Tenterfield farmer tackles the big questions on conservation in agriculture

Published: September 2019 I By: Joanna Webber

More than 20 years of active lobbying have proved a valuable grounding for NSW Farmers’ Conservation & Resource Management Committee chair Bronwyn Petrie.

Bronwyn and her son Tim on their Tenterfield property with Ollie the dog and Tilly the horse.
BRONWYN Petrie first felt the effects of environmental legislation in the early 1990s when wilderness nominations threatened Tenterfield farmland and its owners’ rights. Angry farmers launched a local branch of Timber Communities Australia and Bronwyn, keen to make a difference, fronted up as its NSW state coordinator for six years.

The extent to which the NSW government could regulate the clearing of native vegetation on private property was hotly debated. When the Carr government’s crackdown on land clearing led to protests in 1995, Bronwyn was there, too. 

“Nearly 4,000 people turned up in Sydney for that rally,” she recalls. “We protested about the native vegetation legislation that had just been dropped on us. I made big banners saying, ‘Rural NSW Has Had Enough!’.”

Bronwyn joined NSW Farmers in 1996 and has energetically lobbied at both state and federal level since then. She has sat on the Conservation & Resource Management Committee since 1998 and became its chair last April. She was also elected to the Tenterfield Shire Council two years ago.

“If you’re not a part of things, you can’t influence what happens in the future,” she says. 

“They say the world is run by those who show up, and that’s also true of NSW Farmers. We might not always win, but we can have a darned good try.”
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Bronwyn grew up in Charleville, western Queensland, where her father worked as a wool presser, when the job was done manually. “Dad was also a bushman and he’d always tell us stories about growing up in the bush. My love for this land probably comes from him.”

After she finished high school in 1978, Bronwyn planned to go to university. But, instead, she sat a Queensland government entrance exam and took out that year’s highest score. She could take her pick from a list of government jobs. “One was with the Department of Primary Industries in Charleville, so I took it,” says Bronwyn, who never looked back. “I loved working with the landowners and finding out about their issues.”

Today, Bronwyn and her ex-husband Bill, a fifth-generation farmer, and their son Tim, breed beef cattle, harvest timber and run a tourism venture on their five family-owned enterprises south-east of Tenterfield.

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Bronwyn Petrie at the NSW Farmers’ native vegetation workshop in Moree. Photography by Robert Dunn. 

Most of the issues Bronwyn’s NSW Farmers committee deals with fall into the categories of water, biodiversity, right to farm, native vegetation and social licence. “The critical issues are water and native vegetation,” Bronwyn says. “What this drought has done is expose the failings of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the legislation that governs water across the whole state.

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“While there have been improvements in the native vegetation legislation, there is still a long way to go, including addressing invasive native species restrictions, mapping, regional codes and basic legal rights.”

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