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Humanitarianism in Barry's court

The West Australian

It was a humble start to what has now been recognised as an outstanding career.

Beginning his working life as a "sheep dog" with Elders Rural, and retiring as one of Western Australia's highest-profile agricultural and political leaders, Barry Court's illustrious career has included rubbing shoulders with prime ministers and ambassadors, national rallies, and international travel marketing Australia's agricultural produce.

For those who live in the city, respect for Mr Court might be more to do with his role in the well-known Victory Life Church, run by his wife and former world tennis great Margaret Court.

But farmers will remember Mr Court very differently. His legacy will be the changes he implemented for wool producers, grain growers and pastoralists. The ripples of his leadership will be felt for decades across Australia's agricultural industry.

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From the debate over wheat industry deregulation to native title and wool promotion, Mr Court has had a finger in every agricultural pie.

He credits his love for agriculture to when he was evacuated to a York farm as a child during World War II.

"I was a city boy, but going to the farm during the war obviously developed my desire for agriculture," he said.

Mr Court began his career with Elders as a stockman, and worked his way into the wool department in Fremantle.

"They used to send us to the saleyards at 5am in the morning. I started as a 'sheep dog', everyone did in those days, penning up the sheep in Midland," he said.

But the budding entrepreneur had no plans to stay in the sheep yards, and by 35 was the part owner of more than 4000ha in the high-rainfall Moora district.

"I was talked into going to a Pastoralists and Graziers Association meeting there, they were short on the wool committee," he said.

"I didn't anticipate going into any of those roles but ended up chairman of the wool committee, which led to my interest in the PGA."

As chairman of the wool committee, Mr Court strongly supported the PGA's policy for the removal of the reserve price scheme.

And, despite national opposition, he was vocally opposed to the sale of the Woolmark brand.

"Yes, I had a big disagreement with people in the wool industry regarding the issue of research and development and promotion," he said.

"I strongly believed that the product should be promoted first, although others in the industry believed that wool would just sell itself.

"At the time, the National Wool Council was all for research and development but I was all for promoting the wool market first and getting the price up, whereby money for R & D would automatically follow.

"I always used the old Coca Cola theory, meaning a product doesn't sell itself, and I'm disappointed we have virtually lost the Woolmark brand now. We spent millions promoting it, and it became the second most recognised brand in the world, and then we just dropped it."

After time as grains committee chairman, Mr Court was elected president of the PGA.

He remembers one of his greatest achievements as changing the landscape of the native title debate, not just here in WA, but for pastoralists across the country.

"When the issue of native title first hit the news, we thought it would go away but in the end there was no alternative but to take it head on," he said.

Such was the anger surrounding the issue that thousands of rural producers turned up to a public rally in Longreach to hear Prime Minister John Howard talk about solutions.

"It really was the number one issue. Very simply, you couldn't sell your property if it had native title claim over it," he said.

"I remember Queensland AgForce president Larry Acton was very happy to see me arrive.

"We were a little bit late because the Prime Minister and all the dignitaries arrived in a jet plane, and we just had a little propellor one.

"I stood up and asked the first question of the day to the Prime Minister and the end result was that we saw equal funding for pastoralists, enabling us to have legal representation in native title claims.

"This was a major win that meant funding of millions of dollars for the pastoral industry.

"But I was disappointed that it became such a legal issue because pastoralists and Aboriginals had lived together and shared the land for years."

Mr Court fondly remembers his time with the PGA, and was recognised for his services to agriculture with the Order of Australia (AM) in 2011.

After retiring from this role, he took on the position as State chairman of Elders.

"To be asked to take up the chairmanship was very exciting," he said.

But, according to Mr Court his foray into State politics was a different story. "Yes, being State president of the Liberal Party just after Richard lost the election was a bit of a different story. I had a rough idea what was going on because I had been chairman of the finance committee and I knew the work Richard and my father, Sir Charles Court, put in," he said.

"But politics is tough and cut-throat, and some people spend their whole life trying to be elected to Parliament. When you are president of a party not in power, this role becomes very important. Once the party gets into power, the Premier takes over the control of the party.

"What I learnt from my time as president of the PGA and president of the Liberal Party is how to handle people, and that never stops, in or out of public life."

Mr Court might have retired from the public spotlight somewhat, but his interest remains in making Australia a "better place".

These days Mr Court is a mentor to young leaders, and one of the driving forces behind the Margaret Court Community Outreach program, which donates 26 tonnes of food parcels to people less fortunate every week.

"My aim with the church and with the community outreach is to make Australia a better place and to do that I encourage people to become more efficient in what they are doing," he said.

"Just recently I gave a talk on WA Christian heritage, in how we have to keep our high moral standards.

"To think that Australia is on a terrorist alert is amazing - we could never have imagined that anyone could ever have anything against Australia."

Mr Court is now also the chairman of the Sand and Limestone Association of WA, and continues to serve on the WA Liberal Party rural policy committee.

He says he can regularly be found on the water, racing his yacht, or working closely with Margaret through the Outreach program.

"I'm now in my 70s, so with all those years of experience there's got to be something that I can pass on to other people to make the world a better place," he said.

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