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Taking a gamble and making it in the livestock agency game

HIGH ACHIEVER: Stephanie Whitaker has won awards for her work at Burnett Livestock and Realty.
HIGH ACHIEVER: Stephanie Whitaker has won awards for her work at Burnett Livestock and Realty. Contributed

WHEN Stephanie Whitaker left the Northern Territory more than 20 years ago to attend agricultural college in Emerald, she had visions of becoming a rural journalist.

But as the businesswoman and livestock marketing co-ordinator now knows, life is full of interesting twists and turns that can rarely be foreseen.

"I figured I'd go to agricultural college, learn a bit, then maybe go off and work for the Country Life or something," Mrs Whitaker said.

"But then I did work experience at a livestock agency in Emerald called Dalgety's and really enjoyed it.

"And I met Lance, and I guess life takes you down different paths."

Mrs Whitaker and husband Lance, whose family run cattle in the South Burnett, have lived and worked in the Wide Bay-Burnett region for the past two decades in areas including the Fraser Coast, Murgon and Wondai, as Mr Whitaker moved around with various pastoral companies.

Lance said to me 'I've got a really good idea' and I think I probably didn't know enough to disagree.

But it wasn't until 2007 that they decided to take a leap and run their own business.

The couple bought Noel Anderson and Co, a livestock and real estate agency in Biggenden, about 100km west of Maryborough, and turned it into what is now Burnett Livestock and Realty. Mr Whitaker is the director, specialising in rural property sales, and Mrs Whitaker runs the administration and marketing side of the operation.

"Lance said to me, 'I've got a really good idea', and I think I probably didn't know enough to disagree," the 40-year-old said with a laugh.

"He was working for a large pastoral house and we thought it was time to make a go of things for ourselves."

The business comes with its challenges, especially around fortnightly cattle sale Mondays, when there is a lot to organise both for the business and home, where children Lillian, 10, and Drummond, eight, have grown up with the industry.

"We do have our busy peaks. On Sunday mornings, the cattle start to arrive for the sales," Mrs Whitaker explained.

"We live right next to the saleyards, so that's convenient, and we have technology set up at home so I can work from there and still do things with the kids. With a few adjustments, you can make it all work.

"The kids were two and one when we moved here, so thankfully they've grown up with all of it."

And despite the agency not quite being her idea in the first place, the businesswoman and mum has flourished.

In 2011, she won what was then known as the Mike Nixon Award, a national award recognising excellence in agricultural marketing for people with less than 10 years' experience in the industry. In 2012, she won the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women's Network Strong Woman Leadership award in the business category.

Apart from the demands of home and business, Mrs Whitaker also runs the annual Burnett Beef Ball with colleagues Kylie Svensson and Tina D'Esposito.

The ball, now in its fourth year, came about after the devastation of the 2011 floods and a perceived need to hold an event that could help people in the North Burnett escape from the negative impacts of the natural disaster (another of which would happen in 2013).

"There was nothing like a ball happening in the area at the time and we thought we needed something like that - you know, wouldn't it be nice for people to get dressed up and forget about all their troubles," Mrs Whitaker said.

The ball now regularly attracts a capacity crowd of about 200 and this year will be held on August 23.

One thing Mrs Whitaker has learned over time is while hard work reaps rewards, rest and recuperation is also important.

"It can be a bit of a fishbowl here, so we think it's important to get away when we can - even if it's just camping somewhere that the mobile doesn't work for a few days," she said.

The past seven years may have had their ups and downs, but Mrs Whitaker hasn't regretted taking the big step to owning her own business.

"Some days you don't know what the future holds, especially with the conditions recently - a lot of people are doing it tough," Mrs Whitaker said.

"But all in all, it was a good decision and it's been rewarding for us."

Topics:  burnett livestock and realty south burnett