Tess Wickham is following in her father’s footsteps and thoroughly enjoys her role working in the field for Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW).
Between saving stranded ducklings and watching out for snakes, she’s busy checking modernised meters on GMW irrigation channels, finding faults, changing batteries, working in the office and generally “a bit of everything”.
Tess is mum to eight-year-old Hunter and seven-year-old Payton, and works out of GMW’s Rochester office as a Customer Support Officer. Her work encompasses many of GMW’s irrigation areas but spends most of her time around Echuca, Colbinabbin, Corop, Ballendella and Lockington.
“The role is similar to a water bailiff,” Tess said. “My dad is a water bailiff (at GMW) and he’s been working in this role for 35 years. So I grew up around the people I work with and the channels.
“Physically, there’s no reason females can’t do this job. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, or what age, race or background you have – all that matters is that you can do the work,” she said.
Tess, one of three female field officers with GMW, said while working in a mostly male environment sometimes called for a thick skin, her colleagues were very supportive and always go out of their way to help one another.
“Plus I’ve only met a handful of farmers who don’t like the fact I’m a girl,” she said.
Tess has lived in Cairns, Moama and Mitiamo but is now based in Lockington with her family.
“On a 40-degree day I enjoy being in the office, otherwise outside is great,” she said.
She finds one of the most challenging parts of the job keeping pace with the breadth of knowledge her colleagues have amassed during their careers. As one of the youngest in the team, Tess is learning as she goes.
“I’m learning the intricacies of each area. Each channel has a trick to it and every channel is different.”
She believes water bailiffs are an ageing workforce, and the nature of the job has changed significantly in the last few decades due to modernisation of the irrigation system.
“Most of the water bailiffs have coped well with the rapid changes in technology. It is a bit sad that with the changing technology, there is less need for face-to-face customer interaction, which some farmers really enjoy.”
But she said for the new generation of farmers coming through, that same technology is revolutionising the way farms are managed.
Tess encourages other females to be open-minded about becoming a field worker.
“My advice for other women considering this line of work – give it a go. I think you have to be suited to the job and be open-minded. It can be an attractive quality to work outdoors.”