Adam Macrae, 34, is a rural high school teacher and Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation (RASF) Community Futures Grant recipient. He is deeply passionate about supporting young people in his hometown of Coonamble and has been mentoring his former student Kelsey Shields, 18, for around six years.
ADAM: When I first met Kelsey , she was in year seven, so I’ve known her since she was just 12. I was teaching her science back then, and at every possible opportunity I used to run her class up to the agricultural farm we have at the school. Whenever we’d finish our science work early I’d bring the kids up to play with the steers for 15 minutes at our school farm. It’s where we feed the steers for our showing program, grow hay for feed and do all our breaking. Kelsey just ended up being a kid I had a lot to do with and I still help her out where I can.
Kelsey is absolutely wonderful, she’s bright and bubbly, loves meeting new people and promoting the Coonamble story. She is a member of our Bovine Appreciation Club – that’s what we call our cattle showing team – it’s a brand we came up and it’s quite well known now. She’ll go a long way in life because she has that ability to talk to anyone, she’s highly engaging.
Even though she has left school now, she wants to come down to Sydney this year for the Royal Easter Show and help with the kids. A few years ago we got to a critical mass with the Show team. We went to Sydney with 14 steers and the whole thing was a bit disorganised. So when we came back we regrouped and decided we would have a more formal structure. I put Kelsey in charge of public relations and she got all the displays ready, gathered all the information about the team and the cattle, and made sure it was all articulated properly to the public. She also led the team and showed the other kids how to pull someone up and have a yarn.
I don’t like to talk about how the kids inspire me too much because it makes me too gooey. Seeing them grow from year seven, and watching them develop and show some work ethic and really bloom is very inspiring, you want to come back year after year to teaching. Teaching is like anything, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it, you need to be working on it beyond 3.30pm, but you get so much out of it in terms of satisfaction.
Agriculture is Coonamble’s main industry, and we need to be very proactive with kids, especially in schools where there isn’t a strong agricultural program. There are so many options available – it’s not just about tractors and getting your hands dirty – there are roles in marketing and business too. We have something to offer every kid. Coonamble is a great place and the people out west are magnificent.
Recently Kelsey has been applying for jobs, she has such a positive mentality because if she misses out her attitude is “I’ll get there next time.” She’s considering taking a gap year at the moment before going to Uni. She’s just someone who will always do really well in life.
KELSEY: Adam was my science teacher in year seven in Coonamble High, my agriculture teacher in year 11, and primary industries teacher in year 12. He has always been there for me, helping me to do things. He helped me finish my Certificate III in Rural Operations in year 12 and recently he’s been helping me apply for jobs. I didn’t ask him to help – he just offered, that’s the kind of person he is.
School wouldn’t have been as much fun if I hadn’t had Adam as my teacher. He makes school so enjoyable for me and the other students. There are around 300 kids in our local high school and he interacts with each student differently – he finds out what their interests are and has connections with every single one of us. He just knows how to connect with people.
I love living in Coonamble. It’s just easy and laid-back, there’s always something to do. We do lots of sports, like netball and football. I live in town so I’m not from a farming background but through school I have learned more about the farming life, thanks to my agricultural courses. It’s always interested me – I love animals so I thought I’d learn more about them. I feel I have plenty of options in the future. I want to do more TAFE courses to further my education in primary industries.
This is an interesting fact – when I started high school, there were only four or five students in the cattle showing team, and now there are more than 20. That’s because of Adam; he has really encouraged students to be involved. You learn so much more being at a cattle show than sitting at a desk. I’ve learned about washing, clipping and weighing the cattle. But it’s also about time management, getting all the steers and heifers ready. If we didn’t manage our time we wouldn’t get into our class. There are lots of late nights and early mornings, as well as learning to cope with different people and work as part of a team.
Because I enjoyed the cattle shows so much, I want to continue going to the Royal Easter Show and help with the younger kids from my old school. Even though I’ve left school, going forward will Adam still be a mentor for me. He always encourages me to reach my potential.
Supporting young people in rural communities
The RAS Rural Achiever Award (RAA) is a state-wide leadership program run by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW to recognise future young leaders who are contributing to their local community and rural Australia. The Award aims to acknowledge the achievements of young people in primary industry and rural communities and is now in its 28th year. “The idea of the RAA is to recognise kids living in rural areas and encourage them to remain in rural areas, or return to them,” says councillor Janie Forrest, who is a strong advocate for youth in the industry. “We have seen enrolments in agricultural courses increase from 900 in 2012 to 1500 in 2016, which is very encouraging.” As part of the award, successful applicants receive a personalised mentor program with a representative from the RAS. “The plan is for these young people to meet with their mentor at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, who will then introduce them to other people who could help them. Next, the Rural Achiever would join their mentor for a day on the farm or a day in the office to get a feel for what they do,” Janie explains. Going forward, the RAS plan to hone the application process to make it more user-friendly. “We really want to strengthen the opportunities for boys. The prevalence of achievers are mostly women – I think this is because girls are more proactive whereas boys are daunted by the idea of filling out lots of forms and tooting their own horn. Farmers are very modest by nature! We want to make the initial application more of an expression of interest, followed by a phone interview. It’s a wonderful opportunity because councillors have great contacts and networks, and are very keen to support young people in the industry.”
The 2017 RAS Rural Achievers:
- Thomas Dewhurst, Cowra: Design Engineer, K-Line Agriculture
- Amy Walker, Hovells Creek: Stationhand, ‘Breakfast Creek Station’, Hillgrove Pastoral Co.
- Emily Clapham, Ilford: Basic Physician Trainee, Hunter New England Local Health District
- Elizabeth Munn, Leeton: Agronomist, Yenda Producers Co-Op
- Rebecca Cope, Narrabri: Extension and Development Support Agronomist, Cotton Seed Distributors
- Ashley Norval, Bywong: Manager, Technology Adoption and Industry Capability, Australian Pork Limited
- Jarrod Grabham, Bathurst: Student at the Australian National University
- Cameron Ward, Gunnedah: Farm Manager/Dozer Operator, Greg Ward Earthmoving Solutions