The driving force behind the monumental amount of work that Fiona Hanks undertakes behind the scenes is to continue the work of her mentor, the late Sheri Martin.
Many people will recognise Fiona’s face; albeit often racing past, focused on capturing the next special moment at a sale, show or industry event. But few are aware of the extent of her impact on the dairy industry.
Fiona is a powerhouse of energy and determination, always going the extra mile to ensure the success of dairy shows and youth events. She knows from personal experience how much impact they can have on young people.
“I grew up lucky enough to have some great mentors, but the person who had the biggest impact on me was Sheri Martin,” Fiona said.
“I was lucky enough to not just attend youth camps organised by Sheri, but she took my under her wing with the photo team for Genetics Australia and even organised work experience for me with international dairy photographer Frank Robinson.”
Sheri’s drive and passion for youth development became a catalyst for Fiona upon Sheri’s passing.
“When David Johnston approached me about starting a youth camp in the Western District, I couldn’t say no. While I could never be like Sheri, I had to at least try to give back in such a way that helped some of the young people coming though.”
Fiona and a small committee ran four very successful youth camps at Noorat in January of each year until Covid hit. Fiona is also one of the driving forces for International Dairy Week (IDW), initially joining the team to help out with marketing.
Co-director Declan Patten said Fiona was instrumental in the development of International Dairy Week. “She does so much behind the scenes that not many realise and was a huge help with the transition of the event with new management. She is such a valuable team member who always gets the job done,” Declan said.
Another reason Fiona goes above and beyond with International Dairy Week is the special acknowledgement IDW makes to Sheri Martin’s contribution to youth
development, with the Sheri Martin Youth Showmanship classes.
“My daughter Abbie has been lucky enough to win a Sheri Martin Youth Showmanship class twice and it still makes me emotional and brings back great memories of Sheri herself and the impact she has on me and many others,” Fiona said.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see the next generation of young people coming through from our youth camps and even being able to capture those special moments as part of my role is a privilege.”
Fiona has been passionate about dairy cows for as long as she can remember. She was born and raised on a dairy farm in Simpson Western Victoria, with sister,
Andrea and brother, Stephen and parents, Nick and Biddy Weel.
As a teenager, her love of cows prompted the family to transform their grade herd under the appendix system, registering under the Wellcoora prefix – a representation of the family name and the local Cooriemungle area.
Over the years, the Weel family bought into several cow families, a highlight being Fiorendino I.S. Faithful EX-1E. Bought from the Mignanelli family, Faithful produced 5
VG daughters, bringing much success in the show ring for Wellcoora.
Fiona’s ambition to be involved in agriculture started to take shape when she received a Dairy Australia-funded scholarship to study agribusiness at Marcus Oldham College. The agribusiness studies led to summer work, which led to her first role as a nutrition sales rep at a local feedmill, Ausfeed (now CopRice).
Fiona continued to show dairy cows, a highlight being IDW 1999 when Brooklane Belt Jemima VG89 won Intermediate Champion Cow.
“I always felt naturally nervous when showing cows, but I will never forget the butterflies in my tummy as Jemima and I entered the ring for Intermediate Champion,” Fiona said.
YOUTH AMBASSADOR AWARD
The following year she was the winner of the RAB Youth Ambassador Award, which included an exchange to Canada.
Fiona’s 2-month Canadian trip involved working at the famous Walkerbrae Farms at Ontario, attending a Comestar Holstein sale and of course the Royal Winter Fair.
Back in Australia, Alan and Olly Fisher of Ashbury Holsteins provided guidance and experience on the local show circuit. Fiona looked to Ross Easterbook (Whyndell)
to prepare her cows for the ring and in turn, Ross allowed her to work with, and refine her skills as a fitter and handler.
Ross also connected Fiona with Peter and Kaye McGregor, Kaydale Holsteins, South Australia and Colin and Shelley Daley, Ourway Holsteins Queensland.
Fiona learnt a lot under their mentorship as part of their teams at Adelaide Royal, Mount Gambier and Malanda Shows.
Daryl Brown and Brian Leslie approached Fiona to join their team when they established 21st Century Genetics.
Daryl described Fiona’s work ethic second to none. “I can remember interviewing her for a job at 21st Century Genetics at the Hanging Rocks races! Her clients loved her; and nothing was too much trouble for Fiona,” Daryl said.
“She is reliable, trustworthy and a great judge of cows and is always the first to get her hands dirty."
When 21st Century Genetics was acquired by Alta Genetics, Graeme Gillan became the final of the three business mentors that Fiona attributes her key learnings to.
“Daryl, Brian and Graeme taught me so much about how to do business in general and how to push through and get the most out of every opportunity. And finally,
how to really work with people,” Fiona said.
Fiona has been married to Craig for 22 years, successfully juggling her career, showing and their three children: Abbie (17) and twins Riley and Brodie (15).
“How she juggled her working career and bought up three wonderful kids, is a testament to her good work. Brian and I just loved having Fiona on our team,” Daryl
After a decade in the AI sales role, Fiona launched her own advertising and marketing business, Wellcoora Consulting.
She has worked with a variety of dairy and beef industry businesses. Long-term clients include Total Livestock Genetics, St Genetics and International Dairy Week (IDW).
Fiona and Craig own Kooler Dairy and have recently acquired Coastal Pure Water.
“Craig manages the daily operations of both businesses, where we focus on producing and distributing local produce, specifically milk, water and ice,” Fiona said.
“We feel it is so important to support local wherever we can and not international suppliers.”
With Fiona often busy working around the show ring, her daughter Abbie has become a keen shower. Fiona attributes much of Abbie’s development and success
in the ring to Stu Mackie, Glen Gordon and Andrew Cullen.
“Stu and Glen in particular have allowed Abbie to show their cows and they have welcomed her with open arms. Andy has been great in providing Abbie the opportunity to learn about preparing cows to look their best in the ring,” Fiona said.
SHOW RING SUCCESS
The past 12 months have seen a huge level of success in the show ring for Abbie – as owner/exhibitor of Elmar Mirand Farlex 4688-RED-PO, culminating in the Junior
Champion honour at the 2023 IDW Red and White Show.
Abbie sold Farlex at the IDW sale for an exceptional $20,000 to the Peatling family (Moonshay Park).
“Selling Farlex was a very difficult decision for Abbie to make, but I believe there are many life lessons to learn even in showing cows,” Fiona said.
“The philosophy to ‘sell your best’ is one I stand by. After the hard work and commitment with Farlex, Abbie has the wonderful memories from their dream run,
while being able to make a smart business decision.”
Fiona’s business and marketing skills have obviously rubbed off on Abbie.
With the future based around digital marketing Fiona’s skills are likely to be in hot demand.
There is no doubt that Fiona’s impact will continue to grow.
Fiona Hanks is proof that you don’t have to be front and centre in order to have an impact within our industry.