About an hour east of Adelaide on South Australia’s Murray Plains, lies “Thornby”, a historic large scale lamb feedlot and broadacre cropping enterprise run by the McGorman family.

Fiona McGorman has lived two very different lives. Not so long ago she was working as a nurse, a career she absolutely loves. With a clear path and direction of where she was heading, Fiona was working her way up the ladder and doing lots of great things within the health sector. However, there came a point following some structural and operational changes within the family farming business, and juggling raising three boys, that she eventually decided to hang up her scrubs and put on her work boots.

Stepping into the farm business full-time was a big learning curve and light years away from her life on the hospital ward.

“I didn’t stop nursing completely straight away. I took some leave, some without pay, to give myself time to make a decision. I feel with nursing, to be good at what you do you need to be competent to keep your skills up. I don’t like to do things in halves, and I like to do things well. But I just felt like the farm was where I needed to be.””

Despite knowing this was the right decision for her and her family, it has still been a lot to process.

“To be honest, I do feel like I am grieving that part of my life in a way. Nursing is all I’ve ever known. Realistically, I know I will likely never go back,” says Fiona.

Fiona knows any perceived pressure she may have felt to leave nursing and come on to the farm was completely her own. Her husband, Alex, has been fully supportive of whatever she wanted to do. Together, they now operate Thornby as a team which has had some unexpected benefits.

“It’s been really good for our relationship and our marriage actually, as I know more of the day-to-day stuff and what’s going on. The change has definitely been a positive thing. I wouldn’t change it.

“Now I can be around a lot more. The boys get off the bus at the end of the farm driveway, and Alex and I are both here.”

Since being involved in the farm business, Fiona is particularly proud of the high rate of female employees that work within the Thornby team.

“Some of the girls that we have on board may have no ag background experience, but their attention to detail is really good. It’s always great to encourage women and girls to get in to ag. Moving wool bales is probably the only thing they may potentially ask for help with!”

Fiona McGorman with a lamb
Fiona and her son on the farm

Stepping into Leadership

Despite working with students and junior staff as a leader in her nursing life, Fiona recognised that running your own business is very different to working for someone else. With the farm business now employing over 25 staff, there was a responsibility to ensure that her management and leadership skills were up to speed.

“I knew what it felt like to work under some not-so-great managers, and I know what it feels like to not be valued, and I didn’t want to be that person for our staff or our team,” explains Fiona.

Fiona found out about WoTL’s Stepping into Leadership Program through an email that was forwarded to her by a WoTL Ambassador.

“I remember looking at it and thinking it was probably right up my alley in what I needed at the time. Coming from a non-ag background I felt that this could be beneficial for me having not previously had much to do with the farm.”

After putting in an application, Fiona was pleasantly surprised when she was accepted into the 2022 Program.

“Stepping into Leadership was wonderful. I’m very grateful for the mentorship I received, the friendships made, and for the personal growth I was able to achieve.”

Her newly acquired leadership skills have complimented many of her nursing attributes which have been transferrable into her farming role.

“I try and have empathy for people and insight in to how they are going, try to make things more tolerable in an environment that can be pretty harsh and challenging sometimes. Farming life can be tough.”

Not surprisingly, Fiona’s nursing skills are still proving to be useful.

“I have come in handy as a nurse from time to time. I’m usually the person that people go to when they hurt themselves!” laughs Fiona.

As a passionate ambassador for women in ag, Fiona is also a strong supporter of WoTL’s Thriving Women Conference and is planning to bring all her female staff to the 2024 event to be held in the Adelaide Hills.