Their Stories

Profile of Lindsay Godfrey – Leading through tough times

9 August 2018

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

With southwest Queensland into its fourth year of drought and the population halved over the last 40 years, most people would not put their hand up to lead such a region.  Lindsay Godfrey, Mayor of Paroo Shire and owner with wife Carol of famed ‘Tinnenburra Station’, doesn’t dramatise his area’s problems. Instead he considers why he accepted a community call to be mayor in 2012.

‘The mayor and deputy threw in the towel. No one stood and members of the community asked me to be mayor. I’ve always had a public service gene. I’m prepared to put my hand up to serve the community.’

In 1996 Lindsay had been urged to apply for an Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) wool industry scholarship for Course 4 (1997/98) and says it was only with the support of his wife that he could have done it.

‘Carol carried the farm workload. A capable partner is a must. It’s the most important decision you ever make in life.’

Those of us in Course 4 recall his capabilities and droll wit. On one bus trip Lindsay had to give a book review. He stood, paused for a long and silent moment, then grinned and sat down. A telling ‘no comment’. In the Kimberley his was the voice of reason, the outback man who could solve most problems.

He made the best of diverse ARLP training in media and public speaking, working in groups, understanding personalities, and the need to surround oneself with different types to lead and not lead.

‘We saw it in every activity where some would say nothing in a big group but a lot in smaller ones, and vice versa.  I think about it a lot – how to manage personalities and groups you’re working with, what array of skills is needed, how best to use people for their strengths.

‘You don’t always get the team you want, so how do you manage conflict and get a team to operate well. We learnt valuable lessons in ARLP, but it’s still incredibly difficult when there’s a stalemate over particular issues. That’s the hardest task in leadership.’

He had a chance to put such learning to immediate use in 2000 as a Ministerial appointment to the Woolgrower Advisory Group restructuring the Woolmark Company.

‘The industry was in turmoil. And has had 20 years in the doldrums since the Reserve Floor Price crash. It needed a new direction. We didn’t produce any great results for a while; only recently has that improved. People were sick of what happened and wanted change so our job was to deliver a different platform, which was done by growers in the end. Now it’s much more businesslike with a far more innovative attitude and more respect for where it’s spending money on promotion and media.’

But he thinks there are still great challenges for the industry.

‘We haven’t sorted out the genomics and traditional breeding methods. We could produce better results and improve the basic genetic footprint, such as adapting the merino around Australia.’

Following his wool industry and agri-politics experience in Agforce, Lindsay built up the station and expanded family operations.

His family stepped into historical shoes. In 1867 James Tyson acquired leasehold of ‘Tinnenburra’, 100 kilometres south of Cunnamulla, and it became the largest holding in Australia. Its woolshed built in 1895 was the largest in the world. With 101 stands upon 1,000 cypress pine logs, it cost £7000. One yarn told how a shearer was fired for swearing and cutting the rams. He slowly walked to the other end of the shed where the foreman re-hired him not realising the shearer had grown a beard in the meantime!

Tyson was a self-made ‘millionaire’, an intensely shy man who never married, didn’t drink or smoke and insisted his tea be brewed in a billycan. He died in 1898 and the devastating Federation drought struck soon after, lasting 10 years. ‘Tinnenburra’ alone employed 500 people at one stage, a staggering statistic in the context of recent history and a halving of Paroo population to 1,500 by 2018.

Lindsay Godfrey’s opportunity to take on Paroo, a remote agricultural-based shire with a strong Indigenous Australian sector and high dependency on welfare, illustrates the challenges for remote Shires.

‘Roadworks and road money needed serious managing and the council had to move to a solid footing. The region is ruled by seasons, like the current drought. There’s no mining except opals. People are leaving, big companies buying up. We need fundamental health and education services to attract people to our world.’

He praises the amazing resilience of residents, but stresses the need for serious policy changes to keep the population.

‘I argue for zonal tax rebates (10 percent tax or reducing tax) with not much success; and to set up a circular power grid bringing in the rich gas deposits of the Cooba Basin. Here would be the best place for a solar farm due to abundant sunlight and lack of cloud. We could also harness geothermal power. ‘

In 2014 the Queensland Health Minister appointed Lindsay to bring stability to the South West Regional Health Board.

‘Most issues are preventable. The early stages of life are critical and parents have influence. Care plans can help such as mandatory checks of children to see they are fed properly, and parents read to their children. Maybe a third or half of young people here fall through the cracks. A lot of kids leave school with low literacy and numeracy levels. It goes back to those early years.’

On ‘Tinnenburra’, son Hugh began running an earthmoving and contracting business, while Carol continued running the farm. Their daughter Victoria is an engineer living in Kingaroy with her family. Lindsay is home more now having reduced the leadership workload to mayoral duties.

‘ARLP skills, ideas and experience have been valuable, as have readings, philosophy and training. Nothing replaces experience, so the best result comes with meshing both training like ARLP and experience.’

In 1900, Tinnenburra Station’s woolshed was the largest shearing shed in Australia. The gigantic shed was demolished in 1951.

Reproduced courtesy of the Bicentennial copying project, State Library of New South Wales.


More information

Applications are currently open for ARLP Course 26 and will close on 30 September 2018.

For information about the ARLP, see Australian Rural Leadership Program.