Mary Nenke counts herself lucky. In 2000 when she won the inaugural RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year for Western Australia she received $20,000 and visibility on a national stage she could only dream about.
“The Rural Women’s Award as it is now named made me so visible and the bursary enabled me to go to the United States to see the crawfish industry first-hand,” said Mary.
“I also used some of the money to go to the Boston Seafood Show where we were selling our products and I was fortunate to meet with our American distributor and make connections which I would not otherwise been able to do.”
Mary Nenke is a woman of many firsts. She is an aquaculture pioneer, founder and driving force behind Cambinata Yabbies where she’s intrinsically involved in all aspects of the Yabby Industry in Western Australia, from production to post harvest handling to marketing and exporting. She’s also a mother of six adult children and grandmother of seventeen. She was an accredited teacher of Billings Natural Family Planning for over twenty years and taught sex education until 2018.
Cambinata Yabbies started off as a small family concern but evolved into a sophisticated and integrated business, marketing yabbies purchased from a large groups of growers across the WA wheatbelt and Great Southern. It has also expanded into an agri and eco-tourism business after securing a grant in 2014 to build an ecofriendly village on their farm.
Over the years the Nenke’s created a unique Wheatbelt experience transforming their shearing shed into a function centre with polished boards candle lit by chandeliers where they hosted the ‘Cambinata Extravaganza’ for fifteen years. This annual evening of fine food and wine promoted all that is wonderful about regional fare, attracting visitors Australia wide, and even internationally and led to Mary recognising the need for modern quality accommodation in the region.
“We are blessed with a wide range of talents and qualifications within our family members including degrees in business, accounting, teaching, architecture, medicine; and studies and experience in aquaculture, agriculture, vet nursing and hospitality, marketing and banking. By maximising our combined family talents our business has diversified, developed, changed and grown.” she said.
Mary’s vision has always been to make rural Australia a great place to live, while offering rural women financial independence through the pursuit of new business ventures and alternative farm enterprises. Her vision is to have more people on less land in the regions.
“The most important thing in business is to look for the opportunities and work on how you can do things better.”
So why yabbies? In 1991 Australia was in recession and things were tight. Mary was home schooling two of her six children and her eldest son caught fifty kilos of yabbies to sell to a wholesaler who didn’t want them. Not knowing what to do next, they threw them in a dam and didn’t think much about it.