Heather Mitchell OBE AM

In 1985, Heather Mitchell became the first female president of the Victorian Farmers' Federation, and co-founded Landcare.

Honour Roll

Heather Mitchell was born on 25 September, 1917, and educated at Albury High School. A trained nurse, she married Hopetoun pharmacist and fourth generation farmer Lester Mitchell in 1941. They had five children together and Heather Mitchell was involved in numerous organisations, including the Red Cross, Country Women's Association and Hopetoun High School Council.

Following the family's move to Horsham in 1968, Heather became involved in agricultural politics as well as the state Liberal Party's policy committee. Heather became the first female President of the Victorian Farmers' Federation in 1985. She was largely responsible for urban support for a Farmer's Fighting Fund during hard times. She was responsible for changing the perception of agriculture within the State Labor government leading to the creation of a Rural Affairs sub-committee of Cabinet.

In 1986, along with the Hon. Joan Kirner, Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands, Heather initiated Landcare, a community-based movement working to care for the land. Together, they created a highly autonomous network of groups from different walks of life which could work together to achieve land restoration, with departmental assistance. It proved to be a very practicable grass roots movement and, by 1990, 70 Landcare groups had formed. It then spread to other states until a National Landcare Program was developed. This was assisted by a historic partnership between the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation. Bob Hawke declared the 1990s the 'Decade of Landcare'.

By early 2000, there were over 4000 Landcare groups in Australia. Some groups consist of neighbouring farmers working together to solve common problems, while other more complex projects work to tackle problems at the catchment or regional level. Landcare was conceived by two women and it has created numerous opportunities for women's participation in land restoration. The Landcare model has been adopted in New Zealand, and is being introduced in the United States, Iceland, Canada and parts of Asia.

In 1989, Heather became Vice-President of the National Farmer's Federation, a position she held until 1990. She was a patron of the Victorian Bush Nursing Hospitals Association from 1991. In 1973, she was made a sister of the Order of St John of Jerusalem for her service to the Red Cross and St John's Ambulance. In 1979, Heather was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to the Community. In 1991, she was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to primary industry.

Heather was described as an inspirational speaker, and one of her philosophies was "Don't talk about the problems, find the solutions". She passed away after a battle with cancer on 12 November 1999. She is survived by her second husband the Honourable Gordon Carmichael, three daughters, one son and eight grandchildren.