Rural media stalwarts given RMC Icon honour

Rural media stalwarts given RMC Icon honour

Life & Style
IMPRESSIVE INDIVIDUALS: John Illsley and Liz Harfull were inducted as Rural Media Icons at the Rural Media & Communicators SA/NT annual general meeting last month. Photo: IAN TURNER

IMPRESSIVE INDIVIDUALS: John Illsley and Liz Harfull were inducted as Rural Media Icons at the Rural Media & Communicators SA/NT annual general meeting last month. Photo: IAN TURNER

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Two trailblazers in the SA rural media scene, Liz Harfull and John Illsley, have been recognised for their tireless efforts across their careers.

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From a young age, Liz Harfull wanted to be a journalist, and never had a plan B.

And with a career that has stretched beyond four decades in the rural media industry, it's clear a backup option was not needed.

Liz's success and influence was officially recognised at the Rural Media & Communicators SA/NT annual general meeting last month, where she was elevated to the honoured status of a Rural Media Icon, alongside John Illsley.

Dedication to writing was shown early in life, with Liz producing a newspaper while she was still in primary school.

"I grew up on a dairy farm in Mil Lel, called Oakbank, and one summer I decided to write the Oakbank Gazette, I wrote the entire thing by hand and drew the pictures too," she said.

Liz's first job was a cadet journalist at The Border Watch in the late 1970s when she was 16, a job she described as a "steep learning curve".

"I had to write maybe a dozen stories a day, you had to be across everything. And when you wanted the info about something, you had to go out and find it, there was no internet," she said.

"I love the detective work involved in being a 'journo', those early days taught me to think quite creatively about where I could go to find information about stories.

"Just about every job I have done since then has been easier than that."

The first piece Liz had published at The Border Watch was about a book release in honour of journalist Kathleen Bermingham, a Sydney-based journalist Liz had met in person when she (Liz) was eight years old.

Ms Bermingham was the first person to put the idea of journalism into Liz's head, and was a mentor to Liz in Liz's early years, so to kick off a career about Ms Birmingham was serendipituous - a common thread through Liz's career.

"Apart from that first job, basically every job I've had has come to me, I've been really lucky in that way," she said.

Following six years at The Border Watch, Liz moved to Adelaide and took up a job as a special features journalist at The Advertiser, with her work ethic from being a driving force at a country newspaper serving her well.

It's always been about the words, the power of words to inspire change, and the joy of crafting them. - LIZ HARFULL

"My first list of story ideas I was given to chase (at The Advertiser), I thought that was my list for a week and so I had it finished in a couple of days, turns out that was my work for the month," she said.

A few years after finishing at The Advertiser, where she had remained for two years, Liz became a journalist for Stock Journal, and loved the opportunity to write about the dairy industry - her favourite of the ag industries - among a plethora of other ag sectors.

"I loved the variety, because if work becomes too routine and predictable, some of the joy goes out of it for me," she said.

Following Stock Journal, Liz moved into the public relations world, relishing in the power of words to encourage farmers to try new practices.

Liz said she was quickly "hooked on strategic thinking", and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to explore the idea further, travelling internationally to look into ways to encourage farmers to take up best practice and the latest technologies.

"It was an extraordinary experience that connected me to a world I didn't really know existed," she said.

While travelling on her fellowship, Liz attended an International Federation of Agricultural Journalists conference in Denmark, and soon after joined the organisation's executive committee in 2000, for roughly a decade. She concurrently served as president of the Australian Council of Agricultural Journalists.

Since 2006, Liz has been a freelance journalist for various rural magazines and publications including Outback, Australian Dairyfarmer, Australian Dairy News, and The Furrow. She has also tried her hand - very successfully - at being an author.

Liz's first book, The Blue Ribbon Cookbook, included 50 recipes that had won first prize as entries in country shows across SA. The book was such a success it took Liz to Paris, having won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award.

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"I wrote out a two-page outline and sent it to Wakefield Press, I went in to see them and walked out pretty much with an a agreement to publish, yet I hadn't even written a word at that point," she said.

"It was just the right idea at the right time, because no one had really done anything like it before."

Liz followed up the cookbook with a national version, and has also written books about rural women, and local histories. She is working on her 10th book - one that focuses on the national CWA centenary, which will occur next year.

Liz's career has been varied, but through every job and role, a common denominator has remained - a love for the written word.

"It's always been about the words, the power of words to inspire change, and the joy of crafting them," she said.

"I was so incredibly shy when I was started out, to the point that a careers counsellor at school had told me I would never be able to make it as a journalist, and it was certainly a challenge at the start, but I can wonder up and talk to most people now, and I love it," she said.

ILLSLEY'S LENGTHY CAREER RECOGNISED

JOHN Illsley is well and truly a veteran of the rural media scene, having joined Rural Press just shy of 50 years ago and having spent a considerable amount of time before then as a livestock agent.

Upon being named an RMC Icon last month, John said he was surprised to receive the accolade.

"I was initially shocked, but when I start to analyse my background and life, it has always been in ag, and I'm still going," he said.

Growing up mainly in Adelaide, with a father who was a butcher, John attended many markets as a child, where his love of agriculture began.

Working as a Goldsbrough Mort & Co livestock agent and with a wool classer qualification under his belt, John switched to the media life as assistant advertising manager at Stock Journal in 1973, stepping up to the manager position soon after.

He also wrote a weekly livestock column, 'Top Line', which was well-loved by Stock Journal readers.

I've always treated people like real people, they understand me and I understand them, and I've met some truly amazing rural people over time who I am friends with to this day. - JOHN ILLSLEY

In 1992, John was named the Rural Press employee of the year, out of about 3000 employees across the country.

He retired in 2000, having been a key instigator of many SA livestock events - particularly field days - during his 27 years of dedicated service.

Still very much interested in SA's livestock industry, John said the people had always been the highlight of his work.

"I've always treated people like real people, they understand me and I understand them, and I've met some truly amazing rural people over time who I am friends with to this day," he said.

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