Who am I and How did I get here?!

Host: BMC Consulting
Written by – Blythe Calnan, Consultant, BMC Consulting.

Well hello all, I’m not a cattle station, farm, feedlot or anything grand. My business, BMC Consulting, consists of plain old, lil old me, Blythe Calnan. I’ve been invited to be involved in Central Station as my job sees me working in the Middle East as a consultant providing support for Australian exporters and foreign importers who receive our sheep and cattle.

 1.1At home in the yards at Yarrie Station.

I am the daughter of a mining engineer and a school teacher who fortuitously landed at a small mining town called Shay Gap in the Pilbara with five children and a menagerie. The menagerie included a few horses and so we came to know the station on which Shay Gap was built, Yarrie. My time at Yarrie with the Coppin family as a child was pivotal in fostering a passion for the beef industry and agriculture that burns stronger than ever today. Yarrie hosted Central Station earlier on this year and you can read about them here.

 1.2The Calnan clan.

These days I’ve been based back at Yarrie, but there have been many adventures in between. I attended a private girls school in Perth, and hated most minutes of it, but in hindsight all the ‘girl power’ probably did lead me to never doubt I could achieve anything I put my mind to. After a short university appearance I headed up to the Kimberley and worked on Springvale and Moola Bulla stations, which introduced me to a different station life than what I was used to with extra camps, crew, and cattle.

I then explored different industries which taught me many valuable skills I use today. I worked in the propagation section of a native nursery, giving me an appreciation of the miracle that every plant is, and the reminder that all farmers are gardeners. I worked on a pearl farm nestled in the spectacular buccaneer archipelago; this was hard work, with a small team living on a tiny house boat. This taught me many things about conflict resolution, finding common ground with people and reward for hard work, finishing lines early equalled fishing trips! I drove a coach giving tours of a bauxite mine, which made me learnt that to engage people you need to know your facts, but also entertain.

I worked on the mines in many different roles, mill rat, machinery operator, and crew leader. The biggest thing I learnt from this was the value of systems and how they can increase your safety, productivity, and quality, I believe there is a great deal we can learn and apply in our agricultural systems.

During all of this I travelled. Mostly to countries that do not enjoy the high standard of living that we do in Australia. South America, Eastern Europe, Central and Eastern Asia and Africa all taught me to never take what we have in Australia for granted, to have sympathy for others, persevere through uncertainty, and that communication is so much more than words. And through all of this I saw that people who succeeded were passionate, so with all of these skills I headed back to what I was passionate about: cattle.

1.3Mustering sheep and goats in the Mongolian Gobi by dromedary camel.

I returned to Yarrie to work for the first time as an adult and revelled in the hard work, steep learning curves, and family environment. My childhood friend from Yarrie, Annabelle, was off travelling the world undertaking a Nuffield Scholarship on the Australian Live Export Trade which lead to her being asked to undertake some consulting work in the Middle East region. At a time when they needed some extra hands on deck to undertake some festival programs, I was recommended due to skills in animals handling, cultural exposure, and my adventurous nature.

For me that was the start of an amazing career, for the last few years my role has been providing support to exporters and importers of Australian livestock in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, and Israel. To begin with this role was providing support for gradual voluntary change, this changed at the end of 2011 with the abhorrent footage shown in ‘Bloody Business’.

The trade was reopened with new regulation packaged as the ‘Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System’ (ESCAS). This system places the onus on the Exporter to maintain control of their supply chain and report back to DAFF with independent audit reports on their performance. My work now revolves around aiding markets understanding and implementation of ESCAS and Australian Industry and Governments expectations.

This involves everything from training the labour in stock handling and animal husbandry, implementing and training on standard operating procedures, assisting vets and management access information they need, advising on facility improvements or modifications to meeting with management and Government officials to explain what, why and how things need to progress be part of the supply chain involving Australian animals and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

1.4At work in the Middle East with some young racing camels, the muzzles are to prevent picking up rubbish or undesirable food stuffs. They are fed and treated like royalty!

I travel a lot, I stay in hotels a lot, and I get to see amazing places. It does sound like a dream job, but keep in mind the travel involved in your last big holiday. Think of working in extremely challenging conditions before, after, and during that travel, and think of how much you appreciate your own bed, your family, and your friends when you get home.

I manage it with a family who copes with ‘I’m in town for three hours, lets do dinner’, friends who cope with ‘sure I’ll come to your wedding as long as it doesn’t clash with any Islamic ritual slaughter events’ and a boyfriend who copes with ‘I need to be overseas next week sorry, can you drive me three hours to the airport, change the holiday plans and cope with three dogs on your next work trip’.

I love my work as I know how important it is not only for improving Australian and global animal welfare, but for ensuring our livestock producers have markets operating for their livestock that meet expectations and regulations. I was recently awarded the Cattle Council Rising Champion for 2014, which gives me an amazing opportunity to be an agvocate for this industry that I am so passionate about.

 1.5With Sudanese sheep in market.

Throughout the year other hosts will have filled you in on the devastating effects of a knee jerk, politically fuelled ban on live exports and the ongoing effects that the introduction of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System has had. This week I am going to hopefully give you more of an insight into why these things occurred and escalated to the footage you may have seen on TV and share with you how that changed the ways things happen on the ground in our foreign markets by sharing the processes now in place to regulate the treatment and processing of Australian animals. I’ll also introduce you to a few people who  look after our animals and have them explain why they like them so much!