CATHERINE Galea’s jaw dropped at the Central Highlands Cotton Grower and Irrigator Awards dinner when she was announced as the 2017 recipient of the grower service to industry award.
She described her reaction as “bug-eyed”, but the applause rang out throughout the hall as she made her way up to the stage to accept the award she has more than earned.
Few were as deserving as Ms Galea, who has been behind the scenes in the local industry for more than 20 years.
As an integral part of the annual dinner’s organising committee, Ms Galea said it was a special honour to receive the award on the night.
Growing up in the Moura region, Ms Galea was the daughter of graziers Ping and Doreen Hicks who pioneered in the Dawson Valley.
She said her father grew cotton in the 1940s and she still has the old hand planter today.
But around the Emerald region, Ms Galea is most known for her role as a teacher with distance education.
“I’ve been a teacher more than anything else in my life,” she said.
“It has been 30 years teaching, but I’ve taken a bit of a sabbatical at the moment after being with distance education for more than 20 years now.
“I was one of the inaugural teachers there back in 1993, and I’m trying to work out ‘when is when’.”
She said she became involved in the cotton dinner awards committee 15 years ago – and said every year she wonders if it should be her last.
“Every now and then I think I need to step out because I forget that I’m a bit older than most of the others,” she laughed.
“I began when people like Joan Millar and Liz Kiely had done their bit, so I decided to step in.”
Ms Galea is married to Peter, and they run a predominantly-cotton operation over multiple properties.
“The business here is getting busier, just even chasing down spare parts at the moment – for all our modern communications, nothing seems easy,” she said.
She said while she has always tried to balance her community work with her professional career and the farm – sometimes, time gets in the way.
“It’s so important to contribute to your community, and Emerald is such a lovely town,” she said.
This year, the Galea’s will plant 1620 hectares of cotton over various planting dates.