Remarkable rural, nonprofit leader and advocate shares her powerful story
Georgina "Georgie" Somerset, AM, is a seasoned leader
in the nonprofit, government and primary industries (agriculture, forestry,
fishing, mining, quarrying, and the extraction of minerals). She and her
husband run a multigenerational cattle station in southern Queensland,
Australia, and she has worked tirelessly to overcome rural, regional and remote
In 1993, Georgie was a founding member and later president of an
organization designed for rural, regional and remote women to connect, develop
capacity and support each other to overcome adversity – known as the Queensland
Rural, Regional & Remote Women's Network (QRRRWN).
She is the first female general president of AgForce Queensland,
the deputy chair of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland section) and is a director at the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation, the National Farmers Federation, the Foundation for
Rural and Regional Renewal and the RFDS Foundation.
Georgie has been nominated for ABC Rural Woman of the Year, named
one of 100 Women of Influence in the Local/Regional category by the Australian
Financial Review and honored with a Member of the Order of Australia in 2020.
In April, Georgie was featured by Zonta International in a
Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne
Foley OAM, chair of the Zonta Spirit Working Group.
Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:
Typical rural childhood
"I grew up in the country. Our family lived in a couple
of different places, but I was what I'd
call a typical rural child—probably not as typical as some in that we did do
distance education, and I did school on School of the Air and I went away to
boarding school. But that's very normal in rural Australia and I think it does
shape you. But it gives you a real chance to be involved in your family's
business, and I look back on that time and think that we were so involved in
the family property that it just became part of your DNA. And even though I
went and did some other things, that yearning to be in the bush was very much
there. I've only spent a couple of years in my life not living in a rural
"We had an enormous amount of freedom. You're living on a rural property, so you get to do things,
you get an independence. Once you learn to drive, you have to learn to change
the tire because you have to be the one who actually is doing those things. And
I'm really grateful that in my life I've also been able to also pass that on to
my children, that they can have some sense of independence, not quite as
remote, and not doing distance. But you do have freedom. And I think that also
shows you when things can go wrong, and you have to fix it up because there's
no one else to do it for you."
School of the Air
"In my time, our papers arrived in the mail, and we had a
paper set for the week. … And we would do half an hour session with the
teacher, and that would consolidate some of our learning. But really your
mother or your governess or your home tutor were responsible for instructing
you through those lessons. And as the youngest, because the others were already
in boarding school, I was very adept at cramming a lot of that learning into a
short period of time so that I could then help with shearing or mustering and
be available when my siblings came home to be with them. But I do think it
teaches you some great time management skills. It also allows those who want to
do more to be stretched."
First leadership opportunity
"We were living in outback Queensland and we could see a
real opportunity to let other people come and experience outback Queensland.
So, I took a couple of school friends when I was 17, and actually set up
accommodation on our station, and that was my first taste of running the
business for my parents, and I'd
watch them run our business. My mother always did the books and we talked about
family business. We had family meetings, but it was my first experience,
certainly of getting something off the ground."
"The fascinating thing about agriculture is that we are
constantly working with the environment and the weather we get. We've had some
pretty crushing droughts, but we also had some good seasons, and you learn as
much from good years as you do from bad. But no two years are the same."
"There's some great technology coming through in
Australia now. We have cameras set up so that we can monitor water points on
tanks, or just actually so that we can see whether a creek has flooded and
fences need checking, that type of thing. We've also got a system where the
cattle self-weigh themselves, and so you get an average of what their weight
is. That just happens during the day we get a report each day. So, I'm really
excited about where technology is going to take things so that we can continue
to evolve the business as well. That's what the next generation is going to
really embrace, so I think it's quite exciting."
The impact of being a Zonta club founder
"When you live on a property an hour from town, you go to
town, you do your shopping, you have lunch, you head home again. You know the
people that you see in those businesses, but there are people you don't
know—those that are doing social service work, the lawyers, the accountants,
the real estate agents—because you're not part of their social network. And so,
the ability of Zonta to give you this professional network where you meet other
thinking business women who want to have an impact on the next generation, and
their own generation, is quite extraordinary. We weren't around for a long time in Zonta Kingaroy, but I really
loved it. I was a founding director. It was an hour's drive so going twice a
month could become challenging. But I'm
really proud of some of the work we did."
"We have a couple of towns that have a very high teen
pregnancy rate … so there was a lot of disadvantage, and I think that Zonta
gave me an opportunity to get an idea of that disadvantage. And, I think, it
has also helped me to be more empathetic for our region and its needs going
forward that I probably wouldn't have seen as a farmer, a rural woman an hour
from town. But I got a real insight into that through Zonta and met some great
women who were fabulous businesswomen. And again, I learned about running
businesses from them, and what they were doing."
"It's strong in agriculture, but I do see it in other
ways where you pick up intergenerational wisdom, because things are passed on
inherently and you get an opportunity just to absorb it always by osmosis I
think, as a family. And you gain this wisdom from grandparents and people
around you that if you're new to an industry, you have to actually work at that
and develop those, and I absolutely see that happening. And I'm really excited
about young people who are coming into agriculture. But I do think that if you
have got wisdom in the past that you can gain from and build upon it, it's
really strong, and I think that works in any industry. … You stand on the
shoulders of those who founded and went before you, and you hope that those
that that come after you can create an even stronger organization."
Learning about leadership
"I was incredibly fortunate because I look back now and
think, Gosh, that was so brave to let me do what I did. I had been
working as a freelance journalist and running my own media consultancy
business, and they allowed me to be the media person. And so, I was putting
words into their mouth and writing media releases nearly every week. And what I
gained was these women who had a deep understanding of policy and communities
and regional development, and not in a theoretical sense, but in a very
"I think it's really important to invest in yourself. … I
was really fortunate to do the Australian Rural Leadership program … [which]
gave me an alumni who challenged me and held me to account, but also supported
me, and it was a great experience. … And one of my gifts back to the community
from doing that leadership program is to establish a community leadership
program in our region, and I just see significant impact on people when they
gain an understanding of themselves and their impact on other people and how to
work together in a team. So, I'm a huge advocate for investing in yourself and
these sorts of basic leadership skills, because I think they'll improve your
family life, they'll improve your work life, and then they'll give you the
confidence to find the leadership journey that's right for you."
"Every person's journey is different. But you need some
basic skills and understanding of how you impact other people. I look back at
my 17- and 18-year-old leader, and know that I was a very flawed leader at that
time. But I can still reflect on that and know that I've polished a few of the
edges of that roughness as I've gone through life. But it's also about other
people holding me to account and that feels really uncomfortable. And actually,
I think that in any of these leadership journeys, if you don't feel a bit uncomfortable
at some stage, you probably haven't dug quite deep enough. There needs to be
some real soul searching about how do you operate. And for women I think it
does empower them. I think it's important for men too. So, I think we need to
encourage our communities to invest in leadership skills."
How to make change
"I think it's really important to turn up. You get
invited to things, and people probably want to invite you a second time. So
those who turned up to that first meeting got involved, and we kept turning up.
… It actually takes a lot of energy and a lot of time to do these things, and I
think that's the thing that this is not going to happen overnight, and I also
think that you've got to commit to things. So, you've got to be deeply
committed and lose some sleep over it to actually make it happen. I really
encourage young women to get involved in organizations or causes they believe
in, because that will be where they learn a lot of skills. And they have this
opportunity to learn from women who have been through the ropes and done this
"We shouldn't feel pressured that we have to do something
or be like the others. Comparison is so fraught, and I loved the article I read
once that a plum is a great plum, but when a plum tries to be a banana, it's a
really awful banana. So just be the plum. Just be yourself. And I think we need
to try and not place pressures on other women because of what our lived
experience has been, but actually to embrace what their journey is."
Finding your purpose
"It is about confidence and it's about understanding
yourself. And for me, it's about knowing what is your purpose and what is it
that you can bring to the table, and thinking about the great pieces that you
offer and what are the skills and attributes you have, and actually building on
those. So often we focus on what we can't do. … But if we work on that sort of
3% we're not great at, we don't get as great a result as if we worked on the
97% we're fantastic at."
"Find the bit that really makes your heart sing—that
makes you energized, that you are buzzing when you're doing that sort of work,
or in that space. It is different for everybody. And when you find that, do
more of that. Lean into that and have the confidence to turn up. Decisions are
made by the people who turn up. Things happen when people turn up. Don't be
afraid to turn up, even if you don't know anybody there. It's really hard sometimes going to something where you
know nobody. But maybe that will be the opportunity for you to break out of
where you are and find what it is that really makes your heart sing. I think
deep down we all know what it is, but sometimes we're so busy we don't give
ourselves the space."
"I really encourage people to sit, and sit in silence to
think about what it is that is their voice. Busyness can often crowd in. You
think you're busy, so everything's fine. But, in fact, that busyness stops you
from being who you really want to be, and you need to sometimes strip away some
things and let some things go so that you can really focus on what's your voice and
what's your purpose. … There's lots of busyness, and we can be busy scrolling
and all those sorts of things. But if we strip that away and just have some of
that calm, that's when we really find who we are."
Greatest leadership gift
"I think it's about being able to bring together
disparate parts and see similarities. And if I liken it, I think it's that I
can be up on a balcony and I can see what's going on in the big picture, but I
can also bring together. I've never been terribly good at staying inside one
lane. I've always had lots of different interests, and I'm incredibly curious. That's one of my natural inherent
values is curiosity, and I love learning. And so I've picked up lots of
different information and worked in different areas. … For me it's about that
ability to think strategically about the long term and bring together divergent
"And I think positivity has helped me in good stead, in
that we do have to find a way through. We actually do have to provide
leadership, and there have been periods of my life when I haven't been so
positive and so I can completely understand what that is like for people. But I
work really hard on being in a mental space where I can be positive because I
think that for leaders, we need to be able to see over the horizon. We need to
be able to provide a vision for those who aren't there yet, and we need to be
able to bring together people to go on that journey with you."
Reaching gender parity
"We've got to value ourselves. We've got to go in and ask
for those opportunities. As older women—and I'm certainly one of them now—we've
got to be the ones who give the 25-year-old me a crack. We've got to be
prepared to step aside. We've got to sponsor other women. I try hard not to say
no to anything. I say, 'I'm not able to, but
here are three other great women who could do this.' "
important we bring [young women] through to senior leadership and CEO roles.
They need to be in senior leadership because unless they're in senior
leadership, they're not able to make those decisions. We need to make sure they
don't get stuck in technical roles and aren't able to come through to board
roles and we need to sponsor them. We need to be their advocates."
"I love Kirstin Ferguson's quote where she said, let's not talk about a
ladder; let's talk about a fishing net; let's throw that whole net down and
bring those women up. This this is not about one or two, and a linear thing.
This is about, how can we magnify it so that women are gathering in a network
to celebrate, not to have to constantly advocate and seek their place at the
table, so that people don't comment when there's a panel of all women on the
sport show. They'd
never comment when there's panel of all men."
"A cow gave me a tap on the leg, which smashed my tibia.
Three and a half years on, it's there, but I can walk, and that's alright. But
there were times during that period where I wondered whether I would ever walk
normally again. I think it is all these things along the way that at no stage
did I feel any anger. I just knew that I had to take each day as it came, and I
had to use all the strategies that I had. But learning from my own experience,
I kept working."
"The other thing is that you also need to, in those tough
times, be willing to ask for help. And that was probably the toughest thing for
me, Lynne. I couldn't even drive. I had to ask for help. It was very, very
humbling, but it's also very empowering when you can work your way back from those
moments as well, and I think that we all have much more strength in us than we
"One of the things I've really embraced in the last few
years is not filling my life so full that I can't embrace opportunities as they
come. So, I don't actually know what's next, and that's OK. The young me really
struggled with not knowing what was next. But I really love that now."
really determined to make the next period count. And what I want to stay true
to is those things we've talked about today: adding value, ensuring that when I
do come to the table, I bring something that's going to build that
organization, that I focus on enabling other people to come through, that I
continue to advocate for rural Australia. I just don't actually know where that
will be. But I know that I have no intention of slowing down, because there are
great opportunities out there; there are great people to work with, and I think
I've still got a lot to offer. And rather than trying to script it all, I'm really deep in
doing at the moment, and embracing what will come ahead."
To keep up with Georgie, follow her on Facebook,
Watch Georgie's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories video below:
27 APRIL 2023