Catherine Marriott

A tour de force

2019 UNE Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Catherine Marriott's participation in the Tour de Cure to raise money for cancer research reveals much more than her passion for cycling. During the past two years she has clocked up almost 2000 kilometres in the saddle with a painful hip injury, to honour the father she lost to cancer when she was just 9. No complaint. No fuss. And never a thought of letting her team down.

"The beautiful thing about the Tour is that everybody is driven by a cause bigger than themselves, to find a cure for cancer, and everyone is generous of spirit and belongs to this one supportive group," says Catherine, who has raised more than $50,000 for the charity. "No-one cares who you are, what you do or where you've worked."

But Catherine's made a life and respected career founded on teamwork, courage and service to others. Leadership came naturally to her, even in grade five, when she appointed herself school captain of Baddaginnie Primary School - "because there were no grade sixers and only 11 kids" - and used to ride her horse to school every day, over the main Melbourne-Sydney railway line, 10 kilometres there and back.

It was a rural upbringing that instilled in Catherine curiosity and confidence, and the importance of networks and integrity. "To me, leadership is not about personal accolades; it's about what you do and how you positively impact other people to get outcomes for a community," she says. "It's my absolute passion to leave this planet a better place, to confront unjustness in the world, and to empower others to achieve things they didn't know they could, for the betterment of others. Self-interest just makes me sick; I prefer to see the people around me doing well. If you think you're too small to have an impact, try sleeping in a swag with a mozzie."

This powerful ethos has underpinned every fascinating facet of Catherine's professional career. Since graduating from UNE with a Bachelor of Rural Science in 2011 she has worked as a beef industry nutritionist, jillaroo, mining dump-truck driver, and served in management, consulting and leadership roles in the agribusiness sector in Australia and throughout Asia. In 2012 she won the WA RIRDC Rural Women's Award and went on to realise her goal of setting up the company Influential Women, to create strong and resilient rural communities by investing in the wellbeing and growth of women.

Since 2014 Catherine has been a commissioner with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Her appointment as CEO of the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association and then WA Program Manager for the CRC for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) further recognised her ability to engage stakeholders within the agricultural sector (including politicians, researchers and producers) and to grow organisations sustainably.

"I have never done anything that is not aligned with my personal values, that isn't consistent with my mission to improve rural communities," Catherine says. "For me, it's about being effective, generous and authentic. So often in life we pretend to be somebody because it might make us more popular or get us further ahead, but the biggest gift you can give someone is the courage to be authentic. I have spent my whole life building the confidence and capacity of others, encouraging them to live in their own skin and to stand up for what they believe in."

Known affectionately as Maz, Catherine is also prepared to walk a mile in another's shoes. "If you want to be respected and build empathy ... you have to, even if you are absolutely terrified," she says. "If you are feeling confident and have clarity around your role, whatever that may be, you can do what is right for you. Aligning peoples' values with their purpose can't help but create a more vibrant rural Australia.

"There's a beautiful saying: 'We have to love the unloved children because if we don't they will burn the community to feel its warmth'. When I transpose that over the work I have done, it's about looking after people, so that they feel valued, happy and enjoy what they are doing. Instead of being disruptive, they can then be productive and make an active contribution."

In endorsing Catherine's nomination for the Distinguished Alumni Award, President of the National Farmers' Federation Fiona Simson  praised her empathy. "Rarely do you find someone seemingly larger than life but so sensitive and caring of others at the same time," Fiona said. "She also passionately supports what is “right”, and a better outcome, even if that means more work for herself or a less than optimal outcome for her. She is smart, articulate, passionate, professional, bold and loyal, and the future is an open book for Maz, with amazing opportunities wherever she might like to go."

For more information about the 2019 Alumni Awards