Their Stories

Profile of Lorraine Gordon – Building a legacy

5 March 2018

Written by Marg Carroll OAM – Course 4 graduate, National Library of Australia oral historian, writer/photographer, farmer

Lorraine Gordon undertook the taxing Kimberley session of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) eight weeks after having her first son Ethan. Not many alumni could claim to have stemmed breastfeeding with cabbage leaves for the sake of the program!

As a young adult she learnt to cope with challenges. Her father, grandfather and aunt died within a short space of time and 1,214 hectares of her aunt’s cattle property at Ebor on the rugged New England plateau came to Lorraine’s mother.

Lorraine grew up in the city, but only ever wanted to be a farmer. After attending Orange Agricultural College, she was the only family member with the skills and interest to farm.

The Ebor farm had no house, no fences, no sheds, but backed onto 55,000 ha of national park and contained magnificent waterfalls. As a raw 21year-old, Lorraine began with drive and ideas, but scant finances and Ag College mates, their horses and dogs, who helped her muster the cattle through the adjoining national park. Her innovative hydro development of the natural assets into the Moffat Falls tourist venture won her NSW Rural Woman of the Year in 1994, and in 1995 an Australian Rural Leadership Program scholarship.

By 25, Lorraine’s vision was for Ebor cattle producers to work together; so too fledgling rural tourism businesses around the country.

‘I thought how much more powerful if we combined as one body. But I needed the skills to do it well. I have an innate urge to make a difference, and needed the tools to do so.’

ARLP gave Lorraine those skills and confidence. ‘I’ve often been in a position where I remember things like the team-building – forming, norming, storming, performing. My main learning was how to manage teams and people so everyone has a voice, and knowing when to step up and make a decision.’

A fellow Course 2 member observed, ‘You always speak your mind. Sometimes you need to be more subtle!’ Later he rethought, ‘getting to the point cuts a lot of argy bargy’.

In the Kimberley Lorraine was petrified to stand on a cliff and abseil. Since she has experienced her fair share of cliffhangers, including winning a landmark anti-discrimination case against a major agricultural body, and having a shot at a NSW National Party seat against an entrenched member.

After ARLP Lorraine continued with Ebor Beef Cooperative (now running for 28 years). A second career in tourism management beckoned.

‘Our Moffat Falls enterprises attracted bushwalkers visiting the adjoining National Parks and rainbow trout fly-fisherman from all over the world.’

In 1998 her husband Jack took a job with Air Affairs Australia based in Nowra, and the family moved to the NSW South Coast, leaving Jack’s parents to look after the farm. Lorraine moved from being CEO New England North West Tourism to Shoalhaven City Council as Tourism Development Manager, joined the Reserve Bank’s Small Business Review Panel, several tourism boards and wrote numerous government publications.

Many will remember Lorraine as the manager of the Australian Rural Leadership Network, a job she loved, organising the first Australian International Leadership Alumni Conference. She later moved to the Federal Office for Women as Executive Director of Economic Security for Women.

But the farm and Ebor country called. The Gordons bought the Yaraandoo Eco Lodge and Function Centre adjoining Moffat Falls and developed a niche business focusing on Carers and Corporates.

‘It’s pristine bushland 1500 metres above sea level, adjoined by wilderness. There’s something about Ebor. Its atmosphere transforms wellbeing.’

Influenced by a family member’s mental health issues and poor services, Lorraine expanded Yaraandoo into respite and retreats for people caring for those with mental health conditions.

‘Mental health is the silent disease in our farming and rural communities. I asked myself how could I make a difference here?’

In 2014 Lorraine was appointed CEO for Regional Development Australia’s Mid-North Coast. In 2016 Project Director of the Commonwealth’s Farm Cooperatives and Collaboration Program came up. Nicknamed “Farming Together”, Lorraine knew this job was for her.

She believes ARLP learnings have guided her in managing a large team including nearly 200 consultants nationally.

‘It’s a highly stressful, volatile environment with two Federal Government Departments and a university pulling the strings. People are amazed my team is still together. I think they enjoy working towards a common vision. My team are encouraged to say what they think, get it off their liver and then we move on. This program requires every tool in my kit.’

Initial goals to support 15 top agricultural and fishing projects and assist 2,000 farmers have been vastly surpassed with 55 projects funded, and 20,000 farmers assisted. What excites Lorraine is connecting disparate people and industries to make something better. She’s an enabler and legacy builder.

On the backburner is her doctorate in Ecological Economics through University of New England, studying different outcomes of conventional and alternative grazing systems.

‘I’ve always known where I’m going, what I want and gone for it. ARLP made me a more effective leader. The big thing is its network. At any one time in any location in this country I can pick up the phone and get the information I need to make good decisions. That’s because of trust and shared experience.’

Juggling work and family has always proved difficult, but her three boys are Lorraine’s passion. ‘Ethan, now 22, finished a double degree at UTS, and has started a PhD there with the Centre for Sustainable Futures. Seth, 20, a lovable larrikin and incredible horseman is helping on the farm but returns to uni next year. Huntly, 13, loves boarding at The Kings School. He probably will be my farmer.’

The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation is celebrating International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March by sharing stories from our alumni.

More information

For information about the program Lorraine undertook, see Australian Rural Leadership Program