which is sponsored by PIRSA (Primary Industries and Regions South Australia).

I count as one of my great achievements the completion of my PhD on the role of native insectary plants and their capacity to support populations of good bugs that contribute to biocontrol of insect pests. It is great to be able to share this information with growers via the National Landcare funded EcoVineyards project to enhance functional biodiversity and ultimately the resilience of production systems. It’s about working smarter rather than harder. Natural climate solutions (planting trees and enhancing soil health) is also a great way to combat the effects of climate change.

I am a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, the Australian Wine Sector’s Future Leaders Program, and the National Farmers’ Federation’s inaugural Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program.

I have been invited to be part of the inaugural AgriFutures Australia Rural Women’s Award Alumni Panel and I am looking forward to finding ways we can reach out and connect with everyone so we can tap into that brains trust.

My words of wisdom for the next generation of women: No’ is a complete sentence. “I am sorry, I am not able to do that.” No qualifiers are needed. When I do my mentoring sessions, people really relate and thank me for recognising this. When you consider doing something, know where you are heading and measure a decision by its capacity to take you nearer or further away from your goal.

Also: Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. However, it is not always what you know, but also who you know that opens doors… so use those networks ladies! Remember to slow down and do what you love!

It’s OK to say no, to create healthy boundaries and to put your needs first. I take time out every day (schedule it in your diary) to recharge. I walk my dog before I start my workday and I highly recommend it. Be kind to others but most importantly to yourself.

My advice to my 21-year-old self: Good enough is quite often good enough (and no one notices). It helps to remove some of those self-imposed pressures and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.