Woman Johnson, Alana (1955 - )

Western Victoria, Victoria, Australia
Businesswoman, Farmer and Social worker

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Born in 1955 near Hamilton in Western Victoria, Johnson is a fifth generation farmer brought up in Catholic family who lived among 'the landed gentry' of the Western district. 'We were a bit on the outer,' she says, being a large Catholic family amongst the 'aristocracy' of the Western district farming families, and she has been reacting against their sense of entitlement ever since (Johnson, Interview). Catholicism, however, or being educated in the Catholic system, is something she has always been thankful for. She was lucky enough to have been taught at Monivae College in Hamilton by tertiary educated nuns who encouraged her to think of pursuing tertiary education. As one of twenty girls who joined 120 boys when the school became co-ed she says 'she didn't need a better incentive to achieve' (Johnson). However, the example of her mother and grandmother, who led very unhappy lives, were motivating as well. Johnson did not want to be caught without choices and saw education as an important step towards achieving her goal.

After completing school, Johnson went to La Trobe University in 1974 and studied sociology 'because she wanted to know what was around her' (Johnson). She was exposed to some radical thinking and ideas, and was frequently taught by women, including Katie Richmond who was a big influence on her. University days were exciting and fun times for a person who, coming from the country, had never had access to friends on a daily basis before. Whilst she wouldn't say she was an activist at the time, she was immersed in campus life and was involved in issues as they arose. The sacking of Gough Whitlam, to whom she will always be indebted to because it was his government who introduced free tertiary education, was at the forefront during her time at La Trobe, as were women's issues, particularly the question of equal pay. When she completed a subject on feminism, it formalized her thinking and gave her a way of understanding the gendered nature of structural inequity.

Upon completing a BA in 1977, Johnson enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Work, which she completed in 1979. She told the man she was going out with at the time that if he wanted to keep dating her, he would have to do the feminist subject. He did, they married and they remain happily married. Once they had both completed their degrees, they moved to Benalla where they grow cattle and farm forestry. Working as a social worker for the Department of Social Services, Johnson came to understand the public service; working with families under stress she came to understand the extent of the social impact that came with rural crisis of the early 1980s. Working as a farmer, she also learned how frustrating it was to be constantly dismissed and ignored by male dominated agribusinesses and decision-making authorities. Families and farms in rural communities were in difficulties but no one was paying any attention to the people who might offer some solutions, the women on farms. Johnson enlisted the help of the local extension officers representing the Victorian Department of Primary Industry, asking why there were no activities arranged to encourage women's involvement. This question signaled the start of thirty years involvement for Johnson with the Australian Women in Agriculture movement.

A founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture in 1993, she has since been a strong advocate on behalf of rural women desiring to take up leadership positions in agricultural organisations. She is recognized nationally and internationally for her work in Change Management, Leadership Training and Rural Development and was the 2010 Victorian Rural Women's Award winner and Australian runner up. She has held many public and Board positions and is immediate past Chair of the Women's Advisory Panel to the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, a Director of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Director of the Victorian Women's Trust and the inaugural Chair of the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls. A graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership program she is completing a PhD at Monash University on the sustainability of rural communities through links with philanthropy. In 2013 she became President of the Voice for Indi a community organisation that initiated the democracy project in the electorate of Indi that saw independent Cathy McGowan, another founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture, elected to Federal parliament.

Archival Resources

Private Collection

  • Alana Johnson Interviewed by Nikki Henningham, 7 February 2013; Private Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also