Veteran Western Australian journalist Ken Wilson’s recent retirement, after 54 years in the saddle, including 42 as an agricultural reporter, has prompted me to open-up an important discussion about the accumulation of knowledge in our industry.
Not just how this knowledge is harvested, but also how it’s shared and how it can be applied.
But before going further into these observations, let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge the depth of Ken’s significant achievements.
According to the four-page spread in the November 19, Farm Weekly, dedicated to Ken’s career and ‘leaving the building’ for the last time, ironically, it was a broken leg, earned while playing football at school, which saw him break into journalism.
During a forced layoff he began writing school football match reports which planted the seed for his interest in writing and sprouted a career in journalism, which kicked-off in 1966.
Debuting at the Daily News in Perth, Ken was a court reporter before joining the sports department where he interviewed some of the biggest names of that time.
He then became Editor of the Western Farmer & Grazier which was subsequently taken over by Rural Press, along with the Elders Weekly, and became the Farm Weekly, as it’s known today.
For the past 42 years, Ken’s journalistic career has seen him writing about agriculture and in particular specialising in farm machinery where he’s developed great knowledge and deep passion.
The Farm Weekly’s four-page dedication said Ken leaves the job with “his own degree in agriculture”, while considering the Wheatbelt to be his “university” and the multitude of farmers he has talked with as his “professors”.
“Everything I know about agriculture I learned from granddad and dad (growing up on the family farm near Cunderdin) and through talking to farmers – and I’m still learning, that’s the most exciting bit,” Ken was quoted as saying in the article.
Ken’s list of awards is equally as impressive as the number of; kilometres he’s travelled to collect and produce stories about WA’s farming industry; words he’s written; farmers he’s interviewed; farm leaders he’s quizzed; subjects he’s covered; and up and coming rural journalists he’s mentored.
Ken’s signature sign-off, and one that’s apt at this time is, “Thanks for being on the show”.
Well, it’s my privilege to say back to Ken, thanks for having us in your audience.
As a conduit for so much knowledge about our industry and the challenges it has faced and overcome in 42-years, I can only imagine how many eyes have read and absorbed the magnitude of words and meanings, in his multitude of articles.
As secretary of the WA Rural Media Association in my mid-20’s, I was fortunate to spend time with Ken, in the early stages of my professional development in rural communications.
No doubt many others in the world of rural journalism and communications have encountered Ken at different stages of their journey and been fortunate to have the opportunity to absorb his knowledge and wisdom first-hand.
His longevity also makes you wonder how many farm leaders he’s put the tough questions to along with ambitious Agriculture Ministers, business leaders and others looking to impart their views and influence on farmers and rural people.
Then there’s the droughts, bushfires, floods, market booms and crashes, agri-political scandals, and any other number of controversies he’s summarised and generated news content from, with his penetrating pen.
But now that the curtain is coming down on this brilliant career, it makes me wonder, where does this knowledge go to now?
Just like farmers and their families and partners, drovers, stock and station agents, shearers, bankers, ringers, station cooks, how do we capture these learnings, and do we truly value it?
In a world increasingly consumed by internet and smartphones, do we really ever stop, to pause and listen to these words and capture the lessons they impart, or are we moving too fast to recognise the value?
While there are many ways to immortalise a career that has touched on so many lives, one fitting and worthy way, in my view, to capture and share Ken’s story, and his story of telling farmers’ stories, would be through an episode of Australian Story.
While Ken’s always been a quiet achiever, I’d imagine he’d recognise the value of such a wisdom-sharing opportunity and the chance to tell yet another good yarn about the bush, for anyone willing to listen.
By Robbie Sefton
Robbie Sefton has a dual investment in rural Australia as a farmer, producing wool, meat and grains, and as managing director of national marketing communications company Seftons.