Australian Stories: Grain Farmer Matilda Lienert

Australian Stories: Grain Farmer Matilda Lienert

It was way off the beaten track, we had to let our tyre pressure down due to the insane corrugation, but it was the most stunning place I’ve ever camped. For the course of the near three-week road trip, I did not once require power. We lived off grid completely, besides a shower here and there! We found it the most soul soothing, most incredible time of our lives.

Matilda is a registered Nurse and Midwife. After spending two years working in a remote country town in the Northern Territory, she decided to move home to her family's grain farm in South Australia (to help the old boy out!) and help out with the harvest. We asked Matilda about her adventures in the Top End which include some solo travel across the outback, getting to know the remote community and putting all faith in the weather gods for farm life. 

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What kind of Australian environment do you live in?

I come from a small town with a population of 140 people. It’s called Shea-Oak Log and it’s located on the outskirts of the famous wine region, the Barossa Valley in regional South Australia. The land in Shea-Oak Log is red loam soil, which is an equal mix of sandy, clay and silt soil, favourable when growing crops.

The summer is hot, and the winter is cold and wet, sometimes causing flooding and frost. We can have catastrophic bushfire weather during the harvest period. 

Tell us a bit about your farm life. 

This land has run in our family since 1854. My father grew up in the home I live in and has worked the land since he was 16. Shea-Oak Log is renown for piggeries and we had one whilst I was growing up which held 3,000 sows. Dad tended the piggery as well as crop the land. We decided to close the piggery four years ago and just focus on the cropping side. Livestock is tricky sometimes. When you farm animals, you have such a responsibility. 

Having three girls Mum and Dad decided to downscale, as we all decided to attend university and find our own career paths.  We now lease the infrastructure out to a neighbouring enterprise. On the cropping front, we usually put in wheat and barley as staples, and throw either canola, lentils, peas, or beans into the mix. Whichever Dad decides in that seeding period.

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As an apprentice farmer, what do you love about living and working on the land when you do outside of nursing? 

I am definitely a self-proclaimed apprentice farmer ha-ha! I am a dual registered nurse & Midwife, but I decided to move home from Darwin and give farming a crack for the 2023 harvest, and of course to help the old boy out!

Working on the land opened my eyes to how hard farmers work and how much time, effort and precision goes into getting the crops to the harvest stage. By the time I came home to join harvest, I got to come in at the stage where we reap the rewards (LITERALLY).

It also showed me how good an outdoors occupation is for the body, mind and soul. It has sparked a flame in me for sure.  There is so much to be said for working outdoors and tending plants from seeding to harvesting. In recent weeks the temperature in South Australia has been 32-37 degrees and that isn’t even as hot as it can be. I am unsure working outside in these conditions would be as much fun!! Thank goodness harvest finished early. 

etto australia wheat farmer

I loved learning when to reap. The ripeness of the crop in question is crucial and this can mean jumping from crop to crop to reap at perfect ripeness. Learning to drive the header was such a highlight. It’s a big rig to manoeuvre, but such a ‘Queen move’ to be behind the wheel. Moving and preparing the bins in the paddock was even mentally satisfying – of course they all need to be in a row with the auger pointing the same way – aesthetics is the real deal when you farm on main roads!!! According to Dad!!!

What’s better, harvest time or seed planting time? 

I am yet to work a full seeding period, although I have always helped when I have been home. I must say that harvest would have to be better because seeing all the hard work put in over year actually get harvested is an incredible feeling. Even more incredible when the grain goes at a higher grade than you were expecting. Watching the relief on my Dad’s face at the end of a harvest season is the best. 

Farming is forever dodging and relying on weather.  Seeding is usually cold and wet.

There is no better feeling than getting the crops in and seeing the rains come.  When they don’t come or come sparingly the mood inside the house is not quite as jolly. Nearing end of Winter to Spring brings frost, this is a tense time.

Only three years ago we were hit very heavily with frost, this was devastating. I still remember watching my Dad walk through a paddock of peas, opening one pod at a time to find every pea destroyed by the frost. A massive amount of ground was simply baled up and sold that way. 

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What do you wish people knew about farming?

You only get one go at your ANNUAL income; you really rely on the weather gods.  When I hear people whine about the rain in Winter, I have to bite my tongue. IYKYK (If You Know You Know).

You spend a lot of time in the outdoors, what else do you get up to in nature?  

My biggest hobby would have to be camping. I have set my Ute up with a canopy and rooftop tent which holds everything I need to survive off grid, so then I can just get up and go whenever I feel like it. I love hiking, waterfalls, swimming, fishing, sitting around a campfire having beers and most of all, watching the sky in the middle of the outback, absorbing every sunset and sunrise I see, having a competition with my mates counting the shooting stars.  I received a book for Christmas called, ‘The Big Lap Bible’ by Australian Travel Press and it maps out loads of landmarks and roads, so I am looking forward to marking lots more roads in Australia off my list. 

How does nature nourish you?  

Nature puts a smile on my face. The moment I get in my car knowing I am going ‘off grid’ or on a road trip camping, I think about where I am about to be, and I legitimately just smile.

I am happiest when I am amongst nature, alone or with mates, out of sight of any civilisation. 

Although, whilst being at home I have really appreciated just sitting drinking my morning coffee and looking out the window at our beautiful front yard at the birds, lizards, and of course our nutty kelpie ‘Missy.’  Home on the farm warms my soul. 

How did you find living in the Northern Territory?

I lived in the Northern Territory for nearly two years. I completed my Midwifery degree and then headed back to South Australia to work the Spring harvest in 2024. The Northern Territory is probably the most underrated place to live in Australia. I did come across a fair bit of crime from my time working in the hospital, but it didn’t dampen my experience, the outdoors was incredible and South Australia landscape simply does not compare.

Everyone was adventurous, friendly, and loved a beer - certainly my people! My spare time was often spent camping, chasing waterfalls, or helping with reptile catching (for photographs). I had a close mate up there who taught me to appreciate snakes and not be afraid of them. He taught me about lots of different species in the wild that were protected versus introduced, but most importantly how to be croc wise - go figure!

The diverse population has expanded my cultural knowledge via the stories and education I would hear from my patients. Getting a small understanding of where my remote Indigenous patients were based, how they grew up and their cultural practices was certainly a highlight from working in the Northern Territory. My passion for remote area nursing has grown, and something I would like to do again in the future.

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Tell us, what is a day in the life of a nurse?

I have a crazy love for my job. I really do love it. Midwifery is my newest passion so let's begin the day in a life!

We have three shifts we are rostered on. An early shift (0700-1530), a late shift (1300-2130) and night shift (2100-0730). Let's do a late shift on labour ward! 

My day would consist of general day-to-day things. I like to go to the gym in the morning, meal prep and then head to work. We commence at 1300 for a huddle to get an overall view of what the labour ward is doing and flags for any potential high-risk patients. We would then be allocated one labouring woman for the shift. Labour is such an amazing thing, my appreciation for a woman’s strength is sky high. But nothing compares to the moment a woman and their partner meet their baby for the first time. It really is euphoric and something I am so grateful to be able to witness on a regular basis. 

On most occasions, just when the end of your night shift is in sight, is when you’ll most likely be asked to work the night shift too as they are short staffed (as per usual). This means putting in an 18-and-a-half-hour shift. You get home at 8am the next morning, absolutely buggered, but then you remember what you witnessed and how incredible the shift really was. Makes it worthwhile.  

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Tell us a bit about your 4WD adventures  

The happiness and freedom it brought me is the best part about it. My greatest adventure to date would have to be driving from Darwin to Broome in Western Australia via the Gibb River Road, with four mates. Now that is something everyone needs to experience in their time. We saw an incredible amount of beautiful country but the one that we all absolutely loved was up the Dampier Peninsula, one and a half hours north of Broome where we found the most incredible place.

We were lucky enough to get the recommendation to stay at an Indigenous Australian owned and operated camping spot called ’Smithy’s’. It was way off the beaten track, we had to let our tyre pressure down due to the insane corrugation, but it was the most stunning place I’ve ever camped. For the course of the near three-week road trip, I did not once require power. We lived off grid completely, besides a shower here and there! We found it the most soul soothing, most incredible time of our lives. I was with three other nurses and a farmer from South Australia, and I think to get out of the busy hospital and connect with these beautiful people, places and never-ending roads was a great thing to do to regroup and reset. 

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What is it like when you go solo?

I don’t go solo regularly. I chose to start doing some solo small trips in the Northern Territory and I really enjoyed it. I am super independent and the fact I set my car up to live out of was really satisfying and rewarding when going out solo.

I live off good music so, if I had music, my book and a sunrise or sunset in view, it was always comfortable and peaceful.

When I drove from Darwin to Noosa through outback Queensland, I was doing 12-hour days. Crazy I know, but I ensured I stayed the night in legitimate places for the safety and for the hot shower. Most nights I had nice neighbour's which helped Mum sleep at night.

Tell us something you love about Australia?

The thing I love the most is the diverse countryside. You can be in the snow one minute, then the tropics, the coast and then in the desert the next. They are all equally beautiful, you just need to have the courage to start the journey. My passion for seeing Australia has grown immensely and I have a feeling this is only just the beginning.


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