Heather Mitchell was a nurse, famer, business woman and community leader. She was the first woman President of the Victorian Farmers Federation (1986 - 1989) and joint inaugural Chair of LandCare Victoria.
Early Years and Education:
Heather Mary Mitchell (nee Hutchieson) was born on 25 September 1917 in Sydney. In the early 1920s Heather and her family moved to Albury, where her father worked in life insurance. After completing school Heather trained as a nurse in Melbourne during the 1930s. While working as a nurse in Melbourne Heather contracted Polio and met her future husband Lester Clarence Mitchell, who was working as a pharmacist at a hospital in Melbourne.
Marriage and Move to Hopetoun:
Heather and Lester were married in 1941 and shortly afterwards moved to Hopetoun where Lester's family had a property at nearby Beulah. The couple owned and operated the Hopetoun Pharmacy, Mallee Ag Services (a retail agricultural and veterinary supplies business) and several farms in the Hopetoun and Horsham region producing grain, pasture seed, prime lamb and cattle.
Heather was also a very active community member in Hopetoun, particularly in fundraising for the local hospital and assisted with the establishment of a 23 bed aged care facility. She held a number of senior positions in local community organisations including:
. Foundation Regional President Mallee Red Cross Region (1956-66 )
. Appointed a Life Governor Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (1960)
. Advisor and Mentor to Senior Young Farmers Club (1962)
. Foundation Regional Commandant Mallee Red Cross Region (1966-74)
. President Hopetoun High School Council (1971-72)
. Board Member of Wimmera Base Hospital (1975-80)
. Member of the Longerenong Agricultural College Advisory Committee (1976-80)
. Deputy Chairman, Wimmera Regional TAFE Board (1977-80)
. Deputy Vice Chairman, Board of Directors HBA (1979)
. Life Governor Corrong Retirement Village (1979)
She was also an active member of the Liberal Party, becoming Country Female Vice President of the Liberal Party of Victoria from 1969 - 1974. In 1979 her years of service to the Hopetoun community were recognised when she was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the community.
Involvement in Agri-Politics
Heather and Lester moved to Horsham in the 1980s when Lester retired. It was during this time Heather became actively involved in agripolitics through the Victorian Farmers Federation. In 1985 she led the Farmers March down Bourke Street in Melbourne to raise community awareness of the difficulties facing farming communities. In the same year Heather was elected Vice President of Victorian Farmers & Graziers Association (VFGA) then in 1986 she was elected the first female President of the rebranded VFGA the Victorian Farmers' Federation (VFF), a position she held until 1989. Also in 1986 Heather became the joint foundation Chair of Landcare Victoria alongside Joan Kirner, then Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands and Premier of Victoria. The same year she was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Young Farmers Finance Council of Victoria and in 1987 she became the inaugural President of the Public Land Council of Victoria. Heather became the first female vice-president of the National Farmers' Federation in 1989.
Heather was a strong advocate for improving living conditions in rural areas and influenced State Government policy. On becoming VFF President, she worked closely with the Cain Labor Government, and influenced the establishment of the Rural Affairs Sub-Committee of Cabinet. She was a role model for women to take on an equal and active role in agri-political issues and organisations as well as an inspiration to young people wishing to get involved in agriculture.
Heather Mitchell's Akubra hat, with its 40 badges, became strongly associated with her agripolitical career and public identity, with many images of her wearing the hat appearing in the media. See the associated essay.
Following the death of her husband Lester in 1989, Heather's involvement in agripolitics and the local community continued. She was appointed Patron of the Longerenong Centenary Appeal in 1989 and was the inaugural Vice President of the National Farmers Federation the same year.
Heather's nursing roots were recognised in 1991 when she was made a Life Governor of the Hopetoun Bush Nursing Hospital and Patron of Victorian Bush Nursing Hospitals Association. Her years of service to agri-poltics and farming were recognised in 1991 when Heather was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for services to primary industry.
Her involvement in the organisations and causes she loved continued during the 1990s. In 1992 was made a Life Member of the Victorian Farmers Federation and a Board member of Greening Australia. In 1995 Heather was awarded the International Order of St John for 25 years' service to the Red Cross and St Johns Ambulance and was presented with an award from the National Council of Women. In 1997 she was made Patron of the Public Land Council of Victoria.
Heather passed away in Melbourne on 12 November 1999.
Agriculture, Women on Farms Gatherings, Women's Work, Agricultural & Farming Organisations, Women's Role, Healthcare & Medicine, Community Groups, Rural Women, Environmental Issues, Hat Accessories, agricultural industry, Women's Associations, Women's Issues, Rural Industry, Rural Victoria, Rural Landscapes, Environmental Activism, Political Protests, Sustainable Agriculture, country life, Scouting Movement