Her ‘old man’ may be an All Black but former Te Kauwhata Primary School student, Hannah Cameron, is committed to charting her own course in life, as JON RAWLINSON explains.
It’s fair to say that Hannah Cameron’s life to date has taken her along roads less travelled, at least as far as her gender is concerned.
Serving as NZ Young Farmers’ Waikato/Bay of Plenty Regional Chairperson (while also working as a flying instructor) she has excelled in areas often seen as the domain of men.
Hannah believes, while women have long played an essential role in farming families, New Zealand’s primary industries can benefit from more than just a little ‘women’s work.’
“The phrase ‘just a farmer’s wife’ needs to be reassessed for a start.
There are some pretty amazing women doing some pretty amazing things and a lot of seriously strategic brains among women involved throughout the primary industries. It would be a serious disservice if this resource were to continue to be under utilised and underdeveloped,” she says.
“Young Farmers is still a more male than female organisation but, if you look at committee members across all regions, it’s more like a 50/50 split.”
Hannah is currently the only woman to hold a regional chair position with Young Farmers but says the organisation is undertaking a concerted effort to ensure more women take their place alongside men at the highest levels. Indicative of this approach is an increase in the number of women taking part in the annual Young Farmer of the Year competition.
During the contest’s seven regional finals in March and April, Lisa Kendall from Karaka and North Waikato’s Jo Jordan will aim to take their place at the Grand Final. During the competition’s (almost) 50 year history, no woman has ever claimed the national title, but Hannah says it’s high time that changed.
“I would like to see at least one of the regions represented at the Grand Final by one of the female competitors; however, as an organisation, we still have work to do to prepare them. I would love for a woman to win but, if not, at least we know we have some very strong competitors ready to step up in the future.”
Although Hannah’s role is largely focused on helping administer the organisation, the former Te Kauwhata dairy farmer’s daughter doesn’t shy away from getting her hands dirty during the Young Farmer of the Year competition.
“I have competed at district level the past couple of years but I went terribly! My skill set is probably better focused elsewhere, although I can drive a tractor and quads, too. For me, it’s more of a learning experience than about competing. I can’t really stand up in front of our members and say they should enter if I don’t enter as well, can I? And, it’s actually really good fun!”
Hannah says working with Young Farmers has allowed her to put her studies (in outdoor education and business) to good use, while drawing on her rural upbringing.
“Young Farmers is very good at developing future leaders. They’re a pretty impressive group of people. [The organisation] excels when it comes to teaching an understanding all the roles within a committee, for example. There’s not a lot available to a younger age group for developing such skills.”
Now living in Hamilton, the driven 27-year-old credits her local upbringing for providing her with the strong grassroots she’s needed to achieve.
Hannah’s brother and sister are also no strangers to achievement – Matt is head coach at the Waikato Rowing Club, while Georgia is a lawyer. As children of former All Black, Counties and Manawatu mid-fielder, Lachie Cameron, it’s fair to say achievement is in the Cameron kids’ blood.
“We had an amazing childhood on the farm. Mum and dad would always discuss what was going on so we were always very involved. Of course, we were a source of free labour, too, something country kids can relate to! ‘Character building’, I believe it’s called.
“All three of us are very lucky. Our parents have always supported and encouraged us to do whatever we wanted, as long as we were passionate about it. They brought us up to work hard and smart, so that’s what we’ve done.”
And, hard work has served Hannah well so far; so much so that she became one of the first recipients of the inaugural NZ Young Farmers Excellence Award late last year.
“I didn’t even realise I’d been nominated; I didn’t have a clue until I found out I’d won!” she exclaims. “Considering we have so many fantastic people doing great things within the organisation and beyond, it really is an honour.”
Pitch perfect approach
Those who dream big may well benefit from having their heads in the clouds. Ironically, Hannah Cameron’s day job (as a flying instructor for CTC Aviation), has required she remain well and truly grounded.
“Flying is probably [safer than driving a bus]… there’s less stuff to hit!” she laughs. “For 99% of the time it’s pretty unexciting. That’s why we need to train so hard and stay focused, to ensure we’re well prepared in case something goes wrong.
“I have a running joke that, every day, my students try to kill me! But they’re learning; there’s a reason why they need an instructor. There have been a few ‘fun’ times when students haven’t listened, but nothing too frightening.”
While she devotes much of her spare time to working with NZ Young Farmers, Hannah also has her sights fixed on the next step (or giant leap) in her career.
“Probably within the next five years I’d like to be with an airline and, later on, flying long haul with international, wide-bodied jets. I’m working towards my ATPL (Air Transport Pilot Licence). I don’t need this now, but I will, if I get an airline job, to become a captain,” she explains.
“My happy place is as I take off, leaving the world behind me. But the main reason I chose aviation as a career is that I wanted a challenge and there are plenty of those!”
However, she adds that, in an industry where approximately four percent of international pilots are women, she will need to work hard to reach the top.
“Four percent is extremely low. To be a good pilot you need good hand and feet coordination, be intelligent enough to learn all the manuals and also to deal with the non-technical side, thinking ahead, reacting well and staying calm if things go wrong. In this sense, there’s nothing to make aviation more a barrier for women than for men.”
As in the farming world,, Hannah believes gender parity in the aviation sector ultimately requires young women to realise that opportunities are there for the taking.
“There have been some exceptionally talented female pilots – Jean Batten, for one, and Amelia Earhart. So those of us within the industry need to demonstrate that this really is an achievable career.
“Many little boys want to be pilots; I think we need to get more little girls knowing they can do it too. It’s hard, you need to be very passionate but why wouldn’t you want to travel the world and make a good living from it at the same time?