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Meet Louise FitzRoy

From heart-warming good news yarns to gut-wrenching tragedies, Walkley Award-winning journalist Louise FitzRoy has spent her career scouring the furthermost corners of Australia sharing stories from the bush. 

Through a media platform, this talented storyteller has been able to reach a mass audience, inspiring and impacting lives thanks to the power of journalism.

And now, having spent years listening to strangers’ tales, this modern day hunter and gatherer has collating her learnings into one comprehensive platform that aims to fulfil her personal passion, educating students on where their food comes from. 

“Thanks to the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard I’ve spent my journey learning – and for so long I just listened, but now I want to share everything, with everyone.”

Louise, who hails from Guyra in NSW’s New England, established From Paddock to Plate in 2008, endeavouring to help people make more informed decisions about how and where they source their food. 

“The seed sprouted thanks to my father. Often when we were out in the paddock he would lament about the lack of appreciation for the bountiful supply of fresh food on the shelves.”

“This disconnect between consumers and producers wasn’t just a concern across the paddocks of Guyra, it was a theme that rang common during my time as a journalist at the ABC,” Louise said. 

Her role as a rural and regional radio journalist with the ABC afforded the intrepid adventurer the opportunity to immerse herself in communities Australia-wide, from Tamworth to Alice Springs, Port Lincoln to Bunbury. It also provided the initial platform for From Paddock to Plate’s wondrous evolution. 

“It became more and more apparent that consumers didn’t have as much rural knowledge as they should, and so I instigated the Cold Esky Challenge, an ABC segment whereby I would head to a farm with my microphone on, and candidly talk to a farmer.”

“This first thing I learnt was that when a farmer is in his, or her, zone in the paddock, they can literally talk until the cows come home – their musings provide such a wealth of knowledge.” 

This informal farmer chat was complemented by an esky full of their specific produce, passed on to a local bakery or kitchen and created into a meal, complete with local sommelier’s wine suggestion.

A resounding success, the concept caught the attention of Harper Collins, which commissioned a book under the new name, ‘From Paddock to Plate’.

Such was its appeal, Louise launched FP2P as an educational platform – a comprehensive and practical online resources library for primary and high school teachers and students to learn about food and agriculture in Australia. 

Using her storytelling and production skills, Louise has amassed over 350 unique, thought-provoking and engaging resources including virtual video excursions to help students identify first-hand with their food production. 

And with a large percentage of her videos based around female farmers, she gains enormous pride in representing women in agriculture.

“A large part of my job is to remove stereotypes and give the whole sector a make-over, and there are so many amazing women doing great things on the land. I hope that the career segment of the program helps drive more women towards the sector.”

And while her program will no doubt inspire a generation of women into Ag, personally, Louise has provided myriad encouragement and support to whole communities through her role as a journalist. 

The enormity of delivering critical breaking news to regional and rural Australia is not lost on Louise – none more so when she was summoned to report on Victoria’s ‘Black Saturday’ fires in 2009.

“I had actually stepped away from journalism. I’d had a particularly tough day and randomly during my lunch break in Bunbury, of all places, I decided to join a yoga class,” she explains. 

“It was phenomenal, I was on cloud nine for a full hour, and it was enough to prompt me to quit the ABC and enrol in a yoga teaching course in Melbourne. 

Louise arrived in Melbourne as black smoke started to creep across the distant valleys, and within half an hour her first yoga tutorial starting, her phone was ringing hot – the ABC shattering the serenity and calling her back into the field. 

“It was quite mad in hindsight, my lecturer and class were thoroughly confused as I politely excused myself, grabbed a recorder from the ABC studio – which I had to locate in a very unfamiliar city – and for the next few months I slept in a swag reporting first-hand from the bushfire-affected regions,” she said. 

Eventually co-hosting a breakfast and morning show for the recovering districts, she said the experience, while harrowing, was a rare privilege.

“To be standing in a paddock, describing to the world the devastation I was seeing, and to have the ability to provide people with the information they need to seek help is really powerful, and not something I have ever taken lightly.”

“I’ve been so proud to provide news, support, and comfort when needed, to rural and regional Australia, and particularly in Kinglake.”

A crude make shift radio station with its transmitter sitting up in a cherry picker and a spot to sleep on the floor of the Kinglake community centre, one of the few buildings still standing, were the bare essentials needed. 

“When you come into a community when they’re at their most vulnerable, the media can be intimidating, and while we were shunned at first, we soon became part of the landscape, providing strategies to help these people who had lost everything, maintain their purpose.”

Rural school students, children who had seen too much, were encouraged to read their written thoughts on air – Louise recalling the experience was like a ‘weight lifting’ off their little shoulders.

Local talent and creatives were also encouraged to contribute to the station, local guitarists, poets, bakers, all given a new-found responsibility and a welcome distraction in the face of devastation.

“We found a wonderful community within Kinglake, and as the primary source of critical information it was a profound experience, both professionally and personally.”

Six months later Louise re-joined her yoga student cohort, persuading the teacher to let her finish the 12 month course – which she did, graduating as planned.

Today Louise splits her time between her family’s intergenerational beef and merino operation at Guyra and her home in Melbourne, running FP2P and occasionally filing for ABC – and yoga is still an integral cog in her daily routine.

“When I first took up yoga my parents had no idea what it was – now my dad does five yoga moves every morning while he waits for the kettle to boil, my mum does pilates classes in town, and rural communities are as vibrant as their urban counterparts,” Louise smiles. “We can access great fresh food, diverse menus, delicious coffee and quality shopping right here in our local communities – and while one of my goals has always been to help change the rural stereotype, country Australia is progressing in leaps and bounds and it’s modern rural women – strong, passionate, adventurous, powerful and inspirational – largely driving this dynamic new direction.”   

Article author: Rabobank Australia

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