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Politics

Daughter's bid to stop men of the land from cracking

Primary Industries and Minister for Small Business Katrina Hodgkinson in her home town of Yass, NSW.

Primary Industries and Minister for Small Business Katrina Hodgkinson in her home town of Yass, NSW. Source: News Limited

KATRINA Hodgkinson has stood shoulder to shoulder with the man on the land campaigning for farming rights.

She has walked with farmers in bone dry paddocks as they spoke about how their family built up the property with their bare hands, the Daily Telegraph.

She has listened as they opened up about their fear of losing the farm over financial hardships.

But one of the hardest things she's had to face is when those at the brink of breaking point speak about loved ones they have lost to suicide.

As they weep, she openly cries with them as she knows their pain.

In the back of Ms Hodgkinson's mind she's reminded about the day she found her father David who took his own life in 2005 at the peak of the worst drought on record, aged 66.

New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries and Minister for Small Business, Katrina Hodgkinson.

New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries and Minister for Small Business, Katrina Hodgkinson. Source: News Limited

Katrina's father D...

Katrina’s father David. Source: News Limited

There is not a day that goes by that she doesn't think about the man who inspired her to become a politician. And as the voice of the bush, she has a desire to make a legacy of his life and break down the stigma around bush suicide.

Still haunted by finding her father, Ms Hodgkinson bravely spoke about her own loss in the hope it would lead those affected by "black thoughts" to seek help.

"I don't like talking about what happened, it's very hard but with my role as Primary Industries Minister if people like me don't speak out then we won't break down the stigma," Ms Hodgkinson said.

"If I can help someone with my story to realise it's not a crime to have depression then that's the first step to recovery."

Ms Hodgkinson, 47, grew up on the family's farm at Yass with her two sisters.

She was a typical farm kid and loved rounding up the sheep and tending to the chooks that had names like Esmeralda and Mabel.

"If Dad went somewhere I was there," she said.

As Ms Hodgkinson grew older she began to go to farming protests and rallies with her father who was an active member with lobby group NSW Farmers.

"He would speak at rallies and I would think he was terribly clever speaking behind a microphone and knowing so much," she said.

While she wanted to become a farmer when she left school, her father had other plans.

"Dad wasn't keen for me to stay on the farm," she said.

"He wanted his girls to diversify and use our skills to be successful, to find our own way in life."

She went to business college in Sydney, did a stint in property development and the stock exchange before returning back to the farm at the age of 23 where she taught business skills part-time at Tafe.

In 1989, she and her mother Rosemary went into business and opened The Sheep's Back, a shop dedicated to all things Australian wool fibre.

But she still had a burning passion for politics that was triggered by both parents.

She ran for the 1996 Southern Highlands by-election but was beaten after preferences.

The loss only made her more determined to learn more about politics so she went to work for Senator Nick Minchin as an adviser.

In 1999 she ran for her home town seat of Burrinjuck and won. She has held the seat ever since.

Through the triumphs and tribulations, her parents were with her every step of the way.

"We were all disappointed when I lost the first election. Dad didn't want me to run a second time because he was protective of me," she said.

"But I was determined and he was so proud when I won.

"He told me, 'Well done kidney'. That's what he called me, it's an expansion of kid."

In 2005 her father sought help at the local GP with depression. But sadly on September 2 that year he took his own life.

"It took a long time to work through the shock of finding him," she said.

"I went to see a counsellor."

Despite her own grief, she was spurred on by her family and running the electorate.

"There is a lot of love in the community, we all came together," she said.

"I had loss but so did they."

In 2011 Ms Hodgkinson became the first female Primary Industries Minister - an honour she wished her father could have seen.

"He would have been proud," she said.

"That's the thing when you lose someone, you find yourself thinking about them at times of achievement or loss."

She believes a big part of her father's depression was brought on by drought.

As she travels around the state now, she is reminded of those dry times when there had been no meaningful rainfall for a decade.

At the time there was not a blade of grass in the ground, the town was on level six water restrictions and the dams were empty.

"It makes me worried when I travel around the state and how dry it is again," she said.

Ms Hodgkinson urged those in hard times to seek help.

She said there were a number of different assistance programs available from Lifeline to Beyond Blue, rural counsellors as well as government programs.

"If you haven't seen a neighbour go and see them, look after each other and keep talking," she said.

For support and information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Read more at the Daily Telegraph.

Originally published as Brave woman behind our bushmen

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